A Write or Die response to Chrysanthemums by Indira Reddy
October 25, 2012
I lose hope that my calls to Brighid are heard — better that than the alternative, that she hears but ignores me. Why she of the home and the hearth still does not light my womb, despite all my offerings and prayers, I cannot imagine. But I fear I may never hold the heir I so yearn for, a wriggly, bonnie babe at my bosom, a boy-child.
My wife, Amyra, tells me my actions are futile at best — she and all the others have borne only girl-children and many of those deformed or disfigured. Why should I think my womb will yield other? But, deep down, I know she hopes that this time will be different.
I, too, hope. I hope and I pray and I make offerings to the Goddess that she may keep our spark glowing. If I fail, we will be no more. It is a future too bleak to imagine, so I imagine instead my son growing to manhood, lying with each of us in turn — mother, sister, daughter — and fathering our progeny.
It is the only way.
My sister Greta cries that she fears for my safety. The middle sister’s authority is never strong, so she must turn to Mother’s favoured tactic — guilt. Her wife dabs at her eyes with a modest square of threadbare white towelling. I almost feel honoured to know she has brought out this tiny nappy of her long-lost infant for my benefit. It’s usually safely tucked away in the emotional baggage Davisa carries everywhere.
I cannot give up.
I must not.
It is the only way.
October 26, 2012
I have prayed to Brighid for forty nights now — forty nights with no answer, no sign and no hope of any change. I can continue this foolishness no longer. I stand at a crossroads and it is time to choose my direction and move forth.
So I turn instead to Hecate, the Great Mother, in the hope that she may open a doorway and light the way for my son. Our son.
Amyra looks at me with eyes wide in hope and fear as I sweep clear a circle of space on the sandy floor and begin my recitations by torchlight. It is the same, same as every other night, only different; tonight I take up a small dagger, prick my fourth finger with its point, and squeeze one drop of bright red blood onto the white sand. I kneel before this, my tiny offering to you, Great Goddess. Then I close my eyes and bow low until my forehead touches the sand, and I call with all my being to receive a son.
Time passes, and a strange shiver rushes through my body. It causes each hair to stand on end for just a moment before it is replaced by a flooding warmth. It focuses to burn deep within my belly and I gasp; my words falter. The spell weakens and breaks, but my hope is stronger than ever.
October 27, 2012
Greta waggles her finger and tells me I am unwise to call on their Goddess. We have our own, she admonishes, and when I argue that their Goddess answers when ours does not, she insists it must be for good reason. It would be wise to accept Brighid’s guidance. Her sight is always clear.
I wonder, does my sister believe that the Goddess wills our demise?
Tonight, again, I sweep clear the circle. Its centre is marked by the drop of bright red blood I left in offering last night, though tonight it much darker, almost black.
Tonight, again, I prick my finger with the dagger and squeeze out one drop; it mingles with the old blood and I am unsure if that will suffice, so I squeeze out another fresh drop for good measure.
Tonight, again, I kneel and bow over my offering to Hecate. Light pierces my eyelids as the torches blaze, accompanied by a flash of heat that leaves me drenched in sweat. This is good; this is as it should be. I hear a soft thud and presume it is Amyra slumping to the floor, but I dare not look lest I break the spell. I continue reciting my phrases and praises until my belly feels warm again, warm and swollen, as if with child.
And then I call to Cybele also: Wild One, Mother Goddess, please accept my humble offering. I have searched within and without for many days and nights, but I have not found my son, the one who will save my people. Please keep watch for him in your wanders. Please lead him to me.
The warmth fades from my belly and from the room, and the torches quickly dim to nothing. I sit up and turn to where Amyra lies moaning, willing my eyes to adjust so I can go to her. I feel disoriented, and worry that I will fall as soon as I stand, so I crawl to her. Amyra, my beloved wife, what pains you?
Her eyes are rolled upwards so I can only see the whites, and she is writhing on the sand floor. This alone would be enough to horrify me, but there is more. She is not in pain. Or, at least, not only in pain. One hand works away between her thighs and her hips grind madly against it, but the sand has not been kind to delicate flesh. Everywhere, there is blood. I pull her hand away and she roars like a lion and claws the side of my face with her other hand, tearing my flesh and her nails at the same time. I fall back, clutching at my face, and she returns to her self-mutilating pleasure, seemingly oblivious to my presence.
I move across the circle, sweeping one hand through the sand to eradicate all evidence of the ritual. I touch something tiny, hard and smooth, and I close it in my palm. Only then do I run to fetch the healer, but I am too shocked to speak. She gently opens my hand and marvels at what I have brought her: a tooth.
October 28, 2012
Greta says I do not understand the consequences of my actions. She scolds me for improperly addressing the Goddesses: You do not understand these foreign deities. You do not even know them. You worship them disrespectfully and yet you dare request blessings! But how can I be wrong if they are hearing my calls?
She calls me headstrong and heartless. The former is true, but is it heartless to want what is best for my people? Is it better to stand by and watch in silence as our kind fade away?
Davisa pleads with me. Won’t you stay with Amyra in her time of need? I am quietly confident that Amyra has no further need for me and is perfectly satisfied with her invisible lover. I also know that Amyra wanted the boy-child as much as I do. It is unfortunate that she was the one to pay the price, but at least I can now focus my efforts without distraction.
I prick my finger with the dagger and squeeze, counting out one, two, three drops. There is no dried blood for them to mingle with; I can only assume I swept it away with the other evidence of my actions.
Tonight, I call again to Hecate. Great Goddess, Great Mother, She Who Listens and Lights the Way, bestow upon us your blessings. Please, bring forth the boy-child, that we may ever walk this world in your blessed name.
I call also to Demeter and her daughter. Goddess of the Earth, you know the pain of waiting for a lost child to return. As Hecate once helped light your path to Persephone, I call upon you to help light the way for my son to return to me.
A deep sorrow washes over me, deeper than any anguish I’ve felt before, and I slip into a dream. I see things, such awful things: a forest fire larger than our whole world; an entire island and its inhabitants washed away by a wave larger than a mountain; a dry lake littered with the bodies of fish and birds; a sky so darkened that no stars could shine through.
I open my eyes, horrified. I can’t breathe. I’m choking. I cover my mouth with both hands and cough to clear out my lungs. When I remove my hands, I am holding two white flower petals in my cupped palms.
October 29, 2012
Greta ignores me now, under the guise of being too busy nursing my wife. I thought this duty would fall to Davisa but it appears she cannot bear the sight of Amyra in her altered state. I understand this. I appreciate Greta’s intervention; still, it feels like betrayal.
Four drops of my blood spill onto unblemished white sand. The absence of any stain from last night reassures me that my offerings are gratefully received. My Goddess is the Goddess of Witches and she has made it perfectly clear to me — she guides my practice. So I follow.
Kaartyayani, Warrior Goddess, born of the gods’ anger, accept this gift of my blood and hear me. Shelter our wombs from this plague of apathy as you sought shelter from Swamiyar in the pond; grant us clarity of mind and sight and speech. Bless us with your healing and bring us new life.
A tangible pressure builds inside and around me. It comforts me. It crushes me. I stand and clasp my hands over my belly; beneath me, the sand shivers.
Artemis, Moon Mother, accept this gift of my blood and hear me. Winged One, Goddess of the Forest, plant the seed that will put down roots through our lineage and revive our ancestral tree.
A strong breeze stirs the trees outside. It is my turn to shiver. I press my eyelids shut even more tightly than before, focusing inward.
Freyja of Sessrumnir, hear me. This blood is for you, also. We grow weak, frail. Have mercy on my people; restore our strength. Goddess of Love, please don your cloak and carry home our gallant soldier, that we may rise up once more.
White sand swirls around my ankles, scratching like a dog at the door. As I open my eyes, the wind howls and screeches, extinguishing all the torches at once so that I am, once more, in complete darkness.
I fall back to my knees and press my hands into the sand, seeking purchase on something solid, anything. I come up with three tiny moonstones that steady my faith but not my quaking body.
October 30, 2012
Amyra passes in the early hours. Perhaps Greta and Davisa were wise to discourage me. Perhaps I should have listened. Perhaps I still can. But I am a long way down this path already. No one dares intervene further. My wife is gone; I have nothing left to lose.
Tonight, under Hecate’s gaze, I cast my net wider, further into the unknowable sea.
Tonight, the words come unbidden to my tongue. They tumble out faster than my spilled blood can hit the sand.
Yemaya, All Mother Goddess, hear me. Your love is so great you followed your children to the seas. Please send a precious boy-child to become the King who will sire my people’s descendants.
Tiamat, Creator Goddess, born of the sea and primordial chaos, please bring us one life so that we may yield many more. Oh Glistening One, hear me and accept my offerings.
A wave of nausea washes over me, but I carry on.
Sedna, Sea Goddess, please take my gift and guide a good man to our shores. Pinga, She Who Brings The Lost Boys Home, if our King has arrived in your realm too soon, please return him to us. Bestow upon us a future of fertility and favour.
A spark of pain in my belly brings a spark of hope to my heart. But the hope soon fades when I realise the light has gone but no gifts from the Goddesses remain. Have I displeased them this night?
If this is true, I must appease them. But first, I must make peace with my wife so she can leave this place and ascend the escala.
I dart to the chapel where Amyra is attended by Greta, Davisa and Rosala. Greta frowns at me and walks away. Davisa raises her chin but avoids eye contact. Only Rosala speaks — to accuse me. How could you? Do you think your wife’s death a joke?
I walk to Amyra’s side, uncertain. Clad in white, with her open eyes searching into the next life, she is as beautiful as the day we met. But someone has placed a pearl between her pursed lips, and another in each nostril. A fourth pearl rests in her navel like a tiny egg.
Rosala, what is the meaning of these pearls?
She stares at me with wide, questioning eyes.
October 31, 2012
Tonight I do not prick my finger. There is no need — ample blood drips down between my knees and onto the sand. Of course, because who am I to bear a divine child? Where did I gain such arrogance! I am hopeful that Hecate will forgive my feeble frame and offer another solution. The alternative is too much to bear considering.
So I call to her again. Hecate, Great Mother who has always been here to light my way, please, take this my most precious blood and allow us to know your ways.
I dig my fingers into the sand to stop the earth from shaking me free. Tara, Earth Mother, Goddess of the Seven Eyes, take this my sacred blood and grant us your wisdom. Bestow upon us fertility and life that we may continue our devotions. The pressure in my brain is unbearable.
A banshee wail rings out from the chapel. I am confused; Amyra already passed and no one else has been unwell. Ignoring the tearing feeling in my belly, I hold on with all my strength and cry out one final prayer. Isis, Mother of the Eye, Protector of the Son, I beg of you: bring me my son!