Photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash
Godiva Leaves Town
by Nikoletta Gjoni
In an effort to erase the shame, stories will later say she roamed through empty streets under a canopy of darkened clouds, head down, arms limp. Perhaps her husband demanded that version of the story be told. Perhaps he killed anyone who looked upon her, snuffing out the truth of what had happened, more for his sake than his wife’s.
What had happened was this:
There was no cloud in the sky that day.
The streets were lined with men, women, children. Eyes roamed hungrily, curiously, disgustingly, shyly.
Her skin rippled with goosebumps in the morning chill, nipples hardening like daggers against the intrusive stares. Her hair, the color of rust or copper, swayed against her bare body like a curtain in front of an open window.
Once out of the castle’s sight, the lady took out the long knife hidden in the horse’s saddle.
“She’s going to kill herself,” screamed a woman from the crowd, before a chorus of spectators began chiming in unison, urging her to turn back.
But the blade didn’t so much as touch her pink skin. Drowning in her nerves, her throat moved like waves lapped beneath the surface. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared on the street, she kicked her horse and clicked her tongue, motioning for him to turn a tight corner into an alleyway.
Hidden in the shadow of two stone buildings, she stretched out, her fingers and toes brushing the soft, warm hide of her beloved pet. Her hair fell over the horse’s flank and she imagined herself fusing with him; melting into his body to become some mythical creature. What life she could lead outside the city walls.
Sitting up again, she felt a warmness spread between her legs at the thought of uninhibited freedom. She pulled the knife out again and held it up to her earlobe, her free hand grabbing and holding down a handful of hair as the blade violently kissed the lumped strands.
She repeated until the sun sat high between the two buildings.
Until sweat trickled down her body like new springs having risen to the surface.
She repeated until most of her hair lay in wispy clumps around her horse’s hooves.
When her horse stepped out from the shadows, the townspeople stared in disbelief. Beneath the sky’s watchful eye, bathed in the sun’s mid-morning light, Godiva clicked her tongue again and made her horse move towards the crowd. Her hair sat lop-sided and frayed around her ears; the curtains were torn down from the window so that everyone could look in.
She let her horse find his own way through the town until the main gates came into view. Her back reddened in the open air with no swaying hair to protect it.
Perhaps this is where the story dissolves into falsehoods of scarlet skin brought on by shame. The story shared is never as simple as a hot sun on a spring day;
a woman spiting her husband with little fear to show;
defiance being mistaken for its distant cousin, embarrassment, instead of any of its other sisters:
Behind her, the kingdom disappeared over the horizon as her horse stepped out into the world with little ceremony—the only way animals know how to maneuver through a world made lawless through man’s laws.
Nikoletta Gjoni is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living outside of Washington, DC. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Kindling Volume III, Cleaver Magazine, New Flash Fiction Review, and Riggwelter Press, among others. Her work has been previously nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau prize and Best of the Net. You can follow her on Twitter @NikiGjoni or her website at www.ngjoni.com.