I remember seeing, a little.
A colour, for instance: the light blue of the sky against my skin, although, to be honest, the touch of this blue is what I recall the most, the feel of it against my sister’s face. We were sitting in the fields, and the blue air fondled my hair and the hay against my back, the straw as blue as the sky. Vague blots of blue– were they birds?
I have been told about birds, and can hear them from my window. I heard them when my sister said, “Our family will be so lucky, thanks to you. The government will take care of us now. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt.”
That is the only lie she has ever told me.
Sometimes I wish I could see my sister’s face.
The Mulack who did the ceremony visits me. “Your sister is tall and very beautiful,” he says. “Your mother is old, but now has money to buy food for the family.” I have so few pictures in my mind to help me. I do remember him, that Mulack, not his face, but his fingers flicking across my eyelids. Mostly I see the light he told me to gaze at.
“It is multi-magic,” he said. “Sunbeams, shapes, and it will relax you. Don’t flinch and it will be over.”
I remember he hummed a song with three notes. I still see his bulky fingers.
“Be brave,” he said. “The others will follow your example. They trust you because at first you said no to this.”
It was my mother who said no. She hadn’t wanted it done. She kept putting the day off, until it was almost too late. When you turn twelve, they won’t do it anymore, and then you become a Mulack, separate from the town. It is the only thing left for men who haven’t had the ceremony. The rest of us train to do honorable jobs.
She hid me away for a while. She told everyone I had died, but my sister finally talked her into it. I think my mother wanted me to have something my father had never had, a sight of the face of my bride, her smiling face.
Everyone in the town came to the ceremony. The food was delicious, we played games, and then the Mulack called our names one by one. He asked me if I wanted it done, and I chose of my own free will. I told him, yes, I wanted it.
“You are very brave. You are a man, now,” he said.
The ceremony was very beautiful. The Mulack washed my feet and face with rare oils and the girls of the town sang and called, “Will I be your bride?” They wrapped me in silver cloth, very tight around my arms and the prettiest one whispered in my ear, “Don’t forget me when it’s time. Look at me now.”
I have tried very hard to remember that face. I can’t.
The Mulack turned me to the crowd and spoke. “He is blessed. He is spared my shame.” And the crowds of girls cheered and sang again, our town’s great song.
The beauty of the ceremony is impossible to describe; but it really is the highlight of any boy’s life.
Then the Mulack turned my face toward him and told me again to be brave.
But I answered, “Don’t worry, I am strong, I will not shame my family, like you did.” He smiled at that and told me I was a better boy than he was and would make my mother proud. That I could never hurt anyone now.
“Look into the magic lamp,” he said. It was full of magic, sunbeams and shapes. I did as I was told, thrilled to be thought of as good. I felt his fingers lifting my eyelids.
My sister lied about the pain. I would have done the same. A sound, whish, a thought, wish, and the bursting of a balloon.
Everyone says I was very brave, but I remember my own screams and the wetness on my cheeks dripping onto my feet, and the cheers of the crowd. I couldn’t see anything, not those fingers, not the sky, not blue.
The ceremony has changed since then. There is no longer pain. The Mulacks do it in hospitals. Some protest, but I still believe.
Once a man has the ceremony, he can marry and the chance of hurting others is gone. What he can’t see, he can’t harm. And I have respect, I have love. I am treated as wise. The girls say our ceremony is a blessing, and the men of our town are the best: handsomer, kinder, more respectful. They prefer our eyes, cloudy and blue they tell me, blue as the sky.
And for me, my memory of blue is enough.
Louise Lemieux is a Dual Citizen (Canadian/American) and published author with a two-volume ESL textbook Listen Up, as well as three professionally mounted one act plays performed in Vancouver, Quesnel and San Diego: Hello, Goodbye, and I Do I Do I Do I? (New Play Centre, Sunshine Theatre, Main Street Theatre, SDSU). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia (A+ thesis novel, Robert Harlow and Jerry Newman advisers). Scholarships include William Rea Fellowship, Norma Epstein Award, B.C. Cultural Fund Fellowship. She won the TEAL short story award for “My First Day,” and continues to take workshops in writing, including novel workshops with June Hutton and Cathleen With. She teaches writing to conditionally admitted students at UBC. She is also the Troupe Musician for the successful Vancouver Playback Theatre, a songwriter and world traveler.