Riala sat in the silence of the night, the soft breathing of the other girls shut out on the other side of the garderobe door. She had her arms wrapped around her middle, bent over as if to hold herself together over a cramp.
She held her handkerchief crammed into her mouth to muffle her own sobs, her own tears. Ky had such pleasant ideas of what sex was. The other girls… had their own healing… Skala had been raped in the sack as well, but she seemed to have gotten enough help to, at least try.
She hadn’t touched herself, she hadn’t been able to.
Narilla had said she needed more healing. But I lied when I said I’d done the House of Masks sex for girls’ class. I didn’t want to sour the whole thing. She rocked quietly back and forth, folded around her pain.
There’s numbness between my legs. Even after all the Haians could do. Even after all the House could do. I can feel inside. And my breasts… but I tighten up and I hurt. Pain stops me. Pain is like a wall. I gasped… yes…but it was with fear. No one could see in the dark, without lights. I knew… I know… what to say to help them get to where they needed to be. And they had so much fun. I couldn’t scare them any more… when they were all doing something so brave… I just couldn’t. I might… feel something… there’s something there that feels good but… it’s like I can see it through stone bars of pain and I can’t get out of that cage.
Skala and Atzana sat in the garden, the wind whipping their hair and their nightgowns wildly and they huddled close against the falling temperature. The heat had broken with the wind-storm and it had gone from steamy hot to chill, beginning to smell of coming rain.
“I don’t think I… I mean… everyone seemed so… happy… and we read the book…” Skala wasn’t weeping but her face was hard and closed.
“It’s all right, Skala. Did you feel all right while we were all exploring ourselves?”
“Um… only to a point. I… tried. I got scared and I did touch myself… but… it got to be too much and I stopped… and just listened. I’m not sure I’m healed enough… there. I…” she sniffled and rubbed her gloves over her face. They were still damp from earlier in the night. “We pretend and we pretend and we smile and we laugh and we pretend, and it's all lies. Inside... it's all lies.”
Atzana threw her arm around her friend. “I’m glad we tried. Even if everyone didn’t… climax.” She had, she knew, but it wasn’t going to say so. Right now Skala needed her. “Our mothers managed to live... even to be happy at least some of the time. Laisa is lucky to have a Gran who’s told her a lot of things… and Ky… she wasn’t as badly cut as she could have been… once she got opened up. She was lucky the Priest Cutter just trimmed some and then sewed her up to be smooth.”
Skala nodded. “I… wasn’t trimmed completely. And I got ripped open so I’ve got a lot of scars. There’s friends of mine… who are worse… some are not. I… want to try again… maybe with Haian help, not my girlfriends.”
“That sounds good. I’m here, whatever you need, Ska.”
“Thanks Atzana. We should go in, it’s going to rain soon. Maybe thunderstorm.”
“Should we get some hot chocolate from the night kitchen before bed again?”
Skala wiped her face again. “Why don’t we call for enough for everyone in case we woke people up going out?”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
Skala turned and flung bother arms around Atzana. “You’re such a good friend. I’m glad I can talk to you, ‘Zana.”
“Whenever you need, Ska. Come on.”
I felt too good, didn’t I? Will the Ten condemn me for that? Women aren’t supposed to feel that, are they? Isn’t that why women are… purified? Trimmed? Made perfect? But if the Gods wanted that, why weren’t we born perfect? Why do we deserve the pain? Those parts of me are worthy of the agony. I hate them… I should hate them. I’m supposed to hate them and hate myself. But they make me feel so much. Mama loves me… as much as she hates herself as is proper. Selinae… why am I supposed to hate part of me? The boys… are taught to hate themselves differently.
Selinae, forgive me if I did wrong… but the Holy Book had such a passionate song to You from Your Husband… I am confused.
My friends… we did something I thought was good. I felt good… it sounded like everyone was trying… enjoying themselves… I thought… But any Arkan woman knows how to hide what she truly feels. To be nice, they would pretend, to not ruin it for anyone else. How well we wrap and bind our own pain to not touch anyone else.
Smile and laugh and pretend there is nothing wrong. The hurt between my legs was constant… the Haian surgery… and Finirenjer… she helped and it eased. I hadn’t even realized how much pain I lived with every day. Now it is much much less… but I aggravated things, with my fingers. With my wrong.
My scars… are sore. The hair in the scars… I need to pluck and use the cream Finirenjer gave me. Did I overstrain my scars? Did I hurt myself? I feel such a strange mix of happy and dirty. Does Minis feel this too? I’m supposed to feel bad and dirty when I do such things. I’m an Arkan girl. I do. And I don’t. Both at the same time.
The Fenjitza… can she be correct? The Temple has transformed itself to accommodate her. But people are fighting her. They want her gone. They are uncomfortable with women not hurting. Did I do this right? Should I have done this? But it felt so good. I need to pray. I need to keep thinking about this. I need to pray.