The Bloody Evidence
By R. D. Flavin

     “You’ve heard of our tradition?”
     “Oh, sure,” Paula answered.  The blonde, petite, twenty-three year old receptionist smiled, took a lengthy pull from her peach-flavored wine cooler, and then placed the bottle carefully on the table before her.  “One of the girls at the office had it done last year,” Paula continued.  “She said it was no big deal, as far as pain goes.  And she raved about the difference afterwards.”
     “This is a good thing, then?” Jacob inquired.
     “Yeah, Jake; I think it’ll be a good thing.”  She leaned close to her fiancÚ and kissed him on the cheek.  “Everything will be fine; don’t worry.”
     “You have made me the happiest of men, my Paula,” he said with conviction.  “And I, Jacob Ibn Napor, will make you the happiest bride in all of history...”
     “The happiest,” Paula agreed.

     The cat was hungry, but patient.  Crouching unnoticed in a dark corner of the tent, the skinny, gray and white feline watched three old women yell at a young woman who sat apart, cross-legged on a stack of richly embroidered pillows.  The cat was a stray from the filthy streets of nearby Zipporah who had followed the women into the desert and stole into the ceremonial tent hoping to feed on some scrap or another.  In silence, it waited.
     “Take that chewing gum out of your mouth and disrobe quickly!  Do it now!”  Paula recognized the voice behind the black veil as her fiancÚ’s eldest female relative, Aunt Ghada.
     Paula stripped, neatly folded her clothes and shivered from the cool, desert night air.  A thought occurred to her which made her shiver all the more, as she realized the office girl who told of her circumcision had the operation performed in a sterile hospital by a trained doctor.  Paula was suddenly very nervous.  She was in the middle of Oman with three old women, and one carried a large, jagged piece of flint in her twisted, arthritic hand.  The nervousness became fear.
     “Lie down, there,” Aunt Ghada ordered, pointing to a thick, lush carpet near the rear of the tent.  Paula did as she was told.
     One of the women withdrew a small, ornately decorated box from beneath her black robe and opening it, the tent became filled with plant aromas, like myrrh and wild jasmine.  She placed the small box between Paula’s legs and all three women took turns dipping their fingers into the box and rubbing the scented ointment on Paula’s temples, neck, thighs and calves.  The ointment was cold and sticky, yet made her skin tingle hot as it was applied.
     Paula felt strangely tired; her eyelids beginning to droop and flutter with unexpected heaviness.  Fear gave way to nervousness, and then nervousness relaxed into acceptance.  She began to feel very relaxed, breathing deeply, and no longer worried about what was happening to her.
     “Let’s get this over with,” she said through lips that were fast growing numb, as if from an injection of novocain.
     “Silence!” one of the women commanded, slapping Paula across the face.  Paula saw the wrinkled, brown hand descend and heard the sharp sound of the slap, but felt the strike as if it was only the lightest of taps.
     A wine-colored pillow was placed under her head and she saw Aunt Ghada lift her veil, spit on the piece of flint, close her eyes briefly and mumble prayers over the jagged stone.  The two other women grabbed her legs and spread them wide, gripping as tightly as their old and tired fingers would allow.
     Her eyes followed the stone hypnotically as Aunt Ghada raised it high overhead and brought it down quickly, repeating the motion again and again.
     With each stroke something warm and wet splashed upon her, covering her face and body.  A dull calm spread over her as she tasted her own blood.  Old hands released their grip on young flesh and Paula felt the gentle ministrations of a little, scratchy tongue.
     “Away!  Away!” shouted one of the women.
     Paula welcomed the blackness stealing upon her and letting go, passed out.
     The stray cat ran out into the desert night and seeing the familiar lights of Zipporah, scurried quickly back to the filthy streets with hopes of finding tasty garbage or a dead body, fresh and soft.

     Infection ravaged her with fever, pus, and pain.  Somewhere within, she fled and took comfort in a dream.  It took a long time for her to find the right dream, but once she had, she tried hard to stay there.
     Paula dreamed of warm, wondrous gardens of quince, pomegranate, and olive.  Blonde-haired children with eyes as dark as a starless night were at play in clear pools and high in tall cedars.  She watched their smooth, sexless bodies scamper about and heard their cries of delight at each new game they discovered.  They played wildly during the day, slept peacefully at night, and Paula felt a deep contentment just watching them.  The dream was as comforting as the kind words of an old friend, until one morning all of the children lined up before her with nasty, jagged stones in their hands.  Friends don’t attack one another, Paula cried out in her dream.  Her loud screams broke the fever and she awoke, stiff and sore.  Opening her eyes, Paula recognized Aunt Ghada leaning over her, sopping up sweat from her forehead with a handful of white wool.
     “You have returned to us,” Ghada said, as if surprised.
     “What day is it?” Paula asked, her voice thin and weak.
     “The day before your wedding, young one,” the old woman answered with an ugly grin.
     “May I have some water?” Paula asked.
     “Anything!  Anything at all...”
     “Just some water; thank you.”.
     Aunt Ghada left the room; her large bosoms, unrestrained behind her thin robe, bouncing against her hips.  Paula waited until the old woman was gone a few seconds and lifted the sheet covering her, and put a trembling hand down between her legs.
     She felt a hard, large scab the size of a beetle near the top of her vagina and it pained her immensely when she touched it.  “What have they done?” she sobbed to herself.
     “What had to be done...”  It was Aunt Ghada, standing in the doorway, smiling her nearly toothless smile, a glass of cloudy, aerated water in her hand.
     The old woman handed over the glass of water and as Paula sipped at it, Aunt Ghada told her some of the history of the custom.  She told how initially, long ago, a small incision was placed on top of a woman’s clitoris to preclude her having sex for any reason other than procreation.  The men of Oman, she related, have always been very strict and prudent when it came to matters of the bed, and it has always been considered a disgrace for a man to live with the sordid knowledge his mother was uncircumcised and performed sex for pleasure and not solely to bring about a new life.  But, sometimes the small incision was not enough and women were known to still derive pleasure from the sexual act.  So, as in Paula’s case, a total clitoridectomy was performed to ensure there would never be pleasure in the act of sex again.
     “But, I thought this was going to make sex better!” Paula cried out, thinking of the girl she knew back at the office.
     “Enough of that!  You will be the instrument of your husband’s pleasure and a clean, strong vessel to hold his proud sons,” Aunt Ghada said reprovingly.  “And you should praise Allah you have been set free of evil bodily temptations forever.”
     Paula closed her eyes and slept, dreaming curses against the dashing, mustached man who promised her romance and eternal happiness.  She dreamed of revenge, foul and delicious.

        The reveling started outside of the Zipporah mosque and continued into the desert.  Din and clamor gave rise to celebration and merriment as the wedding party swelled with late arriving well-wishers.  As the sun set behind the wedding tent, lamps and torches were lighted to illuminate the faces of the crowd.  Family and friends waited anxiously for a cry of delight from within the tent, soon followed by the bloody evidence that the Napors had received into their family a virgin bride, pure and dedicated to Allah.  Several feet behind the tent, in the deepening shadows, a stray cat waited on its haunches for good fortune to come its way.
     Satisfied the womenfolk in her trust were well dined on stewed goat and leeks, and each served a cup of hot coffee with a cardamon seed to chew, Ghada sought out her husband, Muckat, and found him chewing hashish with the younger men.
     “Husband, may I speak?” she asked, a sharp edge on her tone.
     “From your lips...,” Muckat allowed the platitude to go unfinished; his wife’s eyes quelling any further banter between them.
     “It went well, the wedding,” Ghada said proudly.
     “Yes,” Muckat agreed.  “The musicians were good and there seems to have been enough food for everyone.”
     “We may run out of coffee...”
     “Has everyone had one cup?” Muckat asked.
     “Yes.”
     “Then we have done our best; the matter is beyond us now,” Muckat pronounced in his best pious voice.
     “Allah be merciful...,” Ghada added.
     “She is pretty, Ya’qobel’s new bride.”
     “Yes, and she is strong,” Ghada said.  “She conquered the fever and healed faster than many I’ve seen.”
     “I noticed a strange light in her eyes during the exchange of vows.  Is she well?” Muckat asked.
     “Well enough to complain, to swear by false gods, and to hate her new husband and his family...”
     “She sounds like you on our wedding night,” Muckat said with a wide smile splitting his old, leathery face.
     Ghada looked around carefully at the surrounding crowd of family and wellwishers to see if any were watching her exchange with her husband.  Seeing they were unobserved, Ghada kissed her right forefinger and touched it to Muckat’s right ear lobe, speaking the same words she did on their wedding night, forty-seven years ago.  “I touch you in love,” she whispered.
     Muckat looked at his wife for a moment, then took her in his arms and gave her a crushing hug of affection.
     “Husband,” Ghada giggled, “remember where we are!”
     “A wedding,” Muckat beamed.  “My dead brother’s only son has taken a bride and is soon to become hatan damin, the bridegroom of blood!  Allah be praised!”
     No sooner had Muckat prophesied the eminent deflowering of the bride, when a great cry was heard from inside the wedding tent, and the crowds began to cheer with words of encouragement and blessing.
     “That did not sound like the American girl, husband,” Ghada said loudly, over the noise of the cheering crowd.
     “What say you?” Muckat asked, busy accepting congratulations from any and all who approached him.
     “It sounded like Ya’qobel who screamed...”  Ghada’s words failed to reach her husband’s ears.  He was off and rushing towards the wedding tent to receive the bloody evidence proving the Napors had chosen well and selected an unblemished virgin and true daughter of Allah.
     All was commotion; women were dancing in a frenzy of celebration and men were jumping up and down in place, a torch in one hand and dried pieces of hashish in the other.  Ghada listened to their shouts and cries, their screams and prayers yelled with all their might.  But, like a lone wind wandering through wash hung out to dry, she heard a low moaning and felt frightened, and did not know why.
     The entrance fold of the wedding tent parted and by the lights of many torches and lamps, Ghada saw a bloody hand extend a folded sheet, bloodier still.  Muckat grabbed the evidence and held it high over his head for all to see.
     “Allah whiten your faces,” he cried, “you have kept your daughters pure”
     Ghada pushed her way through the crowd, knowing instinctively something was horribly wrong.  The sheet was stained with too much blood to have resulted from the ordinary deflowering of a hymen.  She stood next to her husband and wrenched the sheet from his grasp, and in doing so, the sheet unfolded slightly, and something tumbled onto the desert sand.
     All eyes, as one, turned to the smooth sand and the severed penis that lay there.
     Paula appeared at the entrance of her wedding tent, wet blood on her lips and face, and announced to all, “If I can’t have any pleasure in bed, than neither will my husband!”
     The women of Zipporah wailed in lament and the men yelled for vengeance.  Aunt Ghada wept openly and Uncle Muckat fell to his knees in public disgrace.
     With stealth, the gray and white feline slipped through the sandaled feet of the crowd, picked up the torn member in its mouth and ran off into the desert night.  The cat ignored the cries.  Its hunger, like those loud, empty threats, would soon go away.

The End.*

*Some explanations of background may be had here.

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