A Night at Netherfield: A Short Story
I didn’t know how to respond to my grandmother, who was ranting endlessly about the scandalous lives of her bridge club members, so I contented her with the occasional “hmm,” “wow,” or “oh, that’s interesting.” It was early morning. We had already been on the road for a couple of hours, heading to Lexington, Kentucky to spend a couple weeks of summer with family.
Quickly, I let in a sharp intake of a breath, a gasp really, which my grandmother ignored, appropriately. My issues with anxiety elicited those types of habits. Where others nervousness would cause a slight increase in heartbeat or clammy palms, my heart felt like it would explode, or possibly climb into my throat and out of my mouth. I felt like I needed to crawl out of my own skin and run away from myself, an imminent sense of doom came over me, and an adrenaline rush made me feel like at any moment I could completely freak out and just start screaming uncontrollably. When anxiety like that occurs I have to do something, like a loud, sharp intake of breath, to get that tiny fraction of energy out so I don’t completely explode. Being confined in a car didn’t help, and not just any car but a car with my grandmother, and not just any car with my grandmother, but a car with my grandmother who was taking me to a place with judgy, talkative relatives, who would undoubtedly ask me why I didn’t have a boyfriend and force me to sing for them.
Notoriously a talker, my grandmother could go on for hours with as little as a few arbitrary nods of agreement. So, I reached my hand down to the floorboard, and grasped an old, weathered copy of Pride and Prejudice, a last resort to calm my heart, which was fluttering like a hummingbirds wings. Fingering a yellowed page delicately, I delved into the mannered, romantic society Jane Austen had so eloquently described in her novel. There I found a solace from my anxiety, and I seemed to fall into life with the Bennett sisters, rolling my eyes at Kitty and Lydia’s antics, giggling at Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal, begging Elizabeth, in vain, to give Darcy a chance. I nibbled each word and swallowed each sentence until the whole book had been devoured, and I looked up into the light of reality as though breaking through a reverie, and what had been only hours seemed like a lifetime away. Realizing we had stopped, I looked out the window to see my grandmother pumping gas, another reminder I was not in eighteenth century England, and I noticed the fluttering in my chest had subsided for the time being. So, I took those precious moments of silent aloneness to curl up, my head resting against the window, and close my eyes for a rest.
Opening my eyes, I found myself in a world quite outside my grandmother’s Toyota Corolla. Ornate tapestries hung from the walls, chandeliers sparkled reflectively, and the romantic glow of candlelight illuminated a vast room, full of people. Immediately, I recognized the place from my memories: Netherfield, Charles Bingley’s estate as detailed in Pride and Prejudice. I looked down to see I had traded my Doctor Who t-shirt and sweatpants for a long, blush colored gown with a glittery pattern of leaves. It occurred to me that glitter probably did not exist in the eighteenth century, so what was it doing on my dress? But, I brushed this thought off and glided to the side of the dance floor for a better view of the festivities. Smiling and swaying to the music a loud woman’s voice caught my attention and I looked to my right to locate it. “Isn’t my Jane the handsomest of all the girls at the ball?” she said. “Of course, Mr. Bingley has taken a liking a to her. Look how he dotes on Jane and dances with only her! I think I hear wedding bells, perhaps only a few months away.” My heart stopped in my chest because I knew who that woman was. Next to her was a group of young girls, giggling and pointing to the dance floor and I followed their eyes to a particular couple. Dancing blithely was a young, handsome man with a lovely, demure lady, whose blonde ringlets bounced as she skipped around her partner, along with the steps of the dance. My heart leaped because surely that was Jane Bennett just as surely as her partner was Bingley, and the young girls were Kitty, Mary, and Lydia, and the loud woman was Mrs. Bennett. My eyes watered up as I saw my beloved characters come to life before me and I watched the sweetest couple in all of literature fall in love. Gleefully giggling, I felt a pair of eyes on me and glanced to my left, doing a quick double take. Standing beside me was a tall, dark haired man, with a sour, disdainful expression, and an air of pride that was almost tangible. “Hi.” I squeaked, to which he merely replied, “Are you ill?” Shaking my head slowly at the most misunderstood brooder in all of classic literature, I was unable to speak. Mr. Darcy turned smoothly on his heels and walked in the other direction, leaving me shockingly yet delightfully dumbfounded. Next to me I heard a voice saying, “Yes, we’re about an hour away. Traffic is terrible.” and looked to see a man dressed in pantaloons and a waistcoat, ironically holding a cell phone to one ear and pressing his finger in the other. Confused, I was shocked out of my trance and quickly decided to run after Darcy. Finding myself walking through several rooms and hallways I stopped in my tracks when I saw the most amazing of all the events I had seen so far. Slightly bowing to the women before him, Darcy politely requested the next dance, to which she replied yes. Her auburn hair was gathered into a tousled bun and her piercing eyes held a gaze of surprise and wonderment. As Darcy walked away, she frantically turned to her friend next to her, clutching at her forest green gown desperately. “Charlotte, what have I done?” she gasped. I beamed. “What is the matter, Elizabeth?” Charlotte giggled, knowingly. “Elizabeth Bennett,” I thought. “Holy mother of Austen, it’s Elizabeth Bennett.” “Well,” Elizabeth laughed, “this complicates matters as I have sworn to hate that prideful, prejudiced man for all eternity.” “But what’s keeping you from dancing with him other than your own pride and prejudice?” At first I was confused by their quizzical gazes in my direction, until I realized those words had come from my own mouth. My eyes widened. “What?” Elizabeth Bennett replied. I could only stand silently, and then vaguely shrug. Charlotte smiled at Elizabeth. “Lizzie, it would seem this girl has exposed your secret.” What was first a look of insolence on Elizabeth’s face morphed to one of contemplation. Then, as the next song began, she gave a slight nod in my direction. “It would seem so.” She finally replied, and moved toward the dance floor to take her place across from Darcy. I smiled so hard my face hurt. “Mason,” Charlotte said. “What?” I replied, confused. I had never told her my name. “Mason, wake up. We’re here!”
My eyes quickly fluttered open and I saw my grandmother standing over me. A cool breeze was wafting in through the open car door and the sun was blinding my eyes. It had been a dream, and nothing more. Letting out a slow, pained sigh I reached in the back seat and grabbed my backpack, slamming the car door behind me. As we walked up my Aunt’s driveway I shouted, “Wait!” dropping my backpack and running to the car. Quickly, I clutched the old, yellowed, paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice, held it to my chest, and walked toward the house.