It is decided. We are to be married in the spring.
Women smile and gossip behind their hands. Little Gerda, Little Kay, all grown up and ready to wed.
Men exchange knowing glances and laugh. Best he never tries to run. That one’ll chase him to the end of the earth to drag him home again.
And Grandmother still sits in God’s good sunshine, reading to us from her bible: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
Kay nods, as though he understands. His future is simple, now, spread before him like a patchwork quilt. He dreams of sunlight, and flowers, and a little white house in the village. He will rise early, ready to roughen his hands with honest work. In the evenings he will whistle his way home to a glowing hearth, a hearty meal, a merry wife. A plain life, and a simple one, but with love enough to season it. He has already begun to whisper of children.
Stitch on stitch, his dreams weave our future together, and as Grandmother reads, I too am stitching. First a gown to wear to the church, then a white collar to crown it. Next I unpick the seams of my little-girl dresses and snip them into careful squares. Sun-bright cloth of gold, blue-white silk like night-touched snow, velvet as soft and pale as a reindeer’s nose. Corner by corner, the patchwork quilt takes shape beneath my hands, each piece a memory to hoard away for the years ahead.
A square of homespun drab takes its place amongst the finery, empty as the dark between stars. The memories this scrap holds are private treasures. Firelight, the cooing of pigeons, a knife between us as we share furs and blankets. Her eyes like coals against her brown skin, her rough red lips.
“Love is in the doing,” Grandmother says. And I love him, true enough. Why else follow after him, break the woman’s spell, bring him home from the endless snows? Blisters, frostbite, tears that froze to my face – all of them the price I paid, and gladly, for his safe return – my friend, my brother, my Kay.
After it was over, she came to the village, my robber girl – proud as a queen on that stolen horse of hers. “The world is wide,” she said. “Too wide to be content with a hovel and a stolen life.” Her scarlet cap was glowing against the darkness of her hair. Black eyes, lips stained red with cherries. “And if I don’t care for the North Country, there are many other places to go.” And she waved farewell and promised to visit, and I knew she lied.
Tears can melt a shard of ice, but what water could cool the fire that glows like a coal in the heart of me?
That night I pack my bag and lay out my fine fur boots.
I am ready for another journey.