Feale’s face shone in a shaft of morning light rushing through open wooden shutters at the front of the two-room stone house. Like an angel she looked, her smile soft but crumpled sad along the edges. A young woman, she felt old. A bright light, she felt dimmed. Hunched over her sewing, her concentration caused her to squint.
“Faith,” she exclaimed, when she pricked her finger with the bone needle. A few drops of scarlet stained the inside of her husband’s sky-blue ceremonial robe. Blue was the Druid color for peace, a respected tenet. The visit of a Druid to a battlefield would halt the fighting on both sides. Druids mediated peace among tribes, advocating concord among people outside the home.
“Himself will think I did it intentionally,” she thought, and shuddered at his violent reaction. Edgar was terrorizing her in his absence.
Feale ducked out of the light and scurried quick as she could with the robe to a bucket of water sitting on a ledge opposite her. She doused the stain in the water and scrubbed the cloth so furiously that she scraped away skin on her left knuckle. To her horror, the red trickle spread into an unmistakable purple circle. She was aghast. He would kill her, she thought.
Feale flew out of the house like a frantic bird, throwing the robe to the floor.
“I’m so stupid,” she scolded herself. “I can’t believe how stupid I am. I ruined Edgar’s robe. How could I do that? I don’t understand it. He certainly won’t. Oh, God help me. How could I have ended up in this predicament?”
Feale herself could not make sense of her life. It took its beginnings from a time whose feelings she could no longer recapture herself.
She had married Edgar, a privileged bard among the Druids, who wrote and studied mystical poetry and pastoral prose. She wedded out of necessity. She wanted to secure a place in this medieval town of Listowel; she knew neither of her parents. People said her mother had given birth to her out of wedlock. They said that her father was a proud itinerant poet and that her shamed mother had fled the west of Ireland on a sea voyage. Feale grew up in a host of homes. Once she reached nine, she ingratiated herself to families by cleaning, cooking and caring for the children so that she might have a place to lay her head at night. A hard worker, Feale lived from day to day, too tired to contemplate her future.
At fifteen, her hips began to round and the men in the houses she tended started to tarry with her. Experienced in ensuring her survival since that was all she knew, the orphan was quick to deduce that becoming a woman posed danger for her. She could gain respect and, therefore, safety not through hard work but through marriage. She would be judged by the man to whom she was joined in matrimony. If there were no man, she would be fair game for leering looks, discreet pats and secreted attacks from hungry bachelors and energetic husbands. Without a man by her side, whether husband, father, brother or uncle, she would be in jeopardy. So, when Edgar, an older and respected man, professed a nuptial interest in her and soon proposed marriage, the relieved woman gladly accepted his hand. She would be protected now, she thought. She did not foresee that her house would become the most dangerous place of all and that she would be made to feel hunted by her preying husband. Three years of living with him weighed ten times heavier on her slim shoulders and stealthily eclipsed her history before him.
The more he called her stupid, the more she believed she was just that. He had taken rein of her reality. She was many lifetimes in his debt for his jaundiced perception of her. He had fathomed her as a silly, helpless girl, and she had accepted his creation.
Edgar loved Feale like a mother, sister, daughter and lover, too. Afraid of losing her, he made it impossible for her to be good so that she would need him to show her the way, to correct her errors the rest of her life.
The oldest of five sons and three daughters, Edgar had disappointed his parents by becoming a writer rather than working the family’s land. Because he was the favored one, they gave him their blessing and looked the other way. Edgar took it and bolted to the other side of the country, where he began his life anew.
He married Feale, a woman, someone to mirror himself in the eyes of others and God; he did not marry a person with a mind of her own. Beating her was one way, he thought, of bringing her into line. It was his prerogative, he reasoned, as her husband, her owner. Making her walk barefoot on the ground that shot daggers of cold through the length of her body was his way of reminding her that she had lived without the simplest comforts before him. Sometimes he made her eat on the floor while he sat at the table to remind her of her life working in other people’s homes, some more hospitable than others. Often, he locked her alone in the house. She was his, and he would die teaching her the meaning of that.
Yet, Edgar believed that his love for God was deep and true and proven. He wrote reams and reams of poetry praising the blessed sky, the glorious earth and the precious breath in his body. Somehow, all of God’s creation existed apart from his wife. She was woman, something other. Someone to be watched closely, someone not to be trusted, someone to be kept in her place.
Feale enraged Edgar so often that she figured she must deserve his sadistic treatment of her. Memories of his beatings gave wings to her feet now.
She found herself at the river’s edge peering at her rippling reflection.
“Look at me. I’m wretched,” the beautiful woman cursed herself aloud. “My body is slight as a reed’s. My hair is pale as the early morning sun. I look sick. I look weak. If he finds me, he’ll tear me apart. Dear God, please don’t let him find me.”
She lay down her head praying hysterically. The river gurgled in acquiescence. Her spirit left her body, and she dreamt of a younger Feale who was beholden to no one. She was lighter then because she carried only her own worries and dictated the course of her own life. There was no one person to whom she had tied her fate. She had no need to be especially sensitive to or afraid of anyone.
She dreamt a wall of deep eternal blue. She dug down deep within herself and mined the peace she needed so much that the morning and afternoon scudded by.
When Feale woke up, the stars winked at her. A column of fear shot down her spine and arched her back. Edgar must be in a rage, she thought. She had disappeared from his grasp. What now?
“I can’t go back,” she told herself instantly.
No matter what the consequences of not returning, going back would be worse. Never before had she planned to flee Edgar, but it seemed evident now that leaving was a wise choice.
No longer would she suffer torment from the strong hands and supple mind of her husband. No longer would she eat the same food as he, breathe the same air as he, walk the same ground as he. No longer.