Centuries old and well maintained throughout its life, the Willow Mansion stood tall and beautiful in the darkness of tall pines. The air surrounding it was usually quiet, since the estate sat atop a lonesome peak and watched the town below from a long distance. Several generations of Willows lived and withered away within its walls of stone, until only one lineage remained. Their family consisted of parents Robert and Ariella, and their six-year-old daughter, Molly.
On this particular evening, the Willows had dinner in the courtyard amidst frozen rose bushes and apple trees. Snow was falling from the heavens and had already settled thickly on most of the grounds below. The plants around them were nearly dead from the winter’s cold, but the Willows wore their winter’s finest clothing and sat beside an open fire. The family was served chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and string beans—a preferred meal by the Willows. Yet, the chicken and potatoes chilled rather quickly from the cool air, and the crispy string beans crunched like ice in their mouths.
Ignoring these inconveniences, Robert Willow watched the snowfall in awe. His black hair was well groomed and his olive-colored eyes crinkled at the corners, showing his age. “The fresh air is lovely,” he said to no one in particular. He often spoke to break the quietness that lingered through the course of these dinners. Work occupied most of his days, but on Sundays, such as this one, he wanted to spend time with his family. For this reason, he had insisted on dining outdoors, in hopes the unpleasantness would strike some form of conversation with his wife. “Isn’t the fresh air lovely?” Robert tried again.
Ariella Willow, however, was rarely one to complain, agree, or even speak. She was nearly motionless in her fur coat, with her light-blonde hair tucked underneath a heavy wool hat. She kept her blue eyes down, nodded her head in false agreement, and forked the cold beans on her plate as though she wanted to eat them.
Unnoticed, Molly scowled at her parents in secret from the other end of the table. Unlike her father, she did not favor the cold, but if her mother did not complain, then Molly did not have a voice to either. She did not find it fair: being six years old. Grown-ups never asked her what she wanted. They never even wondered if she was happy, which on this day she was not. Winter was a lousy time for Molly. Her hands were freezing underneath her gloves and her feet were wet from the snow in her boots. She could not run in the sunshine or play in the seemingly endless hedge maze. Friends, though scarce at all times of the year, were even rarer in the winter because the roads were too icy for visitors. Only the groundskeepers and maids spoke to her, but even they were too busy to play.
The Willows sat through this soundless dinner and when it was over, Ariella grabbed Molly’s hand and led her inside. They left Robert sitting alone in the courtyard, frowning at the snowfall. Molly glanced back at him through the glass doors, but he did not meet her eyes. She wished to speak to him, perhaps to apologize for not speaking, but Ariella did not release her hand until they were in the main hall and she could no longer see him.
Molly’s caretaker, Janet, was accustomed to her scheduled bath time before bed, and approached them from the grand staircase. She was a rather large woman with thick brown hair and honey-brown eyes, and for some reason, she always smiled.
Molly felt too cold for a bath. She glanced up at her mother gravely, but Ariella merely leaned down and planted a soft kiss atop her head. With a friendly nod at Janet’s curtsy, Ariella ascended the staircase in her long fur coat and disappeared off to the master bedroom.
“Come now, my dear.” Janet smiled at Molly when they were alone. “I have prepared your bath.”
Molly shook her head in protest and hugged herself for warmth.
“Do not worry,” Janet said comfortingly. “The water is warm.” She pressed a gentle hand against Molly’s back and led her up the staircase.
Molly never had a voice, not once. Not even with Janet. She wondered if the same had become of her mother, if she too would hardly speak when she reached her mother’s age. She hardly spoke now as it was. The thought frightened her, but she shook it off with a small smile. No, she was not like her mother or her father. Someday, she would find her voice—a good, loud voice—and she would scream at them all.
Janet led Molly all the way to the bathroom and undressed her next to the sink. The hot water caressed Molly’s legs as she climbed into the tub and sat down on its ceramic floor. She stayed quiet during her bath, kept her chin held high, and tried to keep her eyes open as Janet repeatedly scrubbed her and poured water over her head.