|'Be Ye Also Perfect' by Robert O. Hodgell|
By Tony Simmons
In the end, naked as the stars and black as the night, the girl knelt before the old woman and waited. The wise woman, holder of the village history, clutched her book of secrets to her shriveled breast — blind eyes focused on the future. Skin ashen with years and etched like bark, limbs like dried reeds, the woman hovered between the girl and her hut. She would almost disappear into the grain pattern of the wooden walls if not for the simple cotton dress she wore, its colors having faded to a uniform yellow, the flower pattern barely discernible.
The girl, head bowed and hand raised in supplication, caught her breath. For a moment, she thought she smelled the perfume of the flowers on the dress, but then she realized her own bare feet and bended knee crushed the nectar from a hundred night-blooming wildflowers. It was their lifeblood she scented, not the past, not the old woman. She hoped the wise woman had not perceived her confusion, and she bowed deeper, closed her eyes, trembling as the future bloomed and hovered.
“Have ye learned the words of the book?” the old woman asked.
“I know them,” said the girl.
“Are ye frightened of the truth?” the old woman asked.
“No longer. I am amazed and sorrowful.”
“Can ye keep a secret?” the old woman asked.
“If I could, I would not tell you.”
“Then ye are prepared,” the old woman said, lightly placing one palm on the crown of the girl’s head. “Be ye also perfect.”
The woman shrugged out of her dress, bent and folded it, and set her book of secrets upon it by
the girl’s bended knee. Her soundless feet treading night flowers, she walked away from the hut and the girl, naked as the stars, into the night and the jungle.
The girl took the dress and the book. She stood and slipped the dress over herself and stepped into the hut, her head raised, her eyes clear, her future having played out before her.
(Author's note: This flash fiction arose from an assignment I gave my creative writing students. We meet at the Panama City Centre for the Arts, and I directed them to stroll the gallery and pick out a painting that spoke to them. Then I challenged them to write a short piece based on the story they got from the painting. This is mine.)