Mary heard the door open again, and a group of men entered. They fumbled with the padlock, and she took a deep breath.
I am ready.
She heard the door finally open and heard them shuffling, then something heavy hit the ground. They closed and locked the door again.
“Are you sure we should leave him with her?”
“She’s a witch,” someone replied.
The voices drifted away, and she was left listening to the heavy breathing of someone else in the cell with her. She heard them struggle to their feet, cursing.
“Richard?” she asked, her voice weak.
She rolled her head and slightly opened her eyes to see him walk over to a bowl sitting on the floor.
“You didn’t drink any of the water,” he said, picking it up and carrying it over to her.
“What happened?” she asked.
He lifted the water to her lips and helped her sit up. She tried to protest but he insisted.
He tore a piece of his shirt off and wet it in the remaining water, wiping off the dried blood and dirt from her face.
“Stop,” she said.
He dipped the cloth in the water again.
“What does it matter? I’m going to die in a matter of hours.”
He continued to clean her wounds.
“A lot of people say that even when they have years left. A hopeless person doesn’t truly care about the time. And you are not a hopeless person,” Richard said.
“But there is no hope. I want it to be over,” she said.
“You only say that because you’re in pain.”
He cleaned the cloth again in the bowl of water, then rested it on her forehead.
“Why are you doing this? It doesn’t matter. I will never be ok again. I will never …”
She started crying, then looked up at him.
“This place is dark. Everywhere is dark. Inside me is dark … and I don’t think I can ever find my way out. It was always going to come to this, I never belonged. I’m at the end, the end I was fated for.”
They sat in silence. He lifted the cloth from her head and put it back into the bowl.
“In all the books you’ve read, do you know the stories about the Fates,” Richard asked.
“Why?” Mary asked.
“Do you know about them?”
Mary thought for a few moments, trying to focus.
“I remember about the three sisters, and how they weave destiny.”
Richard nodded, then put the cloth back on Mary’s forehead.
“That thread they weave, it doesn’t just bind men to their fates, it binds them too. They’re beholden to its power, no matter how much they may enjoy thinking it is their own. It connects them to each other while wrapped around and embracing each of them like a serpent,” he said.
“I feel bound by that thread too,” Mary said. “The rest of my life is this cell, then the gallows.”
Richard took the cloth away and set it aside.
“There used to be four sisters,” he said.
“What happened to the fourth?”
“She cut the thread.”
Mary looked up at him.
“How?” Mary asked.
“It’s not as strong as you think. It was just a matter of will.”
“That’s no help to me,” Mary said.
“What do you mean?”
“Hopkins is going to come through that door, and I’m going to hang before the end of the day.”
Richard stared at her.
“You said you wanted it to be over,” he said. Then he reached out and pushed a strand of hair out of her face.
“You’re not going to die. I can promise you that.”
Mary tried to laugh, but it dissolved into tears.
“Even if that were true, I can’t undo this. I’m … disfigured. I’m ruined. I do want to die – my body, my spirit, are in too much pain.”
Richard stood up and walked over to the other side of her cell. He picked up her clothes, wiping the dirt off of them, then carried them back over to her. He sat next to her.
“I’m going to tell you something, and I need you to understand that your language doesn’t always have adequate words, so recognize I am using names for things that you have given without understanding what they are.”
She looked up and met his eyes. He began to speak.
“There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what you experience because you are alive. Suffering is what you experience because you are dead.”
He studied her, searching her face.
“You are in pain. But pain whispers to you that you are still alive, because you couldn’t feel pain if you weren’t alive. Your heart is still beating – it tells you so.”
Mary listened intently as he continued.
“But suffering does not care if your heart is beating, it only wants it closed. That is hell. And if you can accept it, that’s heaven too. Both remove your pain, because both take your soul. And that is suffering, and so much worse than pain, because you lose yourself.”
“What do you mean?” Mary asked.
“View pain as a person, with you on your journey. Part of you. Alive. If that cell door opens right now to set you free, you can stand with your pain, and walk out. If you resign yourself to suffering, that door could open and this entire building could blow away, but you wouldn’t leave this spot. You will always stay in your cell because the worst prisons don’t need any locks.”
He stared at her for several moments. She sighed.
“I’m going to die in a matter of hours, whether you call it pain or suffering.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s hours, days, or years – keep your spirit,” Richard said.
“What do I have left to keep?” she asked.
Richard lifted the cloth from the bowl again.
“I’m afraid that if that door opens and you can be free, you won’t walk through it,” Richard said.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“The same reason you are fighting this. You are choosing to suffer to spare yourself pain.”
He began to clean her wounds again.
“You need to get dressed,” he said.
She sat still, thinking.
“The fourth sister – did it hurt when she cut herself free?”
“What happened to her?”
He thought for a few moments.