Warning: This work has been rated 18+.
Life is a complex pattern of stitches that no one truly understands: our purpose in life, the one that our god (s) give us, can never be known until we see the impact of what we did during the blink of time that we were body and soul. And, the worldly populace, even after millenniums, might never each in discovering the meaning of life.
Under a cloud of perpetual harmony, the small province of Westwind spilled across the bay of a gentle sea. It boasted a multitude of progressive features despite the rest of Crimson scoffing at this quaint community. At the two schools, children enriched their minds in various topics taught by some of the most prestigious scholars in the nation. Homes stretched into suburban heights. The library contained one of the nation's most vast collection of literature. And, if that wasn't enough, the province prided itself in a large temple-esque church where they bowed to the ember of the Sun Goddess.
Normally, the only gathering of this community transpired on the weekly holiday called Farmers' Market Sunday. It didn't matter what occurred over the rest of the week; on Farmers' Market Sunday, they forgot themselves and partook in a ceremony of unloading the trunk of a red truck full of vegetables. In a line, they passed the crates to the person next to them. Stolen glances matched with kind smiles and a "Peace be with you."
However, in the year 1786, Current Mondiale Era, on January 16, four people strayed from the Farmer's Market Sunday. On the beach of the bay, a silk carpet rolled out towards a white altar decorated with florid roses around the arch. To the right of the carpet, a metal chair dug into the tan sand. Palm trees thrust against the mild breeze, streamers of flickering white light strewn across their branches while large video cameras taped the preparation of the event.
Inside a crystal chapel, there stood a young woman; her name ... Irene.
A racing ballad was Irene's pulse as she stood outside the tall, double doors of the local chapel.
The rattle of the churchbells throbbed against her ears before seeping into the tremble of her heart buried deep in her chest. The bones of the built-in corset of her white bodice caved in against her lung; meanwhile, her skirt fanned out like a petticoat in delicate waves. Layers of lace framed her unruly mane of metallic blue curls. And a bouquet of wilted, soft red roses rested inside her curled fingers, hiding the beauty of her sweetheart neckline.
However, if any of the blurs that passed by this epitome of grace and simplicity, this rustic embodiment of tranquility and faith, this Hallmark film waiting to happen, it would've been anything but what the populace would've expected out of the focus of this happy, happy day. If anyone cared to stop, they would've seen teardrops painting her pumpkin-hued eyes; they would've seen her bow-shaped lips quivering; they would've heard the ragged breath as she managed to say, "I'm fine" — if they asked such a question regarding her emotions— and her voice would've fallen in a whimper. "Leave me alone." But, it was far more beneficial for no one noticed than to have noticed these flaws to the masterpiece of this happy, happy day.
Outside, she could hear the press swarming around the other focus of this happy, happy day, and she cracked a slight smile, for it came as a relief that Laura Aella, a shipwright, took on the burden of dealing with those pests that pestered you with a flood of questions and camera flashes: "How does it feel to be the first couple to marry inside the most church of the monde's eldest monotheistic faith?" And before you could emit a single breath, they shoved a camera towards your face — Click! And bright light flashed between your eyes as another question landed a blow on your ears. "Have you always followed this faith?" Click!
As the chatter of the press faded out like the tide wandering back to the sea, a slight chime of an organ sounded outside, signaling the doors to slowly open. With one last moment to sell the facade, Irene wriggled her plump chest and arched her back. The soft breeze billowed down her face as she floated down the silk carpet, bouncing on her hips as Laura became clearer and clearer.
In the back of her mind, Irene remembered clinging to Laura in melancholy a month prior. Soft words buried into her mentor's chest. They're gonna force me to return to the group home and work there. Memories of swelling scars stitched into her aching skin, bringing tears to her eyes then and on this day. I can't go back. I can't watch another child get burned by their vanity.
She took in the glistening Laura in a white corset and an asymmetrical skirt of ruffles. Her thin, cherry-painted lips curled into a smile as Irene approached the makeshift altar. She was drawn into the calmness of the moment that she forgot to glance at her best friend Bethany, the bakery owner.
The reverend, a monk of the Sun Goddess, stood between the seemingly happy couple. With a scroll in his hands, the two gazed upon him as he harrumphed. "Dearly beloved Bethany Baker, and brow-raising journalistic press"—the cameras stopped flickering as the words left his mouth—"today, we come together under the merciful eyes of the Sun Goddess."
Everyone glanced up at the pale sky. A cloudless day loomed over the small ceremony. "Praise to the Sun Goddess," they chorus and pressed two fingers to their breast.
The reverend cleared his throat; all eyes flicked to the ground as he continued, "We come together to celebrate Laura Aella and Irene Doe"—Irene bit her lip and tightened her curl around her bouquet—"in holy marriage."
Irene grazed her sight against the roses in her hands. "It's Irene Silver," she muttered into her chest as the reverend scanned his scroll. In the corner of her eye, she caught Laura's gaze. Silent words billowed against her soul.
"Doe is your legal name." Irene shrugged. It was true. She hadn't officially changed her last name at the Province Hall like she intended to before she was threatened with the loss of her safety. But the blue-haired young adult could've argued that Doe wasn't even technically a last name: it was just a substitute for the half of her identity she lacked. "Don't argue," Laura breathed, and she contorted her thin lips into a tender smile as they came eye to eye.
Irene sighed and met the floor. No arguing. "Before we proceed," the reverend added, "if anyone objects to the union of these two, please, make your words known or forever remain silent." As the couple scanned the room, they found that no one seemed to object, or at least have the will to voice their skepticism of the union.
In her head, Irene thanked Bethany for not saying, "I object," remember the words Beth put in at her bachelorette party: You don't need to marry to get out of this ordeal; I can happily sue the group home for enslavement, as well as abuse. You don't have to marry to escape the horrors you faced.
"Now, I shall read from the Testament of Abaigyl." At the name of the book, Irene focused on the reverend's lips. They breathed the testament like fire: "Abaigyl, having lost her husband hadst nowhere to turn for comfort in her grief. But then, the sun opened up it embracing rays, and to the widow of the soldier said, 'Grieve not, you of a young heart. Thy might art strong. Thou wilt loveth again.'
"And at that moment a man put a hand on Abaigyl's shoulder." The reverend paused as he looked up from his scroll. His eyes flitted between the couple as if trying to ask them with quivering lips if this passage was appropriate.
Irene glanced at Laura. What was going on inside her mind? She wanted to know. Nay, she needed to know. And based on the flickering of her fiancee's eyes, she knew Laura understood what she required. She knew the wheels turning in her mind.
"Go on," urged Laura with the flick of her wrist and a quick.
"'M'lady,' said the man"—the reverend nodded towards the two brides as he spoke—"to Abaigyl, 'thou hath fighteth bravely today. How mayst I rewardeth thy courage?'
"Abaigyl, with the spirit of the Sun in her, took the man's hand. 'With love,' said she to the man, drawing him into her light. And light returned to the world. There was eternal bliss, for the Sun is the alpha, and the omega; the beginning, and the end; the life, and the death. Forever and always."
the reverend looked up from his scroll. "Irene"—the blue-haired bride caught the preacher's eyes seeming to drift in her direction first, then in her fiancee's way—"Laura, it's a pleasure to have the presence of such will in my church. You two have a strong belief in who you're able to love. Like Abaigyl, your courage shall be rewarded with love."
Tears brimmed Irene's eyes as she recited her vows: "I, Irene Doe, take you, Laura Aella, to be my lawfully wedded partner, to have and to hold, to honor and to cherish, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health for as long I shall live."
A smile was light against her face as Laura's vows filled her ears. "I, Laura Aella, take you, Irene, to be my partner for as long as I shall live. I make it a promise of mine to make sure that for every day you live, it will be better than the life you endured."
"By the power vested in me," the reverend enunciated, reading from his scroll, "I now pronounce you spouse and spouse. You may kiss one another."
Leaning towards one another, the newlyweds met one another's lips in a soft peck. Any more would bring back memories that daunted Irene; even chaste affection was too much.
☸ ☸ ☸
Near the docks of Westwind Harbor, a row of townhouses lined the side of the streets bustling with trucks cruising slowly. Over the door of each townhouse, a bronze plaque boasted the business of this small strip mall. In the middle of this commerce center, a plaque heaved in the compressing of its competition, whispering the thin words engraved into the rusty metal — Westwind Boat Shoppe: Getting Your Boat In Ship-Shape.
Inside, Laura oversaw the activity that buzzed softly like a honeybee: her business was a vestigial limb nowadays. People came in if the engine broke and other faults. Nothing more. It was enough to get a yearly pension because of the rarity of clumsiness among the Westwind fishers who only came out if there wasn't a bustle of import and export exchange at the Westwind Harbor.
A week after her marriage to Irene, it appeared that the entire fisherman population needed repairs on their ships. Laura watched as the mob crowded outside the Shoppe at dawn, the rhythmic tapping of her pen against the counter where she sat on a swivel chair behind a register.
"What do they want?" Irene asked. The shipwright's attention shifted from the throng of fishermen clumped outside the glass doors to her wife.
What a strange word it was. The rhythmic drumming of the pen ceased. Wife. Out of all these years, this strong-willed woman ended up marrying someone lower than her. As Bethany pointed out in a heated conversation before her now-wife's bachelorette party, this girl was ten years Laura's junior. Not to mention the fact that Irene was her apprentice.
No wonder Laura's parents couldn't show up. Of course, she knew from before the engagement that this was the consequence; it even fueled her decision to take up Irene's solution. Boss and wife. Why couldn't there be a balance of the roles to the same relationship? Laura yearned to know why.
"Laur." Irene waved her hand in front of her face, and the shipwright blinked twice, sinking back into the moment as her wife (and apprentice) repeated, "What do they want?" She pointed as the fisherman smeared against the glass. Laura could hear the muffled chatter, though discerning no coherency.
"New boat parts." The shipwright used the pen to pin a lock of hair behind her ear. She glanced at the sharp red lines on her clock: 04:30. Time to open up, she thought and returned to her wife's gaze with a smile. "A paint job." She looked at the mob of people trying to fit into a single frame, their faces smeared like a funhouse distortion. "I dunno." She shrunk into her lack of informedness with a shrug and turned the sign against one of the square panels of the window to the side that read, COME ON IN.
No one came in. Back in her swivel chair, Laura half-stared at the crowd of fishermen; the other half was distorted in a twisted, upward focus on the network of humming pipes running across the floorboards above her. If they didn't want ship parts, why were they outside the Shoppe? She shifted into peering at the crowd of bucolic employment: their eyes went from gentle rocking of blue to feral storm of red.
A picket-fence sign waved in the air like a rallying cry. DOWN WITH THE CRAIGG! it read. Laura's lifted her brow. The Craigg? "It's about anarchy-supporters," the shipwright said to her wife who had stopped unraveling the package of ship parts wrapped in bubble wrap when the word anarchy emitted into the Shoppe.
"Pirates?" The casual return made Laura shudder.
"Don't get too excited." Laura flashed a smile as her wife sank into a frown. "Sorry, Rene, but these are vicious threats to the government; they believe in complete autonomy, and intoxicate themself into primitive sexist ideals. I can handle some arrogant pricks, but I ain't gon' let you face the extent of their male chauvinism."
"'kay." Irene had her back to the shipwright. "Fine," she said and marched upstairs.
Meanwhile, the muffled chants creaked into the Shoppe. "Down with the Craigg!" shouted the ringleader — Laura supposed it was ringleader; after all, he was the one who waved the picket-fence sign like a flag of justice.
"Down with anarchy!" was the muffled response of the mob, pounding their stone fists in the air.
And the cauldron bubbled again:
"Down with the Craigg!"
"Down with anarchy!"
But darkness soon seeped across the concrete. The mob fell into boiling quietude, dispersing as an echo of buckled shoes pulsed into the store, the scent of shaving cream billowing against the salty aroma of the sea.
The shipwright yanked the pen out of her hair and examined the speckled countertop as a cold voice breathed against her neck, "Lar"—firm fingers traced her neck—"it's been too long."
"It's been a long time," Laura said, whirling around to face the owner of the buckled leather shoes. "I could've done a century more before I wished to see your face lurking in society." Her eyes hardened in a glare as she spat, "Captain."
"Now, now." The Captain seized the edge of the counter. "You forgettin' your old frien'?"
"I think not." Laura glanced at the counter with a hard sigh. She then looked into his eyes. "What's it you crave, Capt?"
"I fancy a look at my documents for my ship." At the Captain's response, Laura bent down into the cabinet built into the counter, and upon turning the key, it creaked open, revealing a filer of documents of the ships she had registered throughout her career.
"C," Laura muttered to herself as she ravaged through a creamy folder labeled "C." It should've been easy since no one named their ships with a sea for two years. There were maybe five ships under "C"—S.S. Coraline, S.S. Crimson, S.S. Coral, S.S. Cracken (the family who controlled that ship were instant that a Kraken was spelled C-R-A-C-K-E-N), and S.S. Craigg.
"Still guffawin' over the S.S. Cracken?" The Captain asked.
Laura glanced up to find the toned Captain blocking her view of the morning light with his thick shadow. One arm was propped against the counter; the other was on his hip. "Yes, Capt," she said with a brief smile. She then rose to her feet and spread the paperwork for the Craigg. "S.S. Craigg. Captainship is valid for another twenty years." She pointed to the Captain's signature scribbled at the bottom of the document. "See?"
"Aye," the Captain said. "I see." His shadow spilled over the words, blurring them in Laura's sight. "Laura, can you check the ship?
"Sure." The Captain lit up with a slight grin. Laura paused, pointing the back of her pen at the Craigg's leader. "Tonight."
"I'll be at the bakery until it's done," the Captain said with the tip of his tricorne and flooded out of the Shoppe.
As the mob reassembled, blaring against the Captain as he strode into the streets. "Down with the Craigg!"
"Down with anarchy!"
"Oh, dear Sun," Laura muttered as the streets swarmed in red. "They're going to murder the poor fool."
"Is it safe yet?" Irene's words hovered from the apartment upstairs.
Laura let out a soft sigh. "Yes, you may come back into the store, dear." Irene seemed to bound the stairs like a child rushing to open their presents on the Sunmas. Laura still couldn't believe she married that.
"Was he oozing with grime?" Irene asked, leaning across the counter.
Her chin rested in her palms. "Did he have a parrot?"
"No." Her muscles began to twist around that answer, wishing to strangle it with the curl of her knuckles. Yet, the girl, the wife, didn't seem to pick up on the steam rising in Laura. What was wrong with this woman?
In the years Laura had studied this girl, she'd noticed various eccentricities of this child. Things that plucked at the strings of the patience of the shipwright formulated into years of criticality in her mind. For one, her wife was a barnacle on her butt. Secondly, she was unkempt and baggy. Oversized sweaters swallowed her voluptuous frame; meanwhile, her curls clung to the shape of her head in clumps of frizz. And thirdly, if not the worst trait that could —
nephrite and white jade crashed onto the floor. Laura stared at the shards strewn across the linoleum, then at Irene, eyes bulging with shock. There, her wife trembled. "I-I'm s-sorry."
The words stung against the roof of the shipwright's mouth. "That was priceless."
There was always that: the financial burden this apprentice was. How could she expect to pass on her business to Irene when she retired?
"I'll clean it up." The words trembled against the dull aesthetic of the shop.
And to herself, the shipwright muttered, "Oh, Irene." But in her heart, she knew that it wouldn't do. Irene needed to understand workplace ethics.
☸ ☸ ☸
Night fell upon the tides of the Westwind Habor. Irene seemed to sway to the invisible rhythm that played like a perpetual melody in her head as she waded through the closing hours of the Shoppe with peace.
There was something fascinating about all the baubles present in the Westwind Boat Shoppe. She knew that through mutual negotiation, they often procured priceless, exotic artifacts from far off islets. Tales of mermaids, fairies, and even witches buzzed among the customers throughout the day.
Some tradesmen tried to rob them of their valuables, to which Irene forced a smile to sprawl across her face, as she led the tradesmen to the door. "I'm sorry, but baubles aren't for sale."
Irene slammed the doors, muffling the tradesmen's words. She brushed her hands together as she turned away. "Sorry, dude." She smiled to herself. "You screw around with the functionality of business, you get the small end of the stick."
In the back room, she heard her wife call out, "Irene."
"Yeah?" She responded. An icy chill seeped through her words as she saw the firm shape of Laura's face; it slid down her spine.
"Can you—" Laura seemed to hesitate as she shook her head "—come back here for a moment? We need to talk."
Irene slowly made her way into the back room where the rays of a single dim light pool against the concrete floor. "Am I in trouble?"
"No." Irene noticed how her clenched hands twisted in the pockets of her apron. "But we do have to discuss getting over your anxiety so you can move about the Shoppe freely."
Irene caved in towards her chest. "What?"
"My decorative piece," Laura said. The sparks that thrashed against the backroom seemed to burn against Irene's mind as she caved into the melody of strikes against her spine: lummox!
Colors drained from the world like rain staining the walls of atrabiliousness. Shouts struck her spine like the crack of a whip. Red eyes reflected in the watery room.
She felt as if the rain had engulfed her in the sea. The distorted red eyes became smaller and smaller until they were nothing more than a flack of color; then the world vanished before her eyes. Weight caved in on her ribs.
Irene blinked, and the back room unfolded in the dim aesthetic of gray concrete. Firm words swelled against the storage area: "No more bakery."
Wait. What? Irene met Laura's eyes. "But—"
"No." Irene found no use in talking when her wife bunched her fingers together in a pinch. "It's dinnertime; it's your night to cook."
Of course. Irene whirled around with an inaudible sigh. Her views on such a rule were insignificant. No negotiation would be heard — there was a rule about that topic, too: no arguing at dinnertime.
"Irene?" Irene wrinkled her eyes at the sound of Laura's voice: it was as if nothing happened; it was as if limiting her rights to personal freedom were as simple as breathing.
Ha, Irene thought with a silent huff. She would show Laura.