Authors: Lisa Heathfield
Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Heathfield
Cover illustration © 2015 by Shane Rebenschied
All rights reserved under the Pan-American and International Copyright Conventions
First published in Great Britain by Egmont UK Ltd, 2015.
First printed in the United States by Running Press Book Publishers, 2015.
Printed in the United States
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2014949872
E-book ISBN 978-0-7624-5636-9
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For my beautiful, brave Mama, watching from the moon.
ere, crouched beside the toilet, I’m terrified I’m dying. My stomach must be bleeding, or my liver, or my kidneys. Something inside me has somehow got cut. Spots of blood smear my underwear. I wipe myself with toilet paper and there’s more blood. Am I being punished for something I have said or done?
“Elizabeth!” I shout, running from the coffin-small room. “Elizabeth!”
I run from room to room. Kindred Smith is mending a bed in one. Rachel sweeps in another. The children play in the day room.
I wonder if the bleeding is worse. I look behind, but there are no drops of red following me along the wooden floorboards. I rattle the doors of the rooms that are locked. Elizabeth is not in the dining room, but in the kitchen she is coming through the back door, her rain-drenched dress clinging to her pregnant belly.
“What is it, Pearl?” she asks, putting down a bag of muddied potatoes. “Is someone hurt?”
I don’t want to tell her. I don’t want to tell her that I’m dying.
Will the shock damage the tiny baby in her tummy?
“Pearl?” She stands, looking at me, and I see the worry in her eyes.
“My stomach is bleeding,” I whisper.
“Where? How?” Elizabeth steps back, looks at my top. “Did you cut yourself in the field?”
“Inside. It’s bleeding inside me.”
“What do you mean?” she asks. I’ve never seen someone turn so pale in the time it takes for me to take a breath.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” I say. And I can’t stop the tears. Because I don’t want to die. I want to meet her baby. I want more days swimming in the lake. I want more days dancing in the rain.
Then Elizabeth’s face changes and she starts to smile. “Why do you think your stomach is bleeding?”
Why is she happy that I might soon die?
“Is there blood in your underwear?”
As I nod my head, she laughs and wraps her arms around me. I feel the bump of her baby under her skin. It presses against me. Against my stomach, which is bleeding inside.
Elizabeth steps back and I see that she’s crying. So I’m right—I am dying.
She kisses her thumb, presses it to her belly, and then puts it onto my forehead, onto my chest and then onto my own stomach.
“Are you trying to heal me?” I whisper. And she smiles.
“You don’t need healing. You’re not dying, Pearl. You are fifteen years old and you’re changing from a child to a woman.”
Then she’s hugging me again, and her words slowly sink in. So this is what I’ve been waiting for? A bleeding stomach?
I look at Elizabeth, but she doesn’t seem like she’s mocking me.
“Come on,” she says, and she takes my hand.
In the bedroom, she changes my underwear, takes away my old ones, which are now heavily lined with a muddy red. I concentrate on the faded yellow wallpaper as she fills my new underwear with a thick, woven slab that makes me waddle like a duck.
“You’ll get used to it.” She smiles at me so warmly. “Now, not a word,” she says and I follow her out onto the landing. I focus on her long blonde hair as we go down the stairs to the kitchen. In silence, she reaches for the lantern and matches on the shelf, and then we walk out the back door.
I’d forgotten it was raining and it hits down on us hard, soaking us within seconds. I hear nothing but its drumming on the ground as Elizabeth takes my hand again. She leads me through the herb garden with its high brick walls, where the smells have almost been washed away. She opens the rickety door at the other end and we’re walking through the strawberry field. The plants are heavy with red fruit.
I feel the slab of linen rubbing my legs as I walk. I imagine
the blood dripping onto it. Will I bleed forever now? Will I never be able to walk or run freely again?
I stumble after Elizabeth, confused about wanting to cry when I have waited so long to be a woman. In the distance, I see the figures in the vegetable patch, where I was less than an hour ago, when I was still a child. I see the shape of Heather, her long brown hair stuck with rain down her back. Then I remember. I’ll be able to grow my hair. Finally, after all these years of waiting, I’ll be able to let my blonde hair grow. I’ll look like Elizabeth, with it flowing over my shoulders and down to my waist.
I’m filled with happiness. Suddenly the bleeding and the strange, uncomfortable way of walking are absolutely fine, because now I am a woman.
“Elizabeth,” I say. But the water is falling too loudly for her to hear.
The sound changes as we head into the woods and the rain hits the leaves far above us.
“Where are we going?” I ask, but Elizabeth just smiles.
Finally, we get to the clearing where Papa S.’s Worship Chair sits in the middle. It has fresh ivy woven around its frame. Elizabeth walks toward it, and then she’s going too close—she’s walking into the forbidden circle. I look around, but no one is here to see. I look up into the branches, but no Kindreds are hidden there.
I hold my breath as she reaches for the chair. “No, Elizabeth,” I whisper.
“It is bidden,” she says quietly as she starts to lift the chair. I can see that it is heavy, but I can’t help. Papa S. sees everything and Elizabeth is in the forbidden circle, touching his Worship Chair.
She drags it to the side and begins to kick at the thick leaves underneath. Then she’s on her hands and knees, moving the leaves away until underneath I see a large metal hoop. She pulls it, and it opens a small wooden door flat on the ground.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
She is not smiling now. “I promise you will be okay,” she says. She takes the matches from her apron, strikes one and lights the lantern.
And then I understand. I look down into the hole. There are steps that end in blackness. She wants me to go down.
“I want to go back to the house,” I say. But I don’t move. I don’t run away.
“You must trust me, Pearl.” Her wet hair still shines so blonde. She holds the lantern in one hand, the other hand resting on her pregnant belly.
And I know I love her, so I know I must trust her. I step forward,
the forbidden circle, and start to go cautiously down the steps. Elizabeth follows me and the light from the lantern
shows us the way. At the bottom is a tiny room dug into the earth.