My burns are not as severe as I fear. At the creases of my elbows, where my sleeves were tight, there are a few long blisters. The rest of my skin is raw and red. I try to imagine the pain spread across my entire body. Iris died quickly in the water, or so everyone is eager to convince me. I pray they are right, and Iris did not feel the agony of her submersion.
All through the mourning and sadness of the day, everyone speaks of the selflessness of Quill and myself in our attempt to save Iris. No one remarks on his condition, though, and I begin to dread that his injuries are far worse than mine.
Once, I pass by Sister Anne's room. I hear her quiet sobbing. I don't intrude upon her grief.
The morning dawns as wet and cold as the one before, as though the world itself mourns. As it should, I think, as Lizzie helps me to tie on my black traveling bonnet. I have no proper mourning clothes in the Shaker style, so I wear what I brought to the commune with me. It seems the weeks have been years since I've come here, and the pain of my father's death, once so closely associated with the hopeless black of my dress, has faded to the back of my memory at this fresh new sorrow.
Iris's grave has been dug among the others behind the meeting house. All of the Shaker family is present, from Elders to infants, though I note there are fewer of us than there were before. So fixated am I with the pine box resting in that deep hole that I do not seek out Quill in the crowd. Then, as though my gaze is compelled, I find him, standing with Pete against the wall of the meeting house. Quill's sleeves are rolled up, and thick bandages wrap his arms.
More than once during the service, I catch him looking at me, and for long moments his gaze does not leave mine. His expression is more stormy than solemn. I know that Benjamin will see our unspoken contact, but I don't care. Quill and I are survivors of a mutual horror. Not even my cousin can interfere with that terrible bond.
The service is short, with a few simple hymns and prayers. All the while, I stare at Iris's coffin, too numb to weep. I didn't want Iris to leave with Ross, and now my wish has been granted. I can never forgive myself.
Even as the mourners file away, I stand by the open grave. The others allow my grief, even Sister Anne, who stays by my side until Quill says, quietly, "I'll bring her back. Go, and get out of the rain."
To my surprise, she leaves me there, alone at the edge of the hole, with Quill on the other side. Perhaps she understands something of the shared pain between Quill and me. I don't know what brought her to the Shakers. That she would allow me to break this rule makes me think that I don't want to know.
Pete comes forward with a shovel and, looking apologetically toward me, strikes it into the mound of soft dirt beside the hole.
"Wait." Quill waves Pete away, and takes the shovel from his hands. "Go feed the pigs. I'll do this."
"Your arms are burnt," Pete points out, but he leaves us, anyway.
"And this is my job," Quill reminds him tersely. I remember the dark little room full of wood smells and grim purpose. John Quill made the coffin Iris now lies in.
My eyes follow his movements as he lifts the shovel and tips the first bit of dirt into the grave. It crashes loud and hollow onto the lid of the coffin, and the sound snaps me harshly into some deeper moment of presence. I have lost Iris, no matter how good I believed my intentions to be. I've lost her, and now I am truly alone here.
A sob forces its way from my throat, and Quill looks at me. There are dark circles beneath his eyes, and every angle of his face seems more sharply drawn. His pain becomes an added weight to my burden, and I cry harder.
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...