I felt for certain I was going to die that day. A nonstop volley of loose pebbles and potatoes had been thrown at us by the young boys who lined the streets. Stiffed neck women who accompanied the youngsters did nothing to constrain them. They too had quickly turned on us lancing insults and crying “sorceress” after our retreating bodies. It had not been a good idea to walk through town on foot, but we had to since we had been summoned to the General Court. Standing accused in front of a group of angry, yet frightened men, we had trembled as they were yet to decide our fate. Back on the street the word was out, the witches of Danvers were walking.
It was useless hiding behind our parasols because the stones still ricocheted off our arms and legs. With little recourse, we ran as fast as we could along the cobbled stone streets while tripping every now and then on our long petticoats. Maybe we were lucky that the hubbub had not drawn a greater crowd, still it was a great relief when a pair of strong hands wrapped themselves around my friend’s body pulling us both into a darkened alley.
Rebecca and I hurried after the man, who practically dragged us through a maze of raw animal hides. I had to cover my nostrils as the smell of animal flesh, blood and internal organs mixed with the chemicals, was overpowering. Most of the leather had already been treated and hung securely from metal grips attached to the ceiling and the walls. Other skins were soaking in various blue and green solutions. At one point, I pulled my hand away from Rebecca’s grasp and doubled over heaving heavily as I was almost overcome by the noxious fumes.
The man turned around at precisely that moment, and with one hand ushered Rebecca ahead into a small low-ceilinged room while with the other hand he reached out to bear me up. Upon feeling his hands around my waist, I buckled and fell limp into his arms as I momentarily lost consciousness.
When I could catch my breath again, I placed my own hands over his, roughly prying them off of me. In utter confusion, he jumped back at the unexpected reaction. Rebecca too had been taken aback and had quickly apologized for me, profusely thanking the gentleman for saving our lives. He introduced himself as Patrick, and he told us that we would be safe in that room for a while and promised to escort us home later.
Patrick came to check on us twice, once bringing us rum and bread. Each time he avoided looking at me, choosing to direct his attentions and conversations towards Rebecca. He couldn’t see my face as I kept my gaze averted but with his back turned to me, I could easily study him.
“What is wrong with you?” Rebecca hissed when he was out of earshot. “I would say he saved our lives,” she sighed, “if only for now.”
“Rebecca! I know him. He is the man from the dream. Remember?”
Leaning towards me, Rebecca whispered, “Then this is a good thing; dreams do come true.”
We rode in silence under the shadow of the night, with only the light of the waning moon as our guide. Patrick had saddled up another horse but since I did not know how to ride, Rebecca was coaxed into taking the reins, and I was commanded to sit behind him. How could I then not press my face against his muscular back, feeling the life of him course through me?
He had come to me before; this man riding so gallantly in front of me. I had seen him in many of my dreams; always coming in at the last minute to save me. It wasn’t to say that he looked the same; in fact he never did, nor did I, but I always knew it was him. My latest dream had been different though, and I had felt compelled to share it with Rebecca, as it had been urgent and recurring nightly.
Yet, feeling his spine against my cheek and his heart pounding under my fingers, I felt foolish and wanton. Perhaps it was nothing more than desire. Was it not every woman’s dream to meet the perfect gentleman, who would protect her, love her, and if need be, save her? Still, as I tried to deny my attraction for Patrick, I couldn’t deny one thing: to ignore the signs of the universe was indeed foolish.
The silence of the night was only broken by the hypnotic sound of the horses’ feet against the hardened path. I knew my destiny lay out before me in a straight and unbending line. There was no escaping my end. I had chosen my path, and I had adhered to my beliefs. My own parents had denied me and had driven me out from my home. They, with their Puritan views, could not accept me as I was.
I had learnt much from a mulatto outcast who had understood my ability to foretell the future, my knowledge of things yet unforeseen, and my respect for plants and animals. But very few others had understood, and I doubted a tanner would. It had been an impossible task my whole life, even in my Sunday school. There, I had been cast aside when I spoke of an all-loving God, knowing it was He who had handed me these gifts. They in turn had labeled me, witch.
As we were nearing the small clapboard house where I lived with Rebecca, I hurriedly straightened up, foolishly letting go of Patrick. In an instant I had fallen off the horse, narrowly escaping its impatient hooves. Both Patrick and Rebecca had called out in alarm and after tethering the horses to the gate post, Patrick picked me up carrying me inside. Rebecca, in her knowledgeable way, had already started steeping valerian root to make a tea and grinding dried leaves and corn meal to make a poultice for my throbbing bruises.
“You are a stubborn and foolish girl, aren’t you?” Patrick breathed over me as he laid me down on the horsehair mattress that sat on the floor.
“You know little of me,” I retorted, though I had secretly liked his description.
After assisting Rebecca with my wounds, Patrick sat on the floor leaning his head against the central beam and quickly fell into a gentle snore. Rebecca quietly covered him with a blanket, but he had promptly opened his eyes insisting that he should leave. It was clear he found it hard to do so as he then spent several more minutes questioning Rebecca about how she intended to care for me. As I quietly observed him, I wondered if he had felt what I felt when he ran his hands over my shoulders and down my exposed arms. He had been all business with me, though gentle, and had even tried to lighten the mood by holding up my badly worn boots to the lamp, exclaiming that he knew someone who could give me good leather for a new pair of shoes.
Before leaving, he came over to me one last time putting the back of his hand to my forehead. I had wanted to hold on to him, to pull his hand to my neck and perhaps kiss him, but he pulled away before my lack of sense took over. He promised he would be back soon, to check on us. Tipping his hat to Rebecca, he reached for the wooden latch, and I shouted, “Thank you Paul.”
He did not turn around immediately, but stood with his back to us like someone lost in deep thought. “It is Patrick. But I’ll take Paul if you’re giving me your thank you as well.” Turning to Rebecca he said, “Take care of her; looks like she is becoming delirious.”
The week wouldn’t be out before we saw Patrick again, but he seemed worn down, and I knew that there had been trouble back in the town. At first, he had hesitated telling us about the gossip and outright allegations, but eventually he opened up. He said that he had gone to a meeting, and he now understood what had incited the town. His words were laboured as he related how he had felt obliged to defend us though he knew absolutely nothing about us. In all fairness, he had come back for answers.
We sat down with Patrick on the wooden bench that we kept outside, Rebecca on one side and me on the other. We tried to explain to him what they had unfairly accused us of showing him that the things we did were not associated with devil worship but were pure-healing rites. In front of him, Rebecca laid out three sticks of even length, placing them together to form a triangle. Around the triangle she placed twelve small smooth pebbles to form a circle and enclose the triangle. Holding her strangely long and bony fingers over the symbol laid out in the dust, she asked Patrick to put his hands over hers and to think of a number and focus on it. After several quiet seconds had passed, she asked him to tell her the number and he told her number 4, to which she informed him was the first quarter of his life. From that point, Rebecca closed her eyes and began to tell Patrick things that had happened in his life when he was just a boy.
Patrick sat as if in a trance, reliving each moment as it flashed through his memory; smiling at jokes; somber at unfair punishments. Gently she helped him to recall the time when his brother died from typhus. Patrick withered at that memory and reaching over clutched at my leg, sobbing like a child. Rebecca sensed that it was enough, and she quickly kicked the fourth stone out of the circle, causing Patrick to slump back on my shoulder. I didn’t want to take advantage of this moment, but with his body so close to mine, I was able to get more glimpses of our strange and yet unknown future.
My dreams had always shown me that I would meet a man with whom my destiny was entwined. Sometimes he would appear handsome and wealthy, other times he would be ordinary and caring, like this time. I didn’t always understand these dreams, as they would take me away to places I had never heard of, and to different cultures with different languages, but in all of these dreams, I’d always find him, and we would always stay with each other until the end of our lives.
I looked down at Patrick now, wondering how this life of ours was going to work out. It had been no secret that other women had already been accused and brought to the gallows for practicing, what they knew to be true. I had no doubt that Rebecca and I were going to meet our death. We had been questioned, and thankfully released, but I knew with all certainty that things were going to get worse, and soon. I wondered if it was even possible to defy destiny, because in that instance, with his head pressed against my shoulder, I knew I wanted to spend eternity with this man.
Rebecca had gone out in search of plants, but I knew she had wanted us to be alone, and so when Patrick woke up, I led him back into the house. With my hands in his, I pulled him towards the only piece of furniture that I owned, and we sat together on the mattress facing each other without saying a word. We didn’t need to: all that had to be said was being communicated, and so it was no surprise when he pulled his hands from my grasp, and trailed a finger down my cheek. This time I turned my face to his hand, and nuzzled his palm with my nose.
I wasn’t sure what to do next, but Patrick had already leaned forward, and grasping both sides of my face he pulled me up to him pressing his lips to mine. Quickly he released me, turning his body away, overcome I assumed, with much emotion. I didn’t know what to do, but rising to my knees, I put my arms around him, hugging him tightly from behind.
With my chin resting on his shoulder, I began to help him slide his waistcoat off, and slowly I unbuttoned his shirt. As he sat there partially naked in front of me, shaking more than me, I knew I had fallen in love. Patrick grabbed me by the wrists as I tried to remove his leather belt, and quickly pushed me back onto the bed.
Desire was etched all over his face, yet he tried hard to contain himself.
“You’re just a girl, and I’m already thirty-four. I doubt you would have had any experience in these matters.”
“I am seventeen, hardly a little girl, but what does age matter. Do you not feel what I feel?”
“Yes. That is what I am afraid of. I feel something so strong that I’ve never felt before, in the presence of any woman that I’ve ever known, and I’m scared of it.”
“Are you wondering if I’ve done something to make you feel this way? Some kind of sorcery?” I felt hurt at that very moment, that the man I loved perhaps did not feel the same.
“No Sarah, it is not that at all. I have felt you nothing but honest. And pure. What I don’t understand is myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t been honest with you, and I’m ashamed now to tell you that,” he said reluctantly dragging his eyes from mine. “The atmosphere back in Danvers is not good. Most of the town is against you; both of you,” he said, while jutting his chin in the direction of the closed door. “ I have even been implicated, though to a much lesser degree. They wouldn’t want to touch me, since we are one of the founding families here.” Patrick’s face began to tighten, and he stood up, pulling me to stand in front of him. “Sarah,” he said now holding my face in his hands, “they will not stop until they have your blood. I am sure of it, and I do not know how to protect you. Sarah, you must understand me. I am deathly afraid that I will lose you.”
“Ah, but Patrick, nothing is promised, no next years, no tomorrows,” I said, while putting my own hands over his. “There is nothing called the future, except that which has already passed.”
“How can the future have already passed? That makes no sense at all.”
“That is my point. What we have is right now, the future that we dream of never comes, for that time is always the present. Don’t you understand? To create a future we must live it now, in the present. And when it is through, we will remember it in the past.”
“Really, Sarah, I am trying to understand your point, but how does that help us now? These people are going to come; they are going to find you and Rebecca. I am afraid to go back now and leave you two alone.”
Patrick walked back to the bed and picked up his discarded shirt. Turning back to me, his voice was full of competing emotions, “I can’t leave you now; you’ve become a part of me though I haven’t even touched you.” With his shirt still in his hand, he held me by my shoulders, his fingers gripping me tightly. His words were thick, and it reminded me of the moment when he recalled his brother’s death, his voice then wavering between fear and sorrow. “Sarah, I don’t know magic or anything. I have nothing to give except this heart of mine that I’ve kept locked up for so long, but I do know, with all my being, I want to give it to you. I want that future with you. Not just right now, but for the rest of our lives. Do you understand that, Sarah?”
I put my arms around Patrick, taking the shirt away from him as he held onto me crying without holding back. Eventually his lips found mine, and this time he didn’t push my hands away, as they searched for the buckle of his belt. Patrick fumbled with my layers of clothing, but when we were both lying naked on the mattress, his hands were strong and assured. I had never been in love with anyone before, yet lying with this man who I had known less than a week, I realised I had fallen for the only man I could ever love.
We gave into each other more than once before we eventually fell asleep, wrapped into each other’s arms. Before the sun set across the distant ocean, I dressed and went down to the small creek that ran along the back of the property. Rebecca had cleared a big circle in her garden, and in it she had laid out various symbols she had said were for fertility and prosperity. I sighed, Rebecca only knew how to read the past: there was going to be no fertility or prosperity in this lifetime. Not for me. Not for her.
At the bottom of the creek I found her clothes discarded in a heap. I knew that she had done what she said she’d always do: she had taken off to live life on her own terms. I said a prayer for her, hoping that her journey would be safe, but I knew her fate as well as I knew mine, which was already marching this way to catch me.
Behind me, the long length of Patrick’s shadow cast itself protectively on the grass. I smiled as I turned around to find him standing there like a warrior ready to save me. He came and sat down next to me, and for a moment we listened in silence to the gurgling of the creek. With his fingers intertwined in my hair, we talked about life; about love and finding each other; about the past and about our dreams; and about a future that he insisted did exist.
The words that Patrick said were not new to me. I had not only heard them in my dreams, but as I realised then, I had lived them before; in a past lifetime. It was with my own set of quiet tears that I turned to Patrick and admitted I was wrong, and that there was a future after all. I couldn’t let him see the heaviness in my heart when he spoke of getting married and moving out of Danvers. He told me, while he was sleeping he had a dream in which we did just that, leaving Danvers and moving to New York. Upon awaking, he was sure that he could make arrangements in a few days.
Kneeling on the grass in front of me, Patrick clasped my hands between his. Pressing my fingertips to his lips he asked me to marry him when we get to New York. I pulled his lips to mine and said yes, but I begged him to promise me that if they come for me first, he would help me escape, saving us both. He started to ask how he could do that, but I had already parted my lips, and my legs were already around his hips. Against the backdrop of the setting sun, we made love on the grass, with only the twinkling stars to judge us.
That night, Patrick slept next to me, our naked bodies wrapped around each other. I had been restless, and so I eventually got up and got dressed by the shallow light of the moon. With the concerned voice of a husband, Patrick pleaded with me to come back to bed, and when I did not, he got out of bed to find me staring through the window.
“Sarah, what are you doing?”
“I’m waiting Patrick. They are coming.”
“Oh, Sarah, I don’t think they’ll come tonight. After all they have no direct evidence against you, not like with those other women. Please don’t worry, Sarah; I will arrange everything for our move to New York.” Spinning me around playfully he said, “You did say you’ll marry me didn’t you? You did say you’ll be my wife?”
“Patrick. I am your wife, and we will live in New York together—in the future.”
“Oh, Sarah, I want you to believe this is going to happen. I want you to trust…,” he said before I interrupted.
“Patrick, I do trust you, and I will hold up my end of the bargain, but I hope you hold up yours.”
Reaching for the lamp, Patrick quickly lit it and stood still regarding me. His face was etched with consternation, as he looked at me standing there. “You are even wearing shoes,” he said as he realised I was completely dressed.
“Patrick, I’ve been trying to tell you. It is not that I only foresee they are coming, or that I only know: it is that I feel it. I mean, I feel it right now. I can feel the earth moving. I can hear the horses whinnying and the voices…whispering, Patrick, they are whispering. I can feel the heat of the torches.” He then placed a thumb on my face to wipe away the tears. “I do feel these things, Patrick. I really do.”
“Well, let’s not waste time Sarah. Do you have an idea in how many minutes?”
“In a matter of minutes. Ten at most.”
“But why didn’t you wake me up before? What can we do now?” he said as he hastily dressed.
“There isn’t anything to do, except wait.”
“Of course there is. We cannot just wait here and let the enemy capture us.”
“Capture me. No one will capture you.”
“Well Sarah, I don’t care if they capture me, but I will not let them capture you. I promised to save you.”
“And you will. You will save us both.” It was then that I knelt down and reached under the bed for the rope, already knotted into a noose.
“What are you doing, Sarah?” Patrick rushed at me, almost as if in anger, and pulled the noose from my hand.
“Patrick,” I pleaded, “we have no time to argue. Tonight I must go, but you can save me. Save me from falling into evil hands. When the time is right, I want you to put this around my neck, and hang it from that hook.”
“Sarah! I cannot do this. I cannot kill you. You are asking me to do something I cannot do. I have just found the only woman I’ll ever love, and I cannot bear losing her, and certainly not by my own doing. No. I cannot do this. I want forever with you. Remember the future we talked about? That is all I want. Let’s try to escape, anything is possible, please, Sarah.”
“It’s too late for that Patrick, but it is not too late to save us both. If they come and find you here, as my lover, they will kill you too. But if they find that you have taken care of their problem, you will become one of Danver’s heroes. Then you can make a new life for yourself; you can move to New York. Patrick, I’ll be there waiting for you.”
“Sarah…,” he started to protest, but the noise from the woods was louder than any night sound that we knew. The men were already outside shouting yelling for us to come outside.
Through the grimy window pane, I could clearly see the outlines of their bloodthirsty faces. Against the yellow torch light, their faces were contorted with hate and fear. I wondered how many would dare enter the house alone. From our vantage point inside, Patrick could make out the faces of the townspeople all too clearly. I could tell how shocked and disappointed he was to see some of his closest friends and relatives at the forefront. Barely audible he said, “That is Richard Hempstead, who I was going to ask to get us to New York.”
“I don’t care about me,” Patrick turned away from the window to say, “but I won’t let those monsters put a finger on you.” Quickly Patrick pulled me to him and kissed me deeply, “I love you Sarah. Forever. Will you be my wife?”
“Yes Patrick. In the future.”
I was afraid and my knees shook. A warmth slid down my legs and puddled in my shoes, but I did not take my eyes off Patrick as he hoisted me up on the old wooden bench. Throughout the hanging I spoke to him, telling him what he needed to say. Telling them how he had finally put the rumours to rest. Telling them how he had fallen under my spell, but now the future was what he would look forward to. Telling them he was glad to leave the evil behind in Danver’s and move on to his bright future that awaits. They would never know what he really meant; they will always believe that they had the right to decide who was fit to live and who had to die.
And Patrick? Danver’s hometown hero would eventually sell his tannery. He had learnt in a short time that animals were more valuable than their skins and their meat. He had learnt that plants and flowers had much more to offer, and as the witch huntings continued, he would move to New York where he would study homeopathy well into his advanced years. What else was there to do but sit and wait for his future to arrive.
Can you recall where your mind goes when it is lost in unconscious thought; when it experiences things that you will not remember; cannot fully understand? How do you explain the passing of seconds from life to death; and from death to life? How do you tell him, that you’ve met before; that you’ve loved before?
Maybe he wouldn’t understand, and I most certainly didn’t, but as I turned around to greet the stranger who had a mischievous glint in his eye, I couldn’t help but feel we had met somewhere before.
We were both standing in the middle of FAO Schwartz, that famous New York City toy store, and for some reason the stranger thought I would be interested in a magic trick. With a great flourish, he extended a set of cards to me, asking me to choose. I have to say he was quite charming, and so I obliged. With a bit of finesse, he shuffled the cards, and after selecting one and flicking it over, like an experienced blackjack dealer, he said, “The Queen of Hearts; how fitting.”
I would have liked to stay awhile to listen to him, as he had a very sexy British accent that I was quite fond of, but I was at work, and after thanking him, I moved away. I saw him some time afterwards, paying for a ridiculously large gorilla, and thought to myself, “rich white people,” as I had grown accustomed to the excesses and eccentricities of the folk whose children I took care of.
Since the two boys I took care of were begging to go to the zoo, we hurriedly left the store, but try as I might, I couldn’t get the stranger out of my head. Sitting on a bench in the zoo, I watched as the two boys climbed over a model hippo, pretending to ride it like a horse. In my mind, I made up stories that seemed so real, about the man from the toy store. It was only when one of the boys came up to me that I realized I had been daydreaming.
“Susi? What is the matter with you?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“So why are you laughing?”
“Oh, was I? I think I saw a ghost,”
It wasn’t until I said that, a flood of memories came to me, none of which made any sense at all. It wasn’t until I met him later that week, quite by chance, that everything made complete sense.
Copyright ©2015, Susan M. Wolfe~All Rights Reserved
29-04-2015-Where Or When