“Mother of Waters” by April L’Orange
“Shasa! Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Shasa rubbed her eyes with her fists and poked her head out from under the bed. Mommy’s ankles weren’t far away, so she signed, “Here, Mommy,” and crawled out from her hiding place.
Strong arms caught Shasa around the ribs and Mommy lifted her up on one hip. They sat on the bed together, and Mommy wiped Shasa’s teary eyes with a fold of her shirt. Shasa clung to her, because everything felt better when Mommy held her.
“Shh, Shasa. What’s wrong, baby? I thought you were watching TV. What’s wrong?” Shasa could feel Mommy’s arms moving, and she knew that Mommy was signing the words, too, but she didn’t want to move away enough to see them.
She raised her hands up high instead, where she had enough room to move them. “TV says it has to rain or everything dies. I don’t want everything to die.”
Mommy’s laugh made Shasa think of the chimes outside their door ringing in the wind. “Oh, baby. It rains here, just not very much. Do you remember the thunderstorms last summer?”
Shasa shook her head. Last summer was a long time ago, and they’d lived in another place – she knew that, even if she didn’t remember anything about it.
Mommy stroked Shasa’s hair. “We live in a desert. It doesn’t rain as much in deserts as it does in the places on TV. But God will send rain, and the Goddess will make everything green and growing again.”
Shasa didn’t know any green places. She sniffled, and fat tears formed in her eyes.
Mommy kissed them away. “Do you hear that?”
Shasa listened carefully. She’d almost given up when she heard a distant rumble.
“I don’t want to scare it away, but I think…” Mommy walked over to their front window, raising the blinds so Shasa could see the heavy blue clouds at the edge of the sky. “That was thunder. That means it will rain.”
My mother knew the rhythms of the desert. She watched it bake in the sun. She watched it bloom when the rains came. She watched it hold its breath through winter. And she knew when it began to die, long before the experts started calling it a drought.
For a long time, she prayed for rain. She prayed to God, she prayed to the Goddess, she prayed to anyone who would listen. She went to synagogue. She danced naked around a sacred fire.
The land grew drier every year.
So she went down into a dry riverbed. She wasn’t a rabbi, she wasn’t a priestess, but she had one perfect prayer. She took a bit of dirt and spat on it until her mouth was dry and the dirt was mud in her hands. She shaped the mud into a tiny manikin, a baby-doll with stubby little legs and arms and a large head. She knelt in the streambed with the dolly in the palm of her hand and pressed her thumb to its forehead and said, “You are Shasa. You are precious water. You are life in the desert. I mark you with the name of God.” Then she swallowed the mud baby.
Eighteen weeks later, she gave birth to me.
“She just grows like a weed, doesn’t she?” Mrs. Marquez was beaming against a backdrop of low hills and grey-green scrub brush.
Jody sighed. People were starting to notice. She smiled up at Shasa, who stood just at the top of the playground slide, and willed her expression toward joy instead of pain. “Takes after her father that way.”
Shasa glared down from the top of the slide and signed, “I am not a weed!”
Jody laughed and translated. “She says she’s not a weed.” She stepped out of the shade, crunching through the playground sand to catch Shasa as she slid down to the ground, scooping the little girl up in her arms before small, sandaled feet could touch the sand of the playground.
Shasa squirmed in her arms, leaning back and signing, “Again, Mommy. I want to go again.”
Jody rested her against one hip. “I know, baby, but Mommy has to go home and take care of some things. We can play some more later.”
“Again!” Shasa pouted. “I can play by myself, I’m a big girl!”
Mrs. Marquez chuckled and glanced at her grandsons where they were shooting each other with squirt guns on the far side of the playground. “Doesn’t want to go, does she? Leave her here – it’s no trouble to keep an eye on her, too. We’ll walk her home before supper. You go do what you need to do.”
Jody sighed and set her squirming child down on the ground. “Bless you, Mrs. Marquez. Shasa, you have to behave for Mrs. Marquez, and not go off without her. Okay?”
Shasa stood suddenly still. “I can stay?”
Jody’s heart was tight with mixed emotions as she ruffled Shasa’s hair, those rich brown curls the color of river-bottom mud, no longer as baby-fine as they had been. No, neither of them would be staying here much longer. “You can stay. Say thank you to Mrs. Marquez.”
Shasa signed, “Thank you, Mrs. Grandma,” before running back to the steps of the slide.
Jody tried to imagine raising Shasa with her parents’ support. She was never sure if they’d disowned her for becoming a witch or because she refused to stop being a practicing Jew first. They didn’t even know they had a grandchild – they’d moved and left no forwarding address.
What would they make of her life now, drifting from one little desert town to another, trying to disguise the fact that her daughter grew too damned fast?
I was born perfect, with two exceptions.
I can’t speak. Mom said she didn’t cry when they told her I had a birth defect. I was her daughter, and that made me perfect just the way I was.
I also have a mark in the middle of my forehead, a faint tracery that looks like someone scribbled there. It mars skin the golden color of desert sand.
I was six before anyone but my mother read that writing.
In Sierra Vista, Mom parked the U-Haul at a public park. She and Shasa ate their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank water from the fountain. After lunch, Shasa went to use the bathroom before they started driving again.
On her way back, Shasa stopped to watch the kids on the swing set. A boy saw her standing there and ran over to her with a big grin on his face. It startled her; strangers didn’t usually come up to her when she was alone. “Hi!” he said. “I’m Micah. Are you new here?”
Micah was about the age Shasa knew she looked – twelve or thirteen. He had dark hair and braces and a friendliness to him that made her wish they were staying there long enough to really be friends. She smiled and shook her head, pointing to their U-Haul.
“You’re moving?” He looked disappointed. “Aw. Where’re you from?” His eyes were deep and thoughtful as they studied her, and they made Shasa’s skin prickle oddly. It felt like they were drinking her in. She touched her hair self-consciously and hoped he wouldn’t tell her she was pretty. That happened a lot, and it was okay when she was with Mom. Oh, what a beautiful little girl. I can see you in her face, but she must have her father’s coloring. Latino? Or Mediterranean, or Native American, or, on one occasion, gypsy. Mom always smiled politely and made small talk, and later she reminded Shasa to get away from anyone who did that to her when she was alone – they might be dangerous to a kid.
Micah’s gaze, though, drifted to the mark on her forehead and stopped there. His lips moved, and he went very pale. “Why…” He swallowed. “Why do you have emet on your forehead?” he went on, in a voice dry as summer grass. “Don’t you know what that means?”
Shasa shook her head. No one had ever put a name to her birthmark before.
“In Hebrew school, we learned about–” He stopped abruptly. She waited eagerly for him to go on, but instead he asked, “What’s your name?”
She shook her head at him and smiled gently, slowly fingerspelling “S-h-a-s-a.” A lot of people could fingerspell, even if they didn’t know any other signs. At the very least, he should understand that she couldn’t speak.
He didn’t. “Why won’t you talk to me?” he breathed, and began backing away, the worry in his face turning into fear.
Her chest started to feel tight with upset. In the distance, thunder rumbled. She was mute; she wasn’t a monster. “Because I can’t, stupid. No voice,” she signed angrily.
Micah turned and ran away, yelling for his grandpa.
Tears stung Shasa’s eyes. She ran back to the U-haul and cried to her mother.
When I read that the manzanita was dying, I went out to my carefully-watered little garden and cried under grey-blue clouds. Lightning flickered in them, but only a few scattered drops fell to cool my skin. Mom had prayed for water, and she got me instead. Maybe God was in a bad mood, or the Goddess had bigger things to do that day.
Mom came out a while later and hugged me. “Come inside, Shasa, it’s time to light the Shabbat candles. You don’t have to water the plants that way.”
Sniffling a little, I managed to smile for her. “But if I don’t, who will?”
“Do you know, they call it witch’s broom?” Jody pointed out the masses of dwarf mistletoe infesting the palo verde and mesquite at the edge of the dry creek. The trees were so drought-weakened they couldn’t fight off the parasite. In the fading daylight, it looked like mats of dry sticks trailing from the stricken branches.
Shasa shook her head. “I knew bigots were stupid, but if they’re going to believe we ride brooms, they could at least assume we drive better than that.”
It startled a laugh from Jody and left her feeling lighter and less burdened as they cleared away dead vegetation and debris. She’d hesitated about doing this ritual in a wash – the skies often threatened when Shasa was in a mood. Any mood. The golden sand at the bottom of the streambed could be under a foot of muddy, rain-driven water with little or no warning.
But this was Shasa’s womanhood rite, and Jody was so relived her daughter had started menstruating – Shasa might only be seven, but she looked fifteen or so – that she couldn’t bring herself to protest any part of the ritual Shasa had created.
When they’d cleared a large enough area, they sat across from each other, the small cast-iron cauldron between them and the rest of the ritual materials to one side with the tote bag she’d brought them in. She closed her eyes, feeling the solid bulk of earth beneath her. Earth had always been her best element, and now she reached down into it, pulling power up from its molten heart. She drew it into a ball just beneath her sternum and relaxed around it, letting stillness fill the empty vessel of her body.
She opened her eyes again and stood, facing the first sliver of the new moon where it hung in the eastern sky. Words filled her head and flowed from her lips. “We call upon you, spirits of the East, powers of air. Breathe with us, soar with us on this joyous occasion.” She turned to face south. “We call upon you, spirits of the South, powers of fire. As the fire that lights our days fades from the sky, bring your flame here to mark this time of transition.”
West brought Shasa into view, sitting cross-legged in the sand. Jody smiled at the lovely young woman her daughter had become, and the smile she got back was like the first drops of summer rain falling across the desert. “We call upon you, spirits of the West, powers of water. As you bring new life to the land, come celebrate the new life of this young woman across from me.”
North. The bulk of the town nesting there was almost hidden by desert brush and descending twilight. “We call upon you, spirits of the North, powers of earth. Our path lies always upon you. Come dance with us now in celebration.”
Shasa rose, flowing to her feet with a supple grace Jody was sure she’d never owned herself, not even when she was fifteen. “God in Heaven, Goddess here on Earth,” she signed, “we ask for your presence now, in this place, in dedication and celebration of a new stage of my life.”
Jody knelt and poured some rubbing alcohol into the cauldron, following it with a lit match. The safely contained fire flourished like a living thing, casting flickering pools of golden light on Shasa. They brought out the colors in the simple shift she’d sewn herself: blue for water, which was Shasa’s element; green to mean life, which she was now capable of bringing into the world; and a belt of red at the waist to represent moon blood. She had fasted until Rosh Chodesh began at sunset, and now she joined Jody in kneeling in the sand.
Jody picked up the jar and held it high above the fire in both hands. Shasa placed her hands on the top and bottom. Even before Jody released her energy into it, it began to warm with a power rapidly becoming greater than her own. In a few moments, the jar was all but buzzing.
Jody looked up from it and met her daughter’s laughing eyes. “I think we can stop now,” she said, trying not to giggle.
Shasa nodded and let go. She stood where she was and untied her belt, drawing her shift over her head, emerging from it breech and letting it trickle to the ground at her side.
In a curious way, this was Shasa’s bat mitzvah. Certainly it was the only adulthood ritual she would ever have. With the word graven on Shasa’s skin, that Jody had never imagined would actually mark her daughter’s flesh, Jody wouldn’t risk bringing her to synagogue.
Jody opened a small glass jar, the rich smell of Shasa’s first moon blood drifting out of it. She scooted around the fire on her knees and dipped her fingertip in the blood. She drew a left-facing crescent on the side of Shasa’s belly to match the one in the sky. The full moon went over her womb, and then a right-facing crescent on the other side. “For femininity,” she whispered.
Just above the level of her head, Shasa’s hands continued, “For fertility.”
Jody stood. She dipped her finger in the jar again and drew a six-pointed star on Shasa’s forehead over the mark of her birth, enclosing it in a circle. “For wisdom.”
“For wholeness,” Shasa responded.
The lid went back onto the jar and Jody returned to her place in the east, sitting down and wiping her fingertip against the dirt, leaving the remaining blood behind.
Shasa raised her hands to the sky, then squatted to place her palms on the fine sand of the river bottom. Her body language changed as she paused in startlement. Then she laughed silently. She lifted her hands toward Jody, displaying a clinging layer of sand, thicker than it should be. Jody blinked and looked at the ground. A faint discoloration revealed two damps spots where Shasa had placed her hands.
Jody looked again at this remarkable young woman she had birthed, her heart swelling with amazement and joy.
Shasa reached over the fire and planted her right palm on Jody’s forehead, transferring wet sand to it. They both giggled. As one, they raised their arms, gathering in the energy of the circle they had cast, and sank it back into the earth they’d drawn it from.
Something flickered in the corner of Jody’s eye. She spared it half a glance and frowned. It was red and blue and flashed like a disco ball. She gave Shasa a rueful smile. “May this circle be open, but never broken. Blessed be.”
“Blessed be.” With the words said, Shasa grabbed for the baby wipes she’d brought to clean up while Jody smothered the last flickering tongues of flame in the cauldron. In the darkness, Jody heard Shasa pulling her shift back on.
A second later, a flashlight split the darkness between them. “Jody?”
Jody winced as the light stabbed at her eyes. The beam dipped so it shone on their knees instead of directly into their faces. “Who were you expecting, Miguel, the tooth fairy?”
“Jody, do you think you could not light any more fires tonight? It makes some folks nervous. Oh, hi, Shasa,” he added as an afterthought.
Shasa looked up from bundling the cauldron back into their tote bag. The glare of the flashlight illuminated her hands. “Hi, Miguel. Are we arrested for being witches or Jews?”
Jody felt a snicker rising up in her throat and tromped it down ruthlessly. “You know we’re always careful with fire, Miguel. It’s a drought, for crying out loud. Shasa wants to know if we’re arrested.” She slung the tote bag over her shoulder before Shasa had a chance.
Miguel sighed. “You know you’re not arrested. But you are scaring the neighbors.”
“They scare me, too,” Shasa signed. “For a minute, I thought that cross on our door last week was done in real blood.”
Jody declined to translate her comment. “We scare the neighbors just by breathing, Miguel, you know that. The only thing scarier than Jews in a small town is witches. I’ve never understood why we don’t scare you.” She accepted Miguel’s offered hand for help up the crumbling bank. Her knees complained at the exertion, the way they’d started to the last few years.
“Ah, you know me, if you’re not hurting anybody I just can’t get too worked up. I have a lot more trouble with the boys who drink a little too much and throw their fists around on Friday nights.” The deputy offered Shasa a hand, too, but she declined it with a smile and a shake of her head.
The three of them trooped back through the brush toward Miguel’s car. “Want a lift?”
Jody chuckled. “I think we’ve got enough trouble without coming home in a cop car. No offense.”
“No problem. And seriously, if you girls could keep a low profile for a while, I’d feel better. I don’t know if you’ve heard the talk going around, but I’d much rather it stayed talk, and didn’t turn into painted doors and broken windows.”
Or the blood-looking cross Jody wouldn’t tell him about. It wasn’t like he could do anything about it anyway. “Thanks for the warning. You have a nice night, Miguel.” She and Shasa waited until Miguel drove away before starting back toward town.
As they reached the street light at the end of Main, Jody started to notice eyes peering from between window blinds and kids peeking out from behind bushes.
Shasa caught her attention and signed, “It was time to move again anyway.” She grinned. “Maybe there will be some nice boys in the next town.”
Jody laughed in spite of the prickly feeling between her shoulder blades. She signed back silently, “Here’s to meeting nice boys, young woman. Just don’t get knocked up yet, okay?”
I chased the word “emet” for two years after I heard it from Micah’s lips. It wasn’t in the dictionary. I couldn’t find anything about it in the tiny libraries of the three small towns we lived in during that time. I wasn’t sure I was even spelling it right. I could have asked a librarian, but what if they’d looked at me like Micah had?
When we finally saved up enough for a computer, that made all the difference, though when Mom and I talked about online learning, I’m sure that’s not what she had in mind. It took me a while to hit on the right spelling, and then I landed in an unending list of synagogues and senior centers. How was I supposed to find what I needed through all that stuff? Mom and I had done a million ceremonies and rituals under the open sky. We welcomed the Shabbat every week with candles and wine and home-baked challah, but I’d never even been in a synagogue. Frustration finally made me type “Why is emet on my forehead?”
Thank God Mom wasn’t home to see me cry.
Emet is one of the names of God in Hebrew. It means “truth.” I read about Frankenstein. I read about “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and well-meant monsters run amok. And for the first time, I knew what Mom had done when she swallowed the mud baby.
Fat-bellied clouds hung low outside our windows as I wept. Mom had made me to water the desert. So why wouldn’t it rain, already?
Shasa was nine, and looked eighteen, when she discovered high school football. Not that football was so fascinating, but it let her meet boys. She was enjoying the sunshine and the crowd at the third game of the season when she heard a vivid curse at the same moment she was suddenly wet from shoulder to thigh. She jumped a little with surprise and looked at the sticky brown liquid soaking her shirt.
A boy about the age she looked was gaping at her with a horrified expression and a half-full cup in his hand. He put the cup down on the metal bleachers beside a younger boy and began apologizing, tripping all over his tongue the same way he’d tripped over his feet.
Shasa finally took pity on him. She laughed silently and signed, “It’s okay.” Beside him, the younger boy picked up the cup and sipped at what was left of the soda. The one her age stared at her hands long enough to make her uncomfortable, so she added, “I’m drip-dry. Besides, it’s hot out here.”
There were no words to describe her surprise when he signed, “Obviously you haven’t been reading your handbook. Goddesses are dry clean only.”
The younger boy was Jerry’s brother, and he was Deaf. So while Jerry had many other things to recommend him, the simple pleasure of speaking so freely with someone other than Jody was what first drew Shasa to him. The mishap at the football game became a meeting in the park, a couple of movies, a series of dates, and finally his senior prom.
The prom was long and boring, and there was a photographer who took pictures for all the parents. Afterwards, Shasa and Jerry drove down an old dirt road to a clear spot beside a dry riverbed. There were already half a dozen cars there, and several more showed up after them. Shasa had a pretty good idea that some of those kids had probably been conceived after their parents’ own senior proms.
She wasn’t worried. Her mother had been brave enough to tell her about her own unusual conception – Jody certainly hadn’t neglected to teach Shasa how condoms were used.
Jody never talked about what sex could be like, though. Shasa discovered that for herself as clouds swelled overhead and thunder masked the panting in the back seat of Jerry’s father’s car. When he came, Jerry had that look on his face he’d worn when he’d called her a Goddess. And then she lost sight even of that as the torrent of orgasm flooded every cell of her body.
Heavy drops splattered the roof of the car. The windows were already slicked-over when Jerry and Shasa and a dozen other laughing teenagers opened car doors to stand half-naked in the rain.
Jerry’s senior prom was the last time it rained there. Mom and I moved not too long afterward. Jerry and I e-mailed back and forth, but I lost track of him when he left for college. In his last e-mail, he said the town was drying up and blowing away.
Mining towns, farming towns, railroad towns… By that time, we’d lived in more than a dozen of them. When the wells wouldn’t draw anymore, there was no choice but to leave for the cities and their big municipal wells.
There couldn’t be any cities for Mom and me, though. Maybe I looked and felt twenty, but my birth certificate said I was ten.
Jody was packing photo albums and keepsakes into a cardboard box when she heard the knock on her door. Shasa hopped up from the kitchen table and her Botany homework and went to answer it.
“Sasha, honey, is your mom home?”
A lock of Shasa’s hair went between the pages of a battered copy of Hop on Pop, the first book Shasa had ever read all by herself.
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. Can you have her come to the door?”
Jody rolled her eyes and clambered to her feet. Too many of her neighbors over the years had mistaken Shasa’s muteness for stupidity. That usually didn’t last beyond the first biting retort delivered via paper airplane, but there were repeat offenders. Ed Green, who couldn’t pronounce Shasa’s name right to save his life, was one. Jody wasn’t sure how anyone so stubbornly obtuse had become mayor, but suspected the sheer number of uncles and cousins he had was involved.
One more thing I won’t miss about this town.
Shasa was backing slowly inside with an odd, pinched look on her face. She bumped into Jody, jumped a little, and tried to shut the door.
Jody reached for it automatically, only seeing Ed with half an eye. Most of her attention stayed with Shasa, who was signing frantically, “…buy us time. I can go out the back, they think I’m stupid. If you go out the bedroom window, get the car started–”
The sinking feeling in Jody’s stomach betrayed her, driving her to look back at Ed and the couple dozen grim-faced townsfolk standing with him. He used that moment to step inside the house, holding the door open with one meaty hand. The other closed around her wrist. She tugged against his grip even as she shoved her other arm behind her back, gesturing frantically for Shasa to run. “What the hell, Ed?”
“Funny, I was gonna ask you that.” He yanked her outside.
Jody set her feet just past the welcome mat and Shasa grabbed her other wrist, trying to drag her back in. It only made Jody’s panic worse – they already had her, they were not getting their hands on her daughter. She shoved at Shasa, or tried to, but two of her neighbors stepped up to both sides of them. One wrapped his arms around Jody’s in a bear hug and held her there while Shasa’s hand was pried from her wrist.
Ed tied her hands behind her. No handcuffs. The sheriff’s department wasn’t there. The absence of even a deputy in a crowd this size felt ominous. When they let her go, she saw Shasa’s hands were similarly bound, but in front of her.
Anger overrode Jody’s fear. Nobody silenced her daughter. “You untie Shasa this minute, Ed!”
Ed ignored her. “You seen the latest on the well? How ’bout Jessie Sandoval’s dog? Have you seen him? He turned up on her porch with his throat cut this morning.”
“What?” Jody’s heart skipped a beat. She’d always known people did stupid things when they were afraid, but she’d never thought they might stop trying to scare her off and decide to set her up, instead.
“Why don’t you come with us, and we’ll have a little chat about it?” Ed glanced beside her at Shasa, whose eyes were seething with invective she couldn’t express. “Sorry, Sasha.” The gentling of his voice was almost obscene. “We know you’re a good kid. It’s not your fault your mama cursed the well. I know you want to help her, but she’s a witch, sweetie.”
Shasa ran straight at him, but Danny caught her around the waist and she almost fell, unable to balance herself with her arms tied the way they were.
Jody worked to keep her voice neutral and nonthreatening. “I’m Wiccan, Ed, I haven’t made a secret of that. I’m a Jew, too. Neither one does cur–”
Jaime Cortez from the feed store picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, leaving the joint jammed painfully into her diaphragm.
The trip to the park in the center of town was much longer when you were upside-down and being bounced with every step. Jody listened in shock and horror as Ed “explained” about the water table dropping (which Jody had thought any fool knew resulted from the drought). The dead dog, it seemed, was the reason for this sudden action, though no one had cared when people began leaving dead animals on her porch. She tuned Ed out before he went on to something as modern and enlightened as fornication with the devil and looked for Shasa in the crowd.
Shasa was walking, stumbling a little and trying to keep close when Jody would rather have seen her run, worry the knot out of her bonds and get out of town.
Relief flooded Jody’s aching muscles when she was set down on her own two feet in the middle of the concrete basketball court. She looked around for avenues of escape as the blood retreated from her head and Ed continued his recitation of the ills she was accused of authoring. Shasa was surrounded, though, and the concrete basketball court they stood on had become an obstacle course of river-smooth rocks left from a hundred years ago when the wash at the edge of town still flowed.
With her neighbors taking stones from the piles, she didn’t have to fake horror. “For crying out loud, Ed, I worship the same God you do, I just call Him by different names. I wouldn’t dry up a well if I could! I’ve been praying for rain for over a dozen years now. And not just in a synagogue or a church. Every minute of every day!”
Shasa had suggested splitting up. If Jody tried to run now, would Shasa go the opposite direction? With the mob standing spread out as they were, there wasn’t even a clear path through the heaps of stone. What if running were taken as guilt? Right now, Ed and company at least seemed to think Shasa was harmless.
Jody couldn’t risk it.
Shasa had been staring down at her feet. Now she drew her gaze up slowly over her own body. What did she see? Skin the color of sand? Hair the exact shade of river-bottom mud?
My daughter, Jody prayed silently. Just my daughter. Forget the prayer, forget the water, forget emet – she doesn’t even know what that means! Please God, please Goddess, forget the golem, let my daughter live!
But emet was no longer her thumb pressed to a manikin too tiny to write on. It was marked into the skin of the child she’d carried within her body.
Shasa raised her head, and eyes the blue of a summer storm met Jody’s with a knowledge that had somehow surpassed her own. There was no condemnation in her gaze, only a sorrow as deep as the sea.
Jody whispered, “No, Shasa, no. No!”
The crowd parted before Shasa’s bound hands like water before the bow of a ship as she walked over to stand in front of her mother.
“Run,” Jody shouted, “run away, just run. Be safe and whole and live a life of your own and never look back!” She didn’t know which she feared more: that the crowd might stone both of them, or that that pregnant knowledge in Shasa’s eyes would break into the world as the action Jody had never understood or wanted to take.
Shasa couldn’t answer with her hands bound, silenced in the only way that mattered. She smiled at Jody and bent to kiss her smaller mother on the cheek. She stepped away then and turned toward the crowd, raising her hands high above her head with the air of a rabbi supplicating God, or a priestess calling the quarters. Something about her made the townsfolk take a few steps back, and even Jody stood frozen in fear.
Only Ed Green was brave or stupid enough to approach. “Sasha,” he cooed as if speaking to a small child, “you need to come away now.” He reached for her, but she just set herself more firmly between him and Jody.
All prayers are answered, but sometimes we don’t hear. Sometimes it takes years to understand.
The crowd stared in silence as I brought my hands down over my face. It took more will than I would have guessed to set my fingernails into my own skin, but perfect purpose made it easier. I scratched the left side of the mark on my forehead, destroying the first character of a word Mom never meant me to know. A word that kept her from entering a synagogue after I was born. A word that horrified Micah before I ever had a chance to know him. He knew what emet meant, and why he should fear the golem, the silent bearer of that mark.
But with the first character, aleph, gone from it, the word was simply met. Which means “dead.”
A trickle of blood beaded and dripped down the side of Shasa’s forehead. As she let her hands come to rest in front of her, the basketball court moved beneath her feet. The earth rumbled as a hidden river reached for air and life; it matched the murmuring of the skies as storm clouds the color of her eyes raced in from the horizon, lightning flickering within them.
Ed leapt backward as the basketball court began to crumble. The rest of the crowd had already turned, running from the dark waters that ate the ground between them and the witches.
Jody screamed, “Shasa! Shasa!” as her beautiful daughter’s body went translucent, almost misty. Water welled to the surface of the earth and left Jody on the far bank of a new and mighty river, weeping bitterly.
Shasa looked up, smiling, as the earth beneath her crumbled, and her body did. She had one perfect moment to feel the first drops of rain on her face.
About the Author
April L’Orange began life as a terribly serious little old woman and has been growing younger ever since. When she’s not writing, she’s usually working as a freelance editor or beating back the yard with a machete. She and her husband live in upstate New York, where they are owned by two cats and the Squirrel Mafia. She’s published short SF/F with Pink Narcissus Press and Dagan Books.