The cot is cold against my skin. I cover myself with a thin blanket and wring my hands. Clasp them so hard that it hurts. I pray—no, beg— God to make my father leave us alone. I rub my upper arms for comfort and hug my shoulders. I stop fighting the memories. Memories of dark ghosts in my father’s form, yanking my hair and cursing me. Unable to speak or just muttering to myself, I want to die. I need the pain to end.
I’m overwhelmed with an insatiable itch that steals my hot tears, dissolving them into a dark cloud with grotesque red and black veins. A wicked, floating, vaporous threat full of blood and lightning that strikes and soaks me dripping wet. Shocked and steaming, my heart frazzled, soul scorched.
A voice vibrates against my ears as it crawls from dark corners, resting under my cot and singing from my pillow. A pleading voice that lets loose in the shadow of the moonlight. Rocking me awake with a ferocious melody. A harmonious tune of desperation, protection and survival.
Confusion hurls my mind in different directions. My heart grieves without peace, full to the rim with burnt ashes. I’m so angry I can hardly breathe.
Eventually, a realization burns my heart and pushes into my veins: the inevitable infinity song that has no end will continue to haunt me unless I submit and create the final notes myself.
This bright light of awareness surges through me from the grisly lightning cloud in Heaven’s sky. I’m given a new heart, and it’s like it’s cut from the chest of the supreme God herself. I’m no longer frazzled and brutalized but starving and powerful.
There’s a throbbing ache in my core—fiery heat. Finally, I bring forth my voice. My own dark song. A scream. I crave the feel of my baby in my arms. I want to smell her. Touch her. Kiss her little feet!
At dawn, Father drags me toward the door, forcing me off my feet. I collapse. I don’t care what he’s doing. It can never be worse than what he has already done.
“You always give me a hard time,” he sighs, shaking his head. He blinks one eye, and sweat falls into it. His upper eyelid is droopy, nearly covering his whole eye. “What’s your problem?”
“You,” I sneered. “Didn’t you hear Dulcitius of Marburg?” His voice is sharp. “Everyone has their part. When you quit, it affects all of us. I can’t stand when everyone complains about you.”
“Really?” I scoff, throwing my head back. “I don’t care what that inquisitor says. None of them care about us. They want us afraid. On our knees.” I’m so drunk with disdain that my next words shoot out of my throat. Piercing the air like the cries of those at the stake as the first lick of the flames mauls their toes.
“You mean, when I quit, it affects you. We pick up your slack when you’re drunk and can’t work. Now you have to work like the rest of us.” My eyes widen, and my fear sheds away like a snake’s skin. A poisonous snake.
I push myself upright. “They don’t complain about me; you complain to them about me. About all of us!” An irresistible urge to argue comes over me. “I know the truth. Your whole reality is a lie.”
“You. Your mother. Both of you don’t see what’s around you. Barely enough of anything for anyone. Half-rotted crops. Witches and demons always trying to trick us.” He waves his hand into the air. “Whatever we’ve done wrong, we need to fix it. With the help of Dulcitius of Marburg, we will. We must keep praying that God stops punishing us. She’s already taken away my family. I don’t need you, your mother and even Louis to mess up more than we already have. All of you just keep God’s wrath on me. I can’t take any more.”
He clasps and unclasps his hands, shaking his head down at me.
“If God has already taken away your family, who are we?” I open my arms wide. A laugh curls out of my mouth and slaps him in the face.
He hits me. The blow knocks my eyes shut. Once I open them, I feel like I have poisonous venom. It oozes from my belly into my throat, boils over and shoots out through my eyes. If he would just look at me, I know my glare would kill him.
Father is like a worn-out rag doll, the kind we make with straw and mud from the lake. He has no words left, only slumped shoulders and unwilling eyes. Suddenly, he stalks out of the cottage, almost tripping over himself as if he couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I know the painful ache of his blows will follow me for hours. The one on my face and the other deep in my heart. Being together as a family with Father would be impossible. I have always felt this way, but now I am certain.
I stumble back to my cot. I rest my cheek onto my pillow, careful not to bother the swollen side. I raise my hand to my face; its trembling. My pillow is singing to me again. It’s an unsavory song but soothes my fear and commands me to change the path of my life.
As my pillow’s song quiets, I imagine Mother and Louis far off tending the water cows. That is my job. I do need to get to work, regardless of what Father says. No more water cows, not now. There’s a different job I must do. I wince when I hear the door slam.
“You whore!” Richard’s father, Mr. Kempe, spits, glowering at me. His lips are curled, and droplets of sweat decorate his thick brows. I push myself off my cot and cower against the wall. There is nowhere to hide.
“I pulled your father off of Richard today. This is all because of you.” He comes at me. “How dare you corrupt my son. I will send you to hell!” My fear breaks into sharp pieces at my feet, and the heat in my veins bubbles over. I tare daggers into him. Tearing him to shreds with my eyes, daring him to come closer. There’s no room for the self-pity of my past; it was sliced out and bled to death over an open flame. Only hunger, power and change can come into my nightmare. They will wake me up.
Finally, Mr. Kempe hits me. He wraps his hands around my neck; he’s hurting me. I swing and punch blindly all around. My fists ache sharply each time they slam against his pudgy frame. I’m strong. I’m angry. I’m crazy. I’m going to kill him!
All of a sudden, he stops, and I’m still swinging. I can hardly see him. His weight lifts off of my cot, and I consider going after him. My knuckles ache, and I’m breathless, so I don’t. My eyes swell, foggy with tears, but I see him now. With a distorted face and busted lip, he spits at me. He runs into the wooden meal table, stumbles back, then lunges forward out of the door. I’m so glad Richard is nothing like his father. As I am nothing like mine—at least, I don’t think so. I remain the rest of the day in my bed, cheeks soaked with silent tears.
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