Ms. Hillberry liked things difficult. She would ask her butler of twenty-five years to steep her tea with not one, but three bags each cup. If you were to ask her why, she would explain that her taste buds were far more advanced than common folk who only drink from one bag. She also required that her sugar cubes be expertly sliced in oddly precise measurements to which she never checked, no matter how many times she threatened it. The butler knew the cubes must be placed on the side of her plate, never to be put it by any hands other than her own.
Next to her tea was a handcrafted sandwich, cut in the shape of a heart with crusts on the side and cut into fours. Every ingredient had to be visible, the cream cheese, cucumber, pepper, and alfalfa sprouts that would get stuck between her yellowing teeth. Her teeth were just as yellow as the satin curtains in each window, specifically drawn at a ninety two degree angle, which again, was never checked. The walls soon followed suit with a yellowing color, causing Ms. Hillberry to demand the walls be covered in elaborate oil painting of every single member of the rich family holding a cigarette between their pale fingers. Her butler, however, was not a painter, but he learned for the sake of the “royal atmosphere” Ms. Hillberry and her ancestors worked so hard to create by smoking indoors.
Not only did he dislike painting, but he disliked the stench of cigarettes and the effect on the older woman’s lungs. The butler would tell her that one day, she would lose hold of her lit cigarette, leading lace tablecloth, imported from Bordeaux, France, to catch fire, which would make its way to the circular rug from Istanbul, and finally connect with the drapes to ignite the entire royal atmosphere in flames.
She replied the same way every time he cautioned her: “You know what they’ll say once that happens? The butler did it.”
Hailey Bartlett is a seventeen-year-old writer from Freedom, Pennsylvania. She still can’t swim or tie her shoes very well, but she CAN make people laugh.