I was born a wild thing, fox-red child wrapped in a caul, pushed in a gush, screaming, to meet my mother. I tasted her milk only after I tasted her blood. All my life I thought myself apart, her blood-bitter taste in my mouth a warning: life will not be sweet.
My mother and sister, crowned in honey-gold hair, seemed different. They bent like wheat in the wind, this way and that, when I could only blunder through, breaking and breaking. Fox in the henhouse, they would say. So it was my job to kill the chickens, when the chickens needed killing.
When times were hungry, I killed the rabbits, too, though they were little more than mouthfuls. I broke their necks. And a cat once, run over by a cart in the market. Poor thing. I did it, quickly. When I turned back, my mother was watching. My sister was watching. I thought them ashamed.
I never knew till we died that they were wild things, too.
We should have died fast, with the mercy you’d show an animal.
They meant to strangle us, but they didn't. Cowards. Bill Tanner tried but fell away weeping. My sister bore his hand-prints around her neck like purple lace. Dick Pursey refused outright, said it was because he didn't want to carry us.
We walked to the stake.
I pissed myself on the way. I'd never seen a burning. I didn't know how long it would take to die.
A crowd waited for us at the pyre. Not the whole town, but most of it. What else was there to do on the island? Some looked sorry to see us go, but they didn't try to stop it.
My sister wept the whole way. When we reached the stake, she stopped. My mother and I didn't cry. “It’s not right,” she said quietly. She knew it would do no good to protest, but I was glad she'd said it.
Imagine, feeling gladness in a moment like that. Yet, I did.
The bailiff bound our hands behind us.
When the fire started, my mother strained forward like a lady on a ship's bowsprit. I stood tiptoe to gulp at cleaner air. My sister sunk down, for she was heavy with child. There should have been mercy for that, too. The town wouldn't slaughter a pregnant sow, and Christ had put devils into pigs.
There are no words to describe burning under the eyes of those you knew. I will not try. It's worse than Hell. At least God made Hell. Men made this.
I don’t know when I died. I did my killings clean, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know death.
All I know is, I did not stop. The pain became a different pain. The weight of me became a different weight. Instead of being, I was becoming, and in that becoming I did not cease perceiving the fire. My mother. My sister.
The fire split my sister’s belly, burst her open. The babe spilled out like pudding. Male. Someone snatched him from the flame and I thought, Yes. Good.
Imagine, feeling hope in that moment. Yet, I did.
Hope made me into light and air. I swooped and curled, my stuffing gone loose.
There was a commotion, and I became myself again to hear it, now no longer light as air, but dense as smoke.
They were bringing him back.
Our little lad, unnamed and unbaptized. The bailiff took him, blood-red and burn-red, mewling into the thick air, and tossed him with a little shrug into the fire, as if he were shit tossed onto the midden.
I do not have to imagine.
And then, we were the fire.