The women of the village
Have no sense of humor.
They live their lives for
Gossip and rumor.
And here’s some gossip
Some rumor I have heard,
That in this village
Something horrible once occurred.
It involved four village women who had lived there forever,
And four newcomers who wished they had come there never.
Sophistication had chosen not to visit this bucolic outback. Rain too had stayed away this season and the women of the village were as physically and emotionally parched as the drought dry land.
Maggie had a mashed face, small mouth with tiny pointy teeth and small dark eyes that maintained an even dullness. No glimmer of the light of laughter or love ever shone within those orbs. Her stomach was her favorite friend, it’s protuberance a twin self. Her body had the shape of a crab shell. Her flabby arms extended outward like the skinny legs of crustaceans. As a teenager, growing up in this tiny village, she had been nicknamed Frumpy, Lumpy, Dumpy by the other teens at the local high school. The many years in her rural home had severed her from cultural, intellectual or philosophical progress, leaving her a backward thinking hick with a mean, narrow disposition. Her dim wit required the chemical reaction of being with other mean spirited women to set even a slow fire ablaze within her.
Mary was like water. Tasteless. She was a babbling brook of inappropriate silly giggling. Her contribution to conversation usually consisted of “and whatever” followed by a high pitched shrill cackle and an enlarging of pale blue eyes as if she had surprised herself with her own brilliance. Her raucous giggle seemed deliberately employed to make others feel foolish for whatever they had just said. More likely it was simply hollow and hateful. Her skinny body held up a head of white hair close cropped and a face full of wrinkles like desert dry canyons. Her whole persona gave off a sense of being acidic, no longer fresh.
2.It had been only six months since blond haired Ashley Allen had arrived in the New Mexico village where she had set up a painting studio. It was a village of small square cottages sitting in weedy lots where stacks of logs cut for long winter fires leaned against hand made fences. Deer chewed grass in the yards in early morn, ravens flew overhead, and the light was made for a painters eyes. Anything the sun touched was brought to life in brilliant color. Friendships in the village had eluded Ashleigh until one day she had met Ella, a writer. “C’mon over for some some herbopathy,” Ella had said. Herbothapy is a healing practice involving herbal tea. I’ve invited a couple of the town women to join us. The only two I’ve been able to strike up a conversation with around here. I think you’ll like them.”
With the relaxing herbal tea and shared conversation at Ella’s house, a friendship had been formed amongst the four women, tenuous but hopeful.
Dee, dark haired and muscular answered her. “I used to be overweight and when I took up physical training, got in shape, a lot of the women seemed to hate me for it, even though I’ve lived here for ten years.”
Isabel, tattoos on her arms and a patterned scarf around her green and purple tinted hair, leaned forward and said, “You know that woman with the man’s haircut who works at the food co-op? Not the giggling one, the other one. She looks at me as if she dislikes me. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I imagine it. I don’t know how to explain it. She gives me the creeps.”
Outside the cozy living room, a sudden rough wind leapt up, searched up and down the village streets for garbage cans to knock over then left town leaving only a dreary silence. In the dry thin air there was a sense of conscious watchfulness and of ears listening.
Mouse droppings and cobwebs hid in dark corners of the one room village women’s club building where the four silhouettes entered, lit candles and struck matches to kindling and logs in a wood burning stove in the center of the room, then sat in a circle around a table littered with old magazines, scissors, glue sticks and other cheap art supplies. Orange tatters reflected in four sets of eyes as a meager flame rose from the stove. From the half shadows the women’s faces appeared weirdly distorted.
“Who are you cutting today, dear?” Maggie asked Mary.
“That pretentious archer Dee, and whatever,” Mary giggled.
“That writer, thinks she’s so smart,” Priscilla said. “Thinks she can run around the country free as a bird, no tethers. It’s not right. Look at me, the very pillar of the community. Here every day for twenty years. Don’t see me running around. My hubby would never allow it.”
“That housewife with tattoos and green hair,” Jane said. “No one should look like that. She should hide her bosom, wear plain clothes. And those tattoos! NO! She gets cut!”
“I’m cutting that artist,” said Maggie. “Thinks she’s so smart with all her murals. Anyone could do it if they had enough energy.”
Hands lifted, fingers cut, snip, snip with curlicue handles of crafting scissors. Teeth, eyes, hands and hair were cut from old magazines cluttering the table where the grinning, squinty eyed old women sat. Arms, legs and feet heaped up in piles.
A malevolent mist rose in the room as the women began to chant, “Snip, Snip, Cut N Paste. Hurry, hurry, make some haste. Make ‘em ugly, pay em back. Whack, Whack, Whack.” Louder and louder and faster and faster they chanted as they cut images from the magazines and began to paste them onto cardboard female shapes.
“Name them, name them,” Maggie screeched, the orange fire tatters roaring to bonfire heights in her eyes.
With a high pitched piercing cackle, Mary shrieked, “Dee,” as she pasted together a likeness of Dee out of the pile of cuttings, but with the right thigh attached to the ankle. The left leg became ankle and calf only, attached to a hip now protruding crookedly. She cackled “and whatever, someone’s guts,” as she glued the right arm onto the left side of the body and glued the right arm into the middle of the back.
Priscilla made a loud belching sound and with it breathed out the name “Ella!” as she pasted both arms on one side, a nose on the fore-head, made the face oblong with no neck and covered the mouth with an ear.
“Isabel,” growled Jane as she pasted together a body long and straight, with the head attached to the right knee and the arms protruding from where the ears should have been.
“Ashleigh, that golden haired painter,” snarled Maggie. “ She will never paint again!” She pasted together a face with no mouth, the five fingers of the right hand protruding from the forehead. There were only stubs where the left and right arm used to join the shoulders.
Isabel felt an excruciating horror of pain. Her body was stretched long and straight, her feminine curves gone, her head stuck to her right knee and her arms struck at the air from where her ears should be.
Dee’s archery arm wiggled uselessly at her back. She spun around her room in a limping circle, her left hip protruding crookedly.
Ella tried to speak but could only hear from her mouth a skunk’s rabid cry.
Ashleigh’s useless fingers clenched and grasped spastically from her forehead as she struggled mute, kicking over cans of paint. Her silent shrieks broke against her rib cage. She fainted.
It was midnight and coyotes prowled the rural streets.
Cold moonlight seeping through hospital curtains illuminated the mirror across from Ashleigh Allen’s bed. She saw a deformed creature wearing her face. Fingers on its forehead, no mouth. A violent shock of cold fear ran through her blood. Something lurched forward from the dark hospital hallway into her hospital room.
A dark hunched figure leaned over her, whispering. “It’s them, Ash. The women’s club women. They cut us, Ash. Ash. It’s not a virus. It’s them Ash. Bitches. They cut us, crafted us back like they wanted us to be. They hate us. Ash. Wake up, Ash. Wake up.”
It had been six months since the local newspaper had run the headline: VIRAL STRAIN DEFORMS VILLAGE WOMEN. Women hospitalized as unidentified virus causes deformities.
Shunned by the villagers, the four women now resided within the walls of a nursing home on the outskirts of town where they were tended to by bent, aged women who also lived as outcasts upon the nursing home grounds.
Dee sat crookedly, one hip protruding over the edge of her chair. She had learned to use the right arm and hand attached to the left side of her body though not the left arm and hand attached to the middle of her back.
Ella had become adept at using both her arms and hands even though they were both on the same side of her body. Though her mouth was covered by an ear, she found she could still make humming sounds.
Ashleigh, through hard work, had learned to use the five fingers of the right hand protruding from her forehead. Though she couldn’t speak, she found that she could make audible humming sounds using her throat and her breath.
“Today’s the day,” Dee whispered to each woman when they gathered finally one day at a table in the recreation room of the drab nursing home.
Ella started humming softly as she took up scissors at the crafting table and began to cut a figure from paper.
Ashleigh joined the humming as she bent her head to the table and used the fingers in her forehead to cut, snip, snip. Isabel and Dee cut and chanted to the strange melody Ashleigh and Ella hummed. They cut and pasted figures of four women into a circle, their hands bound together. They chanted the names Mary, Maggy, Priscilla, Jane as they passed the glued circle of figures to each other, crumpling, crushing and wrinkling the figures as much as they could.
Isabel and Dee were chanting as loudly as they could now, a high-pitched weird rhythmic chant. The chanting and humming grew louder and faster, louder and faster. The humming of Ashleigh and Ella resounded and followed, creating an undercurrent of sound like a nest of angry hornets.
“Effigy of our enemies, bind them together the ring of four. Crumple them up and crumple them more. Forever wrinkled, bound round and round. The hags together forever, never free and from their wretched lives now may never flee.”
Maggie, Mary, Priscilla and Jane found themselves spastically dancing in a circle in the street in front of Jane’s house. Their hands had flown together, sticky and hot, binding them together. They screamed accusations at each other as they tried to break from the insidious circle.
“Let go of me you hag,” Priscilla shrieked at Jane.
“No you let go of me. You’re the one holding on,” Jane howled.
“Why’d you get so fat and whatever,” Mary shrieked at Maggie.
“I don’t have the energy for this, let go,” Maggie screamed.
Maggie, Mary, Priscilla and Jane cried out as they watched each other wrinkle and take on the look of crumpled paper.
They stumbled, pulling one another into Jane’s house where it is said they lived for months eating what was left of food in Jane’s larder, bumping it from shelf to floor with their wrinkled faces, pushing one another out of the way in a fury of hunger with swine like grunts.
Jane’s house is still there in the tiny village. The yard is over grown with weeds and the windows are grey with dust. The villagers say they can sometimes hear curses of blame coming from within the walls of the house. But this is gossip. No one dares to go near the place so no one really knows for sure.