A Short Story
The mothers and I came to the lake for water every night before dawn for the men: before their farts; before their grunts; before their strikes and barrel-chested cries and hits; before their scolding and absent ridicules, pinches, and pedantic abstracts; before forced time and ritual.
All we had was the moon when we went for water. And ourselves. In the dark, the stars were pearl saber wrapped in black mauve silk darkness, always tainted in the faintest hiss of cold wind. We never noticed that aloud. To speak was to be hit by the few guards that came with us. To be hit was not just the pain, but to be reminded of one’s place, which was always worse.
We were kept company by the thin pine needles under our bare feet whose crunch ricocheted skyward, the sound catching the ears of indifferent ravens. We saw the shadows of pine cones eager to fall from boredom. A squirrel piddled near a stream with a hawk above eager-eyed. Sometimes, there was a screech from a bird that saw us and flew away. In their annoyed recognition, I was reminded that we were there and they were there and that was it.
We wore weak leather shawls made of fox ass and deer hide. The sting of cold caused us to waver, but we were reminded of our reason. All of us had a cherub at home, a ball of skin and blood and squeals and cries and laughter and life — our children. They needed one thing — us. Without our bodies, they would die. Simple as that, yet, there was little respect from the village. We were tools of society rather than the necessary participants to a system that should have a modicum of regard.
What would a violent revolt look like, I whispered as I lapped the water from the lake into our leather pouches.
There was a sharp hit from a rock at my back.
Quiet there, one of the guards shouted at me.
I froze, trying not to moan as the throbbing grew, peaked, then waned.
I stifled my sigh of relief as he passed.
Another mother beside me murmured, We revolt by taking the children and running. Let the men die off without us.
We escaped at night a week later. We fed the men wine, pork, and our bodies. One last sacrifice for our freedom. We stifled the cries of our children by stuffing their mouths with rabbit feet soaked in honey and sleeping herb. Past the gilded moon lake, through the cutbacks and tight passes, we reached the top of the canyon as the sun rose.
I haven’t been up here since I was taken to the village, one mother uttered.
Nor have I, another said.
And we never were again.