To serve others was all she’d ever known. Bred for a purpose, now she would become a housewarming gift for a lucky gentleman.
“Make sure you know what he likes to eat,” scolded her mother, “or else you’ll always have an irritable man.”
Other dictates were issued: never argue, always placate, match his affection levels, and be ready when he is.
All her life, she was prepped and pressed and readied for the day when she would become a wife – subservient, gracious, lovable, and finally beautiful. And, today was the day. She could finally say she was living with purpose.
What other purpose existed? Whenever she thought to question her fate, her mother’s words always drew her back in – this is what you were born to do. It doesn’t matter if you want it now. You will grow to want it, as you will grow to love.
She wondered, wasn’t it unnatural to have to learn to want something, to love it? Wasn’t that a betrayal of your true self?
“Now stand still while I put the final touches on this hem,” her mother’s hands forcibly twisted her hips straight, interrupting her train of thought.
Three giddy women gathered around her bouquet, whispering and then shushing each other about handsome boys and grown men – wondering who would make a good husband, who would have attractive children?
A goblet of wine was passed around, and the women took turns gently sipping the burgundy colored libation. When it came to the bride’s turn, she held the glass for a moment, letting her thoughts swirl with the deep dark liquid, and she saw the boy’s eyes. She let herself dream as her lips touched the glass for a sip.
Her mother noticed the wine and hastily grabbed for it, accidentally hitting the outstretched bouquet of tulips from another woman’s hands, knocking them to the floor.
The women went back to fluttering this way and that to tie this, fix that, steady this, place that. “Beautiful, just beautiful,” she heard someone say. All the while, she stood, holding her breath, trying to keep the feeling of panic from taking over.
“Mother,” she hesitantly asked, “what does he look like?”
“Hush, now. You know you aren’t supposed to meet him until the ceremony. Stop asking questions.”
Things continued moving too quickly. Someone went to fetch water so the women wouldn’t faint. Her mother promptly opened the window, and an immediate breeze rolled in, carrying with it musical accompaniment from the courtyard. A decadent array of greenery decorated the outside of the window, and a few leaves wandered in.
She took a step towards the fresh air, but her mother’s nails in her arm stopped her. “We aren’t done here,” she hissed, causing an embarrassed blushing from the bride. Just as she turned away, a few beams of sunlight caught her eye, and she reached out to touch the beautiful glow of his hair.
The bell rang for the audience to sit down, all formalities finally met, and the crowd in the room deflated until only an echo of diminishing chatter was left. As an unearthly stillness settled, she realized this was her prayer time, a chance to meditate and prepare for the Union of Flesh.
All this pomp and circumstance for the performance, and no one besides her mother had even spoken to her. No one had even given her a mirror so she could see her beautiful self.
She gathered up the long folds of the dress and heaved herself over to the mirror, timid and wary of meeting her own gaze. This was the moment of re-introduction, the moment to see the wife in herself and to make herself strong for the Forever, if that even existed at all.
Pale, small, and trembling, she was powdered an unadulterated white. But something had to be done about those red-rimmed eyes, imposed her mother’s voice.
She tried to hide her shaking hands, down low, under her shawl so that her new self wouldn’t see her fears. A sob escaped her lips, surprisingly forceful, and she arched forward, clinging to the edge of the mirror.
As a child, she’d played by the pond behind her house. The grass was high, never cut, perfect for hide and go seek, or building secret camps. It was then she had seen him – her first boy. Before that, she’d heard talk of boys and men, but more as mythical creatures in a far distant future. But here, amidst the calm and green of her natural paradise, he sat, head cocked, arms out, listening for some sound only he knew.
She began to step towards him, her family’s warning sounding in her head. But, as she stood still, watching him for a moment, observing the way the sun danced golden across his hair, there was no hint of malice or unkindness of any sort in this boy from another world.
Her footsteps rustled the leaves, and he looked up from his meditative task. No hello was issued, no formal greeting. He just regarded her, quizzically, then playfully, and his eyes, deep and dark, invited her over to join him at his special rock.
He had been collecting flowers of various kinds and had six or seven laying in a row. Daisies, tulips, roses, and a few she couldn’t name. He picked the tulip up and handed it to her, gently. “For you,” he said with a smile.
Her eyes widened as she heard the deeper tones of his voice. She raised her eyes to meet his for the very first time and noticed a peculiar half smile making its way across his lips. Unconsciously, she met his smile with one of her own.
But she wasn’t smiling now. The final bell rang signaling the end of the ceremonial introduction, and soon the Song of the Brides would start. A single tear marked a roadway down her powdered cheek.
Over the years, there had been times those same eyes would come to her in a dream, playfully inviting her to pick flowers, an outstretched hand re-affirming their connection. As time passed, she tried distracting herself from that afternoon, from the moments in time that ignited a curiosity in her heart. But, no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t shake the new feeling of freeness she felt that day, or the knowledge that she had given her heart to this boy. He was her true husband and had been since that afternoon.
She needed to go find him. She wouldn’t be held without a voice any longer. She would find him and tell him that his smile had made her believe her life could be different, her life could be happy. She would smile and hug him. She would give herself to him fully, let herself go completely, for him. No one else, just this boy from the pond who had made her believe in the possibility of forever.
She pulled herself high onto the windowsill as she heard the wedding song start. She took in a deep breath, felt her heart come alive in her chest, and counted one, two, three. She felt the sunlight on her face, whispering For you. And she jumped.
Underneath your wings
I used to lie
Hidden from the world
Upon sanded beaches
Once I craved
The wind as it
Up from valleys below
Caught between the realities
In ancient lullabies
Before feeling brought
Pain and loving
Now I long for the
Protection and sanctification
Once given to a little child born
In the haunted memories of long ago
Ignored, though never
Behind an old man’s eyes
“Ouch!” Jane realized she had been biting her lip, enjoying the taste of the blood a little too much. She grabbed a tissue and dabbed at the wound as her boss rounded the corner to remind her of the staff meeting.
“Crap, I’m late.” She grabbed for her notebook hastily and bound around the corner to the meeting room. The room was so packed full, no one would have imagined a round of layoffs had just finished. How many more rounds would there be before she’d gain the momentum to approach the boss and ask for relocation? Or just quit this rat race all together? That internship at the dance studio was still up for grabs. If she could only get herself to write that stupid entrance essay.
The boss started describing figures, salaries, overheads, underheads, blah, blah, blah. Jane checked her phone a little over four times before noticing the slow ticking of the clock nearby her head.
“And here we have the ratio of sales to staff…” Tick, Tick, Tick.
“We are going to have to let go of another round of newbies, if not today, then next month.” Tick, Tick, Tick.
“So it just makes better sense to get it over with sooner than later.” Tick, Tick…
The air around Jane’s body seemed to grow frigid and stale with the next Tick. She tried to think of something else, anything else, besides the incessant ticking next to her head. She turned her head to face her adversary, but no clock decorated the room.
That’s when she felt the first pull. It started downward, from her chest, creating a heaving from within her, and she wretched all over the carpet.
“Jeez, Jane, take a day!”
She rushed towards the bathroom, hand over her mouth, and the next wave landed just in time in the sink.
Lucy, from the cubicle next to hers, popped her head in the bathroom and approached tentatively, hand soft on her back, “Jane, you OK?”
“I’m not pregnant, Lucy. I guess I’m just….” Bile spewed the mirror, chunks and blood dripped down, creating shimmering streaks in the recently windexed reflection.
Lucy removed her hand, “Shit, Jane. Go to a doctor.”
Jane didn’t come into work the next day. Or the next. Or ever again. Her boss sent Lucy over to check on her and to give her the news that she’d been one of the casualties of the impending layoffs.
But, no one was home. Everything was as it always was. Dirty dishes in the sink. Bed unmade. Shoes in a row in the closet. The bedroom window was open, but, that wasn’t necessarily unusual. It did get hot on this side of town.
A police report was filed, the scene (her apartment) was roped off, and statements were taken. Was she unhappy at her job? Did she have any known enemies? Did she have any family? Routine questions, all leaving more questions. Not unhappy, but not happy. She always wanted to be a dancer, not a receptionist. No enemies, no family. Just her.
Another week passed. No funeral yet. That would be insensitive. She might still be found.
The police tape was removed. Another week, and the apartment was cleared and rented to a darling little couple just in from the country.
Sweat glistened at the corners of his mouth as his secretary read him the numbers from the last round of layoffs.
“Damn. We’re going to have do go for round three!” he muttered.
His cuff was now turning gray from the constant dabs at the pooling sweat.
“Get me some water, Lucy.”
He had been hesitant to take this job in the first place. Management was never his strong suit. He’d been content to skate by, undetected, just him and the computer. But once his dad’s Alzheimer’s hit, someone had to step up to the plate to salvage a legacy of work.
He didn’t like telling people their livelihood was lost. He didn’t like feeling the blame, the searing burns of hate as the employees hastily (and sometimes violently) gathered their belongings and exited.
And yet, here he was, another guilty boss, holding his guilty head in his guilty hands.
The cramping started down deep in his abdomen. A slight, giddy like sensation, at first. Butterflies? Then the ripping started. First, a slow, searing gash, just under his skin, traveling up from the pubic bone, into his ribcage. He let out a moan and fell to the floor, clutching his stomach.
I’m being ripped open, he thought. There is something inside me, it wants out. It wants to come out. Get it out. But the words wouldn’t come, only a slow trickle of blood, creating an off angular pattern in the dusty carpet.
When Lucy got back, the boss was gone. She let out an annoyed sigh and left the water on his desk, where it would continue to sit until the janitor cleaned it up for the next boss weeks later after the investigation was complete. The carpet was never cleaned, and the blood stain was never found.
In the hubbub of office activities, who stops long enough to contemplate their surrounds, let alone get down low enough to notice a tiny trickle of dark blood in the carpet?
Lucy was next. Then, the courier who came on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Then, Bob from accounting, the one with the twins. All, gone.
The connection was in the lab work of a child, the recycled tissue of an assistant, and on the carpet of the boss’s office.
Once it was determined the disappeared weren’t coming back, lives continued on, as best they could. Thoughts of people from the past were interrupted by cell phones, reality shows, and parties.
People tried to forget the disappeared, but there was still that question. That mystery. That bite, that first taste of blood when a person realizes something is wrong.
They were all becoming infected now, with this new genetic anomaly, this questioning change that would continue to grow inside all of them until it burst-leaking out new life, alongside putrefied flesh, bleeding color for the very first time.
Land with me
Atop the sea
And wait for hope
To pour down
Another day has
Come and gone
Taking us closer
To our forever
Over the mountain
And around the pines
Down the path
A brilliant green
Shadowed light leads
The way, our
Footsteps make soft
Impressions in the ground
That is what
We do, over
And over again
With the promise
Of a thousand
Years to come
We keep pace
They wait to
At last, under
A brightened sky
We look up.
We made it.
We are home.
I reach across the sheets to make sure you’re still there. Your nighttime habit of coming to bed late leaves me scared of being forgotten, deep into the night. The shallow breaths of sleep, for me, are interrupted by the worry that something’s wrong, and so I wake and check, continually.
They say it’s part of my OCD. Compulsive checking way into the night, but I know that’s only partly true. Compulsive, yes. Obsessive – perhaps, but not disordered. Not in the least. There is an order to my madness. A yearning to be close to you – to feel the heat rising off your body. So, I lie in bed, night after night, waiting for the hours to tick by until you join me.