Mercy’s Conflagration

Burn the witch, they said. My neighbours and my friends, my lovers. Swift cat could not be caught, and through their grasp, and over the hill. Goodbye-far-away and she’ll never come back, will have her babies beneath a cart, yowling, yellow-eyed. But, with my limbs like lead, I go nowhere. From one small window; the square of untouchable sky which is cornflower blue or dark as spilled ink, and I want to be out there in that bird embellished air. I can breathe it in, but cannot join it, shackled as I am to this place of dirt. So cold that as the sun reaches its zenith, I can see my breath. My hands long for the final bonfire, and death has a steady pace, approaching.

In the apple orchard, beneath young trees, and Jonah Abbott, I once spoke of dreams. Fanciful flights, feather-soft imaginings. Should not all wild creatures be free? Then his marvel turned to silence, to stone, to a place unreachable. I heard, beneath us, earthworm machinations. I felt my own going away like unravelled stitching, a tick-tick-tick of a deathwatch beetle. My heart so heavy, as he gave it back to me. He said, what’s to be done with you?

Our township is mud and holy liars. The woods that creep towards our edges are dark, suggesting all manner of sin. Like bloody-minded freedom, like you and I are strangers. All the good people of this place, gnashing and wailing, and foaming at the mouth to be rid of what makes a person, a person. In spring the girls wear flowers from the fields, and bathe their faces in sunbeams, and wait to be made a wife. Then, to be wife-shaped, with baby, with purpose. The labour of men leaves imprints upon the earth. I don’t like their ways, but I understand them, and why they have made this place. No girl is happy here, when no longer a child.

The last of the sunlight licks my face, goodbye for now, and the lark song is a final joy. I breathe in the damp of my prison, I exhale a furious understanding. There’s a grain of truth in the lie, and I am fierce but it will not save me now. Because the stars fall, because the pink mouth smiles, because the wife knows– I, linen and lace, go to the stake and am tied like a very bad dog. They leave my pretty hair to watch it burn. The stench I know already, poor Mary, poor May, sisters gone this past Summer. I have lived to see one last snowfall, and spent my grace on one wicked Autumn day. I am sixteen. My hands are shaking. I hear Mother wailing, but cannot see her. When the flames catch me I flare like a candle, and am quickly, not soon enough, gone.

Many dawns go by without me, wheel of the year spinning round and round, yet with little purpose for the town. Faces once gone are soon forgotten, and the trees are taller now, the babies many. It is one clever, moonless, midnight hour when I wake to find I am reassembling. Ash and bone to flesh and will, a lurid red heart gathered at the centre of me, beating like flightless wings, for what purpose I cannot say. I have no need of it. I am not what I was before, my body is alchemy, it is elements transformed, an unkind beauty in the sharp edges. A knife of a girl; Mother made it so with prayer and wax and silver bell.

Jonah Abbott, of good standing, with the blessing of three sons, is fast asleep in bed. I come slipping in from beneath the door like fog to hang above him. The silence is thick, the air warm with slumber. I pass my palm across his wife’s closed eyes, and she won’t wake till morning time. Rest sweetly, lulled and hushed as a baby. It’s come with me Jonah, away down the stairs and into the darkly coating night. Marching past the place of my ending, to the apple-dotted place of our beginning. Do you love me Jonah, after all this time? -I do not say, can no longer say a single thing. Words are of very little use to whoever or whatever I am now. But this young man is now silver-haired and mumbling, dew-dropped with memories. Forty-odd years to be content with his life, yet Jonah has never loved a day in his life. I see it now, with my terrible quicksilver eyes. His three sons met three wives but they will bear no fruit. I will chew out their tongues and twist off their heads. Jonah looks up at me with eyes so callow that the years slip away from us. Tenderly I am reaching, laying beside him amongst the rotten fruit, and churning insects. I bleed my poison into the dirt, and as the animals of the forest writhe and babble, I unhinge my pretty little jaw, and swallow him whole. This life has only just begun.

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