A Fresh MindWhen Nancy woke up one brisk, clear morning her mind was nearly a blank slate. It took all the effort she could muster not to scream. Inside she panicked. Her memories were far too few. There was no boundary to her ignorance and very little substance for her imagination to grab hold of. It seemed as if she had awakened into a whole new universe. Everything appeared unfamiliar to her senses. Even her body lying inert in bed felt clumsy and foreign.
She still knew her name-Nancy O'Donnell. She knew, of course, that she was a young woman, and she remembered what she looked like: a mousy, freckled, near-sighted girl with outmoded glasses, a perpetual squint and crooked teeth, of which she was terribly ashamed. She had the habit of speaking with her mouth nearly closed. In any case she rarely spoke because of her unbecoming lisp. And she never liked to draw attention to herself, for she understood that she was ugly and stupid. Everyone had always told her so, and therefore she believed it. She was a maidservant, and had been in service since she had dropped out of school at sixteen.
But that was practically all she knew. Amazingly she could not recollect her family or whether or not she had any friends. The identity of her current employer was a mystery to her. Also occluded from her memory was her previous work history. She hardly knew what she liked or disliked, except that she was fairly sure that she disliked performing more than her share of household labor.
Lying abed late between starched sheets in her chilly, dark room Nancy vainly tried to extract more information from her clouded mind. She was frightened by her disability and wondered why she found herself in this woeful condition. How could she even pretend to perform her duties if she did not remember what they were? Perhaps she would make a conspicuous mistake and find herself out on the street with nowhere to go for refuge. She may already have sealed her fate by being dilatory in getting up this morning. She trembled, and it was not just with cold.
There was a gentle knock at her door. The poor girl gave a start. She assumed that her employer was out in the hall, waiting to berate and then dismiss her! She dug herself down even more deeply within her covers.
The door opened and admitted a heavy-set middle aged woman with a genial smile.
"Good morning," said the newcomer. "How is the patient?"
This greeting reassured the girl. She tried to smile without exposing her offensive incisors. "Better," she muttered.
"That was quite a nasty shock you had when those electrical wires fell on you, my dear girl. You are indeed fortunate to be alive at all. After you came to, you could not remember your accident, or anything else. How is your memory this morning?"
"I'm afraid I can still remember very little," admitted the maidservant. "I think I know who I am. My name is Nancy . . . I think, O'Donnell. I am a maid. Do I work here?"
"Yes you do. You work under me. I am the housekeeper in this mansion. Do you remember my name?"
"I am Hannah Gruen," said the housekeeper, enunciating crisply.
"Hello, Hannah," said Nancy automatically, forgetting that they would already have been introduced.
"You work in the household of Carson Drew, a celebrated lawyer in the town of River Heights," supplied Hannah. "Do you remember any of that?"
"I'm afraid not," said Nancy. The maid now felt safe in admitting her ignorance. There was an explanation for her lack of memory and it appeared that she had not been at fault in the loss of it. Perhaps she could use the accident as an excuse for resting in bed for a few days.
The slothful girl was soon disabused of that hope.
"You have now been abed for four days, sleeping most of the time" explained Hannah. "And as you are no longer sick, except in your mind, I think we should get you up and to work today. Getting back into the regular routine may perhaps speed the restoration of your memories. In any case, the exercise will do you good. There is much for the staff to do, and we cannot afford to be any longer short-handed."
"Yes, ma'am," said Nancy automatically. Hannah lifted the bedclothes and the girl shifted her blotchy, spindly legs onto the cold floor. The icy surface greeting the soles of her bare feet sent a palpable shock throughout her whole nervous system. She shivered all over as though a dozen geese had strolled over the future site of her interment.
"When you get yourself moving you will soon begin to feel warm enough," observed the housekeeper reprovingly.
"Come down to the kitchen when you are washed and dressed," the maid was instructed. "Do you remember the plan of the house?"
"Come down two flights. Your nose will lead you the rest of the way."
"And after Mr. Drew and his guests have been served I will make sure that you get plenty to eat yourself," said Hannah sweetly. "You have not had much to eat since the accident. We need to get some more flesh on those lazy bones if you are to be of continued service to us."
As she made her egress, the housekeeper said sharply, "I'll see you downstairs in fifteen minutes."
Fifteen minutes! thought Nancy in some panic. She didn't remember where she was to get washed and was not certain of what her ablutions consisted. Where were her clothes? What made up a proper maid's uniform in this establishment? Was she obliged to wear makeup? How was she supposed to arrange her hair? There were so many questions she should have asked before she had let her momentarily indulgent supervisor escape.
But there was no time for further regret. Nancy reached for her glasses on the bedstand. She noticed that wearing them did not improve her vision and this puzzled her further. Why did she wear these ugly spectacles if they didn't help her to see better? But there was no time to think about such trifles. She had better wear whatever was expected of her. She could figure out the whys and wherefores later-assuming her memory did not come back in the meantime.
Nancy ran to the closet to inspect her wardrobe. As she suspected, it was scanty. There were four knee-length plain black dresses and two others, much shorter, in garish floral prints with an excessive amount of ribbon and lace. The latter, presumably, were for her days off. She hoped her holidays would not come soon, for she shuddered to think of herself promenading in such ridiculous bad taste. When in her right mind, she meditated ruefully, she was clearly insane as far as fashion was concerned. If her amnesia lasted long enough that she could get her hands on some spending money, her first action would be to burn her tawdry holiday garb and buy some decent frocks.
Nancy doffed her long, plain white nightgown and tossed it in the hamper on the floor. She quickly donned some underwear and stockings from a drawer and one of the unobjectionable black dresses. She added a prim white apron and slipped on some nondescript black flat pumps. She was pleased to note that the shoes were quite comfortable. She felt certain that she would be required to stand up in them all day long.
From a high shelf she extracted a tiny white head-dress. She wasn't quite sure how to attach it. Perhaps when she was doing her hair, she would remember. She stepped out into the hall to search for the washroom, and a mirror.
The facilities, it transpired, were a fair distance away, down one long hall, and around a corner. The bathroom contained such outdated fixtures that they seemed almost primitive. Nancy did remember that she once lived at the end of the twentieth century. Perhaps the shock had sent her reeling back into Victorian times? No, the hems were not low enough and there were no crinolines. And here is an electrical outlet, she noted with relief. But the sink was definitely an antique.
When she looked at her face in the mirror Nancy was disappointed to contemplate a visage even more plain than the one she had remembered as she awoke. She was definitely cross-eyed. How her teeth had not already fallen out, she thought a wonder, so crowded and twisted they were. Her complexion was pock-marked and, where there were no pocks, there were signs of incipient acne. Her lurid red hair, probably dyed, was a tangled mat. No time to make my face or hair look nice, she decided. All I can do is to try to look minimally presentable.
The homely drudge set to her toilet with a will. She brushed out the tangles in her hair, twisted it into a bun and fastened it at the back with bobby pins. These latter appliances she also put to use to attach her little maid's cap. After brushing her teeth and scrubing her face, she applied a little understated color to her lips. It wasn't much, but it did improve her outlook to think that she had done her best and that in a short time had noticeably improved the unpromising material she had been given by a parsimonious mother nature.
Back in her bedroom she found some plain stud earrings and her battered old watch. She remembered that she had forgotten to note the time when Hannah had departed. She didn't know if her quarter hour had expired or not. Well, she reasoned, she could not possibly have made better haste if she had known the time. Sporting her plain garb and cheap accessories, Nancy ran down the nearest stairwell.
Two flights down, she could indeed detect the pungeant odor of a Scottish breakfast in preparation. Why should she know a Scottish breakfast from any other kind? she wondered as she bent her steps towards the source of the aroma. As she pushed her way through a swinging door she spotted another scrawny girl, dressed just like herself. Only this girl was far more handsome. Nancy would have killed to have a smooth white complexion like that other maid!
"Nancy, come here!" the comelier servant girl instructed. "You must have dressed in the dark. Let me fix your cap for you."
Nancy approached obediently.
As the more knowledgeable maid adjusted Nancy's coiffure, she introduced herself.
"Of course, Nancy, I have known you for ages, but as you have not yet got your memory back, I will have to introduce myself. I'm Lucy Sloan. I'm the head maid in the Drew's house. It is quite a big establishment, so it turns out that I need an assistant. That's you. You work under me, and we both work under the housekeeper, Miss Gruen."
"Yes," said Nancy to signify that she had fully taken in all this important information.
"You must learn to say 'Yes, Miss' to me," corrected Lucy.
"To Miss Gruen you say 'Yes, Ma'am,' even though she is unmarried. Her position demands it."
"And should Mr. Drew or any of his guests address you, you must answer briefly and to the point, most often saying, 'Yes, Mr. Drew,' or 'Yes, Dr. Marvin,' or 'Yes, Mrs. Watson.'"
"Yes, Miss." It was evident to Nancy that a copious vocabulary would not be required for the satisfactory completion of her duties.
At this moment Hannah entered the kitchen.
"Ah, Nancy," she said. "I'm glad to see that you are more prompt than usual."
"Thank you, Ma'am," responded Nancy appreciatively. She made a slight curtsey. Why did she do that? she wondered. Her body seemed to know the protocol of household service better than her mind did.
Hannah smiled. "I see that you haven't forgotten your place. Do you remember how to serve table?"
"No, Ma'am," admitted Nancy.
"Well that can't be helped," said Hannah regretfully. "Lucy, take Nancy into the dining room and show her what is required." Turning back to Nancy she said softly, "Don't be uneasy or embarrassed. Mr. Drew knows about your unfortunate accident. His company has been told that you are new and are just learning your duties this morning. So, get along now."
"Yes, Ma'am," said Nancy as she turned to follow Lucy out the door.
There was something not quite right about this maid's life, Nancy thought to herself as she followed the other servant down the hall. She felt as though she might really be intended for some other kind of existence. Only she could not remember it. Perhaps she had been really born into a life of ease, and had been kidnapped, brainwashed, and sold as a kind of slave to Mr. Drew! No, that was just an exotic fantasy of her addled and envious mind, she concluded. After all, she seemed to know some aspects of her current life instinctively. Besides, slavery was not a feature of the times in which she remembered living.
But there was still a miasma of wrongness clinging to her situation that she could not shake. What if there was something improper going on and she truly belonged somewhere else? She would have to keep her eyes open, her mind alert, and look for clues as to who she really was!