Lorens was charming, for a man. I’ve never had an eye for men, the way other girls do. I never understood why girls might hum in appreciation over a man’s shoulders, or comment on his hands. I was always too busy noticing the shapes of girl’s legs, the curve of their throats, or listening to their voices, warm and bright as firelight. I don’t think men were meant to be warm and bright to me. They’ve always been like barren landscapes, scraped clean of leaf and blossom.
But Lorens did have a way about him. He sat me in his kitchen to interview, offering hot, fresh biscuits drooling with butter. I devoured them, shaky and famished from walking two days from the last village.
Lorens’ cuffs and collar were starched and pressed, his cream colored cravat neatly tied, made of a shining material that seemed too soft and fine to be real. I wanted to touch it, because I couldn’t imagine anything finer than a rabbit pelt.
“It seems you know how to work hard, between what you tell me and your obvious appetite.”
He laced his fingers together. His hands and nails were so clean they looked delicate.
“What should I call you?” he asked.
“Katja,” I said.
“Katja,” he said, as if he’d said something much more lewd than just my name.
It made me uneasy. But I told myself it was this new place. This enormous farmhouse with more than one room, swept wooden floors, and no whistling cracks. I wasn’t used to being around such a fine gentleman. It was normal for him to creep closer and closer as the interview continued. He smelled of heather shaving soap.
“I think,” he said, “we have room for you, since the last lower maid departed.”
He smiled and all his teeth were so very white.
I didn’t mind the work. Scrubbing soot from fireplaces, keeping the fires lit, scraping out pots and pans, dusting and sweeping. It was nice after surviving on my own, after Mama and Papa died. I always had enough to eat. I had a soft pallet up in the attic. The other lower maid who shared the attic grumbled about it being too cold and drafty. I thought it extravagant for only the two of us to have all that space. I even had my own uniform of fine linen. And every week Lorens paid me from his own hand, his palms pink and soft.
This other lower maid tended the garden. She left. Because I was so efficient and cheerful, the garden became mine.
Beneath all the folds and furrows, the soil was moist and soft. I sank my fingers into that black earth, breathing the scents of rosemary and thyme, the sticky sweetness of raspberries. The sun browned my skin with her kisses. It was a good summer, the best of my life to that point.
But like every season, that summer waned. The skies turned gray, and no matter how many layers I wore, or how many blankets I smuggled, it was chilly in that attic. Lorens hired a new lower maid to replace the old one. That’s when the night visitations began.