They pinch their cheeks to make them rosy; mine are a similar hue, after a smack from Mother. Their lips are fuller than mine and when they laugh: it’s music. Their hair is shiny and smells like berries. I have lank, brown locks, scented with dry leaves. They skip and dance and bask in each other’s glow. I skip alone and only on special occasions. One of them will be chosen – I just know it.
Mustn’t be covetous.
I leave the sanctuary of the doorway and enter the room. The floor creaks and they look at me: six almond-shaped eyes, some green, some blue. Their white dresses are see-through in the sunlight streaming through the windows. The subtle curve of their bodies makes me anxious.
Mustn’t be licentious.
“Look ladies: it’s Bronagh the Boring!” says the tallest of them.
“Don’t call me that, Niamh.”
Mustn’t be wrathful.
“Nothing, I guess. Are you ready for the festival?”
“We are. Are you bothering to show up? Also: why?”
The other girls laugh – it's not music anymore. Niamh wiggles over to me. She interlocks her long fingers at the back of my head and pulls me close. She kisses me; I can taste honey and bog myrtle. She slaps me; it stings more than one of Mother’s. Niamh looks down, her radiant features turning grey.
“You on your menses, Bron?” she says, recoiling in horror.
I look down at the bloodstains on my kirtle. Thick, red streams run down my leg and pool on the floor.
Mustn’t be deceitful.
I hold up the wet, red goat leg I’ve been lugging about. The girls gasp. I hurl it at them and they retreat in unison; they even show fear with feminine grace.
I leave the cabin and crouch behind a hedge. The beast that’s been tracking me lopes in through the doorway, sniffing at the sanguine trail; I sneak up behind it and fix the latch. The screaming and ripping and crunching sounds are better than music; I can hear the death of the old me and the birth of the new. I let my helper out when he’s finished and he lumbers into the woods. The men of the village will find and kill him later.
“I’m sorry,” I say into the air.
Mustn’t be manipulative.
The festivities continue as they must; the moon will not wait, nor the seasons. John Barleycorn dies, giving way to new growth. Night follows day and life follows death – that's the way of things.
I pinch my cheeks to make them rosy; theirs are surely lacking. My lips are fuller than theirs now, and when I laugh, it’s music. My hair is shiny and smells like berries. They have wet, blood-stained locks, scented with spit and animal musk. I skip and dance and bask in my own glow. They skip in the afterlife. They will offer a pure, young maid this night, for the harvest to come. They will cut her milky, white throat and stain the earth with her virgin blood.