Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Punishment

Gregory Blake Smith
From Prairie Schooner, Vol. 85, No. 1 (Spring 2011)

She told the police she couldn't remember anything. From out of the pain and the dim apprehension that she was alive, she shook her head no. Even after she'd been stabilized and the swelling had gone down so that she could see—though her vision was blurred and the iv drip made her mind hover just out of reach—still she told them no. She heard the doctors explain that memory loss was consistent with her injuries: maxillofacial trauma, concussion, hemorrhagic shock. In time, they said, she might remember.

She had not been raped. There was no semen, no vaginal abrasion. But her breasts were horribly bruised, an eggplant purple that made the LPN gasp when she came to give her a bath. Her right eye socket was fractured, her nose too; her jaw was dislocated and three teeth were knocked out; one of her lips had to be sewed back together. Her whole face was blue and yellow and purple. Her face and her breasts—there were no other injuries.

She made it known that she did not want anyone to see her like this. That Emily should stay with her father. That she didn't want to see Bill, or her mother, or the press. No one. When they moved her out of the ICU, Bill phoned, but it wasn't easy for her to speak, so he did the talking, let her know that Emily was all right, but that the police had been by to question him. "The ex-husband," he'd said, and there it was, even over the phone, even now. Did she remember anything yet? he asked. She found herself shaking her head no, and again: no, and then in a strangled voice saying the words into the phone: "No, I'm sorry, nothing."

But she did remember. She remembered everything. She remembered the man, his face, his voice. She remembered his wristwatch, his tie, and the wedding ring on the wrong finger. She remembered trying to protect her face, and how he had pummeled her breasts, and when she tried to protect her breasts, how he had beaten her face. And she remembered going in and out of consciousness. And choking on her own blood. And she remembered thinking she was going to die.

She had driven out to the arboretum that day to cleanse herself of the bitter wives and injured husbands she'd spent the morning with in her courtroom. She had parked in her usual spot, in the turnaround down along the highway, changed into her Reeboks, and started up along the gentle path toward the monastery. It was early April, and the last of the snowmelt ran in braids underfoot. As she climbed she heard, over the tops of the trees, the lovely sound of the chapel bells ringing the hour.

She didn't see him at first. And then she did. He was keeping pace with her, coming down alongside her on a fork that led up to the cloister gate. For a second she thought it might be one of the nuns—she caught flashes of black between the trees—but no, it was a man in a suit. Just like her, dressed all wrong for a walk in the woods. When their paths came together she slowed down, tried to let him go on ahead, but instead he matched his pace to hers and said "hello." He was handsome, clean shaven, with a forced tan that a certain kind of handsome man maintains. A diamond stud glinted in his right earlobe. "Smart," he said, with a glance down at her Reeboks and then a rueful look at his own muddy loafers. So she smiled at him. And then he hit her.

She didn't scream. She was too stunned for that, sitting there on her fanny in the mud—stupidly, grotesquely. Her nose felt like it had exploded. "What?" she managed to say. As if she were asking for clarification. And then he was astraddle her, punching her over and over again, and it was too late to scream.

So this was it, she remembered thinking. This was how it was going to happen. She'd always imagined it in a dank parking garage, or coming home to a dark house—imagined it so many times that it took her a moment to realize she wasn't being raped. He was not raping her. This was something else.

He got tired once or twice and had to stop to rest. These were the times she came back to consciousness.

Toward the end of her hospital stay a police detective came by with a plastic briefcase of photographs for her to look at. They were photos of all the men in the cases she had adjudicated during the last five years. She marveled at the work it must have involved, tracking down the ex-wives, talking them out of old wedding photos, photos of the bowling team. She recognized some of them, recalled their quavering voices, their sheepishness, their moments of anger, of injury.

"No," she told the detective, shaking her head at each photo. "No, I'm sorry."

When she was released the doctors warned her to be on the lookout for worsening headaches, numbness, slurred speech. If she experienced problems with reasoning, they wanted her to call them. Also if she had any further difficulty with memory. On the other hand, she should expect mood swings and lapses in coordination and balance, but if these worsened, they wanted to see her. They would assess her in another week when the shield on her nose would need to be removed. And of course, her stitches. In the meantime they would put her in touch with a maxillofacial surgeon.

When she got home eleven days of the Hartford Courant were waiting for her. She was front page news—Superior Court Judge Brutally Assaulted—with a photo of her in her black robe, and a photo of the path in the arboretum. "Left for dead," the paper said.

She called her mother in Flagstaff. She called Bill.

"I'm going to be as good as new," she said with a smile in her voice, while Emily sobbed into the phone. She was still her princess! Her bug! But she'd have to stay with her father a little longer. Just until her mom got better. And when Bill came back on: "Is she okay? Has there been any change?"

"She won't let me look at her," Bill said.

"Her wrists? Her arms?"

"She's wearing these long-sleeved things."

She didn't know what to do with herself. She formalized her leave, fended off friends, colleagues, the press. She watched the National Spelling Bee on afternoon ESPN, picked up a needlepoint kit she'd abandoned years ago. She cleaned the grout in the bathroom tile.

When the house became too oppressive, she tried the movies. But she was afraid she'd meet someone she knew, so more often she found herself just going for drives, in and around Hartford, out past the Indian casinos, down along the Sound. She got gas at the full-service pumps so she didn't have to get out of the car, picked up meals at the drive-throughs. At Hammonasset she took off her shoes and walked along the edge of the frigid surf. The sandpipers ran panicked ahead of her.

She tried to talk to Emily as often as Emily would let her but confined herself to innocent topics—what were they playing in band? did she need new clothes? Emily answered in single words, half sentences. The mother heard her own voice—half hysterical it seemed, trying to sound so chipper—saying how when this was all over they would rent that place on the Vineyard again, just the two of them lying in the sun facing France: didn't that sound good?

She found herself from time to time driving past her old grade school. She was not the sentimental type but the sight of the girls on the playground with their plaid skirts and white blouses, the sky-blue niche over the main entrance with its Virgin Mary, drew her in some obscure way. Inside she walked through the familiar hallways and tried to feel nostalgic. A hall monitor—she had been one herself in the sixth grade—looked up from her metal desk, her yellow pencil with its pink eraser suspended in wonder. Everything she looked at—the green bulletin board, the waxed floor, the chipped black paint that spelled "GIRLS" on the lavatory door— everything was familiar and yet strangely off. She felt a little taken aback. It hadn't been so long, after all, just two years since she'd returned to accept the school's Prudence Crandall Award—"Local girl makes adequate," she had taken to saying at cocktail parties. But now she felt simultaneously part of the past and remote from it, as if she expected any instant a classroom door to open and Roberta Rossi and Donna Szotek to come filing out in their uniforms, looking up in momentary wonder at the adult woman with the scarred, mealy face.

When she was ten she had taken a vow to live without doing anything wrong. Without doing anything wrong! It had lasted only a month or so, but for that month she had tried not to just follow the rules—she had always followed the rules—but not to be mean, selfish, or stuck-up. Because the world was God's. Everything in it was God's. Everything was directed and purposeful, and so any-thing dirty or mean was God's punishment of someone for something. Bobby Hines and his harelip, Tony Costa's spittle when he declared to everyone that you went down—they were all instruments of God, His ugly angels telling you something, something you needed to know.

"What?" she whispered now—standing there in the hallway with the ghost of her childhood around her—what was it that she needed to know?

The Saturday after she was fitted with a bridge she made a date with Emily. It was her grief counselor's idea. It was also his idea that Emily not move back right away, that she needed time to get used to what had happened. When she told Emily this over the phone, Emily said that that was okay, she didn't want to move back anyway. She liked it at her dad's.

"We'll go somewhere, somewhere neutral," the mother said in a calm voice.

"Nothing's neutral."

"Like the mall," she suggested. "This grief counselor suggested the mall."

"Terry Gulko felt me up and then broke up with me at the mall."

"No, he didn't."

"Nothing's neutral."

At first her daughter wouldn't look at her, climbing into the car with her hair hanging on either side of her face, staring out through the windshield and complaining about her pantyhose. But as they drove, the mother could feel the daughter's gaze resting on the side of her face. It was her bad side, the side with the drooping eyelid, the red cicatrix from the stitches, but she let Emily look, kept up a chatter about this and that, and then finally, desperately, talked about plastic surgery and how maybe she'd get a whole new face, a movie star face. She'd be the Hepburn of the Connecticut Superior Court, what did Emily think?

"Audrey?" Emily muttered into her hair. "Or Katherine?"

In the mall they went from store to store, holding up skirts and blouses to one another. It was almost normal. They bought Emily some culottes, a cashmere pullover, and for her slimmed-down mom some size eight dresses. In Waldenbooks Emily went to browse in the fantasy section while her mother roamed distracted—things were going okay, weren't they?—through fiction, computing, self-help. She picked up a book titled No-Fault Divorce, thumbed through the platitudes and evasions. It made her want to scream. What did she see from the bench every day except that everyone was at fault? Everyone was wrong, selfish, vengeful, spiteful, blind. It was all she could do sometimes to follow the guidelines of Family Court and not slam her gavel down and start handing out prison sentences: two years at Montville for loss of affection, twenty years for adultery leading to a scared child—

In a retro ice-cream parlor with their shopping bags piled all around them, Emily asked out of nowhere if it still hurt.

And so she told her about it. Not about the attack itself but about the doctors and the pain medication, the muscle relaxants, and about her room not having a mirror in it, about her mandible immobilized so she had to eat through a straw, about the upcoming surgery, and how she hadn't wanted to go to this grief counselor the hospital had referred her to, but now she was glad she had, because he was so helpful—

"All in all it's not the worst thing that's happened to me," she wound up saying, with what was supposed to be a rueful smile, and then to cover herself began to tell about this game she'd played in college for which you had to say what was the worst thing that had ever happened to you and then what was the worst thing you'd ever done, and how it was strange that everybody admitted to gross things they'd done, but no one would say what, you know, the worst thing was.

"And what's the worst thing you ever did, Judge?"

"Oh," she sang, smiling, searching in the distance for the answer. She had always been Little Miss Perfect, had never had to write I will not talk in class one hundred times. Had never smashed pumpkins, never gotten a speeding ticket. In college she'd owned up to eating chocolate-covered ants in Mexico not because she was deflecting the moral with the gross but because she'd been embarrassed at how piddling her real transgressions were.

"Falling out of love with your father," she found herself answering. Emily rolled her eyes like sure. The mother slurped her milkshake so things wouldn't get too heavy.

"You wanna know what the best thing I ever did is?" she asked after a minute.

"No."

"You wanna know?"

"No."

"Giving birth to you. That's the best thing I ever did."

The best thing! she wanted to scream as Emily grimaced, stood up, busied herself with her shopping bags.

And was that why she was cutting herself with knives, with X-ACTO blades, sitting on the edge of her bed and, in what the mother imagined was a kind of hypnosis, slicing away at her body, her being, her Emily-ness?

She remembered the flash of the diamond stud in his earlobe.

She remembered the wedding ring on the wrong finger.

And she remembered, coming back to consciousness once, hearing him speaking in a panting, ecstatic voice.

You know what this is for! he was saying, hitting her. You know what this is for!

At the clinic she showed the plastic surgeon photos of her old nose. He answered with silhouettes of noses on his computer. She tried to turn his attention back to her photos, but it was the silhou-ettes—morphing almost imperceptibly on the screen—that he would use as his reference. She had the strange sense—sitting there with pictures of her young self spread out on her lap—that her nose was leaving her. It made her laugh out loud. The doctor looked surprised. She apologized, then laughed again, tried to describe to him her nose walking out the door with its suitcases, but she was laughing too much, choking even, and then—oh, good Lord!—she was sobbing, sobbing out loud and uncontrollably.

"Sorry," she gasped. "Sorry."

The doctor smiled nervously, held out a tissue.

"What's that movie—?" she managed to say after a minute in between hiccups. She was bending over, trying to pick up her photos from where they'd spilled onto the floor. "That movie where these aliens come and—" she had to sit up, had to catch her breath; the surgeon looked scared—"and they take away people's bodies and leave a, you know, a replica in its place? What's that movie?"

"What?" the surgeon said. He had braces on his teeth. Funny thing for a plastic surgeon to have. "I'm sorry, what?"

On the phone Emily said she was serious about not moving back.

"I mean you're going to be dating and everything, right?" she said. "I mean I don't want to get in your way."

"I'm not going to be dating, sweetie . . ."

"I like it here."

Dating? she wanted to scream. Who was going to date her? She was forty-two years old, her face looked like a volcano, her breasts were dying of fat necrosis . . .

"I miss you," she said instead. She kept her voice steady. "I wish you'd move back home." And then—was this unfair? manipulative? was this the worst thing she had ever done?—"It might help me."

"What about what your grief counselor says?"

"He just wanted you to have time to get used to what's happened."

"Maybe you could date him."

"Emily—"

"I don't even know what's happened!" And she hung up.

It was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, she muttered, going eighty on the Interstate, daring the state troopers. What kind of a plastic surgeon didn't know Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

What she hated was the way they described her daughter, the picture they drew of some composite cutter: aggressive, hypersensitive, attention seeking, self-hating. That was not her Emily, not her bug!

She had found the site a year ago, when the school nurse had called and the mother had needed to understand this sudden, horrible thing she was being told. She had gone out on the web and read everything she could find: case studies, profiles, analyses, treatment. She had subscribed to the self-injury newsgroup. But when she had tried to talk to Emily, had taken her to McDonald's armed with what she hoped was understanding, Emily wouldn't even admit anything was wrong. No, she wouldn't go to a doctor. No, it was her mother who should see a therapist. "Come on, bug," she had tried to smile, but at the sound of the childhood endearment Emily's face had gone rigid. They had finished eating in silence. Back at the house she had written down the self-injury website's address and left it for Emily to find. It was all she could think to do.

She had taken, in those days, to lurking in the chat room, listening to the scary discussion, the half-articulate confessions—oh, the things these girls revealed! Every night she had logged on, fol-lowed the discussion, wondering where in all this sick horror her Emily was? She tried to understand the diseased logic of it all, the dark compulsion, but she couldn't get past the idea that at its heart—and maybe this was just her, the judge she'd become—at its heart was some need for punishment.

hesterprynne was saying, you know, on Scotch tape dispensers>

It made her sick to listen to them, and yet she had to know. Beneath the veil of hair, behind the averted eyes and the sarcasm and what the mother had thought was self-deprecating wit—was Emily one of these girls? She had never been a happy child. The mother had to admit that. And yet she and Bill had loved her, hadn't they? That first year they had been a team, a real team, spelling one another with their sleepless baby, taking turns bundling her up and wheeling her all over West Hartford in the jogging stroller. There had been one night—she hadn't thought of this in years—one snowy, winter midnight when she had stopped outside Trinity Church and watched the snow falling softly in the streetlight, and then had lifted Emily out of the stroller to show her the crèche—the lambs and oxen and the glinting jewels in the wise men's crowns. She was not given to extravagant gestures and so what had possessed her to do what she did next she didn't know, but she had taken the terracotta Jesus out of his manger, laid him aside, and in the cold, whispering stillness, had put her own baby in his place. Even at the time she'd known it was a bit over the top. But it was also a thing that came out of the deepest place inside her. She couldn't explain it.

Was there no way, she wondered, sitting there in front of her computer half reading the sick talk, was there no way to tell Emily about that? No way to convince her by the sheer weight of her mother's love to stop? For a moment she trembled with the thought that she might yet make her see. But it lasted only a moment. It wasn't just a question of giving love, was it? Emily had always had love. And still she had shrunk into anger, had moved into such a bizarre world of pain and injury that the mother didn't know how to follow her. And her mother's love—it had the look now of something ill fitting, didn't it? Like a half-forgotten sundress come across in the attic on a winter day's rummage. What to do with the pretty, useless thing?

hesterprynne was saying, too much blood for too little pain>

Her grief counselor asked if she was angry. She said no, she was not angry. Not in the ordinary way.

"Not angry that this bad thing happened to you?"

"It wasn't personal," she found herself saying. "I would be angry if it were personal."

They were sitting in his office with its two clocks, one facing her, the other facing him. He was a small, fit man, a triathlete judging by the photos on the wall: him and his 4 percent body fat in a wet suit; astraddle a racing bike; marathoning through the arboretum with PUMA plastered across his chest.

"You mean because he didn't know you. It could've been anyone. You were just unlucky."

"Just unlucky," she repeated.

She supposed this was what they called passive-aggressive: her sitting there with her legs crossed, smiling, and refusing to acknowledge that she was angry. But he wouldn't understand—secular, assured, sorting humanity into Myers-Briggs types—he wouldn't understand how she chose to think of it, that there was a transgression involved —a transgression she didn't understand but ought to understand.

She smiled at him. He had his fingertips pressed together so that his hands made a little steeple. Their time was almost up.

"I'm your grief counselor," he said. "But you don't seem to be grieving."

She parked outside the middle school, keeping one eye on the front entrance and one eye on Emily's bus. When the doors opened and the kids began to file out, the mother was struck by how misshapen they looked in their sloppy clothes and huge backpacks. Even Emily when she came through the door, hipless, breastless, carrying her skinny flute case. Her hair looked as if it hadn't been washed in months. The mother watched in silence as she came down the walk and then buzzed the passenger-side window down.

"Emily."

The girl looked up as if stung. Then, instead of crossing to where her mother's car sat idling, she flung her eyes down and walked on past. The mother put the car in gear, let it track alongside the curb.

"Hey," she said after a minute through the open window. The girl shifted her flute case from one hand to the other and kept walking. "Jeez, bug. Give me a break."

She stopped and turned to where her mother was leaning over the passenger-side seat, steering the car precariously with her left hand. "What do you want?"

"I just want to talk. I want to show you something."

The girl eyed her furiously. "And then you'll take me where I want? You'll take me to Dad's?"

"If that's what you want."

The daughter waited a theatrical minute, then unslung her backpack, crossed the grassy strip to the curb, and slid into the car.

"Okay," she said, "but no funny stuff."

Funny stuff? the mother wondered. "Funny stuff?" she said aloud, trying to strike an odd note.

"Just drive."

So she pulled away from the curb, maneuvered through the suburban streets until she got onto the road heading out of town, and drove. Emily turned the radio on, turned it off, watched the countryside go by.

"So what did you want to show me?"

She hadn't wanted to show her anything, but now she had to come up with something. "I thought we'd go for a walk."

"I was going for a walk. Judge."

"I thought we'd go for a walk in the arboretum."

She could feel Emily turn her eyes on her, but the girl didn't say anything.

"My grief counselor says it's something I need to do," she extemporized. She expected some sarcasm over the melodrama, some oof! or oy! but all she heard was a quiet "okay."

Twenty minutes later they were climbing the path that led toward the monastery. They'd parked the car in the same turnaround she'd used two months ago, a pair of birders there now folding up the legs of their spotting scope, and at the other end of the turnaround a Lexus SUV that made her pause a moment: it was so exactly what he would drive. They walked a little apart, using the roots for footholds until the path began to level out. There was a piney smell in the undergrowth. The ground was dry. The air was warm. It felt different from that day.

When they reached the spot, she had the urge to just keep going. She would tell Emily about it later. But even as she was thinking this, she stopped. Emily walked on a few steps and then turned back with a questioning look. The place was so innocent looking: the two paths converging, the ground matted with leaves, a grove of ferns off to the side where the sun broke through the canopy. The mother had nearly died here. Why?

Emily was doing that thing she did sometimes, pulling on her cuffs so they covered the heels of her hands. A cicada's whine split the heavy air.

What, the mother wondered, had she expected? There was nothing here. There was nothing in the dead leaves, in the gentle path leading upward to the monastery, nothing in the light filtering through the leaves overhead that wanted to reveal itself.

"It could've been someplace else," she said. She looked off to the side, to where she had fallen into the mud when he'd hit her.

"And you still don't remember anything?" Emily asked.

She could see the outline of the mud puddle. Dried out now, but the red earth with a residual sheen. Some little evidence anyway.

"No," she answered. "Nothing."

She started walking again, not up the path she had been climbing that day but up the one that led to the monastery, the one he had been coming down.

"Mom."

She turned back to where Emily was still standing. There was a look struggling across her face, as if the girl didn't want the moment to pass unmarked but didn't know what to say or how to say it. The mother smiled at her, held out her hand.

"Come on, bug," she said. "There's nothing here."

So they kept on, up through the woods into some birches and then along the stone wall that marked off the cloistered part of the arboretum. It was more open here, with clumps of mountain laurel and blueberry bushes. As they walked they could feel the sun's heat radiating from the stone wall. Up ahead the chapel bell tower loomed through the trees.

"Do you believe in God?" the mother found herself calling back to her daughter.

"What?" she heard behind her, then: "No. Do you?"

She shook her head no.

A few minutes later they turned through the stone gate into the monastery yard. There was a standpipe the mother knew about; they would have a drink and then start back. It was quiet in the yard, the buildings dark and serene with their narrow leaded windows, their stone lintels, and copper roofs. Along the driveway two nuns were kneeling in a flowerbed. A John Deere four-wheeler was parked alongside them on the lawn. Emily made a face and nodded silently toward them, as if she'd spotted some wildlife she didn't want to spook. They walked past without speaking. The green lawn stretched to the woods' edge. There was only the sound of their feet on the drive, and the scrape of the nuns' trowels. They drew up to where a galvanized pipe peeked from between some laurel, turned the spigot on, and drank.

"Boy, it's hot," Emily whispered.

They were both perspiring from the walk. They drank again, wiped their lips with the backs of their hands. Emily couldn't help but look over her mother's shoulder back at the nuns.

"What do they do all day?" she whispered.

"Work," the mother answered. She turned and looked back along the arcing drive at the two figures in their scapulars, their bodies bent over their gardening. "And pray. They keep bees. And there's a gift shop."

The mother watched her daughter look, ran her eyes over the wondering face. How perfect her skin was! And her green eyes with those mustard-colored flecks! And the little scar along her jaw where she'd been hit with a rake when she was five and had to go to the emergency room.

"Weird," Emily said. She was still looking at the nuns. Above them, the chapel began ringing the half hour.

"You want to go inside?" the mother asked.

"What?"

"The chapel," she said, and gestured with her head. "It'll be cool."

The girl shrugged. "I don't care."

So she led her across the lawn, up the paved walk. They stood for a moment on the granite stoop, listening to the summer silence, the heat, and the insects. And then Emily reached for the iron latch. One of the nuns looked up at the sound of the heavy door swinging open.

Inside, they had to remain standing at the rear of the little nave until their eyes grew accustomed to the dimness. Off to the left was a doorway that led darkly to the nuns' quarters. Ahead of them was the altar, the stations of the cross along the walls. When they started down the aisle, the mother found herself genuflecting.

"Wow," Emily whispered, looking around at the gothic dark.

They slipped into a pew, and the mother—again, how the old habits survived!—slid down onto the wooden kneeler. Emily, at a loss, knelt beside her, put her hands together on the pew in front of her and rested her forehead on her thumbs.

"What're we doing?" she whispered after a minute.

"Praying," the mother answered.

Another minute passed. And then the girl turned her head and whispered toward her mother, "I don't know how. What do you say?"

The mother peered into the darkness under the pew. What had she used to say, when she was a girl? And where had all those prayers gone, hers and her schoolmates', lifting like a flock of birds into the air? From outside came the sound of the four-wheeler starting up. It idled for a minute, and then moved off, down the drive, away.

"I've been lying," she heard herself say. She closed her eyes and inhaled the damp, stony air.

"What?" came the voice beside her. The word was barely a whisper.

"The attack," the mother said. "I remember it. I remember everything."

And she turned her head so she could see Emily's face. It was tilted on its side, so some of her hair fell across her eye.

"Why?" the girl asked.

She thought a moment, looked over Emily's shoulder to the wall where the stained glass windows scattered colored light across the pews. "It was a way of—" of what? what exactly?—"of accepting punishment."

The word seemed to bruise the air between them. "Punishment?" Emily repeated. They were still kneeling, the sides of their heads resting on their hands. Some intelligence, some understanding seemed to tremble between them. And then Emily was turning her head away, laying her other cheek upon her crossed hands so the back of her head was to her mother. "What did you need to be punished for?" the mother heard a small voice ask.

"For everything," she answered. For her marriage gone wrong, she wanted to say, for the way her love of the law had died in her courtroom. "For everything," she whispered again, and then, barely audible: "For not being able to save you."

No, she had never been any good at praying. Her prayers had always been hopelessly grandiose or selfish—that the famine in Bangladesh would end, that she'd get her period like Donna Szotek had. A good girl, a valedictorian, later a volunteer at the Women's Center—still, she had made a mess of it.

"I don't need to be saved."

She looked at the back of Emily's head, at the ripple of her backbone inside her blouse. Her daughter, her thirteen-year-old daughter.

"We all need to be saved," she said. And saying it, she felt in her heart the old urge to comfort, the old delicious urge to hold Emily and tell her everything was all right—she was her perfect baby, her perfect bug! But at the sight of the pained face turning to her, the old comforts fell away. She reached out, and for the first time in months touched her daughter, let her fingers rest lightly on Emily's forearm.

"Let me see them," she said.

The girl's eyes quickened. She lifted herself from the kneeler, sat back in the pew. The mother sat back too.

"What?"

So she tried again, this time without touching her. "Let me see them."

The girl set her body defiantly, scraped the hair back from her face. And then she was doing it, pulling her sleeve up over her elbow, first her right arm, then her left. She held them out for her mother to see. There, up and down each forearm, on the pale underside where there was no hair, was a column of scars—pinkish, tender still, but on their way to healing.

"You've stopped," the mother murmured. She looked from the scars to the girl's face. "Emily!"

Above them, the bell tower began ringing the three-quarters hour. The sound seeped through the stone walls, spread through the darkness under their pew. Emily waited until it had drained away, and then without taking her eyes off her mother's face, reached down and pulled her blouse out of her pants so her stomach was exposed.

It was like a scream carved into her abdomen. The mother let out a little cry, looked up to Emily's trembling eyes and then back down to the pale skin with its horrible red blaze. She covered her mouth with her hand, stared at the wound. It seemed almost readable, like a hieroglyph. "Dear God," she whispered. She reached out and with the tips of her fingers felt the soft swell of her daughter's belly, the raised rib of the scabs. She held her breath. Somewhere in the cloister a door was opening.

"Emily," she whispered.

She felt herself begin to swoon. There were footsteps approaching from somewhere. The air darkened.

"You know what this is for," she heard a voice saying. The girl's flesh quaked under her fingertips. "You know what this is for!"