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Excerpt from See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done

by Sarah Schmidt
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  • First Published:
  • Aug 1, 2017
  • Paperback:
  • Jun 2018
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Print Excerpt

EMMA

August 4, 1892

SECOND STREET WAS thick with skin. I slowed out of the horse and carriage, glanced at the swarm of onlookers at the front of the house, their strange-looking faces. My shoulder ached and I combed fingertips over knotted muscle. I was home. A few people in the crowd placed hands across their chests as I walked by and I recognized faces: Mr. Porter, the young carriage driver whose son always had a runny nose; Mrs. Whittaker, her cabbage cheeks ballooned in talk; little Frances Gilbert, Lizzie's least-favorite Sunday school pupil, scratching up her wild hair, her squirrel eyes gazing at the house. I tried to make eye contact. Somewhere a voice: "I wonder if she knows?" News traveled fast: what kind of accident exactly?

I looked at the sky, cloud shadows over my face, noticed a bird center itself on top of the roof. I blinked and everything became quiet. The house looked so ordinary and I kept thinking over and over "Abby missing." How was it possible a woman Abby's age could disappear? Had she slipped out at night? Had she forgotten to leave a note, forgotten to tell Father that she would be back and not to worry? Or had she decided to give in to one of her moods and leave for good, walked down to the river, stepped onto a boat and floated downstream until she reached the sea, where she jumped overboard, drank salt water and sank like an anchor?

The crowd parted as I walked towards them and ten women cried, their cheeks red with gossip. I heard, "Lizzie," slip from my mouth and step by step my thighs tightened, shoulders cringed, body scared.

A police officer emerged from the side of the house and said, "Miss Borden, please come this way."

It was true. There had been an accident. I was taken through the side entrance, hadn't wanted to think about what was inside the house, but then there I was. I stepped inside, noticed the heat immediately, the drying of my tongue. The door to the sitting room was closed. I heard the words, "Time of death," strange male voices that beat against my ear. My hands petrified.

"Your sister is in here." Fingers pointed to the dining room.

There: Dr. Bowen, Mrs. Churchill, Alice Russell. Strange men surrounded Lizzie, had reduced her to the size of a child.

"What has happened?" My hands, sweat.

Alice Russell came forwards, "Oh, Emma," and wiped her brow and temple.

My sister worked her fingers along her skirt, fidgeted in that way that always annoyed me. There were small indentations along Lizzie's jawline and I could tell she had been picking at her skin as if using her nails as tweezers. I knew this: she had tried to stop herself from worry. On Lizzie's skirt I caught a stain, small and rust-colored. My skin pulled tight around my ribs, hands sweated. "What has happened?"

In the corner of the room a police officer stuck out his chest, the shape of a wooded birdcage, smoothed a hand over his mustache and watched Lizzie. I coughed and the officer straightened and lengthened his fingers across his stomach. The air, salty thick.

"If you would like to sit down, Miss Borden." The officer's tone was high-pitched, too rehearsed.

"What has happened?"

Heads hung low.

"Your parents," someone said.

"Father," Lizzie said, her voice quiet.

"Your father and mother have died."

My head began to throb. "Why are there so many people here?"

"Emma, it's a tragedy." Dr. Bowen was solemn, almost too hard to hear.

I locked eyes with Lizzie, her face was stone. How strange she looked. Words were unsaid. Lizzie swallowed hard, made the sides of her throat move in and out, a frog's mouth, said, "I'm so glad you've come back, Emma," and she put her hand out in front of her, fingers stretched, and waited for me to take hold.

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See What I Have Done © 2017 by Sarah Schmidt. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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