Friday, April 5, 2013

Give and Take

Give and Take

A promise was made to the land and I mean to keep it.

The blades of grass should be soft but they cut at my bare heel. They mark me for my last walk and I take every sting in my skin, glad it’s thicker at the bottom of my foot.

The sun is rising slowly but that won’t stop the day. And it won’t stop me from doing what I was born to do.

When I came to be I was promised to the earth. Others were sworn to the air, fire, and water. One by one we keep our promises. Our fifteenth birthday marks our sacrifice to keep the land happy, to keep our people safe.

Our parents keep us Chosen sheltered. They don’t let us form bonds with others, even from each other. We read a lot. Do chores. Eat in silence at every meal and then do it all again.

We’re told stories of how those before us gave themselves for a larger cause. How they promised their bodies and souls and minds to the elements and didn’t regret it ‘cause it was the way of things.

But my brother, he’s a simple child. Always wondering and asking. We weren’t supposed to be close he and I. They didn’t want the tether to be breached, the pain to last. My parents never hugged me nor my brother. They kept their distance knowing love would be the worst thing they could give. But my brother didn’t take to that. He’s younger than me but a head taller. Always smiling, his front tooth crossing over the other.

When we were young, my brother said that dangerous word: “Why?”

I won’t lie. I was also thinking it, just didn’t have the brass to ask it out loud.

Our father’s face twisted into something uglier than it already was. He pushed his chair back so hard it fell and splintered against the floor. He barked, “History should not be questioned! Only understood!”

It didn’t answer the question but as he dragged my brother away I heard the whistle of air before hand met skin followed by his screams knowing the beating was answer enough.

I didn’t expect to go to my brother’s room that night. Or to look in and see him curled up beside his bed crying silently. I didn’t expect to walk across the room and bring him into my arms and kiss the hair on his head. I promised him it’d be okay as I picked his hair out my mouth. He hugged me back. Warm hands pressing against my back and his face in my stomach when he was smaller than me, just a babe eight years ago. We stayed quiet when we embraced, knowing more beatings could follow. We enjoyed the scent of soap and starch and the feel of someone giving a damn. He whispered my name when we hugged, he’s the only one to use it. Mom and Pop always referring to either or both of us as “You.” I said his too, Sam.

It became a nightly ritual.

The day before though, I didn’t go to my brother’s room. I stayed in mine, stared at the sky through the window and waited for the moon to fade and the sun to appear. I heard a scratching at my door but don’t open it. There’s some mewing on the other side but I ignore it and the tears streaming down my face and landing in my ears making a salty pool. I can’t hug him again, not knowing it’ll be the last time.

He whispered my name but after I don’t talk he said “good night.” I heard his feet scrape against the floor.

“Goodnight,” I said to him. Goodbye, I said to myself.

No more waiting. A promise was made and I intend to keep it. I walk the path alone. I walk on acorns and grass and feel my body weaken, feel it seal with the ground. I press on as the sun rises signaling the time of my birth exactly, when I will be of the earth not just someone on it.

But something stops me. My name.



“Isabella! Wait up!”

I twist so fast the land cuts further into my heel. I’m too angry at him to be touched. He’s a damn fool.

“Go away!” I shout, which startles but doesn’t stop him. He moves slower now, like I’m the crazy one.

“I don’t understand why you have to go!” He quiets down and looks to be shaking. I can’t go back though. The damage is done. My feet are covered in moss and green and there’s nothing can change it.

“Just go. Now, Sam.”

“It doesn’t have to--”

“You stupid?” I ask ‘cause I’m genuinely concerned now. “You stupid as they say? Go away!”

But he shows his stupidity by coming towards me. The sun is getting higher in the sky. And I feel the pull, harder, tugging around my waist and taking me back, taking me in, taking me away.

“It’s time,” I say. He seems to understand now. Seems to get it. The bark starts up my leg, around my thighs, pass my bellybutton. I close my eyes. Sad and angry that this’ll be the last way he sees me.

Breath is getting harder but my chest doesn’t sting from the lack of it. I wait for the rest to come, for me to be engulfed. But then something soft takes my arm and closes around me and I know...

I open my eyes and his eyes stare so hard at me I think I’d faint were the earth not holding me up and bringing me under.

“I don’t want to be alone no more,” he says softly as I see the light in his eyes go out. I clutch him not wanting to let go and feeling the urge to push away but it’s too late. The earth is getting two for one.
Photo by Gillian Woods (GillyFace Photos)
Story by Jenn Baker


  1. Hoooo-ly crap. Love this one Jen. You had me tearing up. Great job.

  2. Very suspenseful. I didn't want to let go myself. I was going to make this my lunchtime read but decided I had to read it now.

  3. Aw, thanks so much ladies. That means a lot to me.

  4. I love the visuals in this one -- Sam's teeth, the dad's face. And I loved this line, "We enjoyed the scent of soap and starch and the feel of someone giving a damn."