From the outside, things were certainly done right. Adah and Christo threw parties regularly, some for their adult friends, and some for the girls and their school-mates, sort of debutant balls for the pre-pubescent.
Java and Siva always understood that this life was the dream and that somewhere outside the estate, reality still loomed, no matter how distant. Ebony, however, was born into this dream-world. She was nursed at balls, mothered by servants, rocked to sleep in horse-drawn carriages.
To Ebony, “spoiled” was a compliment, “filthy rich” an asset stronger than all else. She soon learned that all she needed to do to get her way was to plant her little feet and shout at the top of her lungs until the room grew uncomfortable to bear. She also learned that she often didn’t have to work so hard to get her way; sometimes the easiest solution was the play the kid-game, bat her dark little eyes, tilt her head shyly, and act younger and more vulnerable than she actually was. Between the two tactics, she could get anything anytime from anyone but her sisters.
As for her sisters, it took Ebony a while to put together all of the pieces, but she eventually figured that her father was the source of all of the wealth and extravagance in the house, and that her sisters did not actually belong to her father.
As far as Ebony was concerned they were stow-aways in her world, evil step-sisters trying to steal what was hers. Her mother had chosen a new life and a new family, and Java and Siva belonged back in the old life, and the old family. They no longer belonged to Adah, but simply wandered around behind her like stray cats hoping for hand-outs. And when it came to the sisters who were so unyielding to her whims and fancies, Ebony did not feel charitable.
It was bad enough to see two strangers fawning over her mother, but to see Java and Siva as they were with her father, coyly manipulating him with childish flirtation, it made Ebony want to scream. And often, she did.
Still, she was forced to be around them. Best not to make a fuss and remind her mother of the constant insult of her two stray girls. So Ebony tried to keep quiet, allowing her hatred to silently seethe, using it a focal point as three girls worked together with the private instructors that Christo brought in to teach yoga, dance, diving, and karate.
Ebony strove to outshine her elders, to ease her parents’ humiliation by distracting them from the source. She needed to become the champion of her household, the unquestionable top dog.
Some days Adah would seem to catch a glimpse of the secret wrath, and she would stare at Ebony hard, her young eyes watering, until she fled from the room in a startling burst. Ebony saw this as further evidence of her sisters’ demolition, and hated them all the more for making her mother cry.
But when Adah and Christo took sick, Ebony forgot about the competition, discovering that her hatred and jealousy were really an estranged way of loving her mother. Forgetting about the past, Ebony and her sisters would curl up on a canopy bed in one sobbing mass, cuddled together like kittens.
It didn’t matter then who belonged to whom; they all worried about Adah, forgot about the fairy-tale gifts that Christo gave, longing only for a mother’s love. Walking down the five-minute hallway holding hands, the girls would approach Adah’s room together, tentatively knocking on the door, hoping to curl into her arms like kittens scratching at the belly of a mother cat.
But Adah turned them away night after night, her face vacant, her eyes glassy. Christo swore it was the morphine speaking, but the girls began to feel that perhaps it was not the medicine at all; perhaps their mother did not want any of them–not Ebony, not the daughters of her first family.
Finally, after a stern talk with Christo, Adah let her daughters in, seething each time the girls tried to touch her. She was delirious, and swore that she hated them all, that she hated the house she was in, the air all around her. With her too-short fingernails, she began scratching at her skin, literally trying to tear the life from her body.
Between incomprehensible garglings, she howled out hateful thoughts about Christo, calling him an empty man with only money inside, despite his obvious efforts to bring the family together; and she swore continued love for her poor, estranged husband, Daniel, who the girls had not seen since the night he packed their bags and let them drive away.
Adah moaned about her own blindness, her hunger for money and ignorance of what had mattered in her life. She confessed that she hated herself and everything around her, hated every relic of the misguided life she had taken by storm.
Finally, Adah’s gaze settled on Ebony. “You,” she hissed. “I hate you the most of all. You are the child of lust and hunger. You will never know anything but hatred, and you will never make anything good.” She repeated this several times, louder and louder until she was shouting, and Christo burst into the room to let Java and Siva out, and pull the petrified Ebony away.