Saint Woad and Sister Welwitshcia

CW: Infant death

They called my sister Woad when she was born because her skin was the same blue tint as the dye we mixed for the crown prinsessa’s church gown. She dropped like a stone from my mother’s womb, dead, never to stir the dust with her breath, never to crunch across the rushes with fat feet. My mother’s skin was a white cloud floating in the woad sky of dye, of her blue baby. It never returned to the ruddy pink it had once been.

When Woad came to die, I was just old enough to understand: I was not to bounce a baby sister on my shoulders as I ran to the pond for my bath. She would never get soap in her eyes, nor soup on her chin. Her hands would never be stained with the dye that our village is famous for producing.

We buried the blue baby, tiny, in the plot by the drinking pond. Her body poisoned the minnows, and they drifted to the top like floating flowers. Now when I go to visit her, the only other guests at the grave are water striders and wandering weasels. When they see me, they bow at the waist and skitter away. I hope their dens are full. Sometimes I rub my face raw against the pumice of Woad’s headstone. Like her, the stone is small, but its color is more like flesh. My mother’s other baby, resting in the garden.

Every day, my father grinds the yellow woad flowers and their green stems into blue dye, into my sister. The color is driving him mad. When he stands before the window at dusk, I can see through him to his heart, beating sometimes red but mostly blue, the blue of Woad, and he trembles when he’s trying to be still.

We are a ghastly bunch, we who remain. We can eat little, our bellies grown hard and swollen, but each of us aches with a ceaseless thirst. I have found my mother crouched on the bank under the ripe moon, gulping handfuls of cloudy water until she retched up waterweeds. Her face, reflected in the water, was crumpled fabric, undyed silk.

I am the only pink peony child my mother will ever prune. She tells me that she named me Welwitschia because an angel told her to as she sewed the crown prinsessa’s riding habit. “The angel said, name you Welwitschia, child of the desert, plant that lives forever, for thousands of years.” I wonder what color of dye Welwitschia would make. I wonder if I will live forever, coiled in the dust.

The villagers grow silent when I carry our cloth to market, and none will look at me when I raise my blue hands in greeting. By their gazes I know that I must leave this place. Not today, but perhaps tomorrow, whenever I can slink away from my sister’s grave with a half-bow, like my weasel brothers and water strider suitors. I will go and serve the crown prinsessa. They say she is a living saint. Could she convene with the angels on my behalf? Could she ask them why I was given all the life of my mother’s other child?

This place is the desert, and it lays my mother and father out on the pumice to dry. I’ve heard that castle air is damp, and castle stone is moss-slimed basalt. They say that the crown prinsessa’s eyes are green. I want to swim in the eyes of a dame of heaven, to smear my hands with green algae, to submerge myself in pure water. I dream of sewing an older sister fine clothes, raiment fit for a saint, not a bluebaby martyr. The Feast of Saint Woad, a luncheon of my mother’s pinkness and my father’s firmness, a feast that stains your fingers with dye—or is it blood? Before I go (when will I go? or will I stay and burn for a thousand years?), I will drop the yellow flowers into the pond and pray that life returns.