19. February 2013
Hey again, sorry for the late update. I don’t actually have an excuse handy (unless fighting off a swarm of dragons and reading a lot count as excuses). But the good news for you all is this: a story today AND tomorrow. Whoa, it’s like Christmas early… or something. Right, so here’s the story. It’s set in a world I’m currently building for my latest Manuscript. Enjoy! And don’t forget, if you want a story about something specific, feel free to leave a comment to say so.
Spoiler/warning: this has to do with an abusive relationship, so if that’s something that you’d rather not read or deal with, then please skip over this story.
by Heydon Hensley
Aleyah woke before the dawn spread its sacred crimson fingers over the clay and lime houses of Ba’atzelone. Her husband, Daveen, had been out late – again. Ostensibly he did business with the dentists after nightfall, but she never saw any more money come from this business – nor did it explain why he wore his best djellaba, or why he always came back smelling like rose water. Dentists weren’t dirty enough to demand a ceremonial cleaning before resting, and she doubted that the dentists gave Daveen free use of their baths. The public baths were closed by that time of night. Whoever this “dentist” was, she must have been wealthy. Aleyah bit her lip as she stared at him spread across the cushions in the main room. It was a discredit to think so of her husband, but what other conclusions could she draw? Especially considering that Daveen never came to their bed anymore. No, Daveen was in the market for a second wife.
Aleyah checked a sigh and set in to the morning’s work. She measured out the flour and kneaded it with water and oil. Then she mixed in her yeast lump and kneaded again, rolling out symmetrical loaves of dough. From the last loaf, she pinched off a chunk of dough and set it in a jar. Next she produced a small hoop of wire and carved in Alhazar’s holy star in each loaf: eight points, two each towards the four Winds, symmetrical about both the horizontal and the vertical. The scooped out dough, she placed with the rest of the yeast lump. She carefully transferred the loafs onto her clay tray. Daveen was a good provider. They never went hungry, nor did the mint run too low to invite a traveler in for tea. What did it matter really if Daveen was out late in his best djellaba?
The call for As-Salaat rang out from the mosques over Ba’atzelone. The minarets hummed in reply. The call rang out again: “Alhazar Ak-bar. Alhazar Ak-bar.” Daveen shook awake, ignored Aleyah and stepped out to their door mat for prayers. Dawn cupped the city walls then slid over the city like the warm hand of a lover – like Daveen’s hand over the woman last night, Aleyah thought. She pinched her lips closed and performed her prayers. That done, she hefted the clay tray and stepped around Daveen on her way to the neighborhood bakery.
The fires were hot, and the coals were raked. That meant that Ibn’Shan tended the bakery today. Her husband had lost himself to the demon of drink, but no one said that openly. In retaliation, Ibn’Shan volunteered twice as often as any other neighborhood wife in the bakery. If she was visible in public, then he couldn’t hit her. Aleyah swallowed hard, imagining herself in Ibn’Shan’s position soon, if Daveen really was searching for another wife. Ibn’Shan nodded at Aleyah. Aleyah set down her tray and performed the Irka’at, kissing her fist before touching her forehead and heart. Ibn’Shan returned the Irka’at then went back to tending the duties of the bakery. Aleyah took up the wooden bread spade with a firm hand and shoveled her loaves into the oven. The handle twisted in her grasp, pinching her lifeline smartly, but Aleyah kept shoving in loaf after loaf. She should have suspected it really. Daveen had been doing well with his business – and… and she had not been doing well bearing children. She latched the oven door with a finality she didn’t feel.
Heat shimmered over the packed turmeric roads like a charmed cobra, as she counted out the cook time for her loaves. Aleyah should be grateful. Daveen wasn’t given to anything illegal – he didn’t drink or chase hashish. But he did have a temper, and that was what her meetings at the Women’s National League warned about more even than drink. Perhaps soon Aleyah would be at the bakery as often as Ibn’Shan. Pop. She opened the oven and scooped her loaves onto her tray. All the WNL meetings in the world couldn’t convince her that she had not driven her husband away – not just away but into the arms of another. When the last loaf was out of the oven, she stood aside so someone else could use oven. She dripped lemon and oil into a bowl and painted over her loaves with a horsehair brush. The brush caught in a groove of Alhazar’s star and tore off a chunk of crust. Aleyah’s nostrils flared. She set the loaf aside for the Beggar’s Pile, then forced her hand to steady and relax. The last few loaves slid under her brush smoothly.
Daveen stared moodily at the brown bread, like a guilty schoolboy who just hasn’t been caught yet, or so Aleyah thought as she mixed the cinnamon and honey into the morning couscous.
Daveen’s fingers drummed on the table. Tick-da-da-tum, tick-da-da-tum. “Light a fire under yourself already. I had a late night earning money for your lazy bones.”
The five fingered words tore at her heart. Pain pressed against her eyes. Pain and fear. If she didn’t have to be in public, he’d hit her. She knew he would. With a second wife, he wouldn’t stop at words. He’d keep her caged in this house, cooking his food, cleaning his clothes, and he’d hide her blackened face in the darkness of their home. Even if someone did see, what would that change? It would be expected. The WNL couldn’t stop it. Aleyah set the pot of couscous in front of him with a warm loaf of bread. “I beg forgiveness, husband.”
He ignored her and wolfed down the meal, as if he had not eaten in many days. When he was finished, he burped his appreciation then said, “Get to the baths, woman. Your grime insults Alhazar.”
Aleyah felt the words rise from her throat before she could reel them back down. “At least my grime is not on my soul.” Silence swept between them like a jinn. The air crackled with energy, his black eyes on her brown. The color fled from her face, her lips.
His hand, curved like a knife, trembled for a moment beside her pale face, before whipping across her cheek knuckles first. “Is this gratitude?” Daveen spoke low, his words an even growl in his throat. “Is this what I deserve for feeding you, for clothing you?” He shoved the table away and stomped through their blue door into the day’s heat.
Aleyah touched her cheek and stared. Blood dribbled from where his ring caught her. For a long time she stared vacantly after him, unaware of the pain, of the blood, aware only that she had slashed at him with her tongue, and she was aware – acutely aware – that she’d liked it. She could feel better about his late nights, his absence from their bed, because she had the truth now. He wasn’t some competent suitor – he was just another philanderer, and that truth protected her.