“Wait,” said Amarys. “Shouldn't we check the structural integrity first?”as Aneurin laughed, stepped onto the raft, and drowned.
Four months, two trials, and countless lit candles later, Amarys was officially free and on a stagecoach out of town. “What's your name, love?” asked the driver, whose accent identified him as Irish and interested.
“Mary,” replied Amarys, who was neither.
The coach broke down in a makeshift silver rush town. The driver had no money to fix the axle, and Amarys had no reason to press on. She offered her wedding ring as payment for the journey. The driver held it up to the weak sun and said,“Good enough.” The minister’s wife pointed her in the direction of Main Street and Amarys thought, good enough.
She laundered in the boarding house until a freak storm devoured it and the proprietor. Luckily the next day a wealthy east coast matron stepped off the coach and fainted, thus spurring a promising three-day career for Amarys as medical assistant.
“It’s the shock,” said Doc Thorn wisely.
“It’s the corset,” said Amarys.
A saloon opened in winter. She spent two days as the resident pianist for a tone-deaf bartender until a gold digger (and former conservatory master) from Boston outed her. On her walk of shame home, she stole a pair of coveralls from a boy dying of gangrene and was hired in the mines.
By the time her gender was discovered, she was already too valuable for her ability to squeeze into tiny places. And the foreman, whose wife was pregnant for the ninth time, had neither energy to care nor spare. He dreamt of gaping maws.
They called her Dirty Mary, because she could never fully scrub away the coal dust. She liked it. The black rivers were her only memories left from a Welsh childhood. She wore the name as a badge of honor. When Dirty Johnny arrived in town, so many jokes were thrown about that he proposed after two days from sheer exhaustion.
Their forty-year marriage was legendary. They never quarreled. Nor did they anger. Partly because Johnny slept his way through the endless stream transient miners passing through town.
But mainly because Amarys was in love with Doc Thorn’s wife.
When Doc Thorn left her a widow, Rose invited the Dirties to live in the spare bedroom of her fine two-story house with real glass windows. For economy and for comfort.
Amarys rose valiantly to the occasion. She was very comforting.
A traveling bard arrived in town the next spring. He insulted Johnny’s boots; Johnny’s fist insulted his face. Amarys invited him and his mandolin over for dinner in apology. He and Rose married within the week.
“I declare,” said the whole town said, for what a house! Two happy couples under one roof! Childhood sweethearts and late-life lovebirds! “Isn’t it heartwarming?”
“It is,” said Rose, curled around Amarys in bed. Johnny’s braying guffaw cut through the walls, backed by incessant mandolin strumming. “Though what if we partitioned the house so that we could all enjoy the heartwarming... in peace?”
“I'll put a secret door through the bedrooms.”
“Hidden through the wardrobe,” Rose suggested.
When Susan stepped through that wardrobe in the professor's house, into the wintry land ruled by the white queen, she blinked, hit with an intense and sudden bout of déjà vu. As if she'd once before seen a wardrobe that led to somewhere else— almost like another life—