The villagers used to call her a fool, gawking from their homes and storefronts as she stood arms akimbo in the rain. Waves crested over her cotton dress, hanks of hair clung to her face. They’d shake their heads, murmuring portents of chills in her bones, colds settling in the nape of her neck, her chest, her back.
“She’ll be dead by winter.”
But winter came and she stood firmly in the gale.
Legs spread, she stood transfixed in the muddy field, her toes squinched in defiance as the rain soaked the earth, flesh, bone. Her skin puckered, fabric taut over her breast – a deluge enveloped her, delighted, entranced. The girl slipped the clinging dress over her hips and danced naked across the drowning crops, until the clouds thinned and she curled her body around the stalks of hay, her life sinking into the earth.
Now they whispered a different word, a serpentine slur that slithered from the villagers. But they never uttered such slander except at night when they spat the word into their pin cushions, pricking the wool with their disdain. Or sometimes in the field, when their scythes hewed the brittle stalks, that bitter word might have tumbled from their dry mouths and drifted to the very bottom of haystacks with each churn of their pitchforks.
But they should have remembered the girl, the sparkle of her labradorite eyes, as they slipped beneath the mud. They should have expected her to sprout once more like last year’s bulbs, expected the root of her flesh to germinate in her lover’s arms. And in the night, they should have expected her breath: a torrent, piercing its way through the cracks of their houses, under door jams, sagging windows, uneven eaves – splitting the tenderest seams of their houses before devouring them from below.
Shelly Jones is an Associate Professor of English at a small college in the Catskills, where she teaches classes on mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work can be found in Podcastle, The Future Fire, and elsewhere.
photo by Emma Peneder (via unsplash)