From the Novel I’m (Still) Not Writing


A bit from the “Novel I’m not writing” but seem to be thinking about a lot. This character has been living in my head for awhile and I know her pretty well. She makes me sad, she’s so young and has already gone through so much. Her story is awfully rough and I wish I could tell her things will be getting better from here, but the truth is that it’s going to get a lot worse for awhile first. Great things will happen to her later on, and all the things she’s going through now are going to make her story that much richer. Her rough start is absolutely necessary for several reasons, it will play into not just her own character but also others later in the story. Even though I know what she has to go through to get to the place she’s going it’s hard to write her part of this story. I’ve procrastinated in getting started on it, in fact.

The sky was a shade before gray, cold and dark and too early to pretend to be morning. Salimah turned on the mattress and heard the rustle of wool and straw, drew her blanket around her for a moment, sighed. She had chased sleep all night, fighting both the dreams she had when sleep did come and the fear she had when it didn’t. Rest had slipped from her as the fish in the little pool in the courtyard used to slide through her fingers…moving faster the tighter her hands closed on them. It was not so many months ago, those days of playing and laughter in the courtyard, wading in the cool water with her robe pulled up and looped through her belt. Days of laughter and love, safe arms to hold her. It felt like ages ago, a lifetime ago.

She pressed her hand to the spot between her eyes, just over the bridge of her nose. Pressed hard, as if by pressing she could keep the tears in. Her eyes were tired of staring at the dark, tired of feeling heavy. She sighed again, pulled back the woven blanket, sat up in bed. The air felt chill and damp, with night still clinging to it. She shivered, felt the damp and the quiet like a stranger in the room. The child sat still, her muscles knotted, feeling fear lick the edges of the emptiness that had settled in the place where her mother’s love once resided. For a moment, she closed her eyes and listened for any of the familiar morning-sounds of the household starting the day. But there was nothing stirring yet, no movement of slaves in the courtyard or halls, no sign of life in the stone corridor outside her room.

Over the sound of her own breathing, she heard the soft cry of a dove rise from somewhere outside. Morning was perhaps not too far off after all. The empty feeling in her chest grew, the fear was rising, fluttering inside her, building into an anxious restlessness. She couldn’t stay here, not sleeping, listening to nothing. Salimah pulled a shawl around her thin shoulders and set her small feet on the stone floor. She walked on tiptoe, quietly as possible, over the smooth stone and through the door of her bed chamber. Darkness hid the details of the room, the carved bed, the carefully chosen linens, the little marble-topped table with its carved animals, the wooden doll that sat forgotten on a child-sized chair. The darkness covered a low wood cradle by the bed, filled its emptiness and shrouded the room. Salimah felt it, this thick and creeping darkness, even in the blinding heat of day. All the care taken in the furnishings of this place, and all the joy it used to hold, now wrapped in dark and quiet. It was no wonder she could not sleep here, she could not have explained to anyone why the toys and child-sized furnishings that she had delighted in such a short time ago now seemed to repel her, even frighten her. It did not matter. Nobody asked.

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