Diamonds and jubilees, she thought, staring at the toast on the delicate plate.
It had cooled. She’d allowed it to sit too long while her mind explored avenues seldom visited. The soft whine of the spaniel beneath the table called her back. Breaking off bits of toast, she held out her hand, smiling at the feel of the dog’s warm, velvet tongue against the palm of her hand.
“Like that, do you?” she asked. The spaniel came out of his hiding place, emboldened by thoughts of more toast. “You shall soon be fat, you know.”
He looked at her, eyes beseeching. Sighing, she sat the plate on the carpet, and watched as he eagerly chewed the toast. He attacked the food with gusto, making short work of it. His obvious delight pricked her memory, reminding her of years when her own appetites had been strong.
A lifetime ago.
“That’s enough, you rogue,” she said, lightly caressing the dog’s ears. “Alright, you’ve had your breakfast – settle down.”
Content, the dog resumed his place beneath the table. A satin-haired sentry, he was never far from his mistress’s feet. He loved her devotedly.
The devotion was not one-sided.
Pushing aside the remainder of her breakfast, she caught sight of her fat, arthritic fingers and her mood darkened.
Once her hands had been lovely. Albert had told her so. He’d raise her fingers to his lips, kissing each individually, and laughing as he nipped their tips with his teeth. And how he’d loved the touch of her hands, gasping as they slowly explored the silky skin of his inner thighs, resolute in their journey to secret destinations.
Her Albert. He should be here, next to her, holding her hand. Remembering.
How he would have delighted in the pageantry of this day! Her angel, born to rule. So brilliant, so assured. She’d have done anything for him.
Not quite true… almost anything.
He pretended otherwise, but she knew he longed to be King Consort. She’d used the excuse of Parliamentary objection to get around the matter.
But she knew her heart. Rapacious in her appetites, she greedily embraced food, passion, and – let us be frank! – power. To share power, even with her beloved, was impossible. She wouldn’t consider it, even as she allowed him to sit in on meetings with her ministers and, in the privacy of their chambers, offer his counsel.
Their worst battles, her worst rages, were over questions of power. But in the darkness of night, they put differences aside, approaching one another with an abandonment that was enduring.
Flexing her fingers, a wry chuckle, almost a cackle, escaped her.
She should blush, recalling those fevered nights, old woman that she was. But she didn’t.
Her body was old, her flesh seamed and corpulent. Inside though… inside she was still the young, ardent girl who had eagerly met Albert’s needs with those of her own. How they’d reveled in the delights of the bedchamber! She’d taken to that part of married life with a zest that surprised and consumed her. It was a shared escape from the heaviness of duty, the disagreements over policy – and children.
Soon her ladies would come. They’d help her dress for the day’s pageantry – if black widow’s weeds qualified as ‘dress.’ Her subjects criticized her dour appearance, but bright colors were a thing of the past. With Albert’s death, the curtain descended.
Perhaps she wore black for the expiation of her marital sins – for never giving him the power he had craved and deserved. Now he was gone and it was too late to thank him, to honor his service.
But the wearing of black? She let her widow weeds proclaim his importance to her, and to England, the country he’d served so diligently.
Frowning, her gaze settled on the roses Bertie had delivered to her room that morning.
Bertie. She rolled her tongue along the sides and roof of her mouth, tasting bitterness as her lips tried to form his name. What a disappointment. Her eldest. Uncontrollable in his appetites.
Like you? Of them all, isn’t he the one most like you? Unwelcome thought!
No, she decided. Not like me.
Her appetites, while fierce, had always been under control.
She blamed Bertie for her angel’s death. His lack of control had forced Albert to confront him, and the subsequent walk in the pouring rain, trying to reason with a wayward son, had destroyed Albert’s health. Death soon followed. Despite the verdict of physicians who pronounced her angel’s death the result of a prior, unsuspected condition, she knew the truth. It was disappointment with Bertie that had killed him.
She would never forgive him for Albert’s death. Never.
She thought of the others, all those children, the unhappy result of passionate nights shared with her Albert. As much as she disliked pregnancy, the ugly heaviness of it, the invasive feeling of life stirring within her, she would not have missed those wonderful nights. If motherhood did not agree with her, nights with Albert had. Given the chance, she’d give up everything to experience the feel of his body next to hers one more time.
Like diamonds glittering against a square of black velvet, the memories shimmered. It was the memories that sustained her in the bleakness of old age.
That morning, she’d had her engagement ring brought up from the vault, thinking she might wear it for the celebration. When Albert had placed it on her finger so many years ago, she’d looked at it with uncertainty. A diamond-encrusted snake with ruby eyes, its body coiled itself about her finger.
“A symbol of eternity, Vicky, of my enduring love,” he’d said, caressing her cheek, voice and eyes serious.
No, she’d not wear the ring today. It had belonged to the vital, hungry girl she’d once been. For this old woman, wearing her weeds of loss, a plain gold band would suffice.
Albert. Jubilees. Diamonds.
Remembrance of things past.
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to a 1,000 word prompt to write a story based on two sets of randomly drawn words that created a title. The challenge was to then fit the story around the title. My two words were ‘diamond’ and ‘breakfast.’