Authors: Samantha Marsh
She could see herself as a toddler sitting in the grass surrounded by colourful toys with blades of grass tickling her bare feet. She wore a bright green sundress that complimented her unruly red curls which blew gently in the breeze. Her Mammy sat beside her. She giggled as Mammy tickled her feet and poked her gently in the stomach. When playtime ended, Mammy gently picked her up and carried her inside the house. She took her into a beautiful room that was very pink and frilly. She laid her in her crib and covered her with a fuzzy, white blanket. She placed a little pink stuffed elephant beside her. “Have a nice little nap
my love, and may Irish angels rest their wings beside your nursery door.”
She watched Mammy’s flaming red curls bouncing lightly behind her as she left the pink and frilly room, she started to cry. She put her arms out. She wanted Mammy to pick her up and hug her tight and never let go. She closed her eyes and hoped that when she opened them again, Mammy would be standing over her. When she did open her eyes, she instead looked up into the disappointed faces of Mama and Papa.
Papa shook his head and walked out of the bedroom mumbling something under his breath. Mama walked over to the bed and asked, “What were you dreaming about Desire? Were you dreaming about that woman again?”
Desire shook her head and she could see relief in Mama’s face as she did so. She didn’t understand why, but when she had dreams like these, she was often punished.
“I cannot remember, Mama. Was I crying in my sleep?”
She did not understand why a meaningless dream caused so much trouble. She couldn’t help what she dreamt about and none of it was real anyway.
“You were not crying, Desire. You were….well, never mind. As long as you don’t remember, it doesn’t really matter.”
Mama leaned over and kissed Desire on the forehead. Shortly after, Desire fell back to sleep.
The warm glow of the sunrise peaked through her window just as she stirred. Slowly rising from her bed, Desire mentally prepared her list of chores she would need to complete before leaving for Bible study. She would first prepare breakfast for her Mama and Papa, then tidy the kitchen and sweep the floor. She would water the tomato plants in the back yard then gather the laundry, which Mama would wash after she left for Bible study.
After she finished her chores, Desire returned to her bedroom to dress for the day. She groaned as she looked into her closet. No need to fuss about what to wear; she had little choice. She stared at seven neatly hung dresses: three black, two grey and two navy. Seven neatly pressed white blouses hung beside the dresses. Next to those, scarves for her to wrap her hair in. She hated them all but Papa forbade her to dress in any manner that encouraged vanity or pride.
Well, mission accomplished.
She was definitely the frumpiest of all her classmates, at least when it came to clothing. She quickly dressed and then brushed her long main of flaming red hair, but left the scarf on her bed. She always put that on before she left the house.
Desire quickly straightened up her single wooden bed. She tucked in the starched white sheets and smoothed the patchwork quilt. The quilt didn’t lay exactly straight on the bed. It was the first quilt she had ever made and her cutting and stitching needed a little more work to be perfect. She sat at the end of the bed after she made it and thought for a minute.
Could Papa tell I lied about my dream? The dream was so real. Maybe one day I will wake up and this will be a stinking dream and not my real life.
The first time she had the dream, she told Mama about it who then told Papa. The whole day became a blur after that. Desire had to go to the community clinic and spend the whole day getting questioned about her dream. How often does she have this dream? Could she recall it for the doctor in detail? She even had to draw pictures of the people and places in the dream. After they asked the same questions for what seemed like hours, the doctor advised Papa that she needed some medicine to help her sleep peacefully without interruption from the dreams of strange people and places. Desire didn’t understand all the commotion her dreams caused.
What difference did it make if I dream about imaginary people and places?
What happened next was awful. Not only did she have to take medicine, but the doctor put a needle in her arm and attached it to a long tube. The tube was connected to a little glass bottle and slowing dripped into her through something the doctor called a vein. She hated every minute of it. Her arm burned where the medicine went in and her mind seemed to get really fuzzy. The next thing she remembered was waking up in the clinic on a little bed with a bandage on her arm. While her head cleared, she had a strange feeling that she had become detached from herself. She could not see Papa, but saw Mama waiting patiently to walk her home.
That whole day was very strange. On the way home, Mama asked her if her stomach felt better.
What was she talking about? Her stomach was fine, but her arm and head didn’t feel so good.
Desire knew better than to contradict what her parents said so she simply responded, “My stomach feels just fine.”
When Papa got home that night, he spoke directly to Desire. “Mama told me she had to take you to the doctor for a tummy ache. Are you all better now?”
Desire tilted her head to the side and answered slowly. “Yes, I feel all better now.”
Was I going nuts? He was the one who took me! And it wasn’t for a stomachache.
Thinking back on that day now, she wondered if it, too, was just part of her peculiar dreams.
Desire went down the stairs to make breakfast. The kitchen was quite grand compared to the rest of the house. There was a magnificent wood stove and brick oven on the outside wall. The kitchen table was solid oak and could seat twelve adults comfortably. Each chair had a hand-sewn cushion made from bright red gingham material. There was a large walk-in pantry opposite the stove and just to the right of the stairs. Beside that was a sink with a fresh water tap and large counter for preparing the food. There was an icebox for keeping food cold and fresh.
She made a small pan of buttermilk biscuits, fried eggs and grilled ham. She squeezed some juice and made coffee. Just as she set the last plate on the table, Mama and Papa came into the kitchen for breakfast. Papa did not look at her that morning, but that did not surprise her. A lot of the time, he acted like she wasn’t even there and when he did talk to her it was always short and to the point.
They all sat down at the table. Just as Desire was about to take a sip of her coffee, Papa’s hand reached across the table and slapped her hard on the left cheek. The coffee mug flew across the room and her face was burned not only by his hand but by the hot coffee.
“Girl, I know you are lying to me about your dream last night.” He slapped her one more time then took her breakfast plate and threw it on the floor. “If you want your breakfast, you little liar, eat it off the floor like a sinner. God’s children do not lie to their parents. And God’s children do not have evil dreams.”
Papa ate his breakfast quickly then left for work. Mama just sat there, as usual, with nothing to say. She always just sat there. She seemed to never have an opinion one way or the other. About anything.
Desire sat in silence. She did not look up or at the breakfast scattered on the floor or at the broken pieces of the ceramic mug. Although she felt very hungry, this was obviously a test. If she was a sinner or a liar, she would eat the food. If she was a child of God, she would fast in order to be forgiven. She felt pretty sure God probably didn’t care what she dreamed about, but she did, in fact, lie about the dream. So she cleaned up the mess as her stomach growled in objection.
Mama finished her breakfast then got up quietly and began the housework. Desire finished her chores in silence and hunger, then hurried so as not to arrive late for Bible study.
As she stood in front of the mirror preparing to wrap her hair in an ugly black scarf, she wondered for what must have been the hundredth time about how on earth she ended up looking the way she did. Her skin was smooth and silky-white like her china doll. She had flaming red hair that lay in large, gentle curls halfway down her back. She had eyes as green as emeralds and seemed to sparkle. Most of the other girls in town had plain brown or sandy-coloured hair and indistinct features. Her parents both had dark brown hair, brown eyes and plain beige skin. She wondered if God had delivered her to the wrong family. According to Mama, God did not make mistakes. Mama told her that because God only blessed her with one child, so he gave her one that was extra special.
With her hair tucked neatly under a scarf, Desire ran around the house quickly to gather the laundry for the day. With a bundle of laundry under one arm and her book bag in the other, she ran down the stairs. She dumped the laundry in the wash basket and headed out the door yelling, “Bye Mama! I have to go to Bible study now!”
Having graduated from school earlier this year when she turned 15, Desire now attended daily Bible study. She would now until such time she was married off. As she walked toward the church, she spotted one of herclassmates, Constance, coming out of her house. Desire waited to walk with her. Constance was so lucky, Desire always thought. Constance wore a lovely blue dress with little yellow flowers and a matching bonnet. She wore pretty white shiny shoes and tights. Two colours of ribbon held her hair back.
Desire felt green with envy, but still greeted Constance politely. “Good morning Constance. How are you today?”
Constance just looked and nodded at her without smiling. Constance had an air about her. She was polite, but not really friendly with Desire like she was with the other girls.
Constance thinks she is better than me.
Why is she so snooty? I just want to fit it but somehow always seem to stick out like a sore thumb.
They walked silently through the town until they reached the church. Constance walked a little quicker such that she really walking ahead of Desire and not with her. It hurt Desire that she didn’t fit in with the others. She walked in silence and solitude the rest of the way to school.
The church was a large square building in the middle of town. It was built in 1687 when the town was founded. The church was large enough to accommodate everyone in their community. The walls were built with massive grey stones and the windows were glass and high above the seating. There was a kitchen in the basement for the church ladies to cook for the minister and the church Elders. Bible study was always in the classroom in the basement, dimly lit and usually damp. Girls were not permitted to study with boys. Girls were taught how to live the word of the Bible, become a good wife, and good mother. Desire didn’t really like Bible study. Something inside her told her there was more to life than cleaning a house, making meals and having babies, but when she looked around, none of the women in the community did anything but that. It all seemed terribly boring to her.
Constance and Desire walked in through the heavy wooden doors, bowed their heads toward the altar and walked directly to staircase that led to the basement. The staircase always frightened Desire. For some reason, she always felt as though she was walking down into an evil underworld.
How can I be so ridiculous! Maybe something is wrong with my mind. Crazy dreams and crazy thoughts!
The truth was, she couldn’t think of any safer place to be than sitting in the church classroom learning how to be the best Christian she could be.
Desire pulled her black leather Bible from her pocket. She had memorized all the commandments and was currently working on memorizing her favourite Psalms. The Bible had passed down through five generations before it was given to her.
Tobias, a church Elders, would provide the lesson for today. He wasn’t much taller than Desire, and he walked with a bit of a limp. He said that his old bones were tired. He wore glasses that came halfway down his nose and he had long grey hair and a long grey beard. He always wore a suit and tie in church, but outside he usually wore denim overalls and a checked shirt. Desire really liked Tobias. He had a kind gentle voice and he was always a little nicer to the girls than most of the Elders. Although he was gentle and kind, most of the girls in Bible study made fun of him of him when they thought he couldn’t hear them. But she knew he could. They laughed at his scraggly hair and crooked arthritic hands. He had a hard time holding things sometimes because his hands were so crippled and pained. They would trot behind him sometimes and make faces. If they ever got caught teasing an Elder they would be punished harshly. Desire suspected that Tobias knew all this, but chose not to get the girls in trouble.
As she entered the classroom, Tobias called out to her. “Desire, would you please help this old man in the back room? I have left my lesson notes back there and would also like you to fix me a cup of hot tea.” He put out his hand to lead the way. “Come now, I will show you which lesson books I would like you to bring out.” She followed him into the kitchen happily, only too eager to help. As they left the room she could hear the girls chuckling and mimicking him, “Oh Desire, can you come and help my old soggy bones?” Desire looked at Tobias. If he could hear the jeers, he didn’t let on.