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Voices, In a Cedar-Scented Darkness by Bruce Arthurs (January 2020)

Updated: Mar 15


ELEANOR:

I was his first wife. A marriage arranged and paid for. A marriage of convenience, not unusual at all. I had heard of his rages, his dark moods, but I believed marriage, and my own graces, would temper that fire. I played piano for him and sang soothing melodies.

He seemed charmed, for a time, speaking golden words with a honeyed voice, enticing me into his bed. He was my first, my only, and I believed the hurting and the bruises would cease after a time.

And then he tired of me.

He said my notes were sour, my fingers clumsy on the keys. I did not expect to have my head struck off for that. And so I was the first to be placed in this cabinet of cedar and sandalwood and was lonely for many months.

But now I have the others and am not so lonely. Perhaps he cares for me after all. SARAH:

I never married the beast. Not that he would have had me, oh no, with my gray hair and thick body and a face plain as soup. I was only there to make his meals and serve his tea. I should have pissed in that tea.

I saw how he looked at women, treated women, touched women. Always I tried to keep serving cart between him and me, or serve his dinner plate across the table rather than from his side.

But once, just that once, his tea was too cool and his mind too aflame. So he struck me and throttled me as I tried to fight and dragged me to the kitchen and laid me across the scarred butcher's block and cut off my head with my own best knife.

Oh, give me hands and body again and I will take that knife back from him. I will cut off his head and his arms and his legs and his manhood from his body and boil the pieces in the largest pots until the meat leaves the bones, and I will feed that meat to cats and his bones to dogs. SAMANTHA:

I never fell for him. I recognized him for a cad and mountebank, one of those cruel children who wrap themselves in the skin of men. So I laughed when he said he wanted me and turned away from him. And so I did not see him slip a powder into my drink.

I woke in his bed, my mind confused, my arms and legs weak, and could not stop him from having his way. But, oh, the look on his face when he tore my undergarments away and discovered I was one of those men who wrap themselves in the fashion and paint of women. I could not help but laugh. I laughed even as he took up a sword and brought it down upon me. FRIEDA:

It was his money and riches I loved, certainly not him. I earned a right to those riches, with my body and my silence. For I went to the forbidden cabinet and used the key I had found in his desk and saw what he had done to women before me. And I locked the cabinet again and put the key back in its place and never spoke of it, staying silent as I continued to enjoy his riches and privilege.

Silence did not save me. He found the satchel I had made up, with clothes and jewelry and silver and gold within, ready to flee at a moment's notice if his nature ever turned against me. I lingered too long.


BEATRICE:

I came in search of my brother, Samuel, though my father told me I no longer had a brother, which in its own way was true. I followed hints and rumors and went into shunned quarters of the city, where others of Samuel's bent would gather. I heard of the nobleman in his bleak castle on the high hill, the whispered tales and suspicions. Fate bent my way, for he was in need of a servant to cook and serve for him, and so I came into his employ.

To approach the cabinet was forbidden, but approach it I did. The odors of cedar and sandalwood brushed my nostrils, but I leaned close to the edges of its doors and smelled Death within. A hairpin yielded up the lock, and I looked inside. I touched each of the four in turn: Eleanor, Sarah, Frieda, and Samuel, who had wished to be Samantha, and each whispered their story to me.

I closed the cabinet again and went to do what needed to be done. The soup was heavy with spices and herbs to hide the taste of what I had added. He had finished half, and complimented me for it, when the first gripe struck him. Then another spasm, and he groaned with pain. He looked up, his eyes widening with realization.

"What have you done?"

I stepped back, away from him. "Vengeance. For Eleanor. For Sarah. For Frieda. For... for Samantha."

I was out of his reach and the poison was strong, and I had drawn Sarah's knife, Sarah's death, from the folds of my skirt, holding it before me. But I misjudged the strength given him by rage, how it would empower him, for he threw his heavy goblet with such swiftness and force that I fell to the floor, stunned and bleeding from the temple. He pushed himself to his feet and came towards me slowly and picked up the knife from the floor. I bled more, much more, after that.

He carried me, this part of me, to the cabinet, leaning on the walls at each paroxysm of pain, and placed me inside with the others. My last sight was his maddened eyes, his contorted face, as he closed the cabinet's doors with trembling hands. There was darkness, and then the thump of an animal carcass dropped upon a butcher's floor.

We are in darkness now, with only our voices, our stories, left for those who will listen.

Hear us. Hear us. Hear us.


THE END

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