First day of November
Up in the morning with a shiver of faint fears. Doesn't matter. Nothing matters. I'm prepared for the whole kaleidoscope of living, every strand of color, be it blood or blue veins in the clouds.
I accept the mistakes, too. They bind us to the network of alien faces and unresponsive eyes. I haven't really lost anyone who matters to me by coming to this strange country, this tiny village. I need my solitude to paint, and solitude has welcomed me. Though all the folks in the village know me by now. Or about me at least. Sometimes they go a few steps out of their way to say hello. Even just to look at me. A woman, alone and barely twenty-two, who's come to their unremarkable village -- which happens to be cheap to live in -- to do nothing but sketch and paint all day and write letters or read books at night. I wonder what they think.
Two days ago I met an old man in the street. He tottered, from early afternoon ale rather than age, and started rambling about his enemies and friends. I qualified as friend. Before he finally walked on, he shook both of my hands and said, "You're a lovely girl. Take good care of yourself."
In other words, don't get in trouble.
I wonder what he and the rest of them would think if they knew.
There's nothing to know, of course. That's right, nothing. Except that I'm here to gather colors and shapes to bring back home with me. Strange to think of home at a time like this. Night wind swishes cold around the edges of the house. My windows face west. I look to the dark west where all my friends are now. Names, faces, memories and whispers of the past. All vague. Loose ends. Becoming slacker.
So I lose myself in fantasies. Finding, for instance, a small child of my own. Some tiny angel I could be with without effort. Someone who would never leave me.
The fantasies expand. With a small fatherless daughter I might finally become the rebel and the outcast I was always meant to be. Scorned, celebrated, feared. Subject to all the attitudes they have toward someone they don't know what to do with.
I wonder whether anyone will ever understand my innocence.
Second day of November
Sweet Jesus, I'm afraid.
I'm not a star fallen from heaven. I'm just like everyone else. And now afraid. The mirror copies my face same as always. Why doesn't it crack? Yes, there were others before me. Then why am I so utterly alone?
Can't paint today. I take the easel out to the shore by the fuchsia shrubs. The sky is the most amazing deep green. Yes, green. I curse it. Like a child that hates a beautiful toy it doesn't know how to play with. Like a child who knows that even the ugliest words can always only thinly hide the unbearable weeping inside.
Like a child. Oh, child, must you already intrude into the pompous conceits of my mind? Must you teach me already how much you are there, and how low I have fallen?
Can words be as bitter as the knowledge I have? Let me try.
Seven weeks ago James flirted with me across the table at a dance. Six weeks ago he came to take me out for a drink. We had seven apiece. That is, I had seven. He may have had more. He drove me home and stopped by the road. He said he was a virgin. I laughed. And then he ploughed through my body with all the vehemence of wounded pride. Three weeks ago I missed my period. Two weeks ago we met once more. I meant to talk to him about my fears. Instead we parted quickly, after saying nothing, and with mutual contempt.
I scrubbed myself for hours. Bought vinegar for douching. I imagined it burning my delicate skin. I stretched, I knelt, I squeezed my belly with my fists. How could a soul choose to take root in a small body so uninviting?
Instead of talking to James, I drove him away. Could he smell the fear on me with the sure instinct of a guilty party who already hears potential allegations in the timid silences of the accuser?
Third day of November
Tonight I sit in the deep chair by the fire, reading. From time to time I look into its light. Blue flames, red flames, and smoke. When I stand up, there is a leap in my stomach, a carnival ride feeling. I nearly pass out. I hold on to the back of the chair and stare in the mirror. Am I truly pregnant then? No answer of course, except the gray lines of my fear staring back.
Could be the smoke from the fireplace that makes me faint like this. The sweetness of turf burning. I wish I had something strong to drink. I'm trying to listen to the inside of my body. Can't hear a thing.
I won't put new turf on the fire, though the bucket is still nearly full. Better to watch the fire than to watch myself, though, even as I let the fire die. Tiny flames dart through the black of the hearth, like devil's eyes. I seek forgiveness where there is none.
It's all right, it's all right. Spit at me then, if you must.
Fourth day of November
I walk the seven miles to town today. Got to have something to read. Mrs. O'Neil doesn't have anything except the Bible and a four hundred page Stephen King paperback with a lurid cover. Drops of blood slashing through vague shapes of black and white.
I spend nearly an hour in the supermarket, relishing the anonymity and selecting, finally, three paperbacks. There's a book of local fairytales I'd like to get before I leave this place. But it costs a lot. It can wait.
On the way back the sky is overcast. Two miles down the road I get caught in torrents of November rain. I stop for shelter in the small store where the road to the village forks off. Too shy, for some reason, to ask for something warm to drink, I buy a carton of milk. When the rain let up, I go on, hoping for a ride for part of the way, like the last time I came back from town. But it is early afternoon, and not a soul on the road.
I pass the odd brick house of the old man who always calls off his two fierce dogs just barely before I pass the fence. As usual he greets me. "It's wet to be walking out today," he says. True, it was drizzling again just then. But there he is, outside himself, undaunted, puttering around in his brown November garden.
Then comes the part of the road I want to pass quickly. I don't even want to look. But I look, as though compelled by some evil spell. It's just a triangle of leveled ground, cut straight into the gentle hill, marked by three huge boulders. The sand is covered with lorry tracks, a few car tracks. The freshest tracks are from a car whose driver must have changed his mind and used this place to make an almost perfect half-circle back to the direction where he had come from. Soon the rain will wash his tracks away.
And that's where James pulled the car off the road, announcing that he had to take a leak, and that he was a virgin. And that's where I laughed too loud to prove God knows what, and that's where he kissed me with hideous challenge and I kissed back with drunken defiance. That's where I saw his blurred, angry grin, and where he pulled my pants off and leaked straight into me. That's where I ached for tenderness and felt instead something far closer to embarrassment and hatred for James, for his growing, brutal contempt of me. And that's where we kept clutching at each other with the ferocity of knowing how horribly wrong we were to fuck each other.
And that's where I will bring you, my child, years from now. You will be innocent. I will be sad. I might tell you that you were here before. You won't believe me.
I wouldn't want to believe it either, in this barren triangle of sand and rain.
Fifth day of November
Often I see the same shape on top of the hill behind the village, like a tall tree, or a man, or a cross, standing stark against the soft cold mist, with the sun at an early afternoon angle, seeming to single it out from everything else with an outline of very pale gold. Today I go to sketch it, but it's difficult to capture. I only have color, light, shadow. While the air has depth and substance and distance. I think of it as a mountain crowned with light.
The chill of the air gets in the way of my patience. Also the permanent chill of the fear I have inside me. And who could possibly paint with cold feet?
I am disappointed, though, and sad.
I go for a walk along the shore. There, too, everything is colorful, but alien to me and separate. It's a world complete in itself, nothing to do with me and useless to me in its muted splendor, which doesn't have the power to touch me as strongly as I want it to. Back to the road again, along the ditch where even now the red small fuchsia blossoms hold their own against the season. How tiny the blossoms are for shining with such violence in their bright harmlessness. Suddenly the sun comes out, undiluted by clouds.
I reach the first buildings, empty brown earth of fields between them. Empty, yes, but not yet deserted. There is a haystack, never brought in, useless now after too many rains. On top of it a large white cat suns herself. Muscles tense as though expanding themselves as far as they would stretch, to bask in the last possibility of sun. I ache at seeing this. My whole being feels flooded with good-byes.
At home three letters await me. Reassurances that the network of friends is still intact. But for how long? How much of it will remain undamaged?
Sixth day of November
It's way past midnight now. My mind still spinning from incense and Latin phrases.
Mass is held at the house tonight for the old folks in the village who can't make it to church on Sundays. I go out of politeness, curiosity and hunger for atonement.
I don't even get a chance to kneel. On my stool I sit, crammed in between the edge of the sofa, the back of a heavy man, the shoulder of a standing child. I slide against the corner of the chair in front of me, my knees suspended, bent halfway between floor and chair, my elbow supporting my weight on the brown armrest of the sofa. I watch the priest. Soft folds of his robe fall gently over every movement he makes. I admire the ritual, although it doesn't belong to me and couldn't comfort. I admire most of all the strong swift motion of his arm, softened by wide sleeves, with which he thrusts the golden chalice up toward God.
Men and women kneel in whatever fashion they could. Must be hard for some of the old ones, even where there is room. They kneel on the floor, fenced in by other awkward limbs, wrapped in thick shapeless coats, bliss carved into the wrinkles of their faces, and tiredness and sickness into their worn, hunched bodies.
They do not carry children in their bodies.
Those of them who did, or could, are long absolved from shame and gossip and rejection.
Or so it seems. Gossip and rejection may well be eternal. The woman found drunk on the road three times last month is here. And the woman who lives alone in the stone house by the edge of the water, regardless of floods and storms, ever since her wayward husband left her there.
How do I fit in? The only thing that distinguishes me is that my shame and my sin aren't yet known, not yet a matter for public discussion.
After blessing the holy water, and then half an hour of piously restrained chatter, the priest says goodnight and leaves.
As though on cue, Mrs. O'Neil and her sister whip the lace off the table, replacing it with red and white plastic, and serve, at long last, the chicken that had been cooking in the kitchen all along, its aroma hidden by holy incense. Everyone falls to, like a congregation of sly foxes, chewing with conspiring grins. Including myself, once I am able to stop laughing.
It seems that if I try to kneel with them and can't, but try anyway and suddenly succeed somehow, it is to them that I kneel, not to some unwieldy, alien god, but to the society of those who blunder, sin, and still belong.
Seventh day of November
I'm more certain every day. And there's nothing more precious to me right now.
I know I will be alone in this. Not even that frightens me.
The neighbors' six-year-old girl kisses my hand today. The lightest touch, like a flower petal falling on my hand. I am too surprised, I never knew she liked me so much. Or is it you, child, whom she senses and greets with her innocence that's not yet tainted by proprieties? Tomorrow she'll have forgotten her kiss, but I will not forget. After you are born, they will keep her away from me with enigmatic silence that will disturb and hurt her. Until she forgets those too.
I'll have to move to a city so that I can find some job to support us. There will be little help from others. We won't need it. Who, after all, could I turn to? My parents? After some time perhaps. By then I may be too proud. My sister? Not while she's attached to her reputable husband. Friends? They might offer sympathy, romantic encouragement, or lofty advice. One can't subsist on those. One subsists on money and food and shelter.
The dream is to find someone who has both money and romantic notions and who needs a cause. A fallen woman, for example, who would rise again to the savior's credit.
What drivel I write. It's important for me to determine, quickly, whom I can trust. Everyone whose heart might be on my side is, it seems, also meshed in deeper loyalties. And who are we, my unborn one and I, to tear through all their complicated artifice of living in the manner they understand best?
What I need is an artifice of living of my very own.
I'll have to move to the city and find work. Soon.
Eighth day of November
I must have an abortion. I can't have one in this country. So, obviously, it's time to make travel arrangements.
I can't sit here and wait and let things take care of themselves. They won't.
Suddenly I see my last lover stand on the lawn in his garden, a few days before I left to come here, asking as though in defiance of my leaving: "And what are you going to do about birth control?" My wanting to shout at him, "None of your damn business". My saying instead, "I won't need it." "Well, you had better be careful then," he said, "because you can't get an abortion where you are going."
How I hated then. Not him. Not myself. Not even the occasion. But the brutality of existence that makes everything a matter of consequence and calculation. You can do anything in heaven or on earth so long as it doesn't show. A filling womb and a baby show. Oh, awkwardly.
And so I will quietly and calculatingly go on a journey, go through the appropriate humiliation of finding the right people, then reemerge as the untouched, untouchable child-woman again. With this difference, that I will forever have this secret on my mind.
It must be done. Not matter what the secret will cost me. Someone, give me the strength now to make plans. Because the truth is that I cannot have a child. My body may be able to bear one, but my heart's essence is still child itself, drifting, without responsibility or purpose, glittering without the burden of reality.
Ninth day of November
It's rained for so many days now. I feel trapped inside this house, these two tiny rooms. Ought to ask someone for a lift into town to get supplies and start working again. I keep making excuses. One day I get up too late to make it worth my while, the next day it's too cold to go, the third day it's something else.
I keep wanting to hide and avoid. Once a day I walk to the post office, out of a sense of duty to myself, and to those who always seem to be watching me, so that they can see me walk about and don't have cause to ask if anything is wrong with me. If only I had someone to confide in, someone to take care of me, to make decisions I don't seem to be able to make and don't want to make.
Today I make myself ill with the impulse to call James, and with the counter poison reason that makes me, finally, resist the temptation. The public phone booth across the street from the post office was like a turning magnet, attracting, repelling. What a world where phone numbers still have precisely one digit.
I yearn to talk to James, to unload some of my burden. And who else would be more appropriate? But then I picture him standing in his little shop, customers listening to his side of the conversation, James himself floored by the news, no doubt wanting to deny, wanting to convince himself this must be some mistake. A ruse. A strategy to ensnare him. I couldn't bear that. And so I have to, in the end, remain alone.
Poor James. The only reason I would rouse him out of his male complacency would be if there were a chance that I might die. Sometimes death seems amazingly desirable now. It would be the easiest solution by far.
But what will happen to you, child, if I die? Who will be with you then? I would not live with you in tiny rooms in cities, loving you and waiting for your love to grow for me. I wouldn't be there to hear your first small cries, your later, larger disillusions. I couldn't protect you, touch you, shelter you.
But also I wouldn't be there to hinder you. For if I died, they would accept you far more easily. If only I could manage to die at the right time, I wouldn't stand in your way of being protected by those whose protection would probably be far more powerful than mine. It would be easier for you. Pity for some little, helpless being, never mind its mother's sins, would then be in their arms to cradle you. Poor bastard, poor little innocent waif.
We'd have to be so terribly brave if I live. But if I die, you could grow, lovely like a tree, in the sun and water of their protection. And for me, the burden of your coming would be resolved.
I would rather you tore me into death with your coming, than ever hinder you or harm you. As I have already done.
Forgive me, little one, my unborn one. I am so lonely. I didn't know there was this possibility of giving you life that I myself have often seem so utterly incapable of living well, even though I grew to love it beyond belief.
If you are lucky, you will be a boy. Your brothers will more easily accept you. If you're a girl, I hope that you will not be born to be sacrificed. I am so tired. I hope that your life will be warm.
Tenth day of November
Puzzled by a dream last night.
I dream about children. A girl and a boy, both blond, big-eyed, very young. They take me by the hands, one at each side, and lead me to their mother's house. I'd received a letter from her in which she asked me to become her lover. I feel apprehensive, for I know, even within the haze of my dream, that I hadn't made love to a woman before. I don't know how. But I also feel warmth and tenderness inside, knowing, almost without effort, that I would never refuse a woman who asked for my love. In all the mist of dream and puzzlement, I recognize clearly that I could refuse a man's love easily, but if a woman were to call me, I would not hesitate to follow her call.
We find the children's mother waiting for us on a wide deep bed, framed in heavy polished wood. I lie down beside her on a blanket that is silky and fragrant, like fresh summer grass. I place my cheek against her cheek, my hand against her hand. That seems to be enough. The children lie between us. But, though I was part of the shelter for them, I too feel sheltered, and fresh, as though I have been washed clean of all fears.
I do not know what this dream means. But I feel comforted all day.
Eleventh day of November
I could love you, Jamie! I will not call you James again.
Yes, I could even marry him. We would build our love on a cornerstone of kindness. I would be forever faithful to him if he married me. How could I not be faithful to the father of my lovely growing child?
I would help you with everything, Jamie. I would bring you flowers, rings, and all beautiful things. If you would teach me the reality of loving, then I would teach you everything beautiful on earth. We would not be alone.
I have no right to love Jamie, but I love him already.
Jamie, I seem to have so much in this world already. But I need your comfort, your protection. I will create things. And whatever I have I will bring to you. If you will bring me protection for my child, then I will bring you sunlight and flowers and things far better even than life. Let me be yours.
I have watched women care for their men. I could easily do what they do. I could sweep the doorstep of my husband's house with pride.
Look, I will bring you a drink of water to the shop, or out into the fields when you are working, Jamie. Later I will greet you with a draught of love as you come home. I will ask for very little. Only this, that once, when I am old, you will be kind enough to touch my hair with tenderness and with forgiveness. I will be good to you. I will deserve your gratitude and, possibly, your love.
Good-bye, the rest of you. Farewell to everything that is not mine.
I will come to your house like a beggar, Jamie, with nothing to bring but our child. But I will win your mother and your father over to my side. I will build a rainbow bridge between their first mistrust and the reality of our child. I can't always be running. Settle me in a small house by the sea.
I will draw in the wings that I have spread into the world, as sails are drawn when they have carried everything safely into the harbor, and I will fold them softly around the child, around that one strong center. And when you see us so, Jamie, you too will be touched with pity for the child. I'll show you the way, the enfolding motion. Only, please let us live, give us protection. Let us live!
Twelfth day of November
No, I don't need protection. I will live.
I'll move to the city with you, my pride. Or, rather, with you and with my pride. We'll live in a gray house, dank with anonymity. I'll find some woman too poor to judge us, my child. Yes, someone with too much poverty to refuse to tend you while I am gone during the day. I don't even care if she has warts on her cheeks and mats in her hair. Or foul and common thoughts in her head.
I'll rise early each morning when the streets are still sluggish with dawn, and I'll find work in a factory, turning wheels, or gathering up and sorting other people's fragments. But in the evenings, my little one, I will be home to claim you. We'll have a small cramped room somewhere. But it will be full of light. I'll find a long blue skirt to wear, a blue woolen skirt, to add warmth to the thin light of some cheap lamp. I will hold you and cradle you in the warmth of my dreams, spinning around you first touch, later songs, then later, words. We won't need anyone else.
One day I will take you here. No one will remember me. We'll pass through this village. We'll walk out to the ocean. Then we'll walk down the road to the barren place where you were conceived. We'll stand there, hand in hand. I'll tell you all that happened there. You won't want to believe me. If we are lucky, you will laugh. And I'll laugh with you, laugh at how easily all my proud, ambitious, precious past will have fallen away from me, from us. The rain that wiped out tracks of tires will have wiped out, over the years, all my bitterness as well.
No, you won't believe me. Perhaps, to make you laugh again, I'll talk of some mysterious highborn stranger whom I chanced to meet and lie with in a golden flash of destiny.
Perhaps then you might want to believe me. Perhaps then I could find atonement for the loud and grimy roads I will have dragged you through, for years of hopelessness and loneliness and work, for ugly women who would tend you for a few pennies through the days.
Thirteenth day of November
I am so alone.
I am so afraid.
I pray that my child won't be ugly or deformed.
Mrs. O'Neil comes this morning with an apple and a slice of fresh bread, still warm. I take her gifts. I might as well get used to a lifetime of gifts and having to accept. I see the usual animation in her face, flickers of triumph that, yes, they bought three rolls of wire fence today, cheaply, a true bargain, to put around the yard in the spring. Flickers of contempt. The old maid from down the street who drinks too much stops at the house to use the telephone. Flickers of love and pride. Her homely thirteen-year-old son won a spelling prize in school.
How I wish I could be part of all this mix of innocence and strong convictions, of unfiltered, undiluted life!
After she leaves I drink a glass of water. She told me once I shouldn't drink from the tap. But what do I care? I look in the mirror over the sink. My face looks bloated. The eyes wide and red, and veins of fear running through them.
There's still an almost full bottle of tonic wine under my bed. Sticky sweetness that would lull me out of time into forgetfulness. Just for a while. Just now.
If only I had someone already born to talk to!
Oh, child of a woman with red eyes and a stomach ill with fear like vermin crawling, forgive me that I have to make your coming so difficult and filled with apprehension.
It will pass. It will pass.
I love you already. And that peacefulness in me is you.
Fourteenth day of November
I walk to town today to buy school notebooks. It is the best I can find. If I remove the staples in the center, the blank pages will do for sketching.
Must get a ride to the city next week. Maybe with Mrs. O'Neil's sister-in-law. I make five calls and actually find a place that seems to carry some of the supplies I want. I can't just leave here one fine future day with nothing new to show.
I have action fever, hardly time to write.
It snows today, early in the morning. The sky is a mélange of everything from pink to black.
End of dreaming: Blessed blood between my thighs.
BIO: Beate Sigriddaughter, www.sigriddaughter.com, divides her time between Denver and Vancouver. She has published short fiction, poetry and essays in a variety of literary and trade magazines and ezines. Two of her stories published in the Song and Story section of Moondance in 2004 received nominations for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently working on a pro-peace novel looking at women's experiences in and around war.