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Tal vez las palabras sean lo único que existe
en el enorme vacío de los siglos
que nos arañan el alma con sus recuerdos.
Pero la noche ha de conocer la miseria
que bebe de nuestra sangre y de nuestras ideas.1

– Alejandra Pizarnik

He was always divine, my Kari. Radiant skin, sun-kissed and freckled – a constellation of stars in the shape of love. Eyes as wide as pools of still water, black like a night at sea under a moonless sky. Red hair, chaotic like wildfire, curled upon itself like serpentine coils, like tendrils strung out from the voice of angels. A smile that felt like a white-hot sword plunged through the heart and out the back in ecstatic agony.

Idyllic, I know, how I describe him. Such are the ways of love, especially love not tempered by reason or wisdom. Love is a smoldering thing, an ember that burns passively until disturbed, until it's fanned into a blaze of scarlet oblivion where some would willfully immolate themselves and have their ashes scattered into the heavens to proclaim their devotion like a comet's tail harboring ill omens.

That is how I loved Kari, how I love him still. I am a fool, yes, but who is not foolish when the heart drums out the screams begging one to leave before it's too late? Mine weighs heavily in my chest now; I could not ignore it then, and I cannot ignore it now that my work nears its culmination. It consoles me to think that perhaps it was Kari's will all along that we may be together – now as then forever.

We had built a home, him and me. A chimney to burn bright in the cold of winter. A garden in which to grow herbs to keep us healthy. A bed in which to lie in quiet contemplation of our love. Kari would dance as we prepared our table, his feet barely touching the ground as he spun around to kiss my cheek and steal a sip of wine, only slowing down when the aroma of our feast beckoned him. I would read him stories of fantastic terrors found in salt-stained tomes, of silent heroes sailing dead oceans under stranger stars – he would listen intently before falling asleep with his head on my lap.

Our little cottage stood at the edge of town, where the forest echoed with the chirping of insects and the hooting of owls, the whispers on the wind caressing the chimes on our doorway so that we too may join the chorus. By night we listened to the music of the woods, and by day we were out offering our craft, our little miracles, as Kari called them.

A reading of palms. A consultation upon the cards. A charm against the evil eye. A deciphering of the heavens. A blessing for a newborn calf. We were always in high demand, our services appreciated even by the most skeptic of our neighbors, by those who saw the magic we worked with veiled suspicion, for many before us had been nothing but charlatans who sought to bleed the townspeople dry.

But we never lied to the good people of this land who had welcomed us after much roaming, after being but vagabonds whose footsteps were quickly hidden by wind and rain. When our little miracles would not be enough – or when we knew things to be beyond our power – we told the truth and were at peace. Even gods sometimes found themselves with their hands tied, and what blame could we hold, we who were but their humble disciples?

Perhaps that is why it never came, our child. Perhaps that is why we tried every full moon, only to again find my belly barren as the new month dawned. We prayed and fasted, purified ourselves and bathed in the crystalline waters where every couple sought to wash away the troubles that tarnished love. Still, the world marched on, and we were left without child, our supplications unheard or unattended even by the Merciful Mother, She who in Her grace had blessed all life with the power to recreate itself forevermore.

Kari would not speak of it, but I knew him to be even more devastated than I. Could his seed have spoilt? Had he displeased the gods so that they would turn their back on him? His eyes begged these mute questions, supplicating an explanation for his plight; none ever came. Still he would not weep, would not trust me his pain, so I wept for us both whenever I found myself alone. For a man as young as he – only twenty-five summers and four moons – being unable to start a family must have been anguish. For a woman like me – one who could perform small miracles – being unable to work this one in the name of my love was heartbreaking.

Every night we tried to conceive, a sigh left Kari's lips as if acknowledging the futility of our effort, his body going limp soon after. He might have tried to find some solace in his slumber, some blessed forgetfulness that kept troubles from his mind, but through the night I could feel him tremble and turn, muttering in dreams – a pained begging to the forces that seemed unwilling or unable to give him the child he yearned for. I wished to touch him, to give him sanctuary in my embrace, but each time he turned me away, his skin refusing me as if I was made of frigid stone. I sat there alone, vigilant over my beloved's torment, bound to watch him suffer in silence.

Our tribulations soon multiplied, for our repeated failures dripped like poison into our craft. Where once we had been purveyors of relief through our small miracles, we seemed to predict only misfortune. The cards spoke of unkind days, of towers in storm and devils in moonlight. Our brews and potions were sour in our mouths. The stars announced bad harvests. It was an omen, some people said: the magicians are without child, and the land is without bounty.

Some tried to console us. Elderly matrons with many grandchildren spoke of their time-tested methods, of kindly herbs and curious rituals that ensured conception. Wise men told of prayers to obscure gods who may lend a hand in exchange for worship. Our neighbors wished to help, to alleviate our struggle just as we had once tended to theirs.

Kari did not take kindly to this. He felt humiliated, emasculated by the townspeople's interest in our troubles. He stopped dancing, stopped flashing his heavenly smile. His face was a tombstone, a frigid slab of frustrated wrath and sadness. When we sat at the table, he was silent and barely ate – and when we went to bed, he drove away my warmth. Even his small miracles, his works for others, became less and less, for he would no longer go into town. Instead, he roamed the edges of the forest, refusing the call of our hearth and the comfort of our love. I tried to coax him out of his malaise, to raise the memories of our happy life like walls against the rising tide of anguish, to kiss away the shroud of sorrow that had enveloped us both.

I still remember the first time he hit me.

It was late, the sun but a flickering candle about to be snuffed out by the breath of darkness. Kari had only just returned from his roaming when I noticed the stench on his breath.

"Have you been drinking?" I impulsively asked.

Kari's brow furrowed as if I had blasphemed against his ancestors. He stormed his way into the house, heading for our bedroom.

"Kari!" I raised my voice, my arm outstretched to grab ahold of his. "Kari, listen to me–"

The blow was swift like the caress of lightning. Pain streamed from my jaw down my neck, all the way to my heart. Through tears of pain, of shame and realization, I looked at my beloved, at my Kari. His expression was one of shock, vague guilt hanging from his eyes as his mind and soul processed what he had just done. Then something inside him hardened, and his mouth filled with thorns.

"What have you to say?" he said. His words bled into me like salt into wounds. "What have you to say when you cannot even give me a child?"

Then he went into the darkness of our house – a house that was no longer a home – and slept.

I stood there, frozen, broken. You have failed, the pain on my jaw maliciously whispered. This is all your fault. You did not give him a child, and what good is a wife who cannot bear the fruit of new life?

The next weeks were more of the same. Kari would no longer hit me unless I tried to drown his drunken stupor, or if I tried to make love to him. My face bore marks of sadness, of a home torn asunder and ground to dust. Gradually, I stopped going into town so that the people there would not ask what had happened, why my eyes were sunken or why my skin bloomed with bruises. If any gods of love or moonlight looked on, then I appreciated that they kept quiet. Now I understood Kari's own shame: it was one thing to suffer, and another to have someone watching while you did.

Without small miracles to earn us coin – and with what little savings we had fueling Kari's drinking – we were forced to live off what our small garden could provide. Kari sometimes hunted rabbits, and I would gut and prepare them for supper. We did everything in silence, and I wondered if he was ashamed of his violence, somewhere deep within.

Still I kept hoping that things would one day go back to the way they were. I loved Kari too much to leave him like that, mutely writhing in the agony of an empty cradle. Even if his pain spoke through his fists – for still he had no tears to shed – how could I ever allow my beloved to grieve forever, when it was I who had disappointed him again and again?

When I was not preparing meals, tending to our garden or to the upkeep of the house, I busied myself poring over the old tomes that my father had left behind, the ancient texts of sacred knowledge that may hold a solution to our plight. Kari would have none of it, so I hid away whenever I wished to peruse the books, quietly praying that he would not discover me, for I believed him fully willing to toss the pages into the fire.

One night I sat reading by candlelight while Kari snored in our bedroom. It had been raining all day, and now a mist covered the land like a hallowed mantle. The darkness outside was absolute; my lone candle was an island where I huddled and tried to understand the words of an aged volume. Glyphs and sigils had become blurry, indistinguishable as they danced before me, exhaustion slowly closing my eyelids shut.

The noise roused me from my slumber, my eyes shooting wide open as a chill coiled around my spine and I confusedly searched for its source. At first, I thought it was the screeching of some nocturnal animal – the sound seemed to come from the darkness beyond my front porch – but no beast or bird could ever imitate what I heard next: the crying of a baby rattled the windows, calling for me. I did not think twice, and I rushed to the door.

A forest not my own awaited outside. Trees as tall as the pillars that upheld heaven, as thick as the bones of giants, loomed in every direction, swallowing the horizon like a dark ocean of razor-sharp leaves. Rocked by a wind only they felt, their branches echoed with rumors that almost dared to be voices, drowned only by the screams of the unseen infant. Fog enveloped the ground where I treaded, dead soil – or maybe ashes born of ruin and decay – silencing my steps as I followed the child's cries deeper into the woods. It did not occur to me that I might not be able to find my way back to the house.

I know not how long I walked through the alien forest. No familiar constellations gave me comfort in the abyss above, for no stars shone at all – only a sickly Green Moon cast its perfidious light over the black trees. My guide through the darkness, through the moonlit colossi of void-born leaves, were the screams that implored a mother's comfort, the cries of a child not my own.

I found it at the center of a withered grove carved like an old wound in the heart of the forest. Bathed in moonlight, it rested on a bed of black, twisted toadstools fashioned from the substance of night. It was the color of tar, a faceless thing that screamed with no mouth and wept with no eyes, writhing like a flayed animal in its last throes. Its cries were deafening, mortifying, heartbreaking. It must have sensed my presence, however, for as soon as I stepped into the grove – fearful of its appearance yet concerned that it may be hurt – its cries turned into a cooing, a pleading sound that tugged at my soul to lurch forward and hold the creature in my arms.

I took it with the wariness with which one holds a serpent. The toadstools seemed to resist it leaving them, twitching and pulsing and grazing my fingers with their slimy heads, with futile supplication. Its skin was cold like the breath of winter, wet like a drowned man's entrails. It did not shine under the green moonlight, instead absorbing it as if it were shadow given form. My touch made it squirm in discomfort before settling down, its coos becoming softer as I held it close to my chest. As I gave it my warmth, an idea blinked into my mind and my heart lit up with strange fire: the thing – the baby – had called for a mother, and I had answered. I now held it to my breast, my embrace its fortress against the harshness of the world, my heart ready to give itself fully. Did that not make it my child?

The Green Moon's grin grew wider.

I awoke at my front porch as dawn broke through trees that were my own. Dazed at first, I quickly realized my child was with me no longer, and I despaired. My eyes raced from one place to the other, my throat about to cry out until I realized it had been but a dream. There was no child cut from night, no forest made of pitch-black leaves, no green moon of blighting light. I was still barren, childless, and so tears welled up and my body shook with quiet sobs. Soon Kari would be awake and find me here, useless to him as I had been many times before.

Then I saw the toadstools.

They grew in sparse clusters, barely noticeable in the dirt drenched with stagnant rainfall, their stems twisting upwards as if reaching out for me. Black like the depths of my dream, their heads throbbed in silent beckoning, mute drums that signaled the path forward. Careful not to tear their mycelium, I dug my hands into the earth to take them as I had taken the child made of void under the Green Moon. I now knew what must be done: I would give my beloved a child.

By the time Kari awoke – his breath reeking of wine – a warm plate of cooked mushrooms awaited him at the table. He did not say anything, for all he could think about was his roaming and drinking, but he gave me a strange look before eating it all and heading out. I smiled: he was not yet so far gone that he did not like my cooking. In the belly of his father, my child giggled.

It went on for a full moon. Every meal, every night, I fed Kari the black toadstools grown in strange moonlight. "Mushrooms again?" he often reproached, and I would lie about how our small garden had suffered through the season, about how the vegetables had spoilt and we would have to wait for the next harvest. Kari never suspected a thing; he simply grunted and went back to his self-imposed penance, never caring to protest further: he knew we had no more coin and that there was only so much charity townsfolk could give us. And little by little, nurtured by its father’s strength, our child grew.

My dreams held visions of birth, of its preparation and consummation. The blessing of life had been granted to us not by the Merciful Mother who had forsaken us, but by the Green Moon whose wordless revelations were the seed of hope. Every time I dozed off, I drifted into the black forest, into the grove where I learned the secrets of elder ages, the way to happiness for both Kari and me. How joyful he would be once my work was complete, once the fruit of our love walked amongst the living! And one starless night at the turning of the month, the child bloomed.

I felt it in my bones that the work was almost complete. Kari had eaten the last of the toadstools, and our child was now strong – more than just a dreamt thing, more than shadow and whispers. That evening I prepared as instructed, lit the candles, painted the sigils and shed my clothes. Then I sat at the center of my craft, at the axis of the home I had built with Kari, and waited.

Midnight came, and Kari with it. He found me spread and willing, my flesh his to claim. How long had it been since he had lain with me? How long had it been since he had tasted my lips, possessed me? Candlelight shone in his eyes as his appetite clawed its way up from beneath the malaise of alcohol and resentment, his mouth twitching with anticipation as he knelt to take me, intent not in conceiving – he had long given up hope – but in sating the turbulent urges that bubbled and festered in his loins.

He tasted of wine and whiskey, of mournful dedication to his own destruction. Voracious, he descended on me, his hands coarse and his manhood throbbing. I led him in, the last step dictated by dreamt visions, and together we writhed.

Within Kari, our child shifted, heeding the call of its mother. I saw it in his eyes – right before he climaxed – that he knew something was amiss. But how could I have told him? He would have never agreed to this, even if with the knowledge that this would give him the one thing he most yearned for: the child first dreamt and then incarnated. Only I had the strength and devotion to make him happy, to harvest the fruit of my love for him – to pay the price for us both.

Kari moaned, and then he screamed. His flesh boiled against mine, his body trembling with orgasmic agony. He tried to push me away, to free himself from my burning womanhood, but I wrapped my legs around him, and my hands held tight his face, close to mine. Fear and pain overtook him, and he fought like a trapped animal, biting and clawing and tearing at my flesh and his own. Blood dripped from our wounds, the game of light and shadow turning it to tar as our bodies became one.

A crunching sound was followed by pained gurgling, by a sizzling of flesh on flesh. The ritual neared completion and Kari's hips melted into mine like butter on a heated pan. His bones shattered and turned to dust; his muscles gave in and spilled forth blackened viscera. I was bathed in him, sanctified in bile and blood.

We screamed together as our nerve endings met and twisted around each other, his body submitting to mine as I took what was needed to fulfill my gift unto him. Even now I could feel Kari's seed at the nucleus of his suffering, his sacrifice coalescing in my womb and taking form, our child given shape and substance through the flesh and bone of its father – our little miracle.

Kari gagged and choked and at last I let him go; empty, he collapsed and screamed no more. As his heart stopped beating, a new pulse thrummed through my body, the sound of blessed conception. My child – Kari's child – lived, begotten out of flesh and dream and moonlight.

I put my hands to my belly, to my fertile womb where our scion now gestated; it would be some long, lonely months before I gave birth, before I could hold the key to my and Kari's happiness and give it the world. But I could wait, for we were together: mother, father, child.

Then I looked at Kari, at his mortified flesh and vacant eyes, and I smiled. I had done it out of love, all of it.

At the bottom of my dream, the Green Moon grinned.

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