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An imaginary retelling of the beginnings of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 throught the eyes of one of the possessed young girls.
Risa Peris has a background in law, finance and journalism. She currently writes on scientific and historical themes.
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
This February is so frigid and damp that it feels as if the whole house is submerged in ice water. I remember a large and heavy book the Reverend had in his library. He called it an ‘Atlas’. I mouthed the word in a low whisper.
“The word is an ancient Greek derivation,” he had said. I turned the pages of the Atlas carefully. I gazed at the Artic Ocean with its many white islands suspended in the antique blue ink.
“Some are floes,” he had said. They are fragile, melting ice tablets that break away from the solid ice shelf.
“They are fledgling souls,” I said. He chuckled deeply at that.
“They are disintegrating souls. They cause the Artic to lessen in strength and stature. The souls of the floes have no courage to adhere.” That is hell; I remember thinking - coldness, dampness and lessening strength. Hell is this February in Salem Village in the Year of Our Lord 1692.
I do not know who ordered the baking of the cake. But they sent Tituba to ask for my urine. My behavior had been so strange for weeks that a request for a pot of my urine hardly seemed unusual or odd. I complied with a grunt and a grimace.
“What shall you do with it strange woman?” Tituba’s dark skin glowed like a fine copper kettle in the candlelight.
“Child, I shall mix it with rye meal and bake a cake.”
“Shall you eat it then?”
“Heavens no! I shall feed it to the dog. If he partakes of the cake then the devil resides n your soul.”
“That filthy beast eats anything. Piss or no piss.”
“That is orders.”
“I do not know.”
“Liar! Heathen! Dark magician of the underworld.”
“Shhh! Say no such thing. I walk with the Lord.”
“You walk behind the Lord. It is the Devil you walk with.” I began to moan then. I felt a convulsion beginning in my stomach and radiating outward to my fingertips. I fell to the floor with my back arched uncomfortably toward the ceiling. It was as if I were being pulled upward by my waist with a rope. I screamed in agony. A village woman, by the name of Anne, came in and gazed open mouthed at me.
“Hurry, Tituba. Make the cake.”
I am unsure who became possessed first. My friends and I sat before the fireplace cracking egg whites into a glass of water. We were interpreting the shapes the egg whites made in the clear water. Someone shouted that they saw a man. Another saw a parasol. Another saw a shoe. Then someone saw a coffin. We halted our movements. Death swam in the glass. I exhaled slowly. My breath hung heavy in the air. Someone screamed then. I felt something break inside me. It was a Sunday tea in my soul and a delicate tea cup had been swiped to the floor. Decorum left me. Permission to act as I wished held court over my body. My friend began howling.
I was a spectacle. The town’s respected men said that the Devil resided in me. They wanted to study me. My body twitched and contorted not in agony but freedom. They wanted to know who caused the possession.
“Who brought the Devil to you, child?”
“I do not know.”
“What caused this?”
“A coffin. I saw a coffin in a glass. The Devil brought me death.”
“Dear child, is the Devil speaking to you now?”
“What is he saying?”
“I cannot understand.”
“Why can’t you understand?”
“He is whispering.”
“She says the Devil whispers in her ear.” The old man turned to the Minister with a furrowed brow. The Minister places a warm hand on my head and begins to recite the Lord’s words.
“Get thee behind me Devil,” I say. “Get thee in front of me Lord.” The words calm the convulsions in my stomach. But I want to scream. I feel it bubbling in my throat. The Minister keeps talking and talking and talking. I want him to stop. I want him to remove his hand. I want no more talk of the Devil. I scream. The men stand back looking startled. I scream louder. I begin to run around the room. I throw books from the shelves.
“Leave meeeeeee alone!”
“Who did this to you?”
“Who brought the Devil to you?”
“In the name of Christ tell us.”
“Dear Lord, help this child.”
“Leave me alone!”
“I compel you in the name of Christ.” The Minister grabs hold of my arm. His grasp is rough and strong. I do not like his hand upon me. I fall to the floor. He relinquishes his hold on me. I convulse on the floor. I arch my back upward. I feel the fabric straining at my bodice. The men surround my body. I do not flush in embarrassment. I am flushed with anger.
I usually have to share the bed with my younger sister. She sucks her thumb like a suckling pig and kicks like a young lamb when night terrors seize her. I have to fight for my square of the bed and inches of blanket. When the Devil visited my soul I twitched terribly at night and seizures thwarted the bed like a raft in a sea storm. My sister cried and whined for respite. My parents borrowed a bed by loaning out our milking cow so that I could sleep alone by the fire place. In my own bed, under massive covers and a roasting fire I was able to rest. The twitching stopped and I gazed at the glow of the moon and the shadow of the spidery branches until my eyes became heavy. The Devil did not plague me alone.
My life was halved into dark and light, good and bad, God and the Devil. Through those opposites that is how I interpreted Salem, Massachusetts, the Colonies, England and the World. My behavior was bizarre. It had deviated from what was acceptable in my Puritan world. I could only call my behavior dark, bad and devilish. It needed a source other than me. The well being of my entire community depended upon that premise.
I felt freedom from stricture and scripture those days and weeks that I was possessed. I would have continued on twisting and howling but the town’s people were getting agitated. They wanted a culprit. They wanted to punish those who sullied my innocence. They wanted a show. My friend’s and I could not continue without pointing a finger.
Tituba had rocked me as a baby. She came from the Caribbean. Father was suspicious of her Voodoo ways but I only heard her repeating the Lord’s words and bowing her head before the cross. Never once did I see her throw a toad into a pot or repeat some chant or grasp some Talisman. Her ways were Christian though she was not entirely grimly Puritan.
On the night Tituba baked the cake (before they told me whether or not the dog ate the cake) I had, with a shivering grimace, pointed my finger at Tituba. She was not present when I accused her. When they told her I could hear her cries resounding through the bleak wooden house.
“But I love that child,” she had wailed.
“You brought the Devil to her,” someone had yelled.
“No, no, no, no! I walk with the Lord,” she had screamed.
My earliest memory of Tituba was her bathing me in a metal tub with lavender soap. She sang a lovely hymn as she scrubbed my arms. She poured water over me with a pitcher and I giggled.
She brought it on herself. She claimed to have seen the Devil. I was lying soundly in my bed by the fire. She came in to check on me. She was content that I was not twitching and pulled the blankets tighter around me. Tituba then went to close the shutters of the window but she stopped and gazed for a long time out the window.
“I see a man in the barn. He has a tail. May God bless you child.” She closed the shutters then walked sadly from the room. I was frozen not with cold but with fear. Was the Devil really here? Was he in the barn? I inched slowly from the bed and crawled across the harshly cold wooden floor. I opened the shutters and peaked out the window. I was half expecting to see a horned beast but there was only deep sea darkness. I looked at the barn and saw only a wavering lantern. No man with a tail. Had he been there? Where was he now? I ran back to my bed and cried pitifully. I felt strength flowing from my body. Something had to be done. I had to gain control.
“Tell us who has done this to you child,” says Anne, a local village woman.
“Tituba,” I say. All interest in the witchcake is lost. There is now talk of something called a warrant.
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© 2006 Risa Peris
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