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The Scarlett Letter

Is there any balm in Gilead? Tell me, truly, I implore.

Quoth the Raven, nevermore.


“Tomorrow will be a very special day.” Heather informed Penny as she tamed her unruly white curls. The reflection of mother and daughter flickered in the mirror, for Heather preferred light by candles, and the result was an atmosphere continually muted and dimmed.  “Tomorrow is your seventh birthday.”

“It isn’t!” cried Penny, her head quivering indignantly. “It is my four hundredth!”

Heather felt a slight shiver slide down her spine, but she brushed the feeling aside as she brushed Penny’s hair. “What a silly thing to say.” She murmured, her expression fixed and calm. “You were born seven years ago. I was present at your birth, after all.”

“You were not.” Insisted Penny, and her eyes snapped with quizzical excitement. “I sprang five hundred years ago from the blackest forest mud, as a daisy or a white, white rose; and you found me and keep me here for, I don’t know why.”

Heather tilted her head and considered what she ought next to say.

“And you are not my mother.” continued Penny curtly. “Vous n’etez pas ma mere. You also sprang from that black ground, and the dark man on the platform did also. For we are all made of the same dirt on the ground, and came from the same secluded spot, and we all have the same soul.” Penny turned her head round so she could find her mother’s eyes. “But your rose is not white. It is red.”

Heather sternly turned Penny’s head to face the mirror and continued fixing her hair.

“What a silly thing to say.” She murmered lightly, with no strain except in her eyes. “Are you Anaximander, to claim to spring spontaneously from the mud? When you speak such silliness, I doubt that you could be my daughter.”

Vous n’etez pas ma mere.” Penny insisted.

“Cannot you say “Tu n’es pas ma mere?” Heather questioned, giving her daughter a teasing tap. “At any rate, whether you are seven years old or four hundred, tomorrow I would like to play a game.

“We are always playing games.” Penny reminded her tiredly.

“Hush. This is what you must promise: you must be very quiet, well behaved and obedient; essentially entirely different from your normal self. No matter what happens, you must obey mother. The more obedient you are, the more points you receive, and if you get the most points, you will win. But if you are bad and mean and disobedient, you will get no points and you will lose the game miserably. Do you understand?”

Heather knew her daughter’s competitive spirit. Penny determined to win more points than her mother, and Heather knew that she would be well-behaved.


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Soul Mates

I think you’re crazy

Just like me.

Gnarles Barkley

My mother and I share a strange kinship, an uneven attachment that allows us to regard the world with a quiet condescension, a silent superiority. I could tell her; I felt she could understand my intricate struggles and intense perspectives.

Regarding the boys in my life, my analysis constantly ended in mock facetiousness. “So you do not think that we are soul mates?” I always concluded, with large eyes and a subdued smirk.

“And what do you mean by ‘soul mates’?”

“What does anyone ever mean by ‘soul mates’?”

And with an irritated determination to know myself understood, I pulled out Wuthering Heights and fingered distantly through its papiers.

I paused upon a passage, and read quietly “Surely you and everyone have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? . . . My love for Heathcliffe resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliffe! He is always, always in my mind; not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself; but as my own being.”

I paused to glance at my mother’s quizzically lifted brows.

“You know how that relationship ended.”

“I’m providing the concept, Mother. You asked.”

“It hardly seems healthy.”

I re-opened my book to the forward by Charlotte Bronte.

“Whether it seems right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliffe . . . I scarcely think it is. But this I know . . . the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master . . . there is little chance left but quiescent adoption.”

I closed the book and my mother smiled. “Try not to drown yourself in philosophical parallels, dear.” She had not answered my question.

I lay that night in my brother’s abandoned room, staring passively at his ceiling.

What concept of soul mates is so illusive?  My mom and I  have shared our great miseries and joys – she is always with me, not necessarily as a joy (for I inherited her few faults as well as her virtues), but at the cellular level.   Our bond is deep – when not beautiful, substantial. We can hurt; we can forgive. We are the rocks, the foundation.

Perhaps soul mates are less elusive, less rare than I had previously thought.

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