She peered at him through the window. He and several other men worked to move a wagon stuck in the mud. Brushing his fingers through his hair, he wiped the sweat from his brow. Her knees grew weak at the sight of him; she instantly fell into a memory.
Her fingers unbuttoning his coat, her dress lifting. The hay rustled beneath them as he thrust deep and hard into her. Their bodies sweat from lust.
Plucked from her dream, Miriam quickly drew the curtains. Mistress Winthrop was preparing the drink. Strewn about the wood table were vials of liquids, dried plants, and crushed herbs.
“You’re certain?” repeated Mistress Winthrop her eyes focused on the table.
Like a frightened little girl, Miriam stared at her shoes and nodded. Her stomach turned as she thought of her forbidden romance. Worse yet, her secret lover’s wife prepared the solution to her unexpected predicament.
Mistress Winthrop crushed herbs with a rolling pin seemingly unaware of the affair. As she thought about Mister Winthrop, Miriam blushed embarrassed by love and of being in the presence of Mistress Winthrop. Her silence left a void disrupted only by a spoon clanking against a metal cup.
“Drink this,” said Mistress Winthrop handing Miriam the elixir, “I added sugar to help with the bitterness.”
The liquid tasted like rancid water, but she gulped every drop.
“Will it hurt,” Miriam kept her eyes on her shoes and dabbed the corner of her mouth with her sleeve.
Mistress Winthrop placed her fingers on Miriam’s chin, so their eyes met, “Don’t be ashamed, many have come before you and more will come after you.” She placed a comforting hand on Miriam’s shoulder before taking the cup from her hands, “You will have cramping then you will bleed as though you were menstruating,” Mistress Winthrop tidied the table.
She led the young girl out of the wood cabin then placed a handful of rags into the pockets of Miriam’s apron, “Use these when you bleed and keep a bowl of water close by.”
Miriam knew that under different circumstances, Mistress Winthrop would have shoved her in the mud and called her a harlot. She thanked the kind woman and went on her way. Unbeknownst to her, Mistress Winthrop knew of the affair.
From the porch, Mistress Winthrop gazed upon her husband. Each year his black hair grew more grey and his face more wrinkled. She glanced at her withering hands. They had lost their elasticity and had become more translucent. She suddenly envied Miriam’s rosy cheeks.
Her husband had wooed this doe-eyed girl, barely sixteen, and for whom love was still a fresh, soft rose. Her shoulders shivered as though a chill had swept by. She could never divorce him if she did both he and the girl would be shamed for life, or worse, they’d be hung. Her face twisted with worry as she contemplated her limited options.