I could not go home after this. I knew my aunt would know of it, and I was proved correct. I knew she would not want me to show my face again, that she would want no one to know of what had become of her niece, that she fell in love with a girl. Elsie went down to gather some scraps early one morning, before the sun or the people of our village had awoken. It had to be so.
She returned with no scraps, but a paper in her hand. Her tear was red raw from her attempt at hiding her tears, but I could see them, little boats bobbing around inside her waterline. She handed me the paper. It was a ‘Wanted’ sign – I had seen them before, for the various witches the village had attempted to hunt.
I tossed it down next to me.
“What is so wrong about us?” I asked her. There was a silence.
“Us?” She replied sadly, and took the edge of the paper in her fingers. “Read it again.”
I frowned and my heart began to beat faster. Shock and panic rose up inside me as I saw what Elsie meant. On the front of the poster was one name, and one drawn illustration. Of Elsie. ‘Wanted for treason, corruption of an innocent and indecent behaviour against The Bible. Expected witchcraft. Please report any sightings.’ I drew in a sharp intake of breath.
She smiled softly, and looked at me. “Everyone knows who was my mother. Everyone knows who is your aunt. You win this battle.” Before a tear could escape off of my frozen chin, Elsie caught it in the palm of her hand. “Look at me.” She said, and clutched my face with her hands. “We are safe – whatever happens, we will always stay together, and I will never let go of your hand until you die. And one of these days, you will find yourself, and when you do, I will be here. Even if it is the die we both die. Do you hear me?” I said nothing, and perhaps I didn’t need to. Sometimes, I wish I had. She kissed me, and the anguish, the battle I felt fell through my fingertips, relieved of all the pain I had felt. “We are not witches – no one in this village is, or ever has been. It isn’t a crime to love you, and it isn’t a crime for you to love me.” She rocked me in her arms, and we fell asleep.
When I woke up, Elsie was gone.
I ran furiously. The wind was no longer my friend as it battled against me, perhaps willing me not to see what I knew I would see. I heard it before I saw it.
“And, it is true you corrupted another young girl, and kissed her in daylight?”
“I will not deny it, for I have done no wrong, I have done no harm.”
“You do not recognise the pain and outrage you have caused?”
“No, I do not.”
“And, you admit that you have completed witchcraft, and that you are in fact…”
“ELSIE!” I screamed it, louder than I had ever felt anything before. The crowd quietened into whispers: I could tell that, though try their best to conceal it they might, the crowd loved the controversy. I intended to give it to them. I felt two hands on my shoulders.
“My love, do not involve yourself any longer. There is nothing you can do.” It was the voice of my aunt. I struggled out of her arms, and felt the tears running down my cheeks. It was almost as if Elsie’s hand, which had always been clasped in mine, was being wrenched out of my heart, and I couldn’t breathe.
“Let me say goodbye…” I whispered, then gathered up my strength. “PLEASE! JUST LET ME SAY….goodbye.” I had no energy, no strength, but I had to tell her. I had to.
I escaped out of the arms of my aunt, and ran to her. All I could see were her eyes, her eyes with everything in them, with my reflection in them. Her hands were tied but her face was not, and as I kissed her for the last time, I heard the screams. I felt two men take hold of my arms, and so all that as left to say, I had to scream.
“ELSIE. That first day, you asked me who I was, and I couldn’t tell you. But Elsie, you showed me love, and you showed me hope, and you showed what it is to feel, and now I know…Elsie, I am…”
The shouts of the flames didn’t allow me to finish what I was saying, but I could see Elsie knew, I could read it in her eyes.
And as they took her away from me, as they burnt her soul, they couldn’t take her hand away. Her hand would always be clasped in mine, it would never let me go, because now I knew who I was. I was free. I was free to live, to laugh and to love. And they would never take that away from me.