Gathering

by E.M. Killaley

 

It is the time again when the women will gather.  We move through the woods, towards the wide clearing worn smooth by innumerable feet.  In the darkness my daughter stumbles a few times, but my mother and I know the path well.  Isla wears her first green dress, clutching the soft fabric in her free hand, the other gripping mine.

‘Just remember what we told you,’ I tell her.  She looks at me with wide eyes, as if she had already forgotten it all.

‘You’ll be fine,’ my mother tells her, giving me a stern look.  She finds ways to chastise me still.

The glade is not much brighter than the trees, but we can see the women who have already assembled.  Some stand in little groups to the sides, while others have already begun to form a seated ring; we join the latter.  Above the sky is empty of the moon, and Claire sits below its absence.  She will be met by the other women who have lost this year; we will celebrate their small number.  Two more move to the center of the circle before it is complete.

We take one another’s hands and close our eyes.  A choked voice at the center begins the chant, and we follow her quickly, that she will not be alone; its reverberating syllables vibrate inside us, where what is pure resides.  I realize Isla is silent and peek down at her.

She is staring at the woman beside her, who holds a proffered hand out as she chants.

‘Take her hand, Isla.’

‘But Momma…  It’s not…’  She looks unsure.

I glance at the woman — Elaine — who has now opened her eyes too.  They carry a lingering sadness, pressed into the lines around them.  I wonder at how to tell my child, to teach her that this person is more themselves than they ever have been before; to not call attention to her, but welcome her to her first circle at twenty-six.

‘She is my sister, just as she is yours.  And I’m sure she is just as nervous tonight as you,’ I whisper to Isla.

Elaine smiles, and Isla tentatively takes her hand.

Above the circle the stars burn bright.  We take a collective breath of the dewy night air, and after a few moments, the moon is born again, emerging from the emptiness of its eclipse, promising new life in the year to come.

Claire is the first to cry out to her, and we join her mournful keen.  In it I feel the stirring of the life that fell silent inside her, the stillness that took hold within my own mother once too.  We stand, pulling one another forward, and encircle the women at the center.  Here is one hand of love, and another of comfort, countless arms embracing one another.  Slowly the cries give way to murmurs of solace.  At its end, there is the stirring of celebration; the end of grief.

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