Born into world as mere chattel, Carrie Scott rebels against the oppression women are dealt in 1897 Philadelphia the only way she knows how—by hiding under layers of black mourning clothes worn for a fiancé she respected but did not love. Freedom from the marriage auction block allowed her the quiet she needed, but the lonely life eventually made her body yearn for more.
Dr. Matthew Gibson was floored to see his best friend’s little sister standing in his office, now the full fledged beauty he had always expected her to become. But the fact she was asking to be treated for “Female Hysteria” made his fingers itch to touch her and claim her as his own.
Neither knew that the one afternoon in his office would change their lives forever.
Taking a deep breath, as deep as could be in her blasted corset, Carrie tried to calm her nerves. She sat down on the edge of the thick leather armchair across from his desk. Sunlight streamed across the room, creating a halo of sorts around Dr. Gibson’s head, making his face impossible to see. It somehow made the words easier for her to speak, not being able to clearly perceive his face.
“Mrs. Granger came to visit me last week…and told me of…a procedure…you perform here in this office. She says it…helps her. Relieves her in some way. I believe she told me she suffers from…Female Hysteria.”
She paused, unable to continue without knowing he heard her words, she needed a response from him before she could continue, but he sat there, unmoving. Carrie wasn’t even sure he breathed he was so still. Long seconds passed, it felt like hours in the silence of the room, but could have not been longer than a minute.
“You know that I cannot discuss Mrs. Granger’s medical history with anyone else, it would be against the doctor’s oath.”
“I am not asking you to discuss her treatment. She has been rather candid with me herself. But…”
“After speaking with her…I fear…that perhaps…I too suffer from this Female Hysteria.”
She waited for his response, some form of validation to her concerns, embarrassed beyond belief to speak all of her thoughts to him, this beautiful man who had sat at her father’s table and broken bread with them, who had seen her as nothing but a child for years, asking for help, help to quell the maddening voices in her head, and ease the suffering of her woman’s body.
“And why do you think you suffer from this malady?”
“Well, I’m often feverish, my skin feels… too tight at times, like I might burst at any moment. And I have thoughts no lady should have.”
Fire filled Carrie’s face as she considered the thoughts she had just had in this office, how she had enjoyed the sensual nature of his voice and let his tenor rumble through her. “It is nothing a real lady would say out loud.”
“But I am a doctor, and I can’t determine if you truly suffer from this Hysteria or not unless you are completely honest with me. I need to hear it, Miss Scott, so tell me what unladylike thoughts you have had.”
“I was just standing at your window, imaging myself running barefoot across the park, my hair unbound and flying behind me as I raced. I have sat in my family’s parlor and thought of taking my corset and burning it in the fireplace. I’ve thought of taking my clothes off and jumping into the pond behind our orchard when the moon is full and bright, shining through the trees. I’ve thought about…”
Carrie stopped before she admitted to thoughts of touching her own body. The erotic images flooded back into her head, her own fingers pinching her nipples, squeezing the ripe mounds above her ribcage. Heat rose in her cheeks, the desire to touch herself almost overwhelming her.
Dr. Gibson leaned forward, his hands steepling on the desk as he rested his elbows on the wood. His face was still in shadow, and she was glad. He was anonymous, as if he really was not there. She thought of the Catholics and their confessionals, and wondered if any of the women had ever sat in the darkened little closets and told the Father they had the unclean contemplations of touching their bodies. “And have you performed any of the acts you have thought about?”