“I will never marry,” you announce.
The circle of adults, blindsided by your non sequitur, inhales.
“Don’t say that!” spits your mother, as if warding off evil. A thousand generations of ancestors frown. You feel the weight of their disapproval.
“But if I do,” you mollify, “it won’t be to someone I’m in love with. It will be to someone who is my friend.” The ancestors are appeased. Your parents are less reassured.
That night, you lie in your bed. The accusing eyes of neglected dolls stare, moonlit, from their dusty corner. No matter. You are snug beneath the quilt with rabbit, bear, and dog. To your narrow chest you clutch the picture book, the one your grandparents gave you, the one where you found the story of the girl who didn’t marry, the girl whose father granted her that wish. You long to live as free as she. Through your window, the horned moon smiles.
You lie awake in a strange bed, snowy linen pulled to chin. The hurricane has passed. Outside, the wind howls clear and warm, flinging monstrous breakers against the granite shore. The gibbous moon fights through tearing clouds. Shadow limbs of whipping trees dance with ancient fissures, a pantomime arkteia on cracked plaster. The storm inside you whispers, “Run!”
Frozen like a hare, you lie in swarming silhouettes, praying for a deliverer. Your thoughts grasp at sleeping friends and would-be lovers, willing someone, anyone, to save you from your inability to save yourself. Over and over, you imagine the knob turning, the door opening, a warm countenance swooping in, snatching you up, bearing you forth to a waiting car.
You yearn to be abducted, spirited away. It wouldn’t be your fault then. You couldn’t be blamed. Not by the ancestors. Not by your parents. Not by all the guests who traveled all the miles to see you wear your grandmother’s dress, to fulfill your role in the primordial chain.
You wonder how you could have been so foolish, so easily ensnared by charm and desire. Your soul strives toward freedom only to feel the thongs bite more deeply into flesh.
The sun rises hard and bright. There will be no release.
Groomed, garlanded, intoxicated by smiles, you are led to the altar, the spotless heifer, gift to the ancestors. You submit.
The sacrifice made, the celebrants repair to feast by the sea.
Two guests lag behind, the crone and the farmer. From the knoll, they survey the revelers below. Strains of music and the perfume of trodden clover rise to their senses. “This will never work,” she prophecies. The farmer will tell you this years later.
Your instincts were right. This is no friend.
You’ve made a terrible mistake. You should have run, called down the wrath of family, friends and ancestors, rather than be disrespected, treated like a dog. Come here. Fetch that. You strain against your tether.
You cling to your honor like a raft. It is all that sustains you. You made a vow. You will keep your word. Dignity is the last refuge of the bound.
It has only been three days. Perhaps things will change. Meanwhile, you take precautions.
Five years have gone. You are dying by the inch. A leprosy of the soul consumes you. Bits drop off piece by piece. Each day you are less. The numbness is a blessing, revulsion the only emotion left.
“Maybe you’re a lesbian,” he offers as you shrink from his touch. “All women want me.” You consider the possibility and think: It must be nice to be so vain.
“You should have a child,” posits your mother, attempting to bind you more tightly. “Having a child changes people.” And if it doesn’t’
If only he were dead. You catch yourself in a fantasy. Ill wish or dream’
“I can’t take this any more. You have to leave.”
His announcement hits you with your morning coffee, strong and black. The affront boggles. How dare he order you to leave the house you paid for, the home you labored to restore.
You feel a searing pain, betrayal severing the bonds of loyalty. The lashings, grown deep in your flesh, are torn free.
In silence you stand, wrap yourself against the coming storm, gather your gear and hound, and set forth. Your hunting call goes out across the web, resonating down cords of sisterhood. Signal fires are lit on hills. Messages dispatched by owl and dove. By sunset a new home is secured.
That evening, you return to pack your things.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “I take it back.”
“Some things cannot be taken back,” you reply.
That night, you lie on a pallet. Slumped satchels of clothing line the walls. No matter. You are snug beneath your sleeping bag, dog curled to your belly. You listen to the rhythm of her heart. She is enough. The crescent moon shines through your undressed window, reminding you of the picture book, the one your grandparents gave you, the one where you found the story of the girl who would not marry. You bathe in her light, in the spartan freedom of your singularity. Your wish is granted. You smile.