Authors: Shelley Hrdlitschka
Text copyright Â© 2008 Shelley Hrdlitschka
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Hrdlitschka, Shelley, 1956-
Sister wife / written by Shelley Hrdlitschka.
PS8565.R44S58 2008Â Â Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â Â Â C2008-903022-2
First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number
: In a remote polygamist community, Celeste struggles to accept her
destiny while longing to be free to live her life her way.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photography by Masterfile
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Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.
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For Sue, my true-blue friend, with love and appreciation
Heartfelt thanks once again to Beryl Young, Kim Denman and Diane Tullson for being so much more than just a writing critique group.
The inuksuk is a symbol with deep roots in the Inuit culture. It's a directional marker that signif ies safety, hope and friendship. It speaks to a spirit, to what's inside us, yet its meaning is whatever the builder gives it
am consumed with impure thoughts. My head is swirling with stories that would give the Prophet heart failure if he knew of them. I fear that I am destined for eternal damnation.
I haven't always been like this. The stories started when Taviana came to Unity. She wasn't born and raised here like the rest of us but was found on the outside, living on the streets, doing unspeakable things. Jacob, an elder, wanted to help her, so he brought her to us, and she was so grateful that she's worked hard to learn the rules of our faith. Now she understands and appreciates that obedience is the only path to Heaven, but sometimes she slips up, and when we're working side by side, she tells me stories she heard as a little girl.
I know that the only stories I need to hear are ones that will keep my mind pure, and those ones are all contained in the sacred book, so I shouldn't listen to Taviana.
But the way she tells them! She puts on voices, and sometimes she even acts them out. I have to listen, and before you know it I hear myself begging for another one. Right now I'm filled with remorse just thinking about my part in this activity, but I can't seem to help myself.
Today I'm reminded of the story she told a few weeks ago, the one of the boy named the Pied Piper. He was some sort of gypsy who wandered into town playing a flute. The music appeared to cast a spell on the children, and they followed him everywhere. When she told the story, I imagined that the Pied Piper looked just like Jon, tall and slim, with wind-tousled hair. He'd have soft brown eyes that looked right into your soul, and he wasn't a show-off like the other boys.
I DON'T HAVE
a flute, but I have a flock of small children following me from the school to the playground near the river, where I help mind them until it's time to start with the supper chores. I'm trying to remember what eventually became of the Pied Piper and those children. I'll have to ask Taviana the next time we're alone.
I purposely lead the group on the route that passes the Nielsson farm, hoping to get a glimpse of Jon. I'm not disappointed. He's outside, working with a group of other boys. It looks like they're repairing a fence, but there's a lot of goofing off going on. When Jon sees us trudging along, he looks at meâright in the eyes! Then he smiles,
a shy smile. I find myself smiling back but quickly look away. My heart patters in my chest and my cheeks burn.
I try pushing the thoughts out of my head, but it's impossible. My brain just gets filled with them. I'm supposed to remain pure of mind and body for my future husband. My thoughts of Jon are not at all pure, and it scares me that I can't stop them. I find myself making up stories about him, and I add to them whenever I get a chance. There's the Jon-and-I-alone-at-the-river story, wading into the freezing water, shrieking with delight as our feet go numb. Then there's the Jon-and-I-lying-in-the-meadow story. We're staring up at the clouds together, his hand holding mine. My mind has been taken over by an evil imagination monster, and I'm helpless to make it go away. To be honest, I don't know that I even want it to. I want eternal life, of course, but thinking of Jon makes the time pass when the chores seem endless. At least I'm still pure of body.
With these thoughts of my salvation, or lack of it, weighing me down, I struggle to play with the children, skipping stones in the water, making daisy chains and handing out bread and cheese from the snack basket.
“C'mon, Celeste,” Rebecca whines, tugging on my skirt. “Let's play hide-and-go-seek.”
Rebecca is my four-year-old sister who I'm particularly fond of, but I can't even find the patience for her today. “Rebecca, can't you see I'm busy?” I snap, and I push her hand away. The hurt look on her little face irritates me. I continue packing up the picnic basket.
Nanette appears beside me. “Go, Celeste,” she whispers, motioning toward the river. “Take a walk or read from the book. It's okay.”
Nanette, my next youngest sister, has been watching me. She knows that child minding is my least favorite chore, and I know she won't report me for taking a break. She's like the Pied Piper herself: she loves playing with the children. I'll give her a break from one of our other chores later. And she's right. I do need to get away from these children today. I grab my sack and set off toward the bend in the river where I can relax, unobserved. Propping myself against a tree, I close my eyes and soak up the warm afternoon sun. I try to keep my thoughts pure, I really do, but once again I find myself returning to my latest story, the one where Jon and I are living in a faraway cabin, just the two of us, no little children, no sister wives...
When I finally open my eyes again, I notice a figure farther down the river. It's a boy, or maybe a young man, and I know he's not from Unity because he's wearing shorts and nothing else. He appears to be piling large rocks, one on top of the other. He keeps wandering away from his project but then returning to it, bent over with the weight of a new rock. Eventually he sits on the beach to admire his creation. After a couple of minutes, he gets up, stretches, adjusts a couple of the rocks and then wanders off downstream before disappearing around a corner.
Hiking my dress up over my ankles, I cross the stony beach to take a look at the rock formation. As I get closer, I can see that the rocks have been stacked to look like a
little human. There are two blocky legs, a couple of large flat stones representing a body, and another two stones that reach out as arms. This is topped off with a rectangular stoneâthe neckâand then a somewhat smaller round stoneâthe head.
I wonder at the meaning of this little statue. I've heard the Prophet speak of the danger of pagan symbols. Is this something evil that I should destroy?
I circle him a couple of times. He's a squat little fellow who looks happy, despite his lack of facial features. He can't possibly be evil. I find myself smiling at him, and I'm reluctant to leave him there all alone on the beach. How can I just walk away? I have an idea.
Struggling because of my long skirt, I begin to create my own rock formation beside him. First the legs. The rocks must be evenly sized and ones that can lie securely on top of one another. This isn't too hard. I have to search farther down the beach to find large stones that work as a body. If they're too heavy, I can't carry them across the beach, but they have to be substantial enough to represent the trunk. I find I can't hike up my skirt and haul rocks at the same time, so I tuck the hem of my skirt into the waistband of my apron.
Finding long flat stones that can rest on the body as arms is my next challenge. I try to balance them on the torso but they simply drop off the sides. I place a heavier rock on top of the body and then slide the arms under it. That works, and now my statue also has a neck. I carefully balance a head on top.
My statue looks nothing like the first figure, but just like it too. They stand side by side, sturdy, guarding the river that rushes past. They are just rocks, yet they have such character. And they have a connection. I have created one of them. Have I ever created anything before? And how can something I made from plain old river rock bring me so much satisfaction? I don't know, but it does.
I sit back to ponder my handiwork. And then I hear my sister calling me. “Celeste! Let's go!”
I've completely forgotten the time. With a last glance at the statues, I gather up my dress and scramble across the beach to rejoin Nanette and her band of merry children, which is what I've secretly been calling them ever since Taviana told me the story of Robin Hood.
“C 'MON, CELESTE,”
Nanette whispers, poking me in the shoulder. “There must be at least one man you can picture yourself married to.”
I roll over to face her and pull the blankets back up to our necks. One of our little sisters, curled up in a crowded bed beside ours, sighs in her sleep.
“I keep telling you, Nanette,” I whisper back. “There just isn't.” I don't mention anything about Jon. I
imagine being married to him, but he's not technically a man, and she only asked about men. Even though Nanette enjoys fantasizing about marriage, I know that she would be shocked if she knew where my mind has been taking
me lately. It goes without saying that making up stories about being alone with a boy is wrong. Girls in our faith are assigned to men, not boys. Nanette is pure. She has internalized the rules. She finds joy in being obedient. Was I ever like that?
“How about Harold?” she suggests.
“Are you kidding! He's cross-eyed and an old grouch. Yuck.”
“Okay, then how about Graham?”
I think about Graham. At least he isn't
old yet. “No way. His first wife, Elizabeth, she's always cranky. I could never share a home with her.”
“Way too fat. And creepy.”
“But, Celeste, just think how much fun it will be to look after your own babies instead of someone else's.”
My eyes are adjusting to the dark, and I can now make out the freckles that cover thirteen-year-old Nanette's nose and forehead. She's a year younger than I am, but already she's pining to be married and raise a family, just like a good girl should. I understand wanting to get out of this house, but wanting to have babies?
“You're right about that,” I tell her. “I am tired of looking after other people's babies.”
“See? It's going to be wonderful! I just wish I knew who I was going to be assigned to.”
“The time will come soon enough, Nanette.”