A Short Story
V. L. Foyt
As soon as she saw the blood Rebecca knew what the outcome would be. She did not know that it also would offer her a chance at redemption. The knotty, crimson red mess that dotted the toilet paper jolted her into hyper-awareness. She was disappointed but not surprised. She stared at the damp tissue, her thick auburn mane falling in curtains to block the light. Of course the dreaded sign came from the very place in her body where she had claimed countless victories, the seat of her power: her Magical Sex.
She flushed away the telltale tissue. No need to tell anyone that she was ill. What would she learn that she didn’t already know? In whom would she confide, anyway?
Like a cat she moved with uncommon grace across the travertine floor of her bedroom onto a wide balcony. Moonlight laddered across the bay, its pearly light dancing on wind-swept waves. Streamlined yachts rocked in their berths. A maritime song of flapping boat times and the squeal of rubber bumper against the wooden dock echoed in the night. Rebecca’s sexual power had gotten her this expensive condo, the fancy car and money in the bank. It had been so easy; it was her destiny. At age eighteen she had stepped into her role with the confidence of the ordained—a sexual high priestess. Now the Goddess from whom all power and desire flowed had given Rebecca a death sentence in her twenty-eighth year.
A tropical breeze lifted the air, making her shiver. She pulled tight her black silk robe and stared into the face of her mortality. She had betrayed the Goddess, who protected her and her kind. Her eternal future, as well as that of her female ancestors, teetered on the razor-edge of doom.
How could Rebecca have ever thought she could escape her fate? She inhaled the briny air deep into her lungs and planted her feet firm on the cool tiles. The choice had not been easy. Unlike ordinary women who had the right to control their reproductive future, Rebecca’s maternal destiny had been decided ages ago. A bargain had been struck, and like the others in her Family Circle, she had benefited from it. When she terminated her pregnancy two months ago, she had set into motion the Goddess’ wrath and the fatal curse. She had no one to blame but herself and her untamed emotions. Though she had sworn never again to say his name, she uttered a half-cry, half-curse.
The power she had unwittingly invested in his name produced a torrent of memories and emotions. She pictured him the first time they met. At once a tingling sensation up her spine had told her the Goddess had sent him. Tall and powerful, with a Roman nose and piercing grey eyes, he was not handsome like the others. What he lacked in looks, he more than made up for in mental agility. Like two swords brandished, their wits sharpened each other’s and unwittingly turned a key in her heart.
He had occupied the table next to hers at Jenny’s Café. Sun-washed light bounced off the pastel seaside buildings setting their tables aglow. This was where Rebecca went to receive her next assignment, just as Isabel had instructed her. Pick a place where you feel comfortable. It’s important to feel at ease so you can put them at ease, understand?
From the start, Drake made Rebecca laugh.
They give a discount if you share a table, he said.
She nodded her assent and he moved into the empty seat across from her. His glance lingered over her bare shoulders. She wore a sundress that day, orange with red and black flowers that complimented her bright green eyes.
This way I can stare at your collarbone, he said. Nothing sexier than a naked collarbone.
She laughed again, taking him in. Even then she sensed this relationship would be special. A tug in her chest, the rise in her pulse, her unbridled laugh—before she could assess the danger, she had entered a world of emotion forbidden to her kind. She had to fight an overwhelming impulse to bolt from the scene. All her training, even more, generations of training, instilled in her kept her seated there. She had no choice but to play her role and began at once.
Tell me, what’s bothering you?
He shrugged. I have so much baggage, I need a porter.
I’m no Sherpa. But I have other talents. Perhaps I can lighten your load.
Confusion etched his face. He ran a top-notch legal firm and was accustomed to driving the narrative.
She went on. You didn’t sit here by accident.
What’s your game?
No game. An opportunity, perhaps. Your choice.
Are you a stalker?
Do I look like a stalker?
You look intimidating.
She brushed her hair over her shoulder and smiled softly. Energy crackled between them, hot and fast, like a live loose wire she needed to control. She recalled Isabel’s favorite tip: Let them see your soft side. It will breed trust. Without trust no healing will occur.
You’re not referring to my looks. You find my confidence unsettling.
It was his turn to laugh. Like I said, intimidating. You seem to know what I’m thinking when I have no idea what I’m thinking. That’s the fucking problem.
I see. She murmured. Wouldn’t that be a relief for a change? What if you could let down that hard wall?
He gave her a wary look and then, to his credit, revealed an intimate glimpse of his soul, perhaps for the first time in his life. It was a step in the right direction.
I’m going through a divorce, he said as he studied a small bouquet of lilies on the table. Twenty-five years. What the hell was I thinking? I slept alone for most of it.
That was a lonely time. You sacrificed yourself for a higher good.
Yeah, I did. I wanted to be with my kids. They needed me, too. Laura, my wife, caught me with another woman. He glanced up at Rebecca, anticipating the usual judgments.
Naturally, you have needs, she said in a calm voice. You didn’t want to abandon the family. Sleeping with another woman bought you time and relief. For Laura, too.
Exactly, he said with vehemence. We were like roommates. If I didn’t throw stupid affairs in her face, I thought she wouldn’t mind. Now she’s making me pay for it—she won’t let me see my daughter, Sage. My son, he’s on his own, he’s cool. But Sage…she’ll hardly speak to me. His voice choked. Hell, Laura never let me do things with the kids, just me and them. She always used them as a weapon to control me.
Your wife knew you never loved her.
His eyes narrowed as, at first, he fought the truth, and then, with relief, he accepted it. His broad chest heaved with a heavy exhale.
We got along at first. She’s good at detail, you know, paying the bills, organizing the house, school stuff, all the crap I hate.
You’re a Big Picture guy.
A faint smile teased his lips. He accepted her knowledge of him, just like the other men had.
Yeah, Laura and I were a team, he said before dark regret clouded his face. I should have just hired a secretary.
You love your kids. She’s a good mother. You chose well, after all.
Not if she keeps them from me.
Do you really think that’s the problem? You abdicated your rights and your power. You can reclaim it. Even as the words came to Rebecca, she sensed she would make the same terrible mistake with Drake.
I remember the moment I knew I’d made a mistake, he said. I walked past her in the kitchen and touched her ass.
‘Cause that’s what I do.
He looked through the haze of memory to see if Rebecca understood. She understood so well it frightened her. At their first meeting she knew this was would be no ordinary affair.
You possess extraordinary touch, she said. What you lack in heartfelt words, you convey with your hands and your body. Not uncommon, but in your case, very powerful, isn’t it?
Yeah, well, he went on after a bewildered pause. Laura didn’t like it. Don’t do that, it’s disrespectful, that’s what she said. I felt sick to my stomach. Our son, Peter, was two years old. Why the hell did I stay for another twenty-three years?
Love was too far a reach. You had other women not because you’re a bad man. You did it to keep the family together. You felt you had no choice and maybe you didn’t.
Who the hell are you?
A friend. Don’t you need a friend?
His gaze narrowed. She met his anger with calm understanding. His killer instinct, the one he used to pummel his opponents in the courtroom told him he could trust her.
I didn’t think Laura would care if I had an affair. For Christ’s sake, we’d slept in separate rooms for years. What did she think I was supposed to do?
You made compromises, we all do.
Why do I think you’re the exception?
He reached across the table and took her hand. She had expected the move but not the dizzy wave of desire that engulfed her.
Let’s get out of here, he said.
He paid the bill and guided her by the small of her back across the street towards a windy seaside walkway. He took her hand and they fell in step. A heavy-set woman pushed a baby carriage in the opposite direction.
Do you have kids, Rebecca? I don’t know anything about you. I have a weird feeling you know more about me than anyone.
I won’t hurt you, Drake.
And a small warming voice, perhaps Isabel’s whispered in her ear: But he may cut you to the core, and ruin our hard-won advantages. Be careful.
And no, Rebecca told him, I don’t yet have a daughter, but I will when the time is right.
You’re weird, he said. I like you.
He stopped and slid his arms around her waist. She wrapped herself against him, like silk flowing on smooth skin, delicious, natural. The kiss was inevitable. Her reaction, however, stunned her. The earth beneath them opened up and swallowed all her control. She should have run from him right then, but unlike most women, she never had a choice.
How Rebecca hated every wonderful tortured minute of falling in love with Drake. The nights they spent at her apartment were the happiest moments in her life. Their lovemaking had a passionate but gentle give-and-take that from the start transformed her into a vulnerable mess.
One night early in their affair, as he easily brought her to climax, she burst into tears. He wasn’t particularly good in bed. His emotional turmoil had dampened his confidence. However, Rebecca inspired him. Like a painter who infuses a line drawing with deep emotion, or a singer who moves people with a simple lullaby, she was a naturally gifted lover. Her sex performed at a rare level that most men never experienced and could not imagine. With her, they could relax and receive the soothing, healing influence of the divine feminine spirit. Up until that moment, she never had the least trouble compartmentalizing sex from emotion. With Drake, that inviolable wall came down, not brick-by-brick, but with a thundering crash.
Let me hold you, he said, rolling to his side.
He gathered her into his arms while she wept. A tidal force of emotion that she did not recognize nor could she control gushed out. When she was spent, she wiped her damp face on the sheet and met his gaze.
I hate you, she said sweetly.
And he chuckled. Damn him, he understood her too well. No matter how hard she tried to banish the unwanted tenderness for him, it only deepened. She hated having to love him. Hated being trapped. Hated that he didn’t love her in return. Oh, he liked her more than any woman he had known, but the fight for his family and money and his emotional wellbeing emptied him out. Despite their respective command of the world—her sexual power, his mental brilliance—neither understood earthly love.
Love? Who did she think she was to claim such an ordinary emotion? She was no garden-variety female. Or so she had always believed. The Goddess of Desire had proscribed her destiny, her every action. When Rebecca ended her pregnancy, she betrayed her calling, as well the many devoted women who had paved the way.
She went to the glossy black Deco bar in the living room and poured a glass of herbed valerian wine to calm her nerves. It would be a long night. She would not rest until she saw a way through this mess. And what if she couldn’t find a solution?
A hollow feeling rose up the back of her throat and left her dizzy. She steadied herself against the counter; her breathing grew rapid and shallow. There must be a solution. Death did not frighten her—she knew it was not the final frontier—but how could she forsake her special tribe? Hadn’t there been a story told to give her guidance for such a crisis? A clue that one day she would make a horrendous misstep? The women must have foreseen and planned accordingly for this day.
Rebecca descended a curved staircase lined with erotic black and white photographs to a dark red-painted room below her bedroom. Moonlight shone through a large window that faced the sea, pooling around the only furniture: a large carved chair and matching side table. Made of hard walnut wood, and polished to a dark gleaming shine, they did not match the modern decor.
Angled slightly forward, the chair forced her to balance on her sit bones, thereby aligning her pineal gland between her eyes, the seat of wisdom, with her sex. The tip of her tongue automatically touched the upper palate in her mouth, and stayed there, joining the natural channels that flowed along the front and back of her body until yin and yang, heaven and earth, achieved perfect balance. She had trained her sexual energy to rise, day and night, from its fiery cauldron and stoke the higher plane of awareness. This spiritual purification process was vital to maintaining her power. Emotion only hindered it. Which brought her thoughts back to Drake.
If she had told him about the baby would things have turned out differently? She thought back to their final parting. He’d taken her to dinner at a beachside restaurant. The patio where they sat bordered the beach path where they had first kissed. The scent of night-blooming jasmine caressed the air.
I’m a free man, he said, raising his glass to toast hers. She-who-shall-not-be-named signed the papers.
You were always free.
When we met last year I would have rejected that idea. I was pretty miserable.
Even in your worst moments you made me laugh.
He rested his hand on her skirt under the table and gently squeezed her thigh. I’d still be lost if not for you.
I’m glad I could be of service.
You couldn’t say Drake was now awake, but the Goddess had seen to his spiritual advancement. Rebecca need not question why he was chosen though she often pondered it. Perhaps it had to do with the many people he affected in the corridors of power.
How come you’ve never married? he said. There must a long line of suitors.
She longed to tell him the truth. Her kind was not the marrying kind. Instead, she said, I value my independence.
Me, too, Drake said. I’m done with relationships.
Regret seized Rebecca. Weeks ago, as they made love in her apartment one summer night, her acute senses had told her he had impregnated her. The voice of the Goddess spoke to her as they lay cuddled together. A girl child is coming to take your place.
That was always the design for her life. And yet, in the weeks that followed she had begged the Goddess to take away the seed and free her from this awful longing. It was unfair to bind her to a man she had fallen in love with. That was not the plan. None of the women loved the fathers that begat the children. How could they remain devoted to the Goddess if love anchored them to a mortal man? How could they see clearly when such violent emotions blocked their vision? The child’s future would be imperiled and theirs, as well.
The ice cubes in Drake’s whiskey glass clinked as he rocked the glass. Couples walked beyond the patio lights, their happy voices trailing past.
Funny how angry I was with my wife. Like you always said, we both got what we wanted out of the marriage. I guess that’s the way life is. We pretend someone has wronged us, but we put ourselves there. It kind of frees you once you see that.
Look at you, Master D.
He laughed. I’ve had a good teacher.
She winced. Had a good teacher. She understood that her mission was complete. But why couldn’t Rebecca find a new path with this man she loved? The news of her pregnancy had teased the back of her mind.
Against all her training, she said, Drake, do you think we might have a future together?
He gave her a quizzical look as he took a slow sip of liquor. He signaled the waiter for a refill.
I admit I sometimes imagine us together in the future, Drake said.
I’m ending a twenty-five year marriage.
Rebecca nodded. It was wrong to follow this tack. And yet she could not stop. I understand you need time. But if you were Master of the Universe, what would you want from me?
A pained look crossed his hazel eyes. He cared for her, she knew that, but he had nothing to give, that she knew, too.
I can’t give you a relationship right now, he said. I never lied to you.
She smiled through her breaking heart and rose to leave.
Be well, Drake.
My work here is done.
He looked lost. Can’t we go to your place?
She leaned over and kissed his cheek, and said, I will always hate you. Then she walked into the quiet night, and that was the last time she saw him.
In the weeks that followed a terrible depression befell her. She could think of nothing but Drake. She would not return his calls but many times called him only to hang up at the sound of his voice. She did not recognize herself. For the first time in her life love and longing consumed her. The thought of living without him made her ill. His child would forever remind her of what she had lost and that she could not bear. For eight excruciating weeks Rebecca had struggled to reach a decision. She had begged the Goddess for mercy. Take from me this wretched love.
As the end of her first trimester approached, Rebecca had booked an appointment at the clinic. The deed was done. There was no turning back. Did she have to die to pay for her crime? The women in her line never lived long, forty-five, fifty years at most. That was part of the bargain: great beauty and wealth but early death, the promised daughter left to follow the path in her early twenties.
Forgive me, Goddess, Rebecca thought as she perched on the chair. She set her wine glass on the side table beside a large rose quartz crystal. The honed sides of the triangular-shaped stone met at a fine balanced point. The flat end attached to a heavy breaded antique gold chain that coiled beside it. Isabel had gifted her the pendulum at her initiation ceremony.
You are called into the circle, Rebecca. Whenever you cannot see clearly, let the pendulum guide you. Remember, this is a mere aid. Above all, use your senses. Practice clear sight or you will lose it.
Rebecca reached for the trusted pendulum when a sudden awareness stilled her hand. How often during her time with Drake had she denied her inner sight, leaning instead on this divination tool? Over and over, she had she sat here, the chain perfectly balanced in her hand, obsessing over their future: Does he want me? Does he love me? Will we, can we, be together? What a desperate little fool she had become, watching the quartz swing in the air of its own accord—yes or no—praying it would reveal the answers she longed to receive. She had blinded herself—why? Because, you stubborn cow, you blocked the truth, the lifeblood of your kind.
You traded your divine power for the want of a man, not even an exalted one. Truly, love is blind.
Her bitter laugh broke the silence. And what would you have done with Drake if you could have had him? Set up house and garden and lived a so-called normal life? She never knew her father, as was the custom of their order. The Goddess had chosen him and her mother Isabel had retreated to the Old Woods when her time had come. Rebecca shook her head, shocked at her willfulness. If love could destroy her and ruin ten generations of well-honed craft, how would she ever undo the damage?
She drank the wine, feeling the warmth seep into her body. There must be a way to repair the damage. Follow what you know.
And so she set down the glass and began. As soon as held the antique chain in her hand, the heavy quartz at its end began to sway from side to side. Her eyelids drooped, half open, her vision turned inwards. In the still of the night, she spoke the words that would open the gate to the other side.
“If it be the will of the Goddess, shine a light so I may see the truth.”
A high-pitched ping disturbed the air. As soft as a whisper and feather-light, the uninitiated would not notice it.
Rebecca’s heart quickened. The women were eager to connect.
In the stark light a shimmering apparition appeared. Ever beautiful, ever young, Isabel appeared before her. Long raven hair fell onto her slim shoulders. Her heart-shaped face glowed as if lit from within. Mother and daughter mirrored each other, similar in look to all the women, as if the fathers had provided nothing more than an initial switch.
Grave concern hardened Isabel’s piercing green eyes. She spoke low and soft, an alluring sound that could warm a dead man’s heart.
“You’ve broken the covenant.”
“This is true.”
“Our future is at stake.”
If Rebecca was hoping for a precedent or practical solution to remedy her plight, she understood the impossible task. A strident murmuring arose as the faint outline of a dozen women, her Sisters from the Family Circle, in diaphanous white robes formed a circle around the room. Like the buzz of bees among summer blossoms the sound was fraught with danger.
An uncharacteristic sigh escaped Isabel’s lips before she continued. “Our sisters have come to bear witness.”
“Mother, I had no choice, you must see that?”
Isabel held up her hand to silence Rebecca. “Do you think you are the first to be tempted? Each of us has met her match and continued on the path.”
“Why wasn’t I warned?”
“Would it have made a difference? What would my dedicated daughter back in the Old Woods have said if I had spoken of the man who almost stole my heart?”
The room darkened at once with the long tall shadows of old chestnut trees. From seemingly nearby came the constant susurrus of river and from their menagerie of farm animals came the clucking of hens, the bleating of goats. A wooden door snapped the warm night air and big and brawny Albert strode into view. His sure step belied his blindness for he knew the path as well as the sound of his voice. Like Isabel and Rebecca, he had grown up here, the son of the previous blind groundskeeper. Through many generations, land and river had sustained them, and all lived in service to the Goddess.
Albert was immune to Rebecca’s preternatural beauty, yet her charming ways had captured him. He would have died to protect his young charge. The sudden vision of him underscored Rebecca’s selfish deed. Now whom would his son protect? Not only her line, but also his family depended on the Natural Order.
The memory came more clearly into focus as half a dozen Sisters filed through the woods to gather round Isabel and Rebecca who stood by a fire in a cauldron. Dark pointed silhouettes of treetops speared the low-hanging harvest moon. It was Rebecca’s eighteenth birthday, the night of her initiation.
You have earned the right to serve the Goddess, Isabel said as she handed Rebecca the same pendulum she now held. We serve a higher love, Rebecca. No man must break our bond. If one shall fail, all will fail. Remember that, and all will be as it should be.
Their hands lay cradled together in the warmth of the fire. From a branch overhead a common barn owl hooted, its white face as impassive as the women on watch. A mouse scurried in the underbrush. The cherished memory brought a deep flush of shame to Rebecca’s face. For love of earth, how earnest she had been. With body and soul, she had believed in the absolute goodness of her mission.
Rebecca’s sorrowful apology came haltingly. “Forgive me, for I have failed you.”
Isabel met her daughter’s searching gaze. “There will be consequences, she said. For all of us.”
Rebecca nodded, afraid to look at the Sisters, who murmured in assent.
“Mother, I acted alone. I alone should suffer.”
“We are connected; you know this. As deeply as the moon and the tide. Your decision sets a dangerous precedent. The betrayal may lead the daughters of us astray. A ripple becomes an ocean. Our family circle will be no more.”
“Cannot the Goddess let me try again? Another man, another seed could be planted. I promise I will not fail again.”
“It is too late.”
Rebecca’s head dropped as she recalled the bloody discharge. “How much time do I have?”
“The Goddess only knows.”
“Tell me, Mother.”
“At the most a year.”
“Can I hope for a quick death?”
“The future depends on which course you choose.”
“I have a choice?”
“The Goddess is merciful.”
“We shall see. Shall the test begin?”
As Isabel looked round the circle, Rebecca turned to watch. The women’s unanimous assent created a buzz in the room as if a charm of hummingbirds hovered there. Rebecca understood the family already met to discuss her fate.
But what would it be?
Isabel’s gaze settled once more on her daughter. “You must expect nothing, Rebecca.”
But hadn’t her training taught her to expect many things: The adoration of men, riches, eventually a daughter to whom she would teach their ways before Rebecca met an easy timely death?
Answering her unspoken question, Isabel added, “You may not be up to the task.”
“And if I fail?”
“The transgression was severe, my dear. The pain will be measured in kind.”
“I see. If I meet the challenge, I will be spared a gruesome death. If I succeed, though I am not prepared, the Goddess will extend mercy to me in my final days.”
Regret sparked in Isabel’s luminous eyes. Her plans and sacrifices for the future also had been broken. And yet she spoke with soft resignation and kindness.
“You are not alone. We shall support you as we have always done.”
“Be well, daughter.”
Again, a sharp ping disturbed the night air. The circle ended. One-by-one the women vanished. Rebecca sat forward, wondering if she would ever see Isabel again.
“Mother,” she called out, but no one was there.
Rebecca fingered the pendulum, which had fallen in her lap. And holding it in front of her abdomen, the seat of all intuition, she asked, will I succeed in my given task?
The rose quartz rocked side-to-side—no—then turned to swing straight ahead—yes—and once more gave a negative response. Yes and no. It could go either way.
Every evening for the next several weeks Rebecca had dinner on Jenny’s patio, waiting as usual for the next assignment. Her preternatural calm escaped her. She sat on edge, riddled with anxiety. Whenever an interesting-looking man entered the restaurant, she tried to manufacture the telltale zing in her gut that told her he was the one. How could she ever hope to receive the right lover when her instincts failed her? And each night under a black sky she begged the spirits for direction. Had she missed him? Was he still coming?
By the time Edgar appeared, the seaside air held a crisp note that signaled the turn of seasons. Fall equinox was coming, a time of happy memories: bountiful harvests, and dazzling bonfires. This would be Rebecca’s last autumnal passage.
At first she didn’t notice the man. When he spoke to her, she turned her head and looked in surprise.
“A glass of water?” he said.
There was no mistaking the trembling excited rush that fired up her senses. But not him? It could not be. Tall in stature with a square jaw and sandy blond hair, once upon a time he might have been handsome. Now hard times lay on his shoulders as uneasily as his shabby thin coat. He stooped over the railing that separated them and reached out a gaunt hand.
He wanted something from her, Rebecca realized.
“Excuse me?” she said.
As he pointed to the glass of water on the table, she met his startling gaze. Cold grey eyes stripped of all illusion, raw and resolute, stared back at her. Neither spoke as she slid the glass close and he took it.
From the corner of her eye, she caught her favorite waiter striding towards her table in irritation. With a small shake of her head, she discouraged him. Returning her attention to the stranger, she saw him waiting, as if he alone knew what came next.
She considered inviting him to her table, but before she could speak, he turned away.
“Come with me,” he said, heading onto the beach path.
Compelled to follow she hurried after him. The man never slowed his pace, his gait surprisingly strong for such seeming frailty. He was walking in the opposite direction from her home, along unfamiliar terrain.
When Rebecca reached his side, magnetic energy engulfed her. Never in her life had the connection to any man, even Drake, been as powerful. Had the men she had seduced experienced this irresistible pull? She almost laughed out loud at the idea she was on the other side of the equation.
“What’s so funny?” the man said.
“Why do I think you know the answer to that question?”
“Whatever you project onto me is a reflection of your soul not mine. I am nothing. I want nothing. I demand nothing. I take nothing.”
“Who are you then?”
“She sent you?”
“No one commands me. I go with the wind.”
“You have a name. Mine is Rebecca.”
He glanced at her with resignation, as if expanding her limited understanding was a burden he must suffer. He looked up at a slip of moon that edged the murky sky.
“You can call me Edgar,” he said at last.
“Oh, can I?”
He said nothing more, which only irritated her further. Again, she wondered if men in her past had resented her knowingness. What was she doing with this unlikely candidate, anyway? The stress had gotten to her. Her instincts no longer served her. This scruffy indigent man did not deserve her attention.
“Leave or stay,” he said. “Choose your course.”
Isabel’s dire words echoed in mind. The future depends on which course you choose. Rebecca stumbled and he caught her in his arms. Despite his dirty clothes, his fresh clean smell reminded her of the fast-moving river in the Old Woods. She jerked away and looked at him in anger.
“You’re nothing to me,” she said.
Without another word he continued towards twin tubular concrete markers that ended the path.
She called after him. “Where are you going?”
“There,” he said, pointing to a ramshackle cottage hidden among a tangle of palms and sea grapes.
For a moment she watched him push through the brambles. When he reached a tired wooden door, he looked over his shoulder at her.
Did he expect her to follow him? At that moment he nodded. Who the hell did he think he was? And then a small inner voice whispered you must expect nothing.
“Fine,” Rebecca muttered.
At the threshold she hesitated. As Edgar lit several sagging candles, the threadbare cabin came into view. Dark night sky peeked through wood-paned windows from opposite walls. A lumpy feather mattress that lay on the floor took up most of the space. Opposite the bed, a pipe stove, small water pump and cutting board with a small collection of pots and tools served as the kitchen. She noted a pair of spindly chairs beside a handmade table, and wondered how often he received guests. Though the dilapidated shack offered little by way of comfort, it was tidy and neat.
“Welcome,” he said.
A shudder passed through her as she stepped inside, as if a cord to the outside world had been cut.
“You live here?” she said.
“Now we live here.”
“You’re joking.” She looked at him, gauging his reaction.
“Do you have somewhere better to go?” he said.
His presumption annoyed her. She could have a better class of man, even still.
“Don’t you realize…?” she began, and then faltered.
“I’ll bring you some things tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m never to leave?”
“Rest now.” And as her eyes darted around the single room, he added, “Bathroom outside.”
He pulled a chair to the stove and lit a fire, his back to her. For a moment Rebecca stared at him. Was this her only option—to spend her final days with an arrogant broken man? And what was the objective, to humiliate her? She was tempted to flee into the night and never see him again. And yet, the ponderous weight of her fate imprisoned her there. She slid onto the bed and into a deep sleep.
Over the next few days Edgar came and went without explanation. Rebecca did not resist when he took the keys to her apartment, and though he left before she could press upon him a list of necessities, he returned with the essentials. He fed her simple meals and they spoke little. She discovered a small outdoor sitting area, protected from prying eyes, where she spent the days cursing the moment she met Drake. If only she could turn back the clock, she would follow her path. She would retire to the Old Woods to raise the destined girl child. She would find there a gentle peace instead of this constant misery.
At night, she retired alone to bed, wondering where he slept. What did this strange man want? Again she recalled Isabel’s mysterious advice. You must expect nothing. Should Rebecca share her sexual power with Edgar with no expectation of the usual lavish offerings or delights? Although he was down on his luck, a wellspring of power lay coiled within, like a wounded wolf separated from the pack in order to heal. If she helped heal him would she also wash away her illness and resume her old life?
She studied her captor at dinner one night, determined to understand the situation. He turned his attention from the cutting board and smiled. No warmth reached her, only detachment, as if they were travelers en route to the same destination. In the past the Goddess always created a measure of affection between her and the men she assisted. Yet Rebecca felt nothing but resentment for this man. Seducing him would call upon all her skills.
She peeled the black silk robe from her shoulders, and as she rose, it puddled at her feet. Beyond fear and dislike of him, she entered the abode of desire. Stoking the fire within, she began to quietly breathe deep into her abdomen, freeing the sexual energy to warm her body. Since the onset of her reproductive cycle, she had practiced this energy movement and mastered it well. The glow of attraction never depended on the man, and always captivated her subject.
Rebecca stood naked before Edgar, her desire plain to see. He took her in with a quick glance and resumed the meal preparation. Be patient, she told herself, he hadn’t had a woman in some time. She walked beside him, her intention focused on the adoration she longed to give. She saw not him, but ideal lovers joined in ecstasy.
Edgar kept to his task. His jaw tightened. The sinewy muscles in his forearms quivered. The tension in the room ratcheted higher. When Rebecca brushed her hand over his shoulder, he looked at her again. Behind the cold eyes, she glimpsed a hint of vulnerability.
With a sigh he stepped past her and placed a bowl of fish chowder on the table.
“Eat,” he said. “You need your strength.”
Then he shrugged on his coat and walked out.
Rebecca slumped at the table. Never had she failed to seduce a man. Who was she without the power of a temptress? She laid her head on the table and wept bitter tears. She had lost everything: Drake, the baby, and her birthright as a Daughter of the Goddess. She was nothing, a mere speck of dust, meaningless and useless.
Over the following weeks Rebecca aged. Her hair turned grey, her face lined. The illness began to consume her. In despair she dragged herself to the garden where she watched day bleed into night. As summer turned to fall, softening the world, her heartache subsided. Drake was no devil sent to torment her. She had expected too much from him.
Her attention turned from the self-imposed prison to the natural wonder of the world. She heard in the wind a melody that lifted her spirits. As shafts of afternoon light strafed the garden, falling across her with more tenderness than any embrace. And when she heard the owl hoot a merry welcome to the moon, she smiled. Yes, she was nothing, a mere spec of dust, free of meaning, free to simply be.
Soon Edgar began to carry her each morning to her garden perch. He fed her and, as dusk approached on soft cat’s feet, he moved her inside their warm abode. He washed her daily and combed her hair with a tenderness she had never experienced. Rebecca no longer viewed him as her captor but as the truest friend she could image. When their eyes met, deep understanding blossomed.
“I love you,” she said one evening as he helped her into bed.
At last he took her into his arms and held her beside him.
“I love you,” he said.
“Is this what it means?”
“Love is all there is.”
“Then why? The circle? The women?”
“Many paths lead to the same place.”
She nestled her head against his chest. “I failed them.”
“No,” Edgar said. “You failed yourself. And now you have found yourself. Your real self.”
At winter solstice, Rebecca could no longer abide the pain. He sensed the moment of parting had come. As the full moon sailed into view, its pearly light like a promise of new beginnings, he carried her in his arms to the restless sea.
There, among the diamond lights dancing on the waves, she saw Isabel and the Sisters waiting for her with open arms. She was forgiven.
“Be well,” Rebecca told him.
He gently kissed her forehead and set her free.