From the author: Eliza Raine - a mixed-race girl from India - was Anne Lister's first love. This is an imaginary conversation between her and Ann Walker, Anne Lister's last love.
We are the same, you and me.
You recoil when I say this, your eyes wide. What’s the matter? Never seen a brown person before? The truth it, I now barely remember India, nor my Tamil mother. I remember York and Manor House School. I remember Anne Lister.
Oh! You’re listening now, aren’t you? A blush comes to your Yorkshire Rose cheeks, pink creeping over snow like dawn over the Caucasus. Do you think you’re the first she loved and left? No, my dear Miss Walker. That was I. And look where it got me. Where it got us both. Once the Dr Belcombes turn the key on the asylum, there is no thought of leaving.
You look from your hand to mine. Yes, she exchanged rings with me, too. Back when we were schoolgirls, sharing an attic room. We pledged our troth and planned our future. When I came into my majority, we would have all the wealth we needed. We would set up home together as ladies of the manor, sharing a bed as we always had, protecting one another from goblin men.
Does this sound familiar, Miss Walker? I hear you were an heiress too when you exchanged vows. Does any of your money yet remain? Or did she sink it all into that bottomless pit at Shibden Hall? Come now, don’t call me heartless. We both know she considered us beneath her. It was money she wanted. Money and a warm bed.
Oh, don’t weep! I’m sure she loved you, in her way. But she was a woman of granite, implacable as those mountains she loved to climb. And we - her lovers - broke ourselves like water upon her.
What’s that? You say you are not insane, only grieving. That your aunt will come for you. That this would never happen if Anne was still alive.
Oh, but my dear, it would. It did. My only crime was to speak out against the cruelty and hypocrisy of my guardian. And Miss Lister - my beloved Anne - took that vile man’s side. She handed me over to Dr Belcombe and began an affair with his daughter.
We all wished her to be faithful. But how faithful would she have remained, had she come back alive from the shores of the Caspian? The truth is, you cannot know.
I was the first of her lovers, you were the last. And who knows how many came between? But I who have kept within the asylum these thirty years have this advantage, at least. Anne Lister never visited York without also visiting me. You, who the world called her wife; you, who dragged her frozen body back across Europe to the vault in Halifax Minster, you know this truth.
She will not visit you.
This story originally appeared in The Female Spectator.