The Blood of Women by allecto

The day had been in the hands of Dante, and through the sweltering heat the girls had sat, listening to the important dates of mankind in History and partaking of subservience in Homemaking. And now the wind blew humid from the ocean, whipping their hair around their faces as they ran and jumped their way towards the beach.

One of the girls had a pale, clean face trimmed with neat plaits of gold. She held a stiff, straw hat in her hand, decorated with a conservative band of navy blue and marking her as a private school patron, a daughter of wealth. Her face had a lean, almost feral look and her lacklustre eyes were not unlike those of a street child. Hope had lost its place in their pale blue depths.

The other girl had coarse, dark hair, matted, with sun-bleached strands of red running like flame against her brown skin. She held a pebble in her hand which she turned continuously and passed from one palm to the other as she walked. Her public school rags gave the impression of careless dirt and squalor but it was impossible not to notice her eyes, bright with the dangerous sparkle of an inconvenient intelligence.

They walked. A strange pace between them, one with a graceful, swinging step and the other in graceless strides, coming upon the water with a kind of ecstasy. Casting aside their shoes and school bags, the girls ran towards the sea, entering the water with a laugh. And time could stop in this moment, for they were both of them alive.

Weary yet refreshed with the salt of the sea, the girls climbed up the shore and threw themselves upon the sand. It was a peaceful moment, an intimate sharing, as they watched the sun shatter the water into millions of reflecting pieces.

“I hate the gulls,” said the private school girl as she lazed against the sand, following the birds in the distance with her eyes.

“Why?”

“They are too like humans. Always demanding and cajoling, never satisfied. Do you not hear the profanities they utter when they are not given satisfaction?”

The public school girl smiled. “I hear too much, too much. It would take more than one life to make sense of it all.”

Gently the private school girl placed a hand on her companion’s leg and slowly she smoothed her thumb along the dark skin. “I always thought that you were living two lives.”

The other girl did not move away. “Ah, yes. But I am only entitled to one.”

The twitch of the blonde girl’s lips could have been an answering smile but it disappeared quickly as she looked out at the water. Her hand fell from the knee and into the sand. “Tell me a story.”

A silence descended between them as if carried by the crest of a wave and a ghost flickered for a moment on the edge of sight. “I’ll tell you hers.”

There was no response from the girl save the smallest flicker of an eyelash.

“Heat blurs the sharp edges of reality, as does time. This story begins in a place I have never seen. It ends with a woman walking out among the waves, standing proud against the tide, the sky turning red and yellow with passion as she takes a breath and dives into the waves.

“Her man was not of her race and he grew old before his time, yet he lingers here, fighting the demons of his own creation, believing still that the earth is flat. And that spirits walk upon the land, oh yes, this he believes. But he has not courage enough to confront them, not like she had. Not like she has.

“He met her long ago in the water. A shellfish and oyster gin. He thought her teeth shone like pearls in the bay and her skin like a river stone of ebony. As you well know, white men tell the value of a thing by the way it gleams.

“And she gleamed that day as he walked out into the water, the sapphire of her skin set into the turquoise and blue of the waves. She showed him secret places, known only to the native mind and satisfied in him a curious yearning.

“They cut their feet on oyster rocks and smiled as their blood intermingled. He had thought that they had bonded there, as blood speaks to blood. It was late in the day that he had realised that his kiss had no power to bind her. Their bond of blood had been weakened by the water.

“The water keeps her own and a spirit never can forget the things that tie them to place. It is a sentiment that is stronger than the one we call Belonging.

“Each spirit has an element and hers was water. He brought her to land but always always, he could hear the sound of the waves calling her back, calling her home. The man was blind; but years of listening to the sea had taught him that the future of all peoples is written in the vastness of the ocean.

“With this knowledge came the surety that she would leave him, for who could deny the sea? He made her body heavy with child to tie her to the land, forcing upon her an anchor that she would be unable to cut free. The child stilled her eyes, which once were restless, and she was contented with the babe. Caressing it with her eyes as she had once caressed the sea.

“But the pull of the tide is strong and the man found her often in the water, offering her child to the spirits, her voice in song casting ripples across the glimmering surface. His fists affected her little and did not stay her visits to the sea. In desperation he forced another child upon her, attempting to enter her with her power of the ocean.

“He had no power to speak to her. He had looked upon her flesh yet he could not look upon her heart. And in her eyes was a spirit, savage and unintelligible. What was a mortal man to do with such a spirit? He did not think to let her go for it is true that he did love her. Bearing her the love that a man has for a perfectly cut jewel.

“When he found her once again in the ocean, a babe in her arms and another playing in the dancing foam, he split her lip with the knuckles of his hand and her blood sprayed red into the sea. He took her on the beach and in the view of the ocean, he claimed her as his own.

“A third child sprung from this union, stilling the call of the sea until the moment of its birth. Upon that moment the sea broke forth in all its fury, sweeping down the coast and unleashing all its power, ripping up the land which it once loved gently.

“With the child from her belly, her eyes rolled back into her head and when she opened them, a sudden calm struck the sea.

“The man watched her as she rose from the bed, a fear seizing hold of his heart. The spirits were angry and demanded their own. He trembled as she fixed him with liquid eyes, breathing only when he knew that she had gone.

“The sky cleared with the first of her footsteps upon the sand and she walked with purpose to the water. Naked she walked, with the fat of three children adorning her body; she was beauty in her soft black flesh.

“As she sank beneath the waves, the blue water coloured red by birthing blood and sunfire, the clouds crossed the sky. Spirit to spirit, blood to blood. In the coolness of the water she was home.”

The distant cry of the quarrelling gulls could be heard in the silence. The blonde girl turned onto her stomach, resting her chin on the knee of her companion, her blue eyes assessing.

“That was your mother.”

The other girl did not respond, looking out at the infinite point where sky met water.

Closing her eyes and pushing a hand into her greasy hair, the dark girl said, “she did not belong here.”

“None of us belong here.”

“I hear her voice sometimes, carried on the waves. I can not hear what she is saying. Yet when I listen harder the voice disappears.”

“The ocean is eternal. She will speak to you forever.”

Turning once again onto her back, the blonde girl buried her hands into the sand.

“I also have a story, though it is not as near as yours.”

She picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle between her fingers.

“This is a story to be told beside the sea. With the birth of Christ in the near future and the myths of murky light and fading darkness, where man was whole and never fallen. In this time where gods were but men and men were gods. The fantasy of Zeus, you see, could be believed.

“And like your spirits, the gods too have memories. Echoes sent out to mould the future, even as we like to shape the past. This is one such echo.

“Athena, in all her glory, sprung from her father’s head. She was born in this way and she lived in reverse, with her father inside. He festered low and dark, ever internal and shaped the way of women. She with the divinely controlled mind, she with the divinely controlled heart. Her song was Zeus’ wisdom and ever wise she gave aid to men in battle. She sang Zeus’ song but in a woman’s voice.

“All this while she dwelt upon the earth, living for wisdom and for war, until at last she grew weary of the tilling of blood. Listless, she walked through the heavens in a pointless search. Wisdom she had already; the play of war was her field of honour.

“Yet even still she searched, sifting through the gentle clouds of Olympus until she came across a coarser terrain, a lower tier of the heavens. Here she found a twisted tree, the suggestion of torture in its lifelike shape. The tree lent its sparse shade to a nearby pool, a dank and still body, which gave forth no reflection.

“A shiver ran though her golden body as she looked about this place. A forgotten place on the outskirts of the forbidden realm of hags and harpies. No god or mortal could linger here.

“Though the pool was still and the twisted trunk was bare, Athena could feel the pulse of decaying life that drew her in and held her in a morbid sway. It was not her that willed her legs to fold and placed her back against the twisted knot of tree, and yet she did not resist it.

“And she of little patience, who quickens men in battle and in lust, waited.

“The water stirred. Only a little, but it was enough the set the reflection of the tree upon the water. When all was settled, Athena saw the shape of a Crone’s face upon the water.

“The eyes opened. ‘Athena, my daughter.’ The face within the water shaped the words with her aged mouth but the sound of the voice was that of the creaking of wind through a wood.

“Eyes wide with childlike brightness, Athena answered. ‘Who are you?’

“ ‘I am that which lives in men’s minds but which they often neglect to use, I am that which lives in women’s minds and that which they are forced to use.’

“Athena replied, ‘Your answer is a judgement which I cannot elucidate without knowledge of your mind. Pray, speak without judgement and with sense.’

“The woman in the water answered with a cackle and a smile with too many teeth. ‘With sense she demands and yet she has not any, for who with glory would come to rest among the harpies?’

“Patience being not a virtue valued in wisdom or in war, Athena delivered herself sharply. ‘Tell me your name so that I may speak to you.’

“ ‘Oh, indeed, but I have already told you enough for you to guess it for yourself. You are not worthy of your fame Athena.’

“Bronze armour flashed as surely as her eyes and Athena gave her answer. ‘You have told me nothing old woman. You are ungracious.’

“ ‘Oh ho I see you have the ailing wit and spitfire of your father. Though I live among the hags and the harpies, did you take me for a lady?’

“With this Athena stood and drew her sword, pointing it with purpose at the tree. “In truth I took you for someone with more wisdom.’

“ ‘Ah, and once I called you daughter; once I did protect you,’ the aged face creaked sadly.

“ ‘I have but a father and he is ruler here.’

“The face cracked open in a crooked, wicked smile. ‘Oh, no my dear, he has no power here.’

“ ‘His power is everywhere,’ Athena declared faithfully.

“The spectre in the water frowned. ‘And you, are you not also divine?’ The voice creaked on without hesitation. ‘I shall tell you. There once was a goddess. She was called Metis and she bore the gift of wisdom yet it was both a blessing and a curse. You now bear this gift Athena and you wear it wrongly, for what is wisdom without knowledge? But we shall come to that.

“ ‘Long ago, Zeus was told that Metis would bear a son to rival even him. In his fear and anger he swallowed Metis whole to gain her gift for himself and prevent such a son from rising. Little did he know that Metis was an unpalatable woman, she made him pay for his foolishness.

“ ‘Trapped inside, the wise goddess shook within her confinement, never giving the god a moment of peace or rest. Eventually even the all-powerful Zeus could bear it no longer and he wished to be free of his affliction. In the lower part of the heavens he came across a pool and into this he vomited up her soul. But a second soul, a younger soul, was still trapped inside his body. You see my dear; Metis had been with child when he consumed her.

“ ‘Even consumed, she had toiled and she made the child armour so that newly-birthed the child would not be defenseless. Even now Metis waits for her child to become the son that she was born to be.’

“Athena shifted, the weight of her sword held carelessly by her side as she thought.

“ ‘You think with your wisdom and you see no mother,’ the voice gravelled on. ‘She has been here all this time and she was waiting.’

“A gleam on her sword, Athena smiled and in her smile shone her father’s wisdom, her father’s glory. ‘You are a fool to think that I can be deceived thus. Harpy!’ she screamed and she thrust the sword deep into the gnarled trunk.

“Blood gushed in a torrent from the deep wound, and soon the little pool overflowed with red. Athena’s ears were filled with the booming cackle of the old woman and she was suddenly afraid.

“ ‘That’s right my dear, drink deep of the well that your beloved father has dug. This is the innocent blood of the hopeless and forgotten.’

“Her boots beginning to brim with blood, Athena jumped from the sky, landing in Triton’s calm and enduring sea, the waves washing her of the knowledge. Safe, she let his arms embrace her and pull her down, down, down until all thoughts of Metis had receded.

“This day and all subsequent days she proved herself her father’s daughter.”

The gentle wash of the water upon the shore had lulled the girls into peace. The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon and the air was rich with the anticipation of evening.

“It is strange,” said the dark girl, lying on her back, her eyes half-closed, “the many ways we can recreate the world in story. In your tale the sea was a soul-destroying force.”

“Yes, but that was long ago. We look upon a different sea today.”

“Do we? I wonder. I still see my mother with the spirits, hunting for her dinner amongst the reefs. But Triton is there also, watching for a bronze clad woman with fire in her eyes.”

A pale arm extended and reached towards the sky. “And over there in that dark corner of the sky sits Metis. And she is waiting, waiting.”

The dark girl opened her eyes and looked up to the cloud. “She will be waiting till the end of time… perhaps longer.”

The pale girl stood, the fire on the horizon setting her locks aflame as she offered her hand to her companion. “Perhaps Athena will come to her eventually,” she said as she pulled the girl to her feet.

“Do you think her capable of making such a choice?”

“Oh, choice,” she said dismissively, “is not something I readily believe in.” Yet still she held fast to the dark girl’s hand as they made their way from the sea, back to places that were deemed more worthy of the title ‘home’.

A wind rose up from the sea behind them and swept across the beach as they walked, leaving no record of their existence in the sand.

by allecto

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Lot’s Wife by allecto

Lost in salt and sand. An exhumation. Lot’s wife was really a pillar.

I will not go silently. This you have already learnt. I relinquish to no one. When you told me your stories to shape me, they unmade me. They merely taught me how to remake myself. In the most powerful way. Through stories.

You thought that you had the power. That your power was exhaustive. You had the power to name. You had the power to tell. You had the ultimate power of story. And the one true story.

But see, I have taken your power. And I can wield it for myself. This is me. In these words. These words that you shaped, to shape me. You made them a weapon. I can make them peace. And piece. For all the pieces that you chopped me into.

With your stories.

I think I can hate you without anger. I think I can love you without fear. I think I can do both.

I think I can put you back together too. If you listen. If you let me heal you with my stories. The ones that can put the pieces back.

Sometimes I wish that you could hear me. This is my voice, this is my voice. I am not shouting. I am just telling.

This is what your stories did to me.

Can you look at yourself?

Your voice is louder than mine. Your voice has more power. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning in your words. Drowning in your droning voice. I suppose I am. My own voice sings continually to save myself.

When I stop my weaving you will know that I am gone. And you have buried me. With your words.

Silence can be my death. And I have died before.

I am not sure how long I will keep telling. With my weaker voice. In my insignificant words. This is the ground that I have chosen.

You are the opponent that tells better stories.

Lot’s wife didn’t have a voice. Nor did she have a name. Shall I give her one?

This is my story after all. Here in the confines of this page. She was a blank because of you. She was salt in spite of you. But I can make her whole.

Here is a secret. She never wanted to be sugar. And Lot had no taste for salt.

I made promises to you. When I was little; sitting on your knee. And you would start the stories.

If you are a good girl, you would say, if you are a good girl. And I would make promises and swear. That I would love you forever and forever.

But at some point I turned into a pillar of salt. What was it that I was looking back at?

I can lick my skin now and I like the taste of myself.

I did not keep my promises. And you did not keep yours.

Is this a letter that I am writing to you, father? Or is it a story? One of my many pieces. The slow beginning of peace.

These are not the stories that you want to hear. Did you think I had a choice when you sat me on your knee and consumed me with your stories?

I once was your princess, coated in sugar and I turned into a pillar of salt. It was evening. I ran away from your city.

She says that she can hear you still. I’ve shut you out. But look. Is this a letter or a story?

I can’t tell the difference anymore. You still have me. Your stories still hold me. I want out.

I will keep telling.

I realise there is a dissonance that runs through all of my words.

I write because I hate you. Is that the only reason?

You thought your stories could tie me down. I make-believe that I’ve reclaimed myself. And I pretend. Because we both know me.

At least you thought you knew me. At least I thought I knew myself.

Maybe all I know is the limits of my cage. Maybe I cut you free and cut myself too.

It isn’t you I hate. It isn’t you I love. It is this cage. Every day I discover more bars that have been disguised as freedom.

A man once said, “the mind is always free.” This is the ultimate of your deceptions. This cage you built for me within my mind is stronger than any cage you could place around my body.

And I’m scratching you out, scratching you out. It is hard to tell where the bars end and the woman begins.

I don’t know if you have noticed that I am still bleeding.

You are quite right. It is rather like madness to want to rip myself to pieces. To invent myself histories I haven’t lived.

But all women are mad. They are mad if they believe your lies and they are even madder if they don’t.

I refuse, thank you. I’ll make up my own lies. Starting with this page, with these words, with this story.

These are my lies. It is up to you whether you believe them.

You told me once that you would build me a castle. Instead you made me into your castle. A place to hide your dreams. A defensible position; or so you believed.

But look. See. I have come into my own. My body is no longer the castle of your dreams. And you think that I have transformed into your nightmare.

I have. I am alive for myself. No longer a castle but merely a pillar… Salt, sand, my exhumation. I am supporting myself.

by allecto