I was too old to care for five children; my house too small, my patience with the young too thin, my energy all but spent caring for my beloved as the flesh shrank from his bones in the bed of our love. I who had lived with gathering shadow of the end for months without end, now had to endure the bitter shards of joy in the eyes of a child.
My daughter’s death had killed what little hope was left in my heart. What a fool I’d been to believe in the sun. Winter always follows. Now I knew the truth, and life’s bitter truth was a poisonous treasure stored in my soul. All love dies.
Pia and her husband had died together. I envied my daughter that which I had been denied. And now I had her children in my home, bringing light where light was not wanted.
They had told me that his farm was cursed. I never believed their stories, and I would still have married him, my handsome man, my decent handsome husband even if his farmhouse had been the centre of the inferno. I counted their whisperings as naught but envy of my happiness.
The old farmhouse, the place where that woman had murdered her children fifty years before, lay ruined on the other side of our yard. My husband and I had repaired the roof and used it as a barn, but the windows we kept boarded, and any sign that it had once been a home had long since vanished. But now I needed somewhere to sleep the boys. The two girls would sleep with me.
I never feared her. I never feared the guardian of her children’s bones. I should have feared her. I should have run far away and saved the lives of my grandchildren; but in my grieving I even fancied that I knew something of her solitary hell. But I knew nothing of the nature of true despair.
Old Luxx began the renovation work on her farmhouse. I had to pay him double just to get him through the door. ‘Old superstitious fool,’ I thought. And it was he who found the bodies in the wall and so brought the curse down upon us. Shivering, crossing himself repeatedly, I saw him run down the track to the village. An hour later, Father Pieter arrived with the young policeman from Montfort. They took away the bones of three infants. I had thought the bodies of the children rested with her in the unmarked grave in the churchyard. Never did I imagine them so close. My husband’s father had derided all superstition, thinking he had stumbled onto a bargain when he paid pittance for a farm that no-one else would touch. That old rogue would have ignored an inconvenient truth. But my husband, had he known? Had he ever suspected?
I remember standing in my doorway and seeing Father Pieter shaking the dust from his clothes. I remember the dust rising like a cloud, swirling, and then it was gone. I remember the cry in the wind that froze my bones. I saw that Pieter heard it too.
She had died in poverty, hanging herself after killing her children. She was a proud woman, one of the many widows born of the senseless wars started by men. Facing eviction and destitution, scorning both God and the village, she embraced madness. Rather than seeing her children taken from her, she chose death for them all.
It was Andreas who found the bow inside her house. He had been warned to keep out, but boys are curious, and so she found a way to avenge herself on the living. The bow was made for a violin. It seemed a useless thing to me, a bow with no instrument? But not so for Andreas. He carried it with him everywhere. I did not question why we had never seen it before. Not once. When the bow came to us it was it the real world drifted into a haze, and only the bow was real. We saw each other as if in a dream.
The children would gather around the bow at night as if it were an object of great value and wonder. Little Leondra sat on her sister’s lap, whilst Sonia touched the bow with her toes. Benny and Pal would fight together, so Andreas would take the bow and remove himself from us. He was always a dreamer, such a quiet boy. He would spend all day with the bow; walking, talking, and shutting out the rest of his family.
Then one night we all had the same dream, the same summons. Not for one moment did we consider ignoring the request. The next morning, Andreas, carrying the bow, led the children down the dusty track to the village. I followed behind. As I trod the same earth I had trodden for fifty years, I felt as I were part of one world that had folded over another. My feet seemed not to touch the ground, as if I walked at an unnatural angle to the road. I remember walking past my younger brother who stood on the corner of the square. I knew him, but I didn’t know me.
The whole village was there, watching as the bow was dancing. The bow was swirling, turning, telling us of desire, of rage, of nothingness, of fear, of loneliness, of death, of the throne awaiting each of us amidst the blackness.
The bow’s bony fingers pointed to the five children, and I saw five wooden crowns hanging from its skeletal wrist. Then I understood: I understood that all love dies, that life is an aberration, that death is the one certainty. I understood that greatness of spirit is to claim mastery over life and death. We had taken her children, and now the lives of all the children in the village were forfeit. My grandchildren had the honour of dying first.
The bitterness long nurtured inside my soul claimed me. The cords within had been cut. And I saw beyond good and evil. I saw amidst the dance of the bow the proud heart that claims its own corner of existence and defends that place of loneliness against all others. I saw that I was right to shackle my husband to me and to the earth.
Were it not for the actions of my brother they all might have died. The bow held out two little crowns to Leondra and Sonia. I heard his cry from behind me, and then I saw him rush forward. Awoken from the dark nightmare inside of me, the absurdity of the bow, and the danger that faced the children became horror, then rage. I screamed and ran towards the vile bow. Arms reached to grab me and hold me back. I could only watch and cry out as the two girls died the moment the wooden crowns touched their heads. They fell, ashen faced to the ground. Their deaths roused the villagers from their trance and I broke free from their grip.
My brother had gathered the boys and pushed them away from their sisters. I grabbed the bow and, whilst it scorched my flesh, I managed to break it in two and crush the crowns underneath my feet.
Long years have passed since that morning in the square. Andreas is now a man, and in all this time he has never spoken. They think him a mute and a fool. I know differently. The three brothers work the farm of their grandfather. Her house is pulled down, and now nothing stands there, and nothing will grow. The curse is broken.
I am the oldest woman in the village, perhaps in the whole canton. I tenderly keep the graves of two little girls. I have become the guardian of my children’s children’s bones. But not their souls. For they belong only to God.
Love cannot die.
The villagers choose to forget. They choose to ignore that which they cannot easily explain. And I am shunned.
I will never forget the dance of the bow. Sometimes I feel it stirring again inside me. But I know it for what it is.
I know my enemy.