My mother appears in the fireplace. She mouths words in the flames, but I cannot make them out. I can't hear you, I tell her, and push the needle through the sock’s heel. The housekeeper locked me in the small room at the top of the stairs to finish the darning. If I were in my own country, I would climb the ladder of chimney smoke and greet the Pleiades, who are, as everyone knows, seven women sitting at their weaving. But the people of this house say I’m dimwitted and mute because I can’t speak their ugly language. So I will not even talk to the stars.
The housekeeper’s son brings me gifts behind his mother’s back — pretty sea stones and mother-of-pearl buttons hidden underneath my polishing rags. Three days ago I chopped white onions in the kitchen and kissed him, tears in my eyes. I want fur, I said, I want feathers. He watched my mouth shape the words, not comprehending. Before the housekeeper came in and bloodied my knuckles with a wooden spoon, I drew on a piece of butcher’s paper the plant I need. It grows in ditches, with purple spots on the stems. I showed it to the housekeeper’s son. They call it cowbane here. Not only cows should fear it.
The sheep in the field are dead and the wool is sick. It cannot be sheared; bloodstained, strangled with weeds and red clover. I will never be asked to spin again. There is a ladder leaning against the window that I did not place there. I miss building bonfires of pine branches outside the tent; my father’s horses stepping lightly through the snow. Please tell me — if I had never been born, would the pine be unburned, the fire untended? Every stitch I've made falling apart and away. The bodies unpoisoned. The grass rustling from my skirts; the path going down to the sea.
My mother crackles a warning in the hearth. There are footsteps coming down the hall. I take red thread and wind it around my index finger, as tight as I can bear. It turns corpse- white.
I wind you, I tell the housekeeper. Through the pounding of fists on the door, the screams floating up from the kitchen, and the tapping of her son’s knuckles, urgent, at the window. Winding wool, I wind you.