In Serein

1-1-3 Too Hard, Too Cold

When I came home that night, my father beat me with his belt, and then he beat me with his stick. Then he dragged me by the hair and punched me in the face. It hurt like hell and there were times (like when he was kicking me into my side and chest and my  head was crushed against the larder door so hard that my spine was creaking) when I wondered from far away if he would have it in him to actually kill me this night.

He kept calling me a whore which was puzzling in so far that the main argument for the beating was the complaints from Lak’s father about me scratching his little boy’s face so deeply that it bled and kneeing him in the groin so badly that he had to crawl home and still was quite fainted.

The marriage was off and with it, any hope of cheap meat for the family in the future; and who would wed me after this?

He tired himself out eventually and went upstairs, his heavy boots clomping and squeaking the rickety wooden treads. Mother never showed her face, the baby was crying as usual and Sef my little brother was crying too because I was the only one who stood with him or showed him any kind of kindness.

All of that faded eventually as did the dingy kitchen with the mud floor as the meagre fire in the hearth burned low and out, and eventually the cold got to be worse than the pains and calmly and with care I organised my muscles one by one to slide across the floor, to pull myself up on the doorframe and reach to undo the latch on the door, to slither across the thick threshold stone (carved with the symbols of protection against evil – they had always faced the wrong way, I had thought) and out into the damp cold night. Another hour or so of gentle flexing and methodical stretching this and that (oh it was cold! so damn cold!) and I could stand, then hobble, slowly through the very, very dark village and towards the path that led from the village, out onto the main road and up to the mountain.

The moon sat fat and bright atop the monastery, as though they put it there so I would be able to make my way that night. So that when it was too hard, too cold, too much pain, I had something to look at that would keep me going, on and up.

I did feel sorry for my body.

It should have been resting, have ointments and herbs placed upon it, white bright bandages to soak up the blood. I spoke to it kindly and promised to take more care of it in future, and in return, it worked for me like a trusted horse and it kept dragging on and up the ever steeper path.

When the mountain itself obscured the moon, things became very difficult indeed. I had a notion that if I was to stop I would never get there at all, and this frightened me more (fright is a strange pain!) than the terrible weariness and the hurts and aches and shards in my lungs as though I was breathing broken glass.

When I could no longer walk, I crawled, and when the dawn came, there were only the last few steps now hewn beautifully from the grey rock, silky smooth, moist and perhaps two dozen strides across a circular courtyard to the huge dark wooden doors.

Up until then, I kept myself moving. But now I was so close, my determination faltered and these last few obstacles and distances seemed too much for me.

I put my bleeding hands into the pocket (secretly sewn into the folds of my skirt for safeguarding the precious) and touched the humming black stone. It was warm from my body, and the vibrations spread through my fingertips, up my arm and closer still to my heart, and my mind grew clear and calm, and I instructed my body on that last ascend, up the steps one by one, across the courtyard, like a snail, wondering if I was leaving a trail of blood and pain behind me as I crawled.

I tried to knock on the door but could not; I managed to get the humming stone from my pocket and touch it to the door instead, then everything went blank.