The stain that tainted her bed sheets had looked like wet rust. Ida couldn’t bleach it out of her mind. Every time she tried, The Circle’s creed would think itself into the inside of her skull: Angel flesh bleeds not with the moon.
She stood alone waiting for her family, her back to the gate of The Angel Circle, the preparatory school for girls where she had spent most of her life. The sun was mockingly bright on her face. Or, perhaps, helpfully bright, since heavy perspiration made good camouflage for tears.
“Ida? Honey, are you okay?”
Ida blinked a couple of times, and when her stepfather’s features came into focus, she lowered her eyes. Her mother was standing next to him, giving her a look that spoke of sadness and pity.
“Give her some space, Paulo,” her mother said. “She’ll be all right with time.”
“It’s 91 degrees in the shade, and they gloved her all the way to the elbows! I’m surprised she hasn’t passed out. What’s wrong with these people? And leaving her out here by herself, I’ll—”
“Be quiet, Paulo. Please,” her mother said. “This is a difficult time for Ida. I hurt seeing her like this. I know what she’s feeling. Shouting your outrage won’t help her.” Her mother guided her to the car, and helped her settle in the front passenger seat.
“I’m sorry,” her stepfather said, after putting Ida’s luggage in the trunk. “I don’t know how to act seeing her like this. No one should be forced—”
“The Circle didn’t force Ida to wear gloves, Paulo. They can’t make her do anything anymore. But it’s not easy to grow into a woman in a day, after having been an Angel for so many years.”
“I… I need to let out some steam.” Her stepfather handed her mother the keys to his car. “Why don’t you two go straight to Mama-Linda’s house? I’ll walk for a while and take the metro back.” To Ida, he said, “You’ll be okay, sweetie. You’ll see.”
Ida kept her eyes down. And her mouth shut.
After a few miles of silent driving, Ida’s mother said, “Are you sure about this? We can wait a few months, even years. Give you some time to get used to… to adjust. I know it isn’t easy.”
“I want to see it done,” Ida said, in a hoarse voice that didn’t sound like it came out of her mouth. “Mama-Linda is very kind. She helped us after Father passed. She helped you, Mother.” Ida pointed at her mother’s gloveless hands. “I will trust her to help me. I want to see it done.”
Ida’s father had been a wealthy man. But his death left Ida and her mother penniless. Everything he owned, including his wife and his daughter, became the responsibility of his younger brother until Ida was old enough to marry. Then her father’s estate would go to her new husband. When Ida’s uncle revealed his plan of marrying her to his oldest son as soon as Ida came of age, her mother did what only a few women in their society had ever done—she fought the patriarch.
Knowing that her brother-in-law cared more about wealth than about tradition, Ida’s mother offered to relinquish any claim to her child’s inheritance, in exchange for her daughter’s freedom to choose her own husband. Ida’s uncle accepted, with one condition. “She will attend The Angel Circle, like all women in my family,” her uncle had said. “After that she can do as she pleases.”
Most girls resided in The Circle for about seven years. But Ida was a late bloomer, and had to stay there for almost twelve. The Circle wasn’t a bad place for a child. The Wisdoms, elderly women who served as teachers and mentors, treated the girls like treasures. They celebrated the cleanliness of their spirits, their blessed bodies… They called them Angels, until the girls got their moon blood. Once a woman began to menstruate, she became Flesh of the World. “When your body is bleeding out your taint,” the Highest Wisdom used to tell the girls, “you are not to look a man in the eye or touch your skin to his. If you do, your taint will corrupt his seed.”
The Circle’s teachings didn’t seem odd to Ida. Not until she spent a summer at home, and saw that her mother never wore gloves and spoke to her stepfather as an equal all month long.
“You don’t bleed?” Ida had said, pointing at her mother’s womb. Her mother’s explanation left Ida excited about having new choices, confused because she believed The Circle to be infallible, and extremely uneasy because it would be up to her to figure out which path to follow. The old uneasiness was bubbling hot in her heart when her mother pulled into Mama-Linda’s driveway.
Mama-Linda stood under an elm tree speaking to a group of girls that looked a couple of years younger than Ida. Everyone wore long red dresses, black headscarves, and no shoes.
“Hey, stranger!” Mama-Linda waved, and said something to the girls before walking towards Ida and her mother. “I see you lost my son somewhere along the way. You should share your secret. I’ve been trying to get rid of him since he was a teenager, but he won’t go away.”
“He needed a walk,” Ida’s mother said, kissing Mama-Linda on the cheek.
“Do I need to change before… it starts?” Ida said. She wished her words didn’t tremble so much.
“Only if you wish to, my child,” Mama-Linda said. “Tell you what, let’s walk to the garden, and your mom and I can explain everything from beginning to end. That way you’ll know what is happening as it happens.”
“Let me call Paulo first,” Ida’s mother said. “I want to make sure he’s all right.”
Mama-Linda nodded. After Ida’s mother walked towards the house, Mama-Linda said, “My Paulo is still unhappy about your school I gather?”
Ida’s eyes dropped to her gloved hands. “He is upset.”
“And you, Ida, how are you?”
Ida thought about it for a few seconds. “Scared,” she said, “lost and scared.” She looked up to find tears in Mama-Linda’s eyes. The sight made her heart burst into sobs. “I don’t want to be tainted and wingless. I haven’t done anything to anyone. Why do I have to feel this… this bad?”
Mama-Linda pulled Ida into her chest, and said, “You aren’t tainted, my child. And nothing can take your wings from you.” She loosened her embrace in order to raise Ida’s chin and meet her eyes. “Do you know why we wear red and black during a Blood and Midnight rite of passage?” When Ida shook her head, Mama-Linda continued. “Red for Blood and Black for Midnight,” she said. “Because once her first moon blood takes a girl-child into womanhood, the young woman enters a journey that is as mysterious as the night is dark. You aren’t wingless, Ida, just changed. Now you are ready to start learning what to do with your own feathers, how to choose the woods you’ll walk, the tales you’ll birth, and the people you’ll share your life with.”
Ida breathed deeply. She removed the glove from her left hand, wiped her face with it, placed it on the hood of her stepfather’s car, and walked with her mother and Mama-Linda to the garden.
inspired by “Blood and Midnight”,
winner of the eighth Expanding Wee Bits of Dark Fiction and Poetry
via Red and Black Wallpapers