We have been hard at the treadles all day, though it is the height of summer and and sweat streams down our faces, spotting the coarse white fabric we stitch. Everything must be ready for tonight and there are still twelve more shifts to finish before dark.
The men are out, preparing spiritually with the Ovate. We women hide ourselves away and prepare the physical elements; our final earthly meal; our virgin robes, quieting the children, arranging the space.
We don’t know how it will happen, and the Ovate cannot tell us, though it is he who has been chosen to lead us to Glory. When we came we knew it was the beginning of the end of our earthly lives. We came open-armed and open-hearted to prepare for tonight; the next step on our Journey.
And, although I am ready, I slip away from the preparations for a moment, back to my bunk for one final forbidden stolen moment.
In the commune there is no ‘I’, no ‘me’; only Us. Only We. In the commune there is no yesterday, only the onward Journey, so these stolen moments are secret and sacrilege.
So, the box is kept hidden. Contraband. I would be forced out if the others knew I had it still, but I cannot seem to let it go. It is to the box I go now, for one last look into my old life; something to remember, to take with me to the new.
I slip it from under the mattress and prise off the lid. There is little inside, but it is like a window to the past, to feelings both heady and terrifying. An old book, my once favourite - A Christmas Carol. I let the memories wash over me again, for the last time; sitting with Father to hear about miserly Scrooge and kindly Bob Cratchit, then Christmas dinner and presents with my brother and sister.
A bright strip of red ribbon, a tarnished silver necklace and the handful of photographs I could grab before I left them; evening bathtimes, bedtime stories, birthday presents, laughter, the joy of one another.
False joy that distracts us from the path to Glory. I know this, yet still I look and touch and feel.
One too-bright photograph of Cassie and Michael and me, sitting down to a family tea of waffles and beans at our old scrubbed kitchen table. A casual, throwaway snap that captures our ordinariness. As I look at our scrawny elbows in threadbare jumpers my heart treacherously aches for a time before the Glory, when happiness was simply tastes, smells, laughter, love.
And as the first seeds of doubt settle, seed, begin to grow, I feel the rich sensations of my past contrast to the starkness of my today and the uncertainty of my tomorrow it is time to put away the box forever; to go down, pull on the white robe and hear the final words I will know in this life.