Of course, things weren’t always this way. We weren’t always sealed within this Hermitage, this almighty conservatory we now call our home, with the sounds of My Lady walking through the corridors, shouting to the Heavens at all hours. Once we were a happy household, free to roam the ample grounds as we pleased in the fresh air and the sunshine. Once we could sing and call to our heart’s delight – but that was before he came along, changing our lives forever . . .
It was a clear winter’s day when the gentleman arrived, dressed finer than any gentleman I had seen call at the house before. Within his entourage was a tiny white face peering from behind the bars of a cage. From my roost I could see those beautiful, red eyes, so full of fear, set behind a petite beak and above an elegantly curving white neck. Never before had I seen another white peacock, and this hen captured my heart before I had a chance to meet her; by the time she was whisked away behind those heavy doors, I had already started performing for her, so swept up was I by her beauty. Inside the windows, desperate for a view of this enchanting new hen, I could see My Lady dressed in her finest gowns, her alabaster cheeks blushing with the excitement of her gentleman caller and his gifts, but still I strutted vainly at the window, hoping this new hen would see me.
And for a time, we were content. By the time I had seduced my sweetheart – she herself a gift presented to My Lady – the gentleman resided permanently with My Lady, the last of his effects being brought in after an enormous party in the gardens. Yet when the guests had gone, the shouting began. My Lady’s voice, once heard so beautifully singing at the piano, had turned to screams of pain, the gentleman’s voice raised in anger above hers. Visitors no longer called and a deep sense of fear and melancholy descended on the household.
In the spring whilst my sweetheart was heavy with my eggs, My Lady was showing signs of being with child but the shouting and screaming did not subside, if anything, it seemed to have exacerbated it. The April showers were falling heavy and my sweetheart and I were sheltering under the rafters of the haybarn, the door carelessly left ajar, when we heard the shouting approaching through the drumming of the raindrops: My Lady, her hair wet and loose, ran desperately through the rain, collapsing as soon as she reached the hay. Not far behind her came the gentleman, his face red and swollen with rage and his cane in hand.
The sound of struggle and the smell of their fear, anger and violence startled us both; we fluttered down from our roost into the hay and ran for the door. My sweetheart, in her confusion, almost ran straight into the gentleman, who, without so much as a blink, swung his cane around and brought it down on her delicate neck. My Lady screamed and grabbed the body of sweetheart, cradling it against her chest as her blood ran into the fabric of her bodice; I could do naught but watch and fret from the doorway, my beautiful white train now soaked in the mud, as the gentleman wrenched my sweetheart away, smashing her body into the dirt and stamping on her with his shiny, black boot, crushing my love and our eggs she carried. Raising his cane, the gentleman turned once again to My Lady, her face frozen in agony as she clutched at her abdomen and blood started to collect at the bottom of her skirts, and I cried in distress into the cold April rain.
After that day, the gentleman left; in his place, a small army of carpenters arrived and for weeks the sounds of construction filled the air as the estate expanded and the gardens diminished. By the time summer arrived, the groundsmen had captured all the residents of the gardens – the white swans, the doves from the cote, the falcons in the mews, the parrots and the mynahs from the aviaries, all of us albino – and brought us indoors.
It was as if our homes had been replicated within the house: the fountains, once by the maze, now featured in the centre of an enormous indoor lake, the trees and the garden beds, the mews and the cote, all within this giant conservatory. Light flooded in from all sides, yet through the glass it was muted and dull. Some never adjusted, and we lost five of the swans within the first few days, but soon we learnt that this was our new home.
My Lady still comes to visit us. She feeds the parrots and the mynahs and she spends time talking to me. I feel sorry for her and I lift my tail and perform for her, but she never smiles; she is no longer the young lady we remember: her face, now sunken, twitches at the corners of her eyes and her lips, her skin is now ashen and she clutches at her belly, once swollen with child, now too suddenly flat again. She mutters, for a period, before her voice rises to a shout once more. What she shouts at, we will never know, yet for most of the day, and sometimes during the nights, My Lady’s voice echoes through the chambers and hallways, desperately crying for something now gone.
Another one written for a challenge with very specific, strange requirements (a melodrama with a peacock protagonist, set in the Age of Enlightenment, characters must always be indoors and shouting, etc). For some reason this one has always proven very popular, even though I’m not so keen on it myself . . .