This story is paired with Chapter 2 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
We never exchange eyes as they are the windows to the soul, and therefore precious and pure by design. Sven has eyes the color of wheat. It is only a formality, and all of the men and women of our Temple offered, but if I could choose, it would be Sven’s heart I would want as my own. We have all exchanged pieces of ourselves so many times that it is difficult to tell what belongs to whom, which is exactly the point. But still, I long to carry a piece of him with me always. The Walton Doctrine teaches us that uniqueness is the source of our sin; individualization leads to pride and malice.
I know these truths, and yet I am plagued by doubts and fears. My heart swells with desire for things which can never be mine. My mind plots tragedies to befall those I envy or detest. I am ashamed of the thrill I experience when I compare my new dainty hands, which are proficient at needlework and spinning, with Katya who woke with the rough hands of a laborer. Often, I catch a glimpse of her sweating in the Temple courtyard as she patiently stacks dusty red squares into her wheelbarrow or methodically pounds nails, and I envy her humble heart. Our eighteenth Enlightning is tomorrow, and I will no longer have my own voracious heart. I can only hope that whomever finds themselves waking to such lusts will have a stronger soul to control them than I.
* * *
“Katya, come in and get washed up. It’s time for supper.” Eileen swept back into the house without waiting to see if her daughter had heard. She knew she had, and she knew that Katya would gladly obey. She grit her teeth and tried to stop the dark thoughts from gathering. There was no need to mourn a dainty child. Her girl was still happy and capable, what matter if she did things meant for men? The Enlightnings had been hard for her daughter, but she bore the changes with grace, and that was the truly worthwhile task of this life.
No one but the horse noticed as Katya stumbled on weary legs. She threw her weight at the barn door. It relented with a groan, and Katya felt a wry kinship with the aching wood. She gathered the reins and led her charge back to the stall. It was there she saw him. He was on one knee, resting on an arm of light. He stood and helped her put away the tack in silence. Once everything was orderly, he turned, and she softened into his embrace.
“I can’t stay this time. Mother’s already called for supper.”
“I know. I just wanted to see you one more time before tomorrow. You are beautiful.”
She blushed at that, and sent a silent prayer of thankfulness to Mother Margaret and the Captain for their vision and guidance. It freed her life of petty vanities. How wonderful to be loved for herself, never mind the sweat and dust. She placed her roughened hands on his face and looked lovingly into his eyes. They were the color of wheat.
* * *
I went to visit Mother Margaret today. I am still feeling overwhelmed by impure desires and thoughts. I had believed the last Enlightning would solve this trouble, but now I am concerned that it is something much deeper, that perhaps I need a complete immersion in the Doctrine, a resetting of my mind. After all, it is well known that these types of thoughts and desires led to the doctor’s tragedy. What good all our work if his science leads to a similar tragedy in me? Mother Margaret was sympathetic and kind. She suggested I spend some time with another disciple to help gain perspective and empathy. My things are packed, and I start tomorrow with the widow, Mrs. Eileen Strathmore. Her husband was one of the founders of the Temple. I am cautiously optimistic that time with his widow will give me the peace I am seeking.
* * *
Eileen watched from the kitchen window as Celia and Katya chopped wood. The girl was clumsy outside, and despised any work beyond the softness of fibers or foods, but had been willing to attempt each suggested activity despite her natural inclinations. Enlightning had been good to her as evidenced by her shining gold curls, her delicate fingers, and her soft voice. It was gratifying to see her husband’s sacrifice made into reality. Why someone with such blessings should need to spend time working the farm was a mystery. The note from Mother Margaret had been succinct and subtle. Eileen heard the unwritten nuance that this girl was to be watched, but for what was she watching? What deviance lurked behind all of those carefully placed stitches?
* * *
Heaven, help me! There is no redemption, no forgiveness waiting me now. I would flee, but there is no sanctuary from my own depravity. Despite being given the best of this community of believers, I remain a failure of manifestation. We are to be the pinnacle of mankind’s genius and creative impulse, but I have transgressed with my thoughts and now with my deeds. Why would he choose that Golem of a girl? It was more than my frail soul could bear to see them standing together as if they were already eternally joined. Why was there no clue given to me that my one love, my one desire was already bound to another? Oh, the blood! Did Mother Margaret know when she chose this house of pain for me? Did she intentionally send me where my sickness would be exposed? The only hope now is that these feet of clay will burn and take with them the monster contained within.
* * *
Eileen watched as her farmhouse was swallowed in flames. Katya and the boys were here, all the workers counted, and exclamations of joy given for their safety. Only Celia was missing. Katya was bleeding heavily from a head wound and crying with anger, not fear. Sven was looking daggers at the house, and Eileen put it all together to infer that the sin had escaped those neat and tidy stitches that made up the girl, Celia. She would get the whole story later, but for now, she turned to her neighbors to help quench the flames.
Julie Reeser lives in a stone bowl in Montana. She is the straight man in the comedy duo that is her marriage. Her flash, “System Restore”, can be found in Issue #2 of www.timelesstalesmagazine.com, and she has an upcoming short story in Black Denim Lit.