She took me out to the woods and left me. Not to die, but to live. To be away from the oppressive memory of my mother's death and a father who hated the sight of me. She took me to a little cottage and left me there. She then killed a hare with her bare hands and told my father that I had run away into the woods and been killed by a beast. She showed the hare's heart and murmered sadly, "It is so stunted because her heart was broken," and he believed her.
When the wee men came home I was sitting in the ashes and scratching my arm with a sharp stone. They said nothing, but ate cold supper that night. For the first time being left alone seemed to close the window to the terrors of night and shadow and I awoke less afraid. When I opened my eyes, they were crowded round and one took my arm and began to clean it so lovingly with a damp cloth soaked in herbs it felt like doe licking her fawn. They smiled, but said nothing. The first few days I did nothing but sit in the ashes, but when they came home from their long day in the mines they were as black as I was and we had a little laugh. A laugh! I had not remembered that I could laugh. And so it was. We never spoke, there was no need, but as I felt stronger I was able to get up and work around the little cottage. At first I was afraid to touch the broom and brush for fear that the frenzy would come over me, but soon I found I could clean without the dark clouds enveloping me. I could work and rest and there was no feverish rage to enclose me. They were grateful when they returned for any work I had managed to do. I never felt there was a judgement. I could heal at my own pace. After many months I was able to see the blue sky in the little window of my soul and I felt a peace that I had only known before in slumber. I cooked supper for the first time since I had arrived and when they returned they looked upon me and smiled and one of them said in a voice so low it was like a whisper of the breeze in the leaves of a tree, "We know what it is like to feel pain," and we never spoke of it again.
After a year of living in the woods Priscilla came to see me. I had been outside tending the garden and singing to myself. I was so changed she almost didn't recognise me. She was wearing my father's ring and I could see she was to be my mother now. Seeing her and feeling her hands upon my face opened up a little bottle of oily black smoke that I did not even know was still within me. I sat down dumbly and let her brush my hair and weave it with fine ribbons that she had brought. My heart began that old hammering and my skin grew cold and bloodless, but still she chatted gaily about life at the manor and what a gem my father was. How telling him I was dead was the best thing she could have done because look how kind it had made my father and look how happy I had become. She kissed me goodbye and went on her way never noticing that tendrills of ebony smoke were creeping around me like vines. I took the ribbons from my hair and tied them round my throat and waited for the hazy slumber of death to take me in.
I was found a few hours later, blue but still breathing when the men came home. They said nothing, but their eyes were full of sadness and each looked as if he longed to say he knew the pain that drove one to despair as well, but they didn't. Instead they removed all the knives and took the laces from my shoes. From then on I stayed in bed and wet my pillow with my tears just as my mother had before I was born. One of the men always stayed behind to watch over me. Food was again poison in my mouth and my arms were raw from scratching them. They could only shake their heads and wonder what had caused this relapse.
By the time the leaves were a blanket on the ground and a nip was in the air I was able to sit up in bed. My tears were dry, but my heart continuted to be heavy. The men had all returned to the mines when my tears ceased to flow, but still they knew I was not completely well. Early one morning there was a sound like thunder as if the cottage were going to fall down around me. I crouched low on the bed and picked frantically at the loose threads of the quilt. The door flew open to reveal my stepmother there with a basket of the apples from my mother's orchard. She breezed in and talked about her orchard and the apples she grew. She spoke of my father and how affectionate he was and all that it had taken was removing all of that mad woman's possessions and now they were both very happy. All the devotion she once bore my mother was gone. Was this the woman who had tenderly looked after me as if I were her own child? Had she ever cared for me or had she only had plans to be rid of me and have my mother's life all to herself? She gave me an apple and it was as red as blood, as red as the blood that had flowed from my mother when she leapt into the arms of God and away from this life of sorrow and pain. I ate it, tasting my mother's blood in every bite. She departed as abruptly as she entered and said if I could not be more sociable then she would never return. I stared at the core in my hand and dug at a seed with my nail. I knew what I had to do. I put the apple core into my mouth and swallowed.
What followed was like a dream. I floated away into a land of milk and honey and where everything was as bright as the sun. I saw my mother. Her face was golden like an angel, so different from the wild and frantic face awash with blood that had haunted all my waking dreams. She spoke of peace. She spoke of joy. That I too in this golden slumber would lose all earthy shackles that had bound me. There was so much light here there was no room for darkness. I do not know how long I lay in this blissful sleep of near death. I had many dreams that flowed through me like water.
I dreamt I was in a glass case like in a museum and all the angels of Heaven came to me and looked upon my face and gave me gifts that would help drive away the darkness. One gave me a ball of light to carry in my hand. Another gave me a glowing halo to wear upon my head. My mother came to me and kissed my forehead and I was filled with light from the inside like a candle in a gourd. The light was warm and travelled around every part of my body leaving no corner untouched by it's heat. God reached down and took me in His mighty hands and raised me from the glass enclosure and planted me in the earth. My feet took root and my body became the trunk. I dreamt I was a tree. I could see myself in the forest reaching up with my branches to my mother in Heaven. Suddenly it was night and the world had gone into blackness. I was the tree and the lumberjack was chopping me with his ax. I could feel him splitting me up the middle and the sap oozing down my trunk. I lifted my head to cry out and the core dislodged from my throat. I tried to sit up but my skirts had been pulled over my head. I felt as though I were being sawed in half. Then he stood up and spat on the ground. I sat up clumsily and stared at this man who looked so like my father with his shaggy, greying beard and unkempt hair. He growled and picked me up threw me onto the back of his horse and rode me far away to his manor house. I could feel the sea welling up behind my eyes again and all the demons that lurk in darkness were pricking at my skin. He saw me, desired me and had me. When we arrived at his house he made me his wife.
Here I sit, at the same age that my mother was when she was forced to live chained to a beast. I sit by the open window and put my hand on my swollen belly and breathe in the cool autumn air. He leaves me alone if he thinks I am knitting. But I am not knitting, I am biding my time. When the winter comes and the snow is soft like a feather blanket my mother will call to me and I will rise and follow. I will toss back my ebony hair, lift up my head to show the pearl of my throat and then fly out the window into the arms of my mother.