She thrust the golden locks from her eyes, not trusting herself to reply. His question made sense. Why ever would a person risk forcing his way into the cottage, yet steal nothing? It was bitterly cold out. Surely the freshly cooked porridge must have been tempting. Or the warm blankets on their beds. Even when she figured out what must have happened, it still didn’t add up.
The officer pushed aside the untouched bowl of porridge and leaned across the table towards her. “I don’t understand.” He might have spoken softly, but there was a sharp edge to his voice. “You insist someone was here. Yet the door was not forced. Nothing has been taken, nothing spoilt. Why are you so sure someone broke in?”
She refused to be intimidated by his sternness, but hesitated all the same. What she had to say was disturbing and she didn’t know how to express it, especially to a man. “I … er…” She could feel her cheeks heating as she struggled to find her words.
He leant even closer, so close she almost suffocated in the smell of sweat vying with sickly deodorant. “Well? Out with it!” Damn the man! Not only did his words insult her, but they trampled the very decency that made their world what it was.
“Let me show you,” she finally managed. Not leaving him time to disagree, she spun round sending her skirts swirling and marched off to her room. He paused on the threshold as she stood aside to let him see. Taboos ran deep. Men didn’t enter an unmarried girl’s room. “There,” she said, indicating the heap of clothes at the foot of her bed.
“What am I supposed to see?” he enquired, his eyes lingering on her underclothes protruding from the muddle of discarded dresses and shifts.
She sighed. Did she really have to spell it out? Was he doing it deliberately? To embarrass her? To belittle her? “I never leave worn clothes lying about, least of all my undergarments.”
“Maybe you were distracted,” he suggested, tearing his eyes from her clothes to gauge her reaction.
“Never!” she insisted vehemently. “No. The answer lies elsewhere.” The real explanation was so outrageous and unthinkable, she could barely bring herself to say it. “Somebody has been wearing my clothes.”
The above story was written as a response to a suggestion concerning inspiration by Neil Gaiman in his Masterclass.