Sunday, June 30, 2013
Missing someone who is not yours to miss is the worst kind of disappointment.
The metallic sound of the shovels stabbing into the earth makes my ribs thump. I’ve been as skittish as a wet kitten since last night; afraid that what was done wouldn’t stick. The dirt-covered men around me are working hard and fast, trying to get the job finished so they can go home to their wives and children and pretend that they weren’t a part of this.
“Work faster, girl!” the old woman squawks at me. She’s been scrupulously supervising us the entire time, not lifting one finger to help. She does spells only, I was told. She doesn’t get her hands dirty, with neither blood nor dirt. The hard part of the spell has already been completed—I only need her now to seal it for good.
I try not to jump out of my skin when she slaps a heavy, jewelry-covered hand against my back. I timidly glance up at her, but only for the smallest second. The skin on her face looks like tattered leather stretched across a skull made of knives. I'm afraid to look her in the eyes. She digs her claw-like fingers into the soft part of my new upper arm and lets out a low, guttural moan.
“We don’t have all day, darling,” she mutters. Her voice sounds like a coffee grinder eating wind chimes. “Work. Faster.”
I nod a little too quickly and stomp on the top of my shovel, pushing it into the ground. She stays close by and watches me with tiny, black eyes. Her silver hair lifts in the air every time the wind blows, and I have a fleeting feeling that she could fly away with the breeze if she wanted.
I knew I had to help dig the grave. That was part of the deal. I just didn’t know it would be this hard. The hardest part is knowing that not just one, but two people are going into this grave.
And it’s my fault.
A blister the size of a quarter throbs against the wooden handle of my shovel, but I try to ignore it. Complaining has never gotten me anywhere.
I’m not used to these arms and legs and fingers yet, and it’s hard to convince my body to do the things it needs to do. I’d hoped—I’d prayed, actually—that my old memories would be gone in this new body, but they stuck to my soul like peanut butter to the top of my mouth, still constantly taunting me with images of his face. I should have known prayer and magic wouldn’t mix. It’s not like I deserved to forget, anyway.
"I said, work faster," the old woman hisses into my ear. Her breath is hot and sticky against my neck and it takes everything I have to not vomit into the grave in front of me. I can feel the immorality of what I've done rolling off her skin, and I'm pretty sure she feeds off of it like dessert.
One of the workers glances up at us, but quickly drops his eyes back to his work when the witch catches him watching.
I blink back the tears threatening to spill through my lashes and continue to shovel dirt out of the hole, as fast as I can.
Crying has never gotten me anywhere, either.
I push his stupid face out of my mind and think back to last night, when I saw my own new face for the first time. I stood in front of the mirror in the old witch’s ratty house, thinking, “Not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me.”
The girl staring back in the mirror was not me.
But she was. I was living in her body now, whether I liked it or not. I lifted my hand to my face and watched as she mimicked me.
Not she. Me.
I’m pulled back to the present when someone's shovel glances off of a root. The sound echoes through the makeshift graveyard, and several crows scatter through the trees. One of them lights on the tree branch above me. It cocks its head and watches me, like it knows what I did—like it knows what I sacrificed for a new beginning that never came. A gnawing feeling picks at the loose threads of my soul, and I can’t shake the idea that it does know what I did.
The shovel falls out of my hands and I have to hold myself together so the shivers rattling my bones don’t make me come undone in front of all these people. I squeeze my eyes shut and ignore the old woman, who's shouting obscenities at me for dropping my shovel.
I never meant to hurt him. But it happened anyway. I knew that there was no way I could get away with it, that the only way I wouldn’t be sentenced to the death penalty was for my body to die along with his. Only, I wasn’t quite ready to die yet. No one would ever know. No one believes in magic.
The old woman smacks me in the face, forcing me to open my eyes and pay attention to her. My cheek stings like it has been lit on fire, but I still don’t cry. I don’t deserve the comfort of tears. She points to the two heaps lying next to the grave we’ve been digging.
“It’s time, child,” she says. “You have to be the one to bury them or the spell won’t stick.”
I try to take a breath, but it’s a ragged, shuddering thing, doing me no good.
After the deed is done, and I watch the faces—my face and his—cover with clumps of dirt, I can’t help but question whether missing someone who’s not yours to miss really is the worst kind of disappointment. Maybe not being able to erase your memories, no matter how hard you try, is worse.
At least I tried. But second chances aren’t always what they cracked up to be, after all.
Story by: Stefanie Marks
Photo by: Emilian Robert Vicol