Her mother’s voice was the voice of death. The girl had learned this gradually, a secret and forbidden knowledge that grew year after year, until the girl was a woman, feet firmly planted in the dirt of her own garden, a garden she would never be banished from. Whatever plans the angels devised to oust her, they’d long since given up and even came to make their own home there, under the raspberry bowers and sunflowers, under the gold finches and monarchs. The woman was at peace in her life that she had created.
Her mother’s voice had once filled her small body with terror, but as she grew the voice had dimmed and was so quiet now, it was vaguely a presence, though it’s power was still strong and dangerous. The woman recognized this. The woman having grown out of the chains of “daughter” was stronger now herself, having shed her old skin, having formed new skin, like the silk of the orb spiders strong enough to spin into a wedding dress. She’d always liked those creatures who could recreate themselves, or who were made of such tough mettle or made such tough materials out of their own abdomens, they were like gods who found a home in the created world. She watched for these miracles: bird’s nest mushrooms that leapt in the rain, the purple dye from the murex, limpet teeth, byssus threads.
The woman had never been afraid of death, not even as a girl. Her first desire for the afterlife was to be a ghost. She’d always believed in God and still did, deeply, God in her mind, God in her flesh and blood, God in the dirt, God in the bones, God in every being. Lately she had taken to paying attention to God in the trees. How the trees were giant living beings! How she had taken this for granted, but now tried to remember and be present to each one she passed.
As she grew older she came to love the image of death as a skeleton in the Danse Macrabre or Death and the Maiden. Death came to every person on earth, the low and the high, the bishop and the shoe-maker, the priest and the child. Why she should she be afraid of death? God was this kind of death, and she came to trust it’s naturalness instinctively and the natural fear one might have on passing from this life into another, but still she trusted that she would know what to do when the time came.
But she was afraid of her mother. This was something different. Not a friendly skeleton who came at the right time, who perhaps would be met at the threshold by the girl in a fever or the multiplication of cancer cells let loose in the body or by old age and sleep. The girl’s mother came to her in dreams, a flash of movement from the darkest corner of the room, the mothers teeth crunching through the girl’s skull. The mother’s face hovered over her, saying she loved the girl, but the girl knew she didn’t, knew it was a lie. This death was something different, a trick, something unholy. Something that denied the sacredness of life.
The child had grown up hearing about a certain God she did not know and could never come to know. This God made a garden and the garden was paradise. He made two people, a man and a woman and they were naked and beautiful. He put a tree in the garden and warned them not to eat of it, but they did eat and they were cast out, fallen. The child was told she must become born-again or she would go to Hell. She tried to do this but failed. She tried many times, but always failed. And she never could believe in this God anyway. It made no sense to her. It was frightening and horrible. It all seemed to her like Hell–the story itself, the garden, the bargain, a trick or deception, Jesus on the cross, because it was the only way, the only sacrifice that could make up for the utter depravity of humanity. The girl knew this was wrong and to believe it was a Hell all of its own. So she refused. And this was a trick sort of love and a trick kind of death, both this God and the love her mother professed.
So in the mind of this girl, who had become in time a woman, there were two kinds of death. A death where she would someday, and at any moment, go to be with the God she knew. And a death that was a sort of hell. A killing. A coveting from some monster who wanted to devour her and erase her from the face of the earth. That came to her in the voice of her mother. And it was strong black magic and dangerous.
Her mother kicked her. Her mother took the girl’s face and locked it against her breasts with her arms, so that the girl couldn’t breath in the breasts of her mother. The mother pushed her to the floor. The mother hit her. The mother slapped her. The mother grabbed the girl’s face and squeezed it hard. The mother said the girl had an ugly look on her face. The mother said the girl was sick, was unsaved, was disturbed, was outrageous. The mother screamed at the girl, upturned the tables of her room. The mother told the girl she had almost died and the mother had saved her. The girl had been left alone on a cliff by her father, who was crazy and her mother had saved her. Her father had lit the laundry on fire and her mother had saved her. Her mother told the girl her stepfather had said the girl had a tight little ass. Her mother stayed married to this man. Her mother told the girl she had betrayed her. The mother told the girl she had to tell her violent step-father that the girl was no longer a virgin. The mother told the girl she was selfish, she was rude, she had opened up the door to the occult. The mother threatened to kill the girl if the girl told the mother’s secrets.
You are cruel, the voice said. You are unforgiving. You are unkind. You are so angry. But I forgive you, the Mother said.
This voice wanted her dead. And through the years she had nearly submitted to it. Weeks would go by and the woman was at peace, and then suddenly the voice came out of the blue, covering her eyes with darkness, seeping into her skin, filling her throat. She used to fight it, scream, turn on her mother to silence or destroy this force. Sometimes she would dream of taking her own life, just to silence her mother’s voice. Now she closed the door against her mother, and though her mother beat harder on the door and threatened her, the girl, now a woman just sat with the angels and waited for the darkness to pass and the voice to still. she carved runes in the dirt to ward off the evil spirit. She waited, counseling with silence and though it took many years of ritual and practice her strength grew and grew. She came to know, she would outlast it.