The rich man had to have Her at all costs. His daughters hated Her because he loved Her more. From the time they were children the Burma Girl came between them and their cruel father. Capable of creating hatred, jealousy and resentment there was only one question left to ask. Would the Burma Girl destroy them all in the end?
Sunlight struggled to get through the gray film that coated the small-paned bedroom windows of the run-down Victorian mansion in the Chicago suburb. The thick ivy that swarmed up the exterior of the house also partially obscured the light, giving the bedroom a twilight appearance even at noon.
Endurance Bowdoin carefully arranged the pillow behind her sister’s head. Her heart ached to see Chastity, always so fair and plump, now as frail as a whisper, fading away like an old photograph. That’s what we always were, Durie thought sadly. Photographs of living people. Never the real thing. Father never let us be real.
Chastity spoke without opening her eyes. “Durie?” Chastity’s voice was as frail as her body.
“I’m here, Sister.” Though they had been born eighteen months apart, they had always felt like twins. Durie wondered how she would live without this being who had been half of herself for almost seventy-five years. “Do you want something?”
“I’d like to dress for the Ball.”
Durie stared. “The Ball? What Ball?”
“The Debutante Ball, silly.” Chastity managed a weak, rasping laugh. “I’m not losing my mind, Durie. Truly. I’m not deluded. I know I’m old and dying.” She stopped to get her breath. “But I want to put on my ball gown. Won’t you help me? Won’t you get it from the attic and help me?”
“Of course,” Durie said. Chastity slid into a doze, as she often did these days. Durie waited a little while, thinking her sister would have forgotten about the gown upon waking. But when Chastity opened her eyes a few minutes later, she repeated her strange request. Durie patted her sister’s hand and left the room, dreading the walk upstairs to the attic where dozens of beautiful matching dresses from more than a half century past, two of every color and every style, were kept in dusty linen bags. It had been Father’s decision to dress them alike throughout their childhood and girlhood. If their purposeless mother objected the girls never heard of it. He had decreed that their hair style, jewelry, clothing, were all the same, disregarding the fact that Durie was tall, rawboned, plain of face, and disdained fancy clothes. Chastity was short and plump, pretty, and loved laces and ribbons and geegaws.
As she trudged up the stairs, wishing the lift still worked, and wishing for the long-departed staff of servants, she caught a glimpse of the one remaining portrait of her father. She had destroyed all the others the day of his funeral. The portrait still existed only because Chastity had begged her to leave it—not because she loved the old fool, but because she feared retribution from the grave.
From his oval-frame Commodore Bowdoin mocked Durie. Until the day he was buried, every room in the house bore a copy of this same photograph of their father, with his Teddy Roosevelt pince-nez, caterpillar eyebrows over narrow, close-set eyes. His thick, waxed mustache curled up on the ends and his hard mouth curled down at the corners. William Randolph Hearst had stuck the label “Commodore” on him in derision, but Bowdoin had adopted it and made it his own.
She paused and looked at him. “I’ll get you, too,” she muttered. “When Chas is gone and won’t know about it, I’ll rip you to shreds like I did the others fifteen years ago.”