I waited for you and I waited. I waited and waited. After some years of waiting, I took a pebble from the stream outside the garden. After some years of waiting, I emptied the thrice-mended offering bowl of nothing. After some years of waiting, I wiped the thrice-mended offering bowl clean of the accumulation of my waiting: ashes, ashes, and dust. After some years of waiting, I put the bowl beneath the bedroom shrine and shifted the shrine drape to keep the bowl from prying eyes. The maids and our son. The guards and the cook. A suitor, another suitor. Another suitor again. None of them would know. None of them would see. After some years of waiting, I dropped that first stone inside.
Waiting each day, I walked to the stream. Waiting each day, I clutched the hem of my skirt to the tops of my knees and waded, waiting, into the water. Each day, I secreted a pebble into the folds of my skirts: each pebble my pearl, never larger than the birthmark on my left shoulder, never larger than the peeking stone of our child’s first tooth. My accounted account, my bottomless boon for another day, another day, another day wadded through, waiting. One pebble. One very small stone.
Every day, I took my pebble home and dropped it in that empty offering bowl, that empty offering bowl I received at our wedding feast, that empty offering bowl once intended for offerings of water and flowers in gratitude for each and every night I received you, each and every night I loved you, each and every night you were there to love me back. Four years the bowl sat empty but for the offering of my dead skin. Now, each and every day I return from the stream with a very small rock. Each day, I drop this very small rock in the very large bowl. I listen for the clink of it: first against the empty clay, then against the other stones. Then dropping down the mountain of pebbles smaller than baby’s teeth and birthmarks drifting up the sides.
I remember that first time our bowl broke. I was not in the room. There was an earthquake. The earth shook. The maids shrieked, our son spilled soup. The bowl fell off the bedroom shrine. Certain it was an omen, I put on my best gown and presented myself to the Oracle. Begged the Oracle: Tell me what has happened! Tell me what I need to know.
He lives. He is surrounded by water. He is well-fed by witches. He sees much of the world. You are his root. You are his rock. Keep waiting. Your waiting will be rewarded. You are his hearth. His home. That for which he returns. Keep the home fires warm.
A root and a rock, I went home. Well-fed by witches. A prize on the hearth, I sat in the garden and blinked.
I remember the second time the bowl broke. I ran from the dining hall, I ran through the weaving room, I ran like hell from that swarming horde of suitors. All I do, some days, is run. Their spoil of war. My spoil of war. My spoiling war. Spoiled by war, I ran to the sleeping quarters, clumsy and weeping. Blurred with tears, shaking in my sandals, I lost my footing and crashed into the bedroom shrine. Certain it was an omen, I slipped into a hooded cloak and crept out the back way. I went to the Oracle. Held up a waning crescent of my wedding bowl. Begged the Oracle: Tell me what it means.
He is coming. He will come. You must wait. You must keep waiting. All you can do is wait. Keep the fires lit. Keep the bed warm. Keep calling him back to you. He will come. He will come. You are his. All you have to do is wait.
But how? I begged. How can I keep waiting when I’m dying from the wait?
The Oracle thought about that for a minute, but only the one. Make the wait sacred, they finally offered. Make it an offering of love.
I went home. I sat at the foot of our immovable bed, an offering of love. An offering of love, I sat in the root of my immutable wait. I waited. I waited. Still, I wait.
Every day, as a show, an hourly performance, noon show’s full up! Come back at two, I weave my living husband’s shroud. Every day, to prove my waiting to these strangers, I weave and weave and weave.
How she has weaved, the suitors murmur, when they notice. Such lengths, she has weaved. At the back of the hall, the crude ones make conspiracies of cobwebs. I think I’ll have them executed first. Every day, I weave my wait. Every night, I undo my weave. Invalidate my wait. Make it an illusion. Make three hours of work last three years. Make it oh honey, I’m just so glad that you’re home safe. The suitors are always drunk. She looks so young, the almost-tolerable ones whisper. So young for one who has been weaving for so long. I think I’ll have them executed last.
I remember the third time my bowl broke. Starved out by witches, I smashed it in the stupid stream. He is surrounded by water. I gathered the pieces. I mended it silently. I shoved it to the back of a storage room shelf. I did not query the oracle. I spat on the dark hearth.
I remember the final time it broke: crumbled under the weight of my waiting. Disintegrated by waiting so long. What was once indestructible. What no man could put asunder, now only rubble on the bedroom floor. I swept it into a pile. I swept it out the backroom door.
I am not angry. I am not angry. I am not angry, I am waiting. I wait. I wait and wait and wait. I am the God of Waiting. Even as my time dwindles, I know I cannot die. My mortality has been removed and replaced by a stream’s boon of miniscule stones. I will not die, I will only wait. I will only ever wait.
Judith Lloyd is a social construct: or she isn’t. There’s a chance when you look at Judith Lloyd what you are seeing are elements of her external environment and your personal history manifesting a distinct entity which, in reality, has nothing to do with Judith Lloyd at all, but really. Who hasn’t had that day?