I turn and run away, forcing the thought of Father out of my head. I stop walking as a smell jolts me, making my nose curl. I hate the fields. They reek of human flesh. The priests have too many laws and punishments, and their favorite is death by fire. Men and women burned bloody and black at the stake.
“Yah, I know. It’s bad!” Richard shouts as I draw near. “Only fire can burn the Devil out of heretics.” He laughs. His thick, long hair sits braided in a flat circle around his head, save for a stray bang that keeps touching his right eye. “Ever since that inquisitor was appointed, we’ve been getting burned at the stake breaks pretty much every week! One wrong breath and next thing you know, you’re up in flames! Should I feel bad that I’m actually happy about it? The breaks from work, I mean.”
I love the way the double suns glisten against his hay-colored skin. He’s a few months older than me, but he likes when I take charge. He winks at me with his dark-brown eyes and shifts his gaze down to my stomach. I look past him at the deep ditch. The spotted water cows hear his laugher and take the opportunity to beg for food. Richard follows my gaze to the water cows and sprinkles dried hay across the water. They bellow in appreciation. When the water cows saunter out of the lake to sunbathe twice a day, we milk them and pull off the delicious large blue crabs that get tangled into their long-matted manes.
“Don’t be so loud about it! Best just not say or think anything about it at all.” I wrap my dirt-stained faded-green rags tighter around my body with a wry smile. I’m getting noticeably bigger. It was Richard’s way to make light of the terrible things that happen around us. To us.
Richard and I share the same type of pain: ruthless assaults from our fathers. Yet we still find joy in each other. Richard is the clearing in my storm. He feels the same about me too. I suppose we are a bit too happy together. I have been with child for many months now. Richard nods, motions to my womb and reaches for my hand. “Not speaking about things doesn’t make them disappear.”
I want nothing more than to wrap myself in his arms and feel his strong weight holding me, comforting me. My heart longs for me to be held by him, but my feet force me to step back. Avoid his hand touching mine. I hate my life.
“You want people to see us?” I scold him. “We have to be careful. You know that,” I whisper, drenched in self-pity.
“I want to be with you! Get out of here. Your mother already knows.” He looks at me sternly, pausing until I give him my full attention. “We can’t let your father find out. He’ll kill you. I’m not willing to let that happen.”
I shake my head and hold back tears. “If Father wants to kill me, he will. No one can stop him. I can’t leave Mother and Louis. Ever.”
“That’s my point,” he says. His hand tremors. “We need to get out of here because once he knows, it’s over. We can take your mother and brother with us. I’m surprised your mother took it so well.”
I pick up my large basket and begin filling it with dry hay. “She’s more afraid than upset. Keeps making me pray on my knees for forgiveness every chance she gets. She makes me snort some powder mixture. Says it will give me strength for what’s to come, or something like that.”
“Did you do it?”
“Yah. Of course.”
“What is up with your mom and those powders?”
“I don’t really know. Don’t say anything. Next thing you know, she’ll be burning on the stake.”
I immediately regret my words. I trust Richard and don’t want him to think otherwise. Plus, I feel guilty speaking about Mother that way. With my bad luck, my words will become a reality. Tonight before bed, I’ll pray and replace my negative words with better ones.
“Come on, Diana, you know I wouldn’t. Even if my mother were alive, I’d still like your mom better. You know that,” he teases.
I nod and offer a smile. His father strangled his mother to death three years ago. Our commune leadership declared it was her fault. No woman deserved to live if she could not be obedient to her husband. He didn’t get in trouble, but the priest didn’t put a new wife on him, either.
“You’re right. I know.” I throw a handful of dry hay in his face. His eyes light up, and he grins.
“Come on!” I shout. “We have to finish the water cows, chickens and pigs.”
“I love you. Whatever happens, I’ll always be with you.” He grabs my basket and covers our faces with it so others can’t see if they look our way. I stand on my toes and kiss him.
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