She says, “I told you.”
The rocks are cold beneath her feet, and wet.
She says, “I told you this is how it has to be.”
The birds have stopped crying. They have gone wherever it is that birds go in preparation for a tempest that is to come. She turns and tells him the thing that no one knows.
“I have made a deal with God…”
* * *
“… God is my shepherd.”
The girl’s eyes are a clear color that would be purple if it wasn’t so washed out, sparkling with tears brought there not by sadness or fear or anger, but by the wind and the salt. She blinks now and then, and the tears run from the corners of her eyes and back into the tangles of brown hair being whipped about her head by the gale.
The rain will come soon, but for now there is only the wind, and the salt, and the sound of the sea. It roars and writhes like a living thing, ravaging the rocks of breakwater, punishing the coarse strip of sand the lies below the cliffs. The girl stares out at the sea. Its scent is in the air, its taste on her tongue, the feel of it sticky and wet on her fingers, her cheeks, every exposed bit of skin. She is cocooned in the spray of the sea.
Beneath her, on the beach, the crowd chants “Jump.”
The boy at her side says, “Don’t.”
She looks at him and smiles and wipes away the tears. As if to spite her, the wind gusts again, and a fresh set rolls backward into her hair. “It’s what they want,” she says.
“It’s not what I want.”
There are torches, there, down on the beach. Most have gone out but some, protected by their position near the rocks, still gutter. To the girl they look like eyes peering up at her, blinking in the wind. The crowd is a shapeless mass that undulates like a snake, shifting and moving, restless. Little white ovals appear occasionally as someone looks up, but for the most part they are looking at the spot where she will land, and they are chanting the word. “Jump.”
“It’s for the best,” she says, and the boy shakes his head.
“I am already damned.”
“Would you damn the baby, then?”
The girl presses a hand to her belly, swollen slightly but not yet heavy and full, and grimaces.
“Would you damn our baby?” the boy asks.
The girl shakes her head. From below, someone screams above the chant, screams the word, and the voice of the crowd roars in response. “Jump!”
They can’t see the boy, and for this she is glad. She is damned, yes. She will damn the baby. Yes. She will do both, and do them gladly. She will do these things to save him.
The boy says her name, and the rain comes like a sheet out of the north and is upon them. The crowd below makes a moaning noise that sounds like lust, like revulsion. A few children break free from the black mass and scatter, running toward the town. Running from the rain.
The rain washes the sticky salt from her skin. The girl tilts her head to the sky and closes her eyes and sighs…
* * *
… sighs and stares into the mirror. The blood has not come in over three months, and today she has been discovered. Downstairs her mother is sobbing. Outside there is nothing but the soft thud of an axe splitting wood. Her father will be in soon, and then he will know. The girl understands that this is the beginning of the end.
Tears sting her eyes for a moment, but she pushes them away. There is no time, and no reason. This is what she asked for. This is what she begged for. This is what she bargained for and prayed for. This is the end. That it would come was never in question, and in truth she has been given more time than she expected.
The law is simple and clear, and there will be no exceptions made. She will be turned out from the village, as will her lover, should she admit to his name. She knows that if she does not volunteer this information, there are ways with which they can extract it from her. Methods which will leave her ruined and broken and begging for death.
They will go in disgrace, to try and live in the lands beyond civilization. Probably they will die. Few have ever been banished. No word of them has ever returned.
The priests will denounce her. Her parents will consider her dead, removed from their life forever, nothing more than a shameful memory. She has invited all of this. She has asked it of God, and she would do it again. The only regret is that the time she asked for is over.
She has made her deal with God, and she knows that banishment will not satisfy him. The Bible says that God is good, and she believes that he is, but God expects her to hold up her end of the bargain.
When she dreams of the cliffs that night, after the shouts of her father and the sobbing of her mother have faded into the darkness, she understands what God wishes her to do.
She lies there in the dark and contemplates the cliffs, and the sea, and the faces in the crowd. They will be there. He has arranged it. There are things she must do in the time between now and then, but for the moment there is only the dark, and the sound of the rain, and the thought of the boy and the baby.
She lies in the dark and shivers…
* * *
… shivers at the touch of his fingers. The barn is dark and warm and smells of sweet jasmine, clover and hay. Below them there is the shuffling of horses, breathing and snorting, eating their oats. Birds flutter in the rafters overhead.
She has sworn never to let him find her in here, because of the danger. Now he has.
His tongue is hot and wet in her mouth and his lips taste of apple beer and pipe tobacco, stolen from the master of the farm, her father. This boy who is not yet old enough to grow a full beard spends his evenings with the pint and the pipe, and tonight he has found her in the barn. She knew he would.
She prayed he would.
His fingers are busy beneath her skirt, first sliding her undergarments down around her knees, then probing, spreading her wide and wet. The rough pad of his thumb runs over her sensitive spot and the girl gasps, kisses deeper, gropes for his belt and undoes it. She has already removed his shirt.
His other hand has undone the strings which lace up her blouse, and he takes first one breast and then the other out from the folds of fabric. He uses his free hand on one nipple, his mouth on the other. The girl puts her hands in his hair and sighs. Pants. Moans.
She has kicked off her undergarments entirely. Her skirts are drawn up around her waist now, legs open for him, and her own scent joins that of the cut grasses, mingling there in the dim, flickering light of the oil lamp. He is hot and hard and pulsing beneath her hands and, unable to wait any longer, she guides him forward. They join at the mouth, join at the waist, and as he begins making that warm friction inside of her, there is no regret.
Gasping. Sweating. Heaving breaths between kisses. At some point she feels her body clench and clench again to rolling waves of pleasure, as if trying to draw him even deeper into her. Her body is trying to make him one with her. She digs her fingernails into his back, feels him stiffen, hears him groan.
There are a few more sweet kisses and caresses, and then she is empty and he is gone. There is only the smell of his sweat, the taste of his lips, and the small part of himself he has left within her. She lies for a moment more in the soft grass and then dresses, smooths her hair, prepares to return to the house.
She has sworn never to let him find her in here, because of the danger, because her will is weak. Now — like yesterday, and the day before that, and for as many evenings as she can remember — he has…
* * *
… has come from her duties milking the cows with a pail in each hand, careful not to trip on the loose dirt of the central road.
She knows from the moment she first sees this boy, hired on to work the fields, that she wants him and nothing else. He is working with his shirt off, muscles flexing underneath tanned skin, baling hay. The sight stops her short and she skids a little in the dirt, nearly stumbling. Milk sloshes from the pails but the girl doesn’t notice. The boy’s hair is colored like straw and curly and dangles around his ears. He stops for a moment to stretch, glances over at her, smiles.
Her legs go weak, and she finds that she can’t smile back, can’t give a demure shift of the eyes and turn away, can’t do anything so proper and ladylike. All she can do is stare.
Their first meeting in the barn is less than a week later. She gives away her maidenhood without thought, without care, without concern for the future or the past or any time but right then. It hurts, but the need for him is too great, and the pain is distant and unimportant. She expects this need to pass after the encounter. She expects to be satisfied. She isn’t. Instead the need only grows.
When he is gone, and all that is left is to catch her breath and clean herself up, she makes her deal with God.
“Give me time,” she asks Him from her knees. “Give me time, with him, and when it’s over… when You choose for it to end… You can have whatever You ask. Any payment, any cost, any sacrifice. Just give me time, now, and when that time is up, I will know, and I will accept it.”
There is nothing but the smell of hay, and the sound of the animals. In the distance, an owl hoots.
“Please,” she says.
In that moment the wind shifts, comes in from the east, bringing with it the scent of the ocean. She hears the distant rumble of thunder. The owl has stopped hooting.
“Thy will be done,” she says…
* * *
… says to her, “Don’t,” and she laughs at him.
“Who am I to disobey God?”
The rain is lashing the sea into froth and frenzy, and the sound of the crowd below has transcended even the noise of the wind. It is a scream, a shriek, a constant roar. She knew they would be here, below her. She saw it in a dream.
They knew she would be here, above them. The priest saw it in a dream and led them here. He stands now at the front, holding a torch, face turned upward, leading the chant. “Jump!”
“Dreams aren’t messages from God,” the boy says. He is losing her, and he knows it, and his voice betrays his fear and sorrow.
“Look below us. Do you doubt the word of God? Do you think they have come here for a picnic? They have come here for blood.”
“Let them burn in hell.”
“No. This was the bargain. This is God’s will. You will be safe.”
“This is suicide! Your soul will be damned! Our child will be damned!”
The rain has soaked her garments and numbed the skin below. The girl removes them without concern and stands naked on the rocky outcrop and stretches out her hands. Below her the crowd roars a cheer, and its cries redouble in their intensity.
“I won’t let you do this!” cries the boy.
She is not listening. She stands, eyes closed, arms out. The rain is like ice on her skin, but she no longer feels it. All she can feel is warmth. She can smell the scent of sweet jasmine. Clover. Fresh hay. She can smell the scent of sex and love and sin, and it fills her with warmth and joy.
This was the bargain, and she does not regret.
“God is my shepherd,” she whispers, and then, “thy will be done.”
The wind as she falls blows tears back from the corners of her eyes and into her hair.
* * *