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Puffs of dust explode around my feet as I run. Sandy roads meander through the village of sand-colored homes. Arid and Monochrome.
She runs ahead of me, the girl pushing a shopping cart. We turn onto the main road, where all dirt roads end, onto this colorless cement that forms a central street to the church. A few pounding steps more and the girl flies apart—slowly—brilliantly. She shimmers into fragments of rainbow mist. I pass through it. Beautiful. Soft colors settle on my skin in cool tingles. This stark land is enlivened with a quenching taste of transformation.
It's my wedding day. I'll be marrying the whole family, I'm told. I already live in their large adobe home with high ceilings and winding stairs. They think I am pure, although I've told no lies. Their approval will evaporate if they find out the truth. I no longer have the same face, but he has been with me before.
Will he even love me still if he realizes all the past sins of my flesh? My emotions awaken once more and go to battle. Love, passion, fear, anger and resentment.
He is beautiful, dressed in his white linen pants and gauzy cotton shirt. Smooth skin—blushes autumn-leaf-brown. Dark hair—in orderly disarray—stands out in soft spikes, pointing to everything around him. Large eyes—adoring me, touch my flesh before his arms capture my doubt.
I watch his eyes skim the surface of my own young, brown body. His strained voice croons, "I want you so bad," and I feel a Beatle's song, from another time, pushing at his limits of sanity. "It's driving me mad."
His desire is mine own.
I don't care at this moment if he or his family will discover the truth. All that matters is his smell, the drumbeat of his heart as our chests crush against each other. My body and my heart cry out to be joined with my husband. My husband! We are married… again.
Will he recognize me? Surely when he finally obtains the pure object of his desire, he will know. He will remember. Not so long ago he said, "I'll always love you," to another me. A me who knows his every pleasure and tender spots of ecstasy. Experienced in the art of loving him, satisfying him. Has my physical body changed so much? Have I come back to him so completely different?
Is there something of the old me—the one he promised to love always—that he sees in her—this new self? Maybe that is why he forgets the me, of before, so easily, to be replaced with this version—young and pure. I hate him for this. I love him for it.
I'm embarrassed and afraid. Wonder if all his family will be listening for our act of consummation. The room wavers between large shadows; beige walls and arched window frames reflect soft candlelight in places where shadows are kept separate. Light rolls like waves on the ocean over my white satin dress, clings to breathing motions of my breasts and curves of my pelvis and hips. I know my face looks frightened but not for reason he suspects.
Pulling away, I extinguish the candles and walk to the moonlit doorway of the high veranda. "I'm embarrassed for you to see me." My words sound strange and halting to my own ear. Fearful and Resistant.
"You are beautiful, my wife," he says with a question in his eyes. "Do you not know how exquisite you are? … I'll always see you as you look this moment in the moonlight, my bride." I wish him a bitter taste in his mouth, using the word "wife" as if it were my name. I love him for this. I hate him for it.
I taste the bitterness.
Can he really see me? No, he tells me lies again. But… he will see me… truly see me… soon… very soon.
Large gentle hands. He turns my face up, brushes my cheek and sweeps me into his arms. Strong arms. He places me gently on the bed, removes my silky clothes, and touches my bare skin with fingertips and lips, following all the places where, just moments ago, moon shimmered on my bridal gown. Tingles replace the moon's caress. I've missed his touch, and my anticipation of sensations to come, are glorious foreplay in my mind—where all joy begins. All grief.
My new husband will recognize me any moment. Will he be ashamed to know I watched him fall in love with another woman, another me… this me? Will he be angry that he was fooled, that I deceived him into believing I am now pure? I feel his longing to be inside me. I ache to have him part of me, joined as one ameba-like being once again.
I lose my fears and resistance to passion and draw him into the mysteries of this body, this woman.
His masculine figure is not hulking, but chiseled in ropes of muscle covered with caramel flesh, sweet and hard to the tongue. Dare I lick his hairless chest, bite his tensing neck, whisper in his unknowing ears, taste his sweet kisses. He does not remember me, even now, but I remember… all times before. At last he's returned to me, and I love him even more this time. Time is suspended as I retrace lovemaking from a time long ago, and he explores a woman anew whom he has known for eternity.
Morning brings a knock at the door below our window. I recognize the voice. A woman bringing a book which was forgotten some time ago.
My mother! She will know me. All is lost. What his eyes did not see and his touch did not remember, she will tell. A howling screech twists out of my heart.
I will explain. They will understand.
Do I walk inside her bones, with children hanging on my skirt and a baby on my hip? Yes, I see through her eyes, think her thoughts, touch my sisters and brothers. I am the woman who gave me life, standing in front of the door of my in-laws… my front door. Awareness of walking in her bones dissolves in morning sunshine.
The heavy door opens and I'm greeted by a puzzled face. My three children hold tighter, and look at strange surroundings with sleepy eyes. We have walked and slept on the road for days to get to this house. "Do you remember me? I live in the village north of here… where the monthly auctions are held. My husband is manager there, and I pack the things after bidding is done and label the groups of purchase."
A scream cuts the morning air above me. My little ones hide their faces in my skirts. The greeter looks toward the veranda above us. My eyes follow the direction her gaze leads. As a visitor, I say nothing, waiting for a response from the household. Trying to be polite I hold out the book and proceed as if I didn't hear that guttural scream. "I forgot to put this with the other things which were purchased by the master of this household last month. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get it here, but traveling is difficult with children. Please take it. It belongs to this house now."
Dreading the long trip, I had put it off, but I knew this book had to be delivered to its rightful owner. It is done. I've only my journey home to manage now. The book is heavy as I hold it out in compensation.
The woman who had opened the door stands blank-faced, yet seems a bit shocked. Is it seeing a visitor with three children offering her this precious book, or is it the scream from the upper floor of this house? I can not see through her eyes… but almost. We stand, staring at one another—unmoving—quiet. I know she's confused, as am I, but whereas I feel relief, I sense responsibility weighing on her now.
All is lost! A scream escapes my throat, before I realize my mother's voice is not a dream, and its sound shakes me to clear consciousness. I have to get away.
Grabbing my bridal gown from the bedpost, I jump up, slide into its concealing whiteness, and run to the window. The voice is still there. Her voice. Why is my mother here? How did she find me? I have to get away. Now!
I pace back and forth across our honeymoon suite. Frantic, I can't think straight. I glance at tangled sheets of last night shared with my new husband. At least I had that. Where did he go? Has he opened the door for my mother? I can not reason it out; I can not endure his rejection. I burst through the bedroom door and run down the stairs, the staircase surface cold with morning chill. My chill runs deeper. I put my head down and cover my face with my arm, so that maybe my mother won't recognize me. Even with a new face, she will know who I am. I lurch past two women at the entrance door to the house and run down the street in my wedding gown—simple like me. Elegant and beautiful—unlike me.
They will search. My mother doesn't want me back; she only means to expose me. I run and run, sobbing and out of breath. Somewhere to hide. Everything glares shades of white and sandstone; buildings, streets clothes hung out to dry on lines. Colorless like my life will be, now, without my love. Muscles ache and the urgency to move has lessened. Searching for someplace to hide, I remember a church at the end of the road, but I've gone in the opposite direction. There is something unusual at this end, something I've never noticed until this moment. In spite of my turmoil, I examine a splendid and lush tree in the park straight ahead. Its fecund green strikes brightly against all the neutral shades of hot dry sand.
There are low heavy branches that droop almost touching ground. If the tree was on a flat surface limbs would, indeed, touch; but it grows on a small hill, appearing to me as if its roots were long ago cradled in loving hands and planted high on this mound—created for its planting—so it could be revered and looked up to, even in its beginning. Vines have entwined the tree and they do touch earth all around the hill. There… will be a place for me to hide beneath bowing limbs with vines grasping the ground. There… between this wall of vines and the trunk of the tree—space for breathing—for crying.
Only a few small places offer a crawl space to get beneath the tree. On my hands and knees, I writhe through an openings to reach the bubble which encircles the trunk of this mammoth tree. Tears still glaze my vision, and cool shade is a stark contrast from the sun reflected sand; dark green, blunt forms are what I see. There are old cement park tables and benches closer to the tree; they produce dark shadows below them. Damp moss or lichen grows like carpet on this ground beneath the tree, even here at the edge of the enclosure. I dig my fingernails, freshly manicured for my wedding day, into this carpet, and I wail my grief into the hillside.
Sufficiently hidden, I stay low resting on my hip. The fabric of my dress absorbs the coolness of nature's carpet and caresses me with its silky touch. Earth cradles my form and gives me some comfort, but her sympathy spurs a new heave of tears. My chest hurts, but a salty stream continues from my face to green moss.
A voice, deep and soothing, calls to me. Glimpses of a figure through vines and leaves passes in sunlight. He can not see me, but I see patches of him clearly enough to piece together his appearance. He wears white and looks like Morgan Freeman when he played God in the movie Bruce Almighty. "Victoria?" the Morgan Freeman god-voice calls. I try to respond, but my sobs blockade my answer.
Another voice, muffled and inside protective Eden with me, speaks. It comes from beneath a cracked and mold-covered park table. I see no one, but the voice is answering for me. "I am Victoria." Her voice is as soft as shadow from which it comes. She lies there, a being in the darkness beneath the table, her head propped up by a tired hand, a vague form trying to be.
Sobbing, I am a panorama colored movie clip which has very little color. Moaning, she is layers of grey in a silent black and white film which has one colored object as a special effect. How long has she been here?
I am the shadow answering the call, "Victoria?" It takes much effort to speak through a body now forming in dappled rich mists of memories and desire. "I'm here," my voice is hoarse and crooning. "I've been here all along. I'm safe and comfortable, but sad and weak. Please let me rest." The crying makes it hard for me to be clear—in thought or language. Who's wailing clouds my mind?
I am colored in my aging skin now, and tears run freely down my face still, soaked up like a sponge by the hillside. They quench the thirst of this magnificent tree. Feed roots in this dry and barren landscape. I now understand why this tree is so green. It is a sorrow tree and offers strength for our gift of tears. I give my offering freely, and think the tree will surely grow large enough to shade the whole village—the whole world. Tears feed this glorious tree which gives comfort to those who seek this place to rest or find it by chance on life's sojourn. I feel delight being in its presence and knowing some of its secrets. Still I cry. Tears of joy. Not in vain. They bring life… and comfort… and refuge… and protection.
As the morning sun rises and sends rays of light through the tree's green canopy, I can see more clearly the creature… person… answering the call of my name, Victoria. She's still shades of grey in this lusterless color movie, but her shadow materializes into three dimensions as the mist takes form. She reflects a rainbow of prisms against stormy, dark vapors, so promising in its potential for change.
The Morgan Freeman god, dressed in wedding white, watches through the barrier of green leaves, and I can see his smile.