FLASH FICTION: from Beyond the Pages, "Birth of a Vengeful Ghost" by Kate Baray
She was so tired. So weary that her very bones ached with it. Some days she couldn’t rise. She’d curl up in bed, hide under the cotton coverlet, and hope that she’d die from exhaustion. Or despair. Or loneliness. She had come to believe that a woman could die from want of love.
Two days would pass. Then three. Eventually, an anxious knot of hunger would drive her from bed, the buttered toast and weak tea the cleaning woman left for her no longer enough. Preparing and cooking a meal, a proper meal, was all she could manage, and then she’d collapse in a heap on her bed. Tears followed every time, and as the salt touched her lips Mary prayed her love would fade. A husband who refused to return home deserved no less.
The woman stopped coming every day to clean. She started coming every few days. Then once a week to drop off food and supplies. Then not at all. Near the end, Mary could see the fear in the woman’s eyes: fear of Mary and her strangeness. As if it–Mary’s madness–might be catching. Mary laughed. Her beloved, the man she pined for, had given her one last gift before he’d gone: the French disease. Catching? Yes. But she wouldn’t pass the poisonous gift to another. She would die alone–unless her love came home to her.
She crawled from bed one last time. No strength to wash. No will to cook. The small desire for life seeping from her with each step. She stumbled to the kitchen, searching…it must be here. A knife. Still sharp. She would purge her love. Drain it from her body. She couldn’t wait any longer. Couldn’t stand another breath alone. She sank to the floor, slipping in the wetness pooling there.
But as mind, soul, and magic began to separate from body, Mary couldn’t help but cling–to love, to hate–for a few seconds more. She cast one last ward. He would come. And he would never leave her again