Mrs. DeWhitt was a bit too unerring in her instincts for her own good. Somehow, whether by the curling of her toes or a pinch in her right shoulder, she knew when Mr. DeWhitt was inappropriately occupied with the nth chamber maid, the girl-who-came-only-on-Wednesdays, the innkeep’s daughter, or any other bit of female miscellany under the age of thirty.
During these times (which constituted most of the time) Mr. DeWhitt would often be puzzled to find his dinner late, cold, or absent; his gloves, or cuff links, or rifle missing; his galoshes continually, inexplicably muddied; and his best scotch disappearing faster than he could rightly account for.
Unfortunately for the marriage, Mrs. DeWhitt exercised her powers in so natural and unconscious a manner, and Mr. DeWhitt was so far from thinking these mishaps anything but coincidence, that the gentleman never realized that he was receiving his just desserts, and the lady was never content.
Before a year had passed I was restless. Balsa knew before I did; I saw her watching, and was at first puzzled by the new lines around her eyes.
We were in the kitchen, peeling roots. I thanked her again for all that she had done for me, and asked how I might repay that debt; she replied that it was only right to settle debts before leaving a place. And she set me to bringing in the washing, and taking inventory in the cellar, and cleaning the baths.
It went on for some time. Until Balsa struggled to find new tasks for me, and wore an expression that made me sad and guilty.
I avoided her eyes and their lines. I wondered if it was wrong to go – I hoped that I might stay. But men had made roads that went north, and even had there been no roads I would have been forced to go that way, lest I live without deserving each breath.
Spring turned to summer, and one morning Balsa gave me a bag.
“It is best to go when it is warm.” She kept her face blank and I was torn. (more…)
In a room with white paper walls they asked me if I had any reason to live. If I had, what had I been doing during my time in the streets? What had I been doing with all that I knew and all that I did not know? Why had I not been seeking, tireless as the pole star, after some way – however despicable – to climb up from my impermanent place in the world?
Kneeling, head bowed, I begged their forgiveness.
When I woke I was the weakest I have ever been. I laid there and memorized the straw bed, and the bareness of the room. I could not see out the window. After some time a woman came, and she asked me how old I was. I did not know.
She was Balsa, wide and tall, who kept that inn with no one but her hired help, and who had an old sword hidden behind her bar. They said she had used it before. (more…)
The night my life began was not the night I was born.
I had fallen asleep in the grip of that pox which almost all children catch; my face swollen and hot, finding no relief in cool sheets or in the hand and voice of my father. He had stayed long after the doctor came and went , stayed to repeat reassuring things and to draw my fingers away from my body when I might have scratched. The frustration of my hands above the sheets, while my skin writhed beneath, slowly exhausted me. I wept and thrashed my legs and closed my eyes.
That sleep was heavy and troubling, but seamless was my move from oblivion to sitting up against my pillows, and looking into the courtyard beyond my bedroom.
I saw the small flashes of silver in the moonlight, quick and perfect as fish in a night sea, a waking dream that drew me from my bed. (more…)