He’d told her what she wanted was wrong so many times that she believed him. Soon, she didn’t want anything at all. He assured her she was blessed by freedom from want and soon she believed that, too.
“What do you want, my darling? he asked.
She looked around, at all the sweetness and the juice that the market had to offer. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask for a pear. “I want…”
He pierced her with his frown.
“Nothing,” she said.
He clapped her on the back. “That’s my girl.”
He took her to the beaches of More, where pine-smelling purple sand crunched beneath her sandals and grey waves pounded joyfully against the shore. She waded in up to her ankles, spun around in the water, swung her hands through the briny air. “I want to dance.” Her soul sang so loudly it joined with the songs of the gulls. “I want to dive into the water and investigate the deep, I want to search out the hidden secrets of…”
The Man put his hands on her shoulders. “We better get home, unless you want-”
His eyes met hers and he shook his head slightly.
“I…” she began.
He bit his lip and stared into her.
“I want nothing,” she said.
His weathered face cracked into a giddy grin. “Me neither!”
They drove home in silence.
A boy from the village came to the house one day, armed with holy scriptures and warm brown eyes. The Man was out tending the mills so she let the boy in; looked at his pretty pictures and listened to his pretty words. She let him out again before the Man came home.
“Can I come again?” he asked.
“Can I meet you somewhere?” He looked down at her with a hopeful smile.
She stared at him with her lips parted. Something sparked. The words came out of her unwilled. “Yes.”
When the vegetable seller came around, she beat the Man to the door. The woman held out the board that displayed her wares. Pearl-colored Tillian apples, bound-up bunches of starlight, fresh feathered greens, and rosy radishes. It all looked so delicious. “I want-”
The Man came up behind her, rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Nothing,” she said. She turned around and looked at him, then back at the seller. “I want nothing.”
The seller’s shoulders drooped.
“But maybe next time,” she said.
The seller smiled.
She smiled, too, just a little.
The Man made a gritty sound. His hand gripped her shoulder, but he said nothing. Neither of them turned around until the seller was gone.
Under the green, green canopy of the pines, the missionary laid her down.
“I want you to want me,” he said.
She wriggled away from him. The tear never left the corner of her eye. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know how.”
She returned to the Man. He did not ask where she had been.
The missionary did not come again, but the greapers did.
When they offered annihilation in the shape of a pill, she honestly believed that this was what she wanted all along.
She dry-swallowed the little green square and slept alone on a bed of pine needles, lulled into deep darkness by the whistling of the wind in the branches.
“I want to live.”
Too late, whispered the darkness.
The light burned. It was too white, too bright, too unforgiving. But then his face blocked all the light. It was the missionary. He spoke too loudly; his words burned her brain. Was this hell? But he seemed so happy.
“-every day I waited in the forest, and finally you came,” he said. “I’m so glad. We’ll never-”
“But, the Man,” she said.
“Oh.” He stepped backward. “I’m sorry. He’s gone. He’s gone to be with the greapers now.”
She sat up. Banged her head on the back of the bed. It hurt; her head rang with glorious pain. She was alive. “I don’t understand.”
He pressed his lips together. “He wanted nothing. They gave it to him.”
She shook her head.
He stepped closer. “And what do you want?” he asked her. So softly. His eyes were hopeful again.
She smiled. The gesture felt awkward, but maybe with practice she could improve.
He touched her cheek, kissed the corner of her smile. His lips tasted like sweet pear juice.
“Everything,” she said. She touched his hand. “I want everything.”