Aaliyah

I was a fool when I married.

Most are, I am told—such is the nature of the thing. You must be a certain specific sort of crazy to decide that the person you are, and the person in front of you, are so compatible that you will remain so for the next half century. And even with all things being fortunate, seventeen-year-old lovers are not renowned for their excellent judgement.

You look at him across your clasped hands, beside a lake, with flowers in his hair, and you feel like crying because it is perfect. You have never seen such a beautiful lake, or such a handsome man, and there is nothing else you could want in the world.

Things, of course, change.

My husband is not a wicked man, but he is also not a particularly interesting one, either.

Whether he become less interesting by virtue of being married, or by being married to me, or was secretly uninteresting the entire time and simply appeared so because at one point he was in love with me, is open to speculation.

Personally, having been myself at that age, I suspect that I found the fact that someone was in love with me very interesting indeed.

I hate that innocent seventeen-year-old self—because she is selfish, and so am I.

I remember the first moment I gave voice, within myself, to my unhappiness. Months after our first child, I stood in the bazaar, surrounded by tented stalls, half-grown merchant children trilling their goods, and I was bored. My husband’s interest in lay in his fields, my mother and sisters hundreds of miles away, and my child a sweet, demanding little thing—but not much one for stimulating conversation.

Suddenly, I was afraid to go home and sit alone with my choices again. I wanted to leap over the stalls and kiss the herbalist as he stood there in front of me, with his black hair flecked with silver and the kind creases around his eyes. Just to see. To squeeze a little more passion from life, in case it was as over as it seemed.

Thoughts tumbled over each other as I paused with a handful of basil in one hand, my husband’s coin in the other. The herbalist smiled at me, gently.

That was the first death.

Flushed and full of shame, I hurried home that day, and refused to face that feeling again for a long time.

I watched the other wives, and did as they did. Kiss your husband when he comes home. Bake good warm bread, go to the temple like a cow to water, and knit little blankets for the strange small humans that now inhabited my home.

My children. How odd. I loved them, but they felt like little goblins, come from another world to cry when it suited them and pull all my towels out of their baskets. Capricious little gods, and I their indentured priestess.

Thankfully, I had a good husband who did not worry about these sorts of things. He did not worry about particularly much at all, and by extension believed that I should worry less.

He did not care for thoughts not as simple as his own, so with time, it seemed a waste to share them.

That was the second death.

In the great sand sea, my grandmother has a saying. There are a thousand little deaths in a lifetime, and each time we are born once again, becoming someone new entirely.

When I passionately declared my love for my now-husband to my parents, they resisted. My father, a sand-lord, did not think highly of shepherd boys on journeys to seek their fortune. When I tried to convince my grandmother to make them let me marry him, she only tapped her nose at me.

“Do you know yourself, little chick?”

I boldly declared that I did.

“Ah, little one. Not you now. You are only a wee thing yet. Do you know yourself as mother? As shield-maiden? As acolyte? As queen? As harlot, as whore?”

I blushed at her language. “I am none of those things.”

She smiled. “Ah, but you might be.”

Passion fueled my answer, and I thought of our kisses, of riding out on horseback to the green fields of legend.

“I don’t want to be! I want to be his wife!”

She had laughed in my face.

“That’s what you think.”

In the end, youth and persistence won out, and my mother instructed my father to promise me to the young journeyman from the east. And so it was that I left the house of my parents and left ungracefully on the back of a big black draft horse to become the wife of Hamfast the Herder.

Grandmother tapped her nose at me with her congratulations, and I will remember the sorry look in her eye until the day I die.

Today, I have been a good wife. I have mended the socks, made the good bread, and sent my three beautiful little goblins out to play in the yard. I sent my husband off to his herds with a kiss, and I will be there to watch for his coming back.

But what I do in between is my business.

In the bazaar today, there will be a tall man with black hair, who is not there to buy anything. I will take him by the scales on his hip, and he will not deny me.

He is the third death.

In the afternoon, we will walk by the river that runs to the lake, and I will dance across the stones light-footed. On the great sand sea, I knew the ways of hoop, and knife, and scarf. None of that means anything here.

“Why don’t you go home?” he will ask me, as he often does.

I do not tell him the truth.

“I love my children,” I will say, “and they need me here. If I took them, their father would be angry.”

My husband is a good man, objectively, and he is not unkind. He has never raised his hand against me, does not drink overmuch, and he provides for his offspring. As far as men go, he is neither here nor there. And the truth is, I would not hurt him if I can help it.

So I dance on the stones with the black-haired man, and dream of the sand. Then I go home, to sit on the floor with my children and the dogs, and hear about their games. I weed the garden, start dinner.

I am waiting at the gate with a kiss when he returns.

He does not ask me what I did that day, and I do not ask him.

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