Every year, C.M. Simpson gathers up the short stories, flash fiction and poetry she’s written, published, or prepared for publishing, and puts them into a single volume. This year, there are two volumes. The first volume consists of all the work, C.M. has re-discovered from her early years of writing.
As C.M. explains at the beginning of each volume “poems and short stories form the playground I use to explore ways of putting words on paper to create different effects” and each volume contains a variety of styles and subjects, accompanied by what it was that inspired her at the time. This piece resulted from an assignment based around a novel set for first year literature.
This short story was written in response to an exercise set by a professor teaching first-year literature. It was written on February 25, 1999.
The river ran brown with mud, the current drawing whirls and streaks upon the surface to warn of its presence.
Mayleigh stood at its edge, a toe’s breadth away from the swirling brown. The other bank was so far away and each day, the river rose, expanding the distance between her and her home.
Then again, she thought, the river could be nothing more than a trickle and still I would not be able to return to my birthplace, my family. It is the way of things.
Still, she continued to stare, across the brownness and into the nothing of her memories. She would have been staring for much longer is she hadn’t heard the slow-paced step of another.
It was Kara, a fellow wife, procured and paid for by the man who had sired their children. Kara was far from happy and she came to stand by Mayleigh.
“I will go soon,” she said.
“He will punish us all.”
Kara was silent. When next she spoke, her voice was full of tears. She waved a hand at the water.
“I know, but if I don’t go, my sadness could murder us all.”
It was true. Since their husband had refused to let her go, Kara’s sadness had turned from misting rain to an almost constant drizzle. The river would continue to rise for as long as her heart wept.
Mayleigh stared out across the river. The man Kara’s heart ached to be with had seen splendor in Kara’s deep brown eyes, and found glory in the body Kara veiled in a shimmering rainbow of silk. He had chosen her as hostess for his stay, and seduced her affections from her husband and master, his host. Such things had happened before, but not under this roof, with this man, or with Kara.
Their husband had denied his guest’s request that he release Kara, gifting her as a living memento of his stay, but had delivered the man a stallion, instead. Kara had been his wife of preference ever since, although her choosing had failed to bring the usual sparkle to her eyes, and the other wives had noticed how stiffly she moved in the mornings.
“Will you help me?”
“I can petition for your release.”
Kara’s laugh was bitter.
“Do that, and my release will be in death. No,” she said, and lowered her voice. “You sleep closest to the balcony door, and I need you not to wake.”
She shook the bells that hemmed her skirt, to show Mayleigh what she meant.
“I will be beaten.”
“But you will survive. And I will be free, and war will not sweep over us all.”
Mayleigh did not know how Kara knew her admirer would cause a war to obtain her. She had guessed that Kara was in contact with her lover, but had not known until now. It was better not to ask.
Mayleigh gave a brief dip of her chin to show her agreement, and pretended not to hear Kara’s softly spoken thanks, or feel the girl’s hand touch her arm. She stared across the turgid river until the soft whisper of the Kara’s bells faded.
She could avoid the beating, if she reported Kara to the husband who owned them both—and it was possible his army and household guard could beat off any attackers, if she gave him time to prepare—but she would not be able to avoid witnessing Kara’s execution, and their husband was sure to make the girl an example to them all. Those were memories she could do without. No, better a beating than the aftermath of flashback, and weight of guilt. She would not be a murderer by proxy, if she could avoid it.
Although Mayleigh stood as stiffly as the marbled palace at her back, her mind roiled like the current in the throes of thought. At least, with her promise, the clouds had started to lift. Maybe, later, there would be sunshine.