3. Many hearts wept and sang in fear,
The sun had dawned only a few hours ago and already her mother was dragging her from bed ‘to take Gloria the bolt of wool she’d asked for’. Savannah packed a lunch basket for her father and one for she and her mother. Thomas kissed them both good day and the three left the door, going separate ways. The walk was pleasant, the chill from the night had all but disappeared.
Gloria and Kenneth’s house looked as if it sprang up from the ground. The stone was the same color and texture as the earth and seemed to breathe with the breezes. Sarah knocked on the door. Savannah wondered why she smiled so. Kenneth answered the door, which was unusual enough that Savannah almost dropped her basket.
“Oh, are you ill, Kenneth? You don’t look well at all,” Sarah commented. Kenneth remained a step back from the door, his face half obscured by darkness. “Is Gloria here or has she gone to fetch something from the doctor’s?”
Kenneth’s chin wobbled and his swollen eyes watered. “Yes, she’s at the doctor’s.” The door closed before Sarah could speak again.
“My, wasn’t that rude.”
“Mother, he looks very ill. I wouldn’t have gone in anyway to be locked in with that cold-sickness. He did us a favor.”
“I suppose,” she huffed. “But she shouldn’t be walking about so far.”
“What do you mean? She always walks as far. Just as we have.”
Sarah bit her lip in the way she did when she was considering whether to pass on a good story. “My daughter, I ought to wait until Gloria herself is here to tell you, but…”
“Well? Tell me!”
“Oh, really? How good for her! Is that why she’s at the doctor’s?”
“Could be so.” She frowned. “Still, that’s an awful lot of stress to put on a new mother. She was already so very worried.”
“We women are stronger than even we know, mother. I’m sure Gloria will be just fine. Fine enough to care for herself, her husband and her new one. I wonder if it’s a girl.”
“Men want sons.”
“But father has only me and is happy.”
Her mother beamed at her. “That he is, girl. What a special one we knew you were, so tiny with a flame of hair atop your head, like a tiny candle.”
“I hope my children will have my same hair.”
“What’s this talk of children, then? Has it got anything to do with Mary’s boy?”
“Eric is…” she was full of things to say about Eric.
“Ah, he’s that then, eh?” Her mother said slyly. “Your father seems to take to him.”
“Do you really think so?” Savannah sighed, and grabbed her mother’s hand, the way she used to when she was little.
When they reached the square, it was crowded with people like Savannah had never seen before. It reminded her of a traveling fair that passed through once, except there was no joy in the air. Tension, worry that made her break out in a nervous sweat.
“Mother? What’s going on?” She felt pressed in on all sides, suffocated.
“I don’t know, love. Come on, let’s find Phillip’s.”
They pushed through the crowd and found that it only got denser the closer they came to the doctor’s.
That woman, one what lived on the end.
The pretty one?
Something’s on the loose!
Something’s got to be done.
Found her last night, he did.
“What’s all this, then?” Sarah grunted as she pushed though the front of the crowd. She pounded on the door until Phillip answered.
“Please, we’ve got,”
“Gloria, Gloria, where is she? Kenneth said that she’d come this way.”
Phillip’s face fell.
“Sarah. Gloria’s gone from us. Since this dawn.”
“Oh, God, no!” Sarah cried out as her legs gave way. Savannah caught her and held her close. She was too shocked to say much of anything.
“Her funeral pyre will be set up this evening.”
“That poor, poor, baby,” Sarah wept.
“She was a lovely girl,” Phillip said.
“Mother, let’s go home. Please,” Savannah whispered. “Goodbye, doctor.”
Savannah propelled her mother through the crowd, home.
_ _ _
“That was Sarah.” Phillip said to his wife.
“Oh, she must have been devastated. She was very close to Gloria. They walk, well, used to walk down to her home two or three times a week. Where is she gone?”
“Her daughter took her home. Had to hold her up by the arms.”
“Savannah. She’s a good daughter and very shy. How did she take the news?”
“Must have been in shock. She looked nervous, anxious to get away but she didn’t crack even a bit.”
“Poor girl! And she’s known Gloria her whole life!” Suzanne tsked. “It’s probably going to hit her hard later.”
“This is hitting us all hard. Nothing like this has ever happened, not since generations back. I’ve never seen the village so worked up.”
“Any news gets the village worked up,” Suzanne sighed as she thought of the crowds outside of her door, begging for tads of information.
_ _ _
“God damn it, I’ve always said that no news is good news!” Thomas shouted to the air when Sarah told him the news. She flinched at his volume and he softened. “How are you?”
“This is such a tragedy, Thomas. I loved Gloria, how could this happen to her? She harmed nothing!”
“I know, I know. And how difficult this must be for Kenneth.”
“Kenneth! I remember now, he looked so horrible. He looks like death, I swear it.”
“Don’t swear. Not on something like that. God, I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you. If I didn’t have Savannah to look after,” he cut himself short. He let go of Sarah suddenly, his face ashen.
“What is it?”
“I know what I would do if I lost you, and I can’t let Kenneth do it.” He swung on his coat and strapped a long knife to his waist. Savannah watched from the far end of the room.
“Thomas, don’t go out there!”
“Don’t worry, love, but I can’t let Kenneth do what I would, in his place.” He stepped out of the door. Sarah began to pace, her breath coming in short bursts.
Savannah wished that she could see Eric, to hear his voice telling her that it was all going to be okay. To brush his dark hair and smell his scent.
“Mother, we have to get ready for the funeral. Father will be there, surely, with Kenneth.”
“All right, love. All right, Savannah.”
_ _ _
Kenneth sat at his table in the dark. The top seemed to stretch on forever, like desert sands. He’d seen the desert once, long ago. One day he’d see it again, maybe. He imagined that the grooves were clefts miles deep and that the circles were sandstorms that he’d have to avoid. But there was no water. None, for all the everlasting desert. The sound of grainy wind filled his ears, and he did not hear the beating at the door.
Thomas broke the latch on the door as he rammed it with his body. Kenneth looked up at the breathless man.
“Kenneth?” His eyes widened to adjust to the dark. “Would you like a lamp?”
“I don’t need one.”
“Everyone needs some light in their life.”
“Mine is gone.” The words sounded empty to his ears. “Mine is gone. Gone.” He slammed his fist down on the table, suddenly furious. “She’s gone, Thomas! Don’t you get that? Doesn’t everyone see that it’s my fault?”
“No one thinks that. We know ye. You loved her, our Gloria.”
“You’re wrong. I love her, my Gloria.”
“Good. Because she’d not want to see you sitting about in the dark. Would she?”
“She understood me.” His breath hitched and Thomas waited for it. “She,” his throat was too tight for words.
“Lay it out, brother.”
Kenneth hung his head and cried silent tears. The tears fell into the grooves, flooding the desert clefts. Drown, drown.
Kenneth cleared his throat and wiped his face. “Thank you, Thomas. You’re a good man. I’ve, uh, got to go, haven’t I?”
“I’m afraid you do.”
Kenneth stood and Thomas thought that he would need a hand, but the man was solid. It was his face that was broken, changed. He almost stepped back when the dark eyes met his.
“Promise me something, Thomas.”
“What is it that needs promising?”
“That you’ll protect your family right. Not like me. Keep your girls safe no matter what.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s not good enough!” Kenneth glared at Thomas. “Promise me.”
“All right, brother. I promise.” Thomas swallowed hard as the tension bled out of Kenneth.
“Good. It’s all we can do for our women. Love and protect them, is all.”