Story 2: Torn
February 9, 2017 | Joel May
It was late spring, 1900, and the sun was low on the horizon as it shone on a clay Burmese road. She was walking the road back after a good day at the market in Yangon province, and she hid the kyat she had earned in the folds of her skirt near her vagina, a place her mother assured her would be safe. She watched the mist fall as the sun became redder and shadows of grape trees fell on the road while the groves themselves sheltered climbing goats arching to taste the fruit. As she watched the shadows of the goats play, she was unaware of other shadows approaching her, that of three thieves. As if they knew where to look, the thieves ripped open her gown, took her money and, having stolen what they wanted, gratuitously hit her in face three times. She crawled to the side of the road and passed out.
When she awoke, she saw the stars above her and through her peripheral vision, a storm brewing on the southern horizon. Her dress was disheveled and her legs and sex were exposed and she pulled the torn fabric back over herself.
Wanting to return to her village of Payagi, to her mother, she tried to move but her leg had broken in the fall and she could only crawl. From the woods again, a cracking sound and she panicked believing that she would be attacked again. When she looked up, she saw the eyes of a doe descending toward her and felt the soft kiss of her tongue as a caress.
The doe turned toward the forest and looked back over her shoulder at the young woman. She crawled carefully toward the doe, who continued to lead her into the forest. As she approached, she saw a python watching her but it made no movement toward her so she continued crawling as the lightning began to crash around her. The doe stopped and stood to the side and through the thicket the young woman saw the spotted fur of three small fawns. Once she reached the fawns, she lay with them as their mother lay over all of them to shelter them from the rain and guard them from any predators. The warmth soothed her to sleep.
In the morning, she awoke to a fawn inviting her to play. The mother doe was grazing very close by and looked at her lovingly. While she needed to return to her own mother, to explain that she had been attacked, she realized also that she was being invited to stay, to be raised in pure, fierce love for as long as she wished. She reached around for stiff vines and wrapped them stiffly around her broken leg. She approached the doe, who approached her as well, and they kissed a kiss of passion and gratitude but also of the pain of separation. She turned away and began the slow hobble toward Payagi.
As she approached, she saw her mother on the porch in a chair, holding her hand to her quivering mouth. Her torn dress exposed her thighs, which were covered in red clay. Her mother would believe she had been raped no matter that she had been beaten senseless but not raped. There was nothing she could say, so she held her mother close and cried with her silent tears. Then, she went to the bucket at the end of the porch and washed the clay off her legs but allowed the torn dress to be her shield as she began her chores of feeding the bantams and weeding the garden.
The young woman maintained her silence for many weeks. Her mother thought that it was the violation of her womb that fueled her daughter’s silence but it was not that. It was instead the comforting warmth of the doe’s body mothering her as the hard rain fell around them. It was the call of another life of beauty and surrender, of the offer that stood etched in memory, to join another species, to live in the forests where thieves also dwelled, and to learn the uncompromising ways of a protective mother whose warmth would always shelter those she loved.