One day the baby was fussing more than usual, so that I thought he had soiled himself, but whenI opened the diaper I saw it²a hard little bump in his groin announcing the beginning of the plague. In a day his face was black with it, and in another he died. Little Orsika²the one whohad so loved her brother and doted on him²followed a few days later, her beautiful pale skin bruised a terrible black. I held her in my arms when she took her last rattling breaths and cursedGod that ever I had been born a woman.Like my own mother after my father¶s death, I took to my bed, but I didn¶t weep for my deadones. I stared at the mirror on the far wall, at the wild-haired, squint-eyed madwoman whostared back at me. How would I explain this to Ferenc²the plague coming into our house, andtaking our son and little daughter with it, and so quickly too? Rage and grief strained inside me,threatening always to burst free. The servant girl who left wet spots on the floor of my room, sothat my oldest, Anna, slipped and bumped her head against a table, I thrashed with the heavy endof a candlestick, keeping my blows to the arms and legs so that she might endure a longer beating. The cook who burned the fine piece of salted fish someone sent as a gift I whipped inthe courtyard until her blood spattered my white blouse and I had to change into a new one. Theservants shrank at the sound of my voice, rushing away at my footfalls in the halls and thecourtyards, but I didn¶t care. They were worse than useless, nothing but lazy whores who ate myfood and gossiped about me and rutted like dogs when my back was turned, letting disease anddeath into my house. They cared nothing, nothing for the sufferings of me and my children. Letthem all be damned, if I must be.
What are you most afraid of?
What is any woman afraid of? Of being neglected, of being alone. Nothing frightens memore than the thought of the nunnery, that I might end my days with the shaved head andfrostbitten feet of a mendicant, locked up and forgotten. Irrelevant. Decayed.Once a week the guards outside my prison bring me fresh clothes and go out again, to give mesome privacy. Exposed, my body is a thing I do not recognize. The skin at my belly, stretchedfrom the pregnancies and births of six children, hangs under my navel, webbed with whitestretch marks and so loose I can gather it in my two hands. My breasts hang limp and empty aswineskins, and the flesh at my neck is crumpled, mottled red and brown, my feet callused andtough. Up and down my legs are spidery veins, blue and green, that divide my new self from theold like borders drawn on old maps, conquered by time and indifference.I put on the clean clothes, but they hang loose from my shoulders and gape open at my wrists. Ihave grown thin in the past three years, fed on porridge and fatty meat, bits of undercooked pork or overaged cheese, the sour wine left behind in the cellars. It is as difficult to take pleasure infood as it is to take pleasure in breathing. I remember how I once was, my cheeks pink and blooming, my bosom plump over the tightly laced waistcoat, my hair glossy with health, mysmile as sure of a man's love as any woman ever was. Now my skirt hangs about my waist because there are no ladies to tie the cords or iron the lace frills of a new collar into stiff little points, to serve my face upon it like a platter, as my mother¶s ladies once did for her. I do the best I can with the ties but still nothing fits properly. I push the sleeves up my wrists, bunch the