She feels guilty at once, sucks it back into her chest like an expelled breath, and waits.

* * *

Day breaks like an egg yolk, spilling yellow light across the field.

Adeline slips out of the house before dawn, having never slept at all. Now she winds her way through the wild grass beyond the vegetable garden, skirts wicking up the dew. She lets herself sink with the weight of them, her favorite drawing pencil clutched in one hand. Adeline does not want to give it up, but she is running out of time and out of tokens.

She presses the pencil point down into the damp soil of the field.

“Help me,” she whispers to the grass, its edges limned with light. “I know you are there. I know you are listening. Please. Please.”

But the grass is only grass, and the wind is only wind, and neither answers, even when she presses her forehead to the ground and sobs.

There is nothing wrong with Roger.

But there is nothing right, either. His skin is waxy, his blond hair thinning, his voice like a wisp of wind. When his hand lays itself upon her arm, the grip is weak, and when he inclines his head toward hers, his breath is stale.

And Adeline? She is a vegetable left too long in the garden, its skin gone stiff, its insides woody, gone to ground by choice, only to be dug up and made into a meal.

“I do not want to marry him,” she says, fingers tangled in the weedy earth.

“Adeline!” calls her mother, as if she is one of the livestock, gone astray.

She drags herself up, empty with anger and grief, and when she goes inside her mother sees only the dirt caking her hands, and orders her daughter to the basin. Adeline scrubs the soil from beneath her nails, bristles biting her fingers as her mother scolds.

“What will your husband think?”


A word like a millstone, all weight and no warmth.

Her mother tuts. “You will not be so restless once you have children to tend.”

Adeline thinks again of Isabelle, two small boys clinging to her skirts, a third in a basket by the hearth. They used to dream together, but she has aged ten years in two, it seems. She is always tired, and there are hollows in her face where once her cheeks were red from laughter.

“It will be good for you,” says her mother, “to be somebody’s wife.”

* * *

The day passes like a sentence.

The sun falls like a scythe.

Adeline can almost hear the whistle of the blade as her mother braids her hair into a crown, weaves flowers in the place of jewels. Her dress is simple and light, but it might as well be made of mail for how it weighs on her.

She wants to scream.

Instead, she reaches up and grips the wooden ring around her neck, as if for balance.

“You must take that off before the ceremony,” instructs her mother, and Adeline nods, even as her fingers tighten around it.

Her father comes in from the barn, dusted with wood shavings and smelling of sap. He coughs, a faint rattle, like loose seeds, inside his chest. It has been there for a year, that cough, but he will not let them talk of it.

“You are almost ready?” he asks.

What a foolish question.

Her mother talks about the wedding dinner as if it has already come and gone. Adeline looks out the window at the sinking sun, and doesn’t listen to the words, but she can hear the light in her mother’s voice, the vindication in it. Even in her father’s eyes, there is a measure of relief. Their daughter tried to carve her own road, but now things are being set right, a wayward life dragged back on course, propelled down its proper path.

The house is too warm, the air heavy and still, and Adeline cannot breathe.

Finally the church bell tolls, the same low tone it calls at funerals, and she forces herself to her feet.

Her father touches her arm.

His face is sorry, but his grip is firm.

“You will come to love your husband,” he says, but the words are clearly more wish than promise.

“You will be a good wife,” says her mother, and hers are more command than wish.

And then Estele appears in the doorway, dressed as if she is in mourning. And why shouldn’t she be? This woman who taught her of wild dreams and willful gods, who filled Adeline’s head with thoughts of freedom, blew on the embers of hope and let her believe a life could be her own.

The light has gone watery and thin behind Estele’s gray head. There is still time, Adeline tells herself, but it is fleeting, faster now with every breath.

Time—how often has she heard it described as sand within a glass, steady, constant. But that is a lie, because she can feel it quicken, crashing toward her.

Panic beats a drum inside her chest, and outside, the path is a single dark line, stretched straight and narrow toward the village square. On the other side, the church stands waiting, pale and stiff as a tombstone, and she knows that if she walks in, she will not come out.

Her future will rush by the same as her past, only worse, because there will be no freedom, only a marriage bed and a deathbed and perhaps a childbed between, and when she dies it will be as though she never lived.

There will be no Paris.

No green-eyed lover.

No trips on boats to faraway lands.

No foreign skies.

No life beyond this village.

No life at all, unless—

Adeline pulls free of her father’s grip, drags to a stop on the path.

Her mother turns to look at her, as if she might run, which is exactly what she wants to do, but knows she can’t.

“I made a gift for my husband,” says Adeline, mind spinning. “I’ve left it in the house.”

Her mother softens, approving.

Her father stiffens, suspicious.

Estele’s eyes narrow, knowing.

“I’ll just fetch it,” she continues, already turning back.

“I’ll go with you,” says her father, and her heart lurches and her fingers twitch, but it is Estele who reaches out to stop him.

“Jean,” she says in that sly way, “Adeline cannot be your daughter and his wife. She is a woman grown, not a child to be minded.”

He finds his daughter’s eyes, and says, “Be quick.”

Adeline has already taken flight.

Back up the path, and past the door, into the house, and through, to the other side, to the open window, and the field, and the distant line of trees. The woods standing sentinel at the eastern edge of the village, opposite the sun. The woods, already cloaked in shadow, though she knows there is still light, still time.

“Adeline?” calls her father, but she doesn’t look back.

Instead, she climbs through the window, wood snagging on the wedding dress as she stumbles out, and runs.

“Adeline? Adeline!”

The voices call out after her, but they stretch thinner with every step, and soon she is across the field, and into the woods, breaking the line of trees as she sinks to her knees in the dense summer dirt.

She clutches the wooden ring, feels the loss of it even before she tugs the leather cord over her head. Adeline does not want to sacrifice it, but she has used up all her tokens, given every gift she could spare back to the earth, and none of the gods have answered. Now this is all she has left, and the light is thin, and the village is calling, and she is desperate to escape.

“Please,” she whispers, her voice breaking over the word as she plunges the band down into the mossy earth. “I will do anything.”