Just after sunset, when the colors were becoming indistinguishable from the hills, the women were home, scrubbing mud pies off noses and cursing the freedom of men. Having been up since before dawn, slinging axes at rock, the men were at the tavern, loosening their backs with ale.
Having neither husband nor taste for alcohol, Emerie passed the bar, her worn heels scuffing the wood planks—the gut thrusting forward momentum of caterpillar locomotion. Her awkward gait and low slung chin had the villagers thinking her eyes and ears didn’t work. Emerie didn’t mind. She enjoyed knowing the secrets they spilled when they thought no one could see or hear. She knew where the blood was spilt.
Emerie shuffled down the path behind the church. The candle in the bedroom of the parsonage window illuminated the forbidding height of the minister standing over a woman—not his wife—bent over with her wrists tied to the bedposts. This neither surprised nor shocked Emerie. It was Wednesday evening. His wife was offering God’s love, biscuits and coffee to the few who showed up to the midweek prayer service.
The end of the path opened into a meadow. Surrounded on all sides by trees, the meadow was flat and except for the grass, free of vegetation. At each of the cardinal points, four tall rocks stood sentry. They had been here so long, no one knew who put them there. Most of the townspeople were superstitious and steered clear of the granite, but mothers allowed their children to play here during the day. Night brought paramours and the forlorn. And Emerie.
She caressed the eastern rock as one would touch a lover. A breeze entered the clearing, lifting a few tendrils of hair that had escaped the bun atop her crown. Emerie almost smiled. She moved behind the rock and waited.
The mayor’s daughter came first. Halting at the path’s end, Sarah rubbed her eyes and looked around. Seeing only an empty meadow, she walked to the southern rock, resumed her tears and began to pray. Sound carried across the grass, but Emerie didn’t need to hear the words to understand Sarah’s heart. She had given it and her body to a boy who had died in the mine last week.
The wind preceded the old woman to the south, masking her footsteps. Sarah nearly screamed, but Emerie offered a delicate smile, the skin around her eyes crinkling like a beloved grandmother.
“I am sorry to have frightened you, my dear. I have come to offer assistance. Have no fear.”
Sarah nodded, relaxing under the waning crescent’s light and Emerie’s sing-song voice. Placing a hand on the young girl’s shoulder, Emerie explained. At the end, a desperate Sarah nodded once more and lay down on her back, acquiescing.
The air hushed while Emerie chanted and reached between Sarah’s ribs, removing her heart. It was broken, of course, irreparable. They always were.
Emerie inserted a piure into the girl’s chest, closing it with a song of lament. Sarah thanked the elder woman and left, no longer hurting.
Just past the eastern rock, Emerie opened a wound in the earth. Inside the crevice were other hearts. Some still beating—barely—for lost love or shattered dreams. Others were frozen in solid chunks. She placed Sarah’s on top and went back to wait for the next damaged soul to arrive.
LKT © 2015