Morning Dove

      Every morning, a dove rests on my windowsill surveying its kingdom beyond my window, searching for encroaching danger. The dove is never caught, never harmed. It grooms itself by tucking its pretty head beneath its wing. I open my window and the dove flies inside, sitting on my hand as it sings to me. My tears fall on its feathers, and they turn into gold.

      Father calls me to come downstairs. At the sound of his harsh voice, the dove startles and flies away. I close my window and open my wardrobe. Aaron hangs beside my dress, his slim neck swollen and purple and his tongue dripping scarlet blood seeping from his throat. 

      I wear a tight white collar around my neck. I wear a long black dress that begins at my collar and ends at my feet. I am tethered by the long white apron tied around my waist. The elders say the dress keeps me modest and this pleases God. I wonder why it pleases God that I am collared and tethered.

      When I scrub the floor, my collar pulls tighter, my neck swells and pinkens and my tongue numbs with thirst. Drops of blood fall near me. I look up and Aaron hangs above me from the stairway banister. I wash away his blood as the rope creaks, rocking him in the breeze like a gruesome cradle.

      Abraham, our spaniel, wears a choke chain and is tied to a pole outside our grey wooden house. The ox wears a yoke when ploughing the fields under the hot sun, its mouth matted with foam. In the evening, Abraham is set free from his chain and the ox is freed from the yoke. I am not freed from the tight white collar around my neck.

      When I turn thirteen, my periods begin. With the onset of menstruation, my life belongs to the village. Mother speaks to me in private.

      “Abilene, you are a young woman. More than ever, you must keep your body and your thoughts pure,” she tells me. “You will not go to school anymore. You will stay at home and learn to be a good wife.”

      By the time I am sixteen, I live the same routine every day. I wake up at dawn and make breakfast for the family with six of my siblings, three of whom are my nieces and Father’s sister wives. I scrub the floors until they shine. I care for six of the children, not having much of a choice in what I do. 

      Father will soon wed me off, and this worries me. I have a secret love, a young man named Aaron. We want to marry, but the elders claim Aaron is too young to wed. This is a lie; the elders want the young women for themselves.  

      I tell Mother about Aaron hoping that she understands. “Mother, we want to marry. We are in love.”

      “Abilene, you know you can’t marry a young man. You must wed an elder.”

      “Mother, you married Father when you were both young. Why can’t I do the same?”

      She nods and says, “Abilene, I was very lucky to have a kind-hearted father. My mother had great sway over him even when the elders disapproved.”

     “You can sway Father!”

      “Yes but only so far.”

      I implore Mother again. “Alright Abilene. I will speak to your father, but please don’t expect him to agree. You know how devoted he is to the teachings of the church.”

      I squeal with joy and hug her so hard she lets out a “woof!” 

      She laughs. “Abilene you will squeeze another baby out of me, and I’m not pregnant!”

      When the time is right, Mother asks Father if Aaron and I can marry, but he flatly refuses. He tells the elders about us, and they order Aaron to leave the village. He can never return. I want to spit in Father’s face. I can’t believe he would deceive me this way. Mother holds me in her arms as I cry. 

      “Abilene, my precious girl, you don’t know what love is. You will be fine,” she says.

      Bravely risking capture and punishment, Aaron returns for me. We meet in our secret hiding grove in the village.

      “Aaron, are you brave or foolish?” I chastise him. “What if you get caught?”

      “Abilene, I had to see you again. Will you leave with me?”

      “Aaron, if I leave, Mother and Father will disown me just as yours have done.”

      “Abilene, the outside world is not what the elders say. There is much to learn, and we will be together as man and wife,” Aaron says. 

      He kisses me on my lips for the first time. I feel his warmth with a rush of emotions and unsaid words. Aaron hugs me and slips away as I make my decision right there, right then, to pack a bag of clothes and leave the village in the morning. I hurry home, change into my nightgown and fall asleep smiling.

      That night, Father wakes me from my sleep and pulls me out of bed. He throws a coat over me and leads me outside the house. Two elders wait for me with fierce looks on their faces. I look to Father for help. He stares at me with thunder on his brow. The elders tie a rope around my wrists, and Father pulls me by the rope into the woods. Sometimes I stumble and fall, and Father pulls me upright by the rope without slowing.

      As I’m dragged into the woods with a mixture of mud and blood on my face, I see someone hanging from a tree … by the neck. It is Aaron. Father brings me to that tree. I stare and stare and then, I scream. I curse God as I throw myself on the ground and kick and tear at the grass. Father pulls me to my feet and hits me in the face so hard I fall again. 

      “You’re the devil’s spawn, Abilene! Why has the Lord cursed me with you?”

      The elders watch as Father ties me to Aaron’s tree. I cry out to him. “Father, please forgive me! Please don’t leave me here with Aaron!”

      “Abilene, you wanted to be with Aaron. Now you can.” He leaves and doesn’t look back. 

      I feel the sting of his palm on my face. I hear the creaking of the rope as Aaron moves and turns in the soft breeze over my head. I see his feet above me and his neck twisted towards the sky. His eyes are open and he stares at me in accusation the entire night I keep my unwanted vigil. When I clamber as far from the tree as the rope allows, he turns his head and watches me. 

      The morning dove flutters down from the sky and morphs into a horrid black raven. The blackness of its wings pales in comparison to that of its soul. It sits on Aaron’s shoulder and taunts me in its raw, harsh voice. 

      “Abilene! Abilene!”

      I am terrified of the woods. Wolves come from the forest and kill our sheep. I hear twigs snap, owls hoot and animals grunt. I close my eyes and wait for a wolf to pounce on me and rip out my throat.

      By sunrise, Father cuts me free of the rope and carries my limp body home to Mother. She bathes me as quietly as she can; she doesn’t want my siblings to waken. The bathwater stains red, but she says nothing. She tucks me into bed, and I stay there all day and night. Mother tells my siblings I am ill. The girls think I have my period and are careful not to shame me around the boys.

      Hereafter, Aaron beseeches me to save him or join him in death. I become weary with resistance. I think of going to the river, filling my apron pockets with rocks and slipping beneath the water.  

      I work hard to blend into the family. I ignore Aaron’s body and deafen myself to his pleas. Inside, I fear I’m losing my mind, but I don’t tell Mother. She will tell Father, and I will be punished again.


      A month after Aaron’s murder, Mother sits silently in her room. I tap on the door, and she bids me to enter.

      “Mother, you are the most beautiful of Father’s wives. I don’t understand why he wants Hannah and Joreen,” I tell her. 

      Hannah and Joreen are sisters. Hannah is one year younger than Joreen, who is only two years older than me. Father is marrying both sisters today. He has six wives in his stable and fifteen children including me. He has seven grandchildren. There will be more wives, more children and more grandchildren.

      “Abilene, you mustn’t talk that way about your future stepmothers.”

      “They aren’t my stepmothers!” I reply. “The only mother I have is you.”

      She kisses the top of my hand and whispers, “Thank you.”

      “Besides, Hannah is Father’s stepmother, is she not?”

      “Abilene, please stop this talk!”

      Hannah is my aunt by adoption. She was later married to my grandfather and is now a widow. Hannah is Father’s adopted sister and his stepmother by way of marriage to his father. 

      After Father and Hannah are wed, her belly shows, and we learn she is pregnant. Father’s affair stuns me. I know his marriages hurt Mother, but I never thought he would commit adultery. Mother encounters Hannah in the kitchen and looks at her with deliberate eyes. I glower at my stepmother. I want to slap her in the face and call her a whore. 

      Hannah births her bastard child in Mother’s bed. Her sister wives encourage her as she screams and writhes in pain. She births a girl that Father names Charity. Hannah doesn’t leave Mother’s room for seven days. Joreen, whose belly is round with child, shows Charity to the family. Father orders me to hold Charity. I seethe, but I have no choice. 

      When I hold the baby, I am overwhelmed with her smell and warmth. Like Hannah, Charity is a pink and white doll. Her tufts of hair are a soft white-gold, and her eyes are azure blue. Mother hovers over me as I hold Charity to my bosom. Father watches me and is pleased. He looks toward Mother who disguises her disgust, but something stirs in me whenever I hold Charity. 

      The following morning, Aaron’s body hangs from a rafter in the kitchen as I wash dishes. I look at him with tears streaming down my face.

      “Aaron please! Stop this! They will hurt you again, and they will shun me!”

      Sensing a presence, I turn and see Edna, my mother’s sister wife, in the doorway. Her eyes narrow. “Abilene, who are you talking to?”

      I dry my hands with my apron and lie, “I wasn’t. I was praying as I worked.”

      Edna says nothing and leaves the room. I go about my day doing my chores, mourning for Aaron. 

      Father orders the family to punish me. My siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and stepmothers won’t speak to me. Bewildered, I look for Mother and ask her why I am ignored. Mother doesn’t say a word. She scoops up a basket of laundry and leaves the room. I am invisible to everyone in the house. 

      Before I retire to bed, I kneel and say my prayers. Mother opens the door. 

      “Your father sends for you,” she says and leaves.

      I pull a robe over my nightgown, braid my hair and cover it with a cap. Father is seated in the kitchen.

      “Abilene, you aren’t well. You speak to Aaron and you see him. I am chastising you for four weeks. The elders approve of your correcting. We must cast Aaron’s spirit from you or your soul will be damned.”

      Father walks me out of the house to the shed and locks me inside. The shed is used for punishing his wives and children. I never thought I would spend time here. The shed is small and dark. There is no window. There is a bucket of water for me to drink and a bucket in the corner  to relieve myself. 

      Mother brings me water and bread. This is all I will eat and drink during the punishment. When I retrieve it Mother closes and locks the door. 

      Days, weeks and years pass. Aaron scratches at the door to get in. I hold it closed with my body when he kicks it and shrieks at me to let him in.

      “Aaron! Please let me be. Father is chastising me!”  

      The raven appears inside the shed. It sits on a rafter above my head and caws its joy at my suffering.

      “Abilene! Abilene!”

      I kneel in the dark and pray to God for forgiveness. Father appears and ties me to Aaron’s tree calling me an abomination. The sound of a baby’s cries torments me, and I crawl around in the dark looking for it. I can’t find it, and it keeps screaming.

      A thick, black bush grows from the floor and burns brightly. The fire doesn’t consume it, and it doesn’t hurt my eyes to look at it. The Book of Moses rises out of the fire and delivers itself into my hands. I throw it at the raven, knocking the bird into the fire. It shrieks and tries to fly away. I stare in wonder as it morphs into Aaron who turns to ash as the fire burns down. I sift through the embers, gather the ashes in my hands and blow them into the air.

      I hear the key rattle in the lock, and Father opens the door. The sunlight burns my eyes. I am unable to walk or speak. Father picks me up and carries me inside. Mother draws me a bath and helps me into the tub. She scrubs my body and washes my hair. I tell her about Moses and the raven but she hushes me, telling me I am speaking in tongues. Mother helps me out of the tub and tucks me into bed. I fall into the deepest slumber I’ve ever known. I sleep for a full day.

      I awake and dress the next morning. The dove flies down onto my windowsill where it grooms itself. I look at the calendar. It was July when Father forced me into the shed. It’s August. 

      Mother greets me with a smile. “You have done well Abilene. Father is pleased. Your chastisement is over.”

      I fall into Mother’s arms and weep on her shoulder. I thought the punishment would never end.

      “I know it has been a struggle, Abilene, but your correcting has saved you.”

      I am not as happy as Mother. She betrayed me. If Mother was punished, I wouldn’t abandon her no matter what the risk. 

      That night, the family celebrates my return to Father’s good favour with a special meal. There is joy and laughter all around. I feel accepted and loved. Mother taps on her glass with a fork three times, and everyone falls silent with anticipation. She stands and beams at me.

      “Abilene, there is more good news. Tomorrow is your wedding day!”

      The family smiles, and the children clap and giggle.

      I am dumbfounded. “To whom?”

      Father stands beside Mother, putting his arm around her and smiling at me. “Elder Dallin asked for your hand in marriage, Abilene. He was pleased with your correcting. I approve of him for your husband. He is a respected pillar of our community.”

      Elder Dallin is forty-seven and has seventeen wives. He is also my step-uncle. At sixteen, I will be his eighteenth wife. His wives are my sister wives, cousins, half-siblings, and nieces. Half of the sister wives are my age and three are younger.

      “Thank you Father. Thank you Mother.”

      In the evening, Ardeth and Sadie bring a white linen gown into my room. It is plain and has the same tight collar I wear every day. It reaches to my feet. There are no embellishments and no veil. They are prideful. The only difference between my wedding gown and my regular dress is that the gown has no apron.

      “We must fit you for it,” Mother says. 

      I stand on a stool as Mother and my sisters stick pins in the dress and, by accident, in me. I must cut and sew my own dress when they are done. In the morning, I bathe and have a small breakfast. I don’t want to bloat when I am wearing my wedding dress. Father arranges for Elder Dallin and I to wed in the grove where Aaron and I used to meet. He does this as a reproach. 

      I hold hands with my seventeen sister wives and repeat the words Elder Caleb intones. Kaidence is Dallin’s last wife, and she joins my hand with Dallin’s, giving her husband to me. He will bring me home this evening and take my virginity. Soon, I will have my first child and there will be more children until my body is ruined.

      I want to be Abraham the dog when he is freed from his chain. I want to be the ox when  the yoke is lifted from its shoulders after ploughing the fields. I want to be the morning dove when it flies from my windowsill into the open sky. 

      The village holds me in its iron grip. Even in the afterlife, the village owns me. I will be resurrected and reunited with Dallin for “time and all eternity.” I can’t escape the village, and there is no escape from my eternal prison.

Lisa Lahey

A short story of Lisa’s entitled 'Peace and Grub on Saturday' was published in 34th Parallel Magazine's 117th issue, and a children's poem she wrote entitled 'Amaruq's Island' was published in Spaceports and Spidersilk Magazine in their February edition. An experimental prose piece of hers was published in Why Vandalism?, a short story in Suddenly, Without Warning, a poem in Ariel Chart Magazine, and several more stories are slated for publication in upcoming issues of Five on the Fifth, Epater Magazine, and Literally Stories.