Mary watched Kesha’s slender form melt into the silver mists that clouded the road. Carefully, she lifted a finger to smooth out the little folds she had begun to notice above her brow.
A heavy weight in her chest hurt every attempt to breathe. She sank to her knees.
“Lord God, I need you!” she whispered into the pale black air. “Why can I not hear you?”
Salt-water bathed the careworn eyes. The twinkling lights of the house danced through the glassy lens.
“Please, Father!” Her voice rose to a soft cry. She was conscious of unwanted ears, yet she felt that if she could not spill her words into the air, she would burst. She flung an impatient arm into a fist. “You are supposed to be good! They said that you would protect me from harm! Where are you now?”
Through the watery blur, she saw Helna approaching to warn her of the time.
“Are you even there?”
“Get inside, child. You must not catch your death in the cold.”
A rough hand grasped her shoulders and pulled her up. With a sigh, she obediently followed her stout guide, her clenched hand unfolding as the last drop of strength drained from her body. Unseen in the darkness, the tears flowed on and she made no effort to stop them. As they reached the servants’ shacks, Helna nodded her goodnight and made on to her own.
Mary stumbled along the path, her feet tripping over each other. A few lights flickered from house to house, but she did not stop until she reached a low, wooden hut. Dark as it was inside, the worn straps on her sandals were removed before she sat down. A gnawing hunger subdued her spirit and her wearied mind was dead almost before the thick curls cushioned her head.
“Wake up, girl!”
“Up, girl! Do you know what time it is?”
She was awake all of the sudden, awareness of the bright sunlight streaming across the floor, striking her dumb. She jerked a stringy cover off of her legs and stared in alarm into the hard eyes of the head slave.
“Well?” The woman gestured out the door, a frown wrinkling her dirty forehead. Mary choked.
“Forgive me, Doris!”
“Forgive you, lazy girl? I have better things to do!” The ring of a slap dizzied the girl for a moment. The biting sting slowly found its way into her cheeks as they began to redden with tingling pain. “Helna would not wait for you—she has gone to the market already. Up with you, Mary! Up, I say!”
With a departing slam of the door, Mary was left, dressing herself in a daze, pulling the cotton tunic over her head. As she tripped up the kitchen steps, the wooden door swung open. Doris greeted her with a scowl that left a crease from the corner of her eye to her brown ear.
With Helna gone, the morning passed in a frenzy. Doris sent her to draw the water, and she did so with what ease could be allowed for such a job—the jar so heavy and so willful that the cold splashes sloshed over her legs, despite the care she took. Then the square plot of an herbal garden needed to be weeded. Then the kitchen scoured, the floors swept, the meals prepared... Where are you, Helna? Come back already, will you?
With an arrogant twitch of the nose, she snatched the silver-plated tray on which the family's dinner lay spread over. A sharp, painful heartbeat pinched her chest as she stalked out into the slight breeze of the night. Doris, to punish her impunctuality, had decided that Mary would wait on the family at the evening meal.
Mary was frightened, her step unsure, her heart fluttering. She had never been up to the house but to grab the necessary supplies for her work in the kitchen. The mere thought of stepping inside the fine polished arch, carrying such precious metal, unnerved her. And yet...
It would be I sitting in there, with Mā́tēr and Zenaida, if we were in Macedonia.
A cold chill wiggled through her arms. She gripped the ribbed edges until her knuckles turned yellow-white. Nervous as she was, she owned her pride and readily did it come to her aid as she approached the entrance.
Sudden warmth engulfed her, pulling her, luring her further into the blast of light that beamed into the darkness. And there she stood.
The cold from the stones crept through the thin leather of her sandals, piercing the bottom of her feet. A shiver ran through her as she hurried down a short passageway to the inner court. A glance back, she turned her face forward again and stopped.
No sound escaped her lips. She simply stood and gazed.
A bubbling, singing fountain, like her own at home.
Everything about it—the chiseled marble, the curve of its neck, the spring of water...it brought back memories.
Sounds of muted laughter wafted from across the courtyard from behind long, red sheets of fabric that swung in the air. Mary dragged her eyes away from the sight as she trudged over the tiles, but her mind went back to the free days in Macedonia—with her family. She swallowed, but homesickness snuck again into her stubborn heart, sharper and deeper than it had been. A glimpse of home had been enough to aggravate the wound again.
She bowed her head and slipped through the curtain.