I came home in the mid-morning, a boy again, naked and sodden with blood and filth. I could not make myself speak, other than to shriek Mother’s name. Father, out looking for me with my two older brothers, was not there to hear me. I think God showed him a kindness, that he did not hear, did not have to see the thing Mother witnessed as she came rushing out of the cabin. When she saw me, she knew what had happened. She knew the blood I wore did not come from me. She could not speak either. She could only wail. In the depths of the night, if I listen, I can still hear the echoes of that wail.
Her love proved stronger than her horror as she clasped me to her. “My son!” she managed at last. “My son!”
There were those among our people, even among the village, who killed their children when the curse first fell upon them. The practice had, by this time of my first bloodletting, fallen out of favor. The priests of Apollo and of Artemis had somehow discerned, or claimed to, that the killing of a Doghead before it had reached adulthood would result in the curse descending on two boys to take the place of the one. The more prevalent practice of my day consisted of driving the infected child away, where it, no longer considered a human child but an animal, would live out its days an outcast.
That night, I lay upon my bed of straw and listened to Mother and Father talking about me.
“We have other children to consider,” Father said.
“Yes, two other sons whom the curse may yet claim.”
“Two daughters as well.”
“You think I have forgotten them? Could I forget my own children?”
Mother and Father were trying to keep their voices down, but our cottage was small, and I could hear them from where I lay next to my brothers, up in the loft. All of us children lay awake in our beds, listening. Tears streamed from my eyes to soak the blanket beneath me, but I made no sound.
“I am saying the boy is a danger to those children,” Father replied, “and to us.”
“All our lives are full of danger. All our days. We have to be on guard every minute. It is no different now. It may be easier now, because we will know when to expect it.”
“We will keep the boy tied, then, as others do their sons?”
“On those rare occasions when he is a danger, yes! Better to be tied than banished!”
“Tied like an animal?”
“I will not be rid of my son! Cast him into the wilderness and I will go with him!”
My heart swelled so at her words I thought it might burst. I wanted to run to her. But I kept quiet.
“I will go along with your wishes. It is no easy thing for a man to lose a son, either. But you must know, if Reprobus continues to live with us, he could…”
“I will not let that happen.”
“You might not be able to prevent it. Could you live with it, should he kill another of our children?”
“If that happens,” Mother answered,” I will not know of it, because I will have died trying to stop it!”
“You are reminding me that I’m risking the loss of my wife as well as my children.”
“Send Reprobus away from this house,” Mother said—I had never before heard her sound so fierce—“and you will lose both a son and a wife, and that is for certain!”
Minutes of silence followed. I could scarce bear it. At last, Father let out a sigh.
“It is decided, then,” he said. “Reprobus will stay.”
Despite the horrors of the day, my shock and sickness at what I had done and my fears over my future, hearing this allowed me to calm down enough to sleep. At least I would not be chased away from my home and family! I rolled over and buried my face in the blanket. It smelled clean, and the soft straw beneath it fresh. A feeling of peace settled over me in accompaniment with sleep. By God’s grace, I slept without dreaming that night. Without nightmares.
I awoke to that same feeling of comfort. My parents were going to keep me. Everything was going to turn out alright.
Later that same morning, the Christ-men came for me, demanding a reckoning.