In the barn, he tells me, his voice shaking with haste. There’s an old cellar and a pile of straw.

It’s the best they can do.

I don’t question it. The barn door is heavy, almost too heavy for me, especially with a baby strapped to my chest. But I get it open, then closed again, and search for the cellar.

The trap door is hidden. The seams run with the dirty floorboards. If I didn’t know it was there, I might never have seen it. I pull it open, drop down inside, and it shuts.

The darkness closes in around. Stifling. Hot as an oven. Or hell itself. I barely have time to burrow into the straw, covering the baby’s face with my hands to keep the dust out of his eyes, when the door to the barn opens.

Floorboards creak. Dust rains on our heads. Heavy, heavy footsteps. Not the slim farmer, not his mouse-like wife. I bite back the fear on my tongue and hush the baby, soothing him as he stirs. He has dust in his mouth. Please. Please be quiet. For me. Please. He settles, goes back to sleep. I’ve been so careful to keep him asleep.

If he wakes, we’re both dead.

“Anyone else on the farm?” The slave catcher’s voice echoes in the barn. I press my wrist to my mouth, trying to silence my noisy breathing. He can hear me, I’m sure. Hear my fear. Hear my heart pounding. Please be quiet, baby. Please be still.

“No.” The farmer has come in with him. His voice is a refuge for me, my last hope of safety. “No one else.”



Please, you say, your hands folded in prayer.

A daughter, a child, with knots in your hair.

Whatever I’ll give, whatever I have,

It’s never enough.

Never enough.


I’m rich, you said,

Or rich to you,

I eat at night and sleep in a bed,

There are coins in my purse,

I’m always well fed.



Please, you say, your hands folded in prayer.

A daughter, a child, with knots in your hair.

It’s food, you tell me, but I know that’s not true.

He’s around the corner, he’s waiting for you.


Muss up your hair, pluck up a smile,

A few tears don’t hurt,

While you lay on the tile.

Make them believe you, make them feel sad,

It won’t help forever,

But it’ll help for a while.



Please, you say, your hands folded in prayer.

A daughter, a child, with knots in your hair.

The money’s not yours, it isn’t for you,

He’ll take it all and beat you too.


You don’t need my pity,

You need a home,

Someone to love you,

A place of your own.

Hope for tomorrow,

Books you can read.

A mother,

A father,

Someone to take heed.



Please, you say, your hands folded in prayer.

A daughter, a child, with knots in your hair.

I’ll buy you a meal, I’ll sit on the curb.

You’ll tell me your name, your voice will be heard.



I couldn’t help you today,

I had nothing to do.

But it won’t be forever.

I’ll come looking for you.

Someday it’ll be different,

Someday it will change.

You’ll be valued and treasured,

And he’ll be in chains.



They come with the food at dawn’s first breath, when the light is still weak and they don’t have to see our faces or the disease clinging to our hands, our throats. Their carts are full of food for us, vegetables and grain given by charitable men and rich women in the cities for the poor, stupid lepers. We’re dead already to them, corpses that walk and breathe, speak and listen. They don’t look us in the eyes, but I’m past caring. Maybe we are dead. It’s only a matter of time, anyway.

He’s with them when they come. Benjamin. He isn’t supposed to come. I’ve asked him not to, but he doesn’t listen. The men are unloading the carts, stacking the crates, heaving out bags of grain and meal. He slips away from them, and, although I know I shouldn’t, I go to join him.

He meets me behind the rocks, smiling, happy. He’s always cheerful. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry. Sad, only once. He pulls an apple out of his pocket and hands it to me. I take it with the tips of my fingers, careful not to touch him. I don’t want him to be here, certainly not permanently. I want him to live. To have a life.

“How’ve you been?” he asks. I lie and tell him I’m all right, tell him I’m happy. It’s what he wants to hear.

He tells me about his shop, about his sisters, about the life I left behind me when the leperosy touched my throat and hands, and I listen, eating the apple, dreaming of a place where I’m not welcome any longer.

The men call him. I look toward the carts, distracted, and he leans forward and steals a kiss before I can stop him. One kiss.

He’s so stupid, I can’t help but love him.



We take them out of the cages after the moon rises, when the silver light falls on the waves. Faeries. They flutter out of the boat, skimming the water, touching it with their tiny hands and laughing in voices that sound like the whisper of wind through willow leaves. They love the sea. The waves. The ocean. They dip their feet in the salt water and squeal, shouting, and their silvery blue lights, reflections of the moon, shine on the water.

Then the fish come.

They leap from the water, gaping mouths open wide to swallow the faeries whole. They miss, of course. They always miss. And they always come. But to the faeries it’s a great game, a test of their transparent little wings. A contest to see how close they can come to death and still live.

They play it every night.

The water is boiling, silver white scales flashing in the deeps. My father is already bailing, using a bucket to scoop the fish from the water into the boat. I help, clubbing them over the head and dropping them into the nets. Minutes later the shoal is gone, and the faeries return to us, giggling in their stupid little voices, their fun had, their job done. Tomorrow the fish will be sold at market, and my father will buy them an apple as a prize for how well they’ve done, or maybe an orange or a peach, if there’s any to be had. But for tonight, the game is their prize, and they return to the cages happily. Until the next moonrise.

Pirate Flag


They dropped anchor when they saw us coming. Red sails against a blue sky, a flag as black as the ink from a rich man’s pen. No merchant vessel is stupid enough to flee the Caimen. Fast as the winds that cut through the waves in these parts, she has a speed even warship or a sloop would find hard to match.

And men that try to run are too often left to their drowning ship, like rats in the wreckage.

The merchant’s face is white when we board. His men are on their knees, silver and gold, jewels and furs and silks spread out before them like a nobleman’s ransom. A plea, I think. A bribe to let them live.

Scibb runs his fingers through the chests, his eyes alight with a lust for gold that has never been sated. He’ll spend most of it in the next port, waste it on women, wine, and too much rich food. He’s a good first mate, a sailor most captains would envy, but he’s a fool.

I have no interest in gold.

My men find the chest in the hold, beneath a pile of straw. Hidden. I raise an eyebrow at the merchant, enjoying the sweat beading his fat face, and run my fingers over the damp wood. Bound in iron, padlocked with steel. Here is the real treasure, the thing that had me chasing over the high seas after a single fat merchant’s ship.

I take the book out, undo the clasps, and stroke the handwritten parchment, the lustrous illustrations. “Congratulations.” I smile at the merchant and place the book back into the chest, signaling to my men to take it to my ship. “You’ve bought your lives. Live them well.”



Monday. August 21st. 2017. They talked about it for months before it happened, the first full eclipse in 38 years. A milestone. A once in a lifetime chance, for some, to see the moon hid the sun’s face. People packed picnics, drove for hours, were stuck in traffic. All waiting to see it. All wanting the best vantage point.

They cheered when the sun went out, when the light faded. When the darkness came. They cheered and shouted and laughed, then waited for the moon to move itself again. For the sun to reappear.

Only it never did.

Hours, days. A month. A year.

Ten years.

Some places, there is no eclipse. The sun shines. All day, all night, as if the sun stopped in the sky and the earth didn’t spin.

But some places are still dark. As dark as if everlasting night has fallen. It won’t end. Not for us. We live by the light of the stars, keep watch over a dead land full of shadows.

People left in the beginning. Almost everyone did. Only a few of us stayed, preferring the night to the crowded cities, the packed places where daylight reigned. A whole side of the earth was left in darkness, and the places were the sun still shines are mobbed by people looking for the light.

Hoping that there, at least, the sun wouldn’t go out.


scarves-358004_1280She’s back when I wake up. She’s been gone for three days this time, longer than ever before. I was so worried she wouldn’t come back this time, so worried that the Faerie that slips into her window at night and steals her away would forget to bring her back again. She tells me stories about their adventures when he brings her back, about how they flew through the clouds and chased butterflies in the wind and raced a troll for its treasure. I like to hear the stories, but sometimes I worry she won’t come back. The world he takes her to is so exciting. I worry she will forget me.

She’s awake when I slip into her room, her head resting on her pillow and her eyes on the stars we’ve painted on her ceiling. She loves the stars. I go to sit on her bed, and she smiles at me. She’s tired now. She’s always tired when her Faerie brings her back. Their adventures are so wild.

I snuggle down in the blankets next to her and stroke the scarf wrapped around her forehead. Her Faerie’s dust makes her hair fall out, but he gives her beautiful scarves in every color of the rainbow to replace it. I don’t think she minds.

She says she doesn’t.

“Morning, little kitten,” she whispers. Her voice sounds funny. Maybe she and her Faerie were flying in the clouds while she was gone. I hope so. Clouds are her favorite.

I smile at her and kiss her thin hand, her little fingers. She could be a Faerie herself, she’s so small. Smaller than I am, although she’s two years older. “Morning, Evie. How is Chemo?”

She smiles. That’s her Faerie’s name, or the one he told her, anyway. Faeries have lots of names. All different kinds. She told me so.


kitchen-691247_1280They leave their muddy handprints on my wall, on my white, freshly painted wall. I’m sorry, Amma, they tell me, we’ll clean it for you.

I laugh and tell them not to bother. We’ll frame them, I say. Frame them for the days when you’re gone and I’m left here alone.

They laugh at that. They always laugh. It’s so impossible for such little ones to think that someday they’ll be up and gone, and I’ll be here by myself, learning to live without muddy handprints on my white walls.

I’ve seen it before. Many times.

They always laugh.

And they always leave.

I can hear them running in the garden outside, and I push away the curtain and watch them out the window. I’ve had many children go through my home. Hundreds, even. I’m a caretaker, a guardian. I see them born, I see them grow, I see them laugh and live and breathe and die. My mortal children. What a privilege it is, what a privilege to witness their lives, their hopes, their dreams. I have never lived, never aged, never moved on. I will never die. I see them come as newborn babies, children so small they might have been born yesterday, and I see them take their last breath. I bury them. I bury their children. Their grandchildren.

I never age.

But I have the privilege of watching it. That, at least, is some comfort. So long as I can keep the handprints on my walls.

Dung Beetles

adventure-1850713_1280The dung beetles come out after dark, after the stars are out and the moon has fled behind the dunes. They trundle along, pushing their noxious burdens, leaving their tiny trails in the dust behind. I watch them, sifting sand through my fingers, and wish my own path were as easy to follow. They always know where they’re going, dung beetles do, although I never understood why. They walk backward, after all, pushing their spoil ahead of them. How can they see where they want to be?

Amma says it’s because of the stars. They watch the stars and know them all, every one of them, and because of that they can always find their way.

I wish I could name the stars the way they do. Maybe I could find my own way in this world.

My bag is already packed. I’m not taking much with me, only a spare dress, another headscarf, and a waterskin. I don’t dare take anymore. It will be heavy after only an hour of walking, and I have many miles to go tonight. Before the sun rises and my father realizes I’m gone.

My father, and the man I’m to marry tomorrow.

I stand, looking up at the stars. They’ll help me find my own way tonight, the same way they help the dung beetles and the jackals that live in the desert. Wanderers don’t live out on the dunes, not for long, but the stars will see my heart, my hopes. They’ll guide me.

I’m sure of it.

Children of Cambodia

Now a boy, a man too soon,

You barely had the chance.

A child grown, a boyhood lost,

Games soon left behind.

They’ll never know, they’ve never asked,

How far your light might shine.

A helping hand, a winning smile,

You’ve given both to me.

Now a boy, a man too soon,

Your future isn’t mine.

I’ll let you go, I’ll let you grow,

You’ll do the best you can.

What you have isn’t what you chose,

I know you wanted more.

A fight ahead is what you face,

A future never sure.