The Robe

Prose

Our father is a woodcutter driven to drink, and when he drinks he likes to talk. He sits cross-legged on the floor and grips the glass between his fingers and makes us stand in front of him. He likes to tell us that we look nothing like our mother—whose hair, whose hands, whose skin, was so fine, so fine. He likes to look at us, his coarse children, and talk about her.

Mother was a tiny woman with red-rimmed eyes. She dressed us in silk and bathed us in the lake where our father had found her naked, where he silently took her clothes off the bough it hung from and hid in his home. She was in the company of other women, and one by one, they left the lake, gathering their own things. The girls had kissed her cheek and plucked her fingers from their wrists, all crying, “There’s nothing we can do.”

When the last woman floated into the mist, our father walked towards her with his shirt. He clothed her and took her home. She bore him two children, a girl and a boy. I remember touching her swelling stomach, round with child, not knowing that in five years, sitting at our mother’s feet, he would tug her by her skirt towards the dark corner of the house.

“I know where it is,” he said so sweetly, the little fool, to stop her weeping. He dug his dirty hands into the cracked stone pot, pulling at the cloth we found in our games.

“I should have known.” Hunched over the floor, her nail tracing the black-and-blue patterns of the cloth, she pushed us away. She shed her dress and draped her body with the robe and kissed our foreheads. She walked away from us until she was hidden by trees, following the mist.

We should have known. We thought that we were hers, but we know now that we are his.