Last Damsel by Fannie H. Gray

Brave Mother by Allison Belolan

Our men were gone; the last one, Uncle Chick, left six months after my birth. I was the firstborn of a third daughter, who bled out as I entered the world. Growing up, I ran wild in a female pack with my aunts and cousins.

Tell me a story… to hear my aunts, you’d think those were my first words. Tell me about Pawpaw. Tell me about Uncle Chick; did’n he want to marry Little Lady? I’d sit at the hearth with Aunt Ang and Aunt Diddy, the two closest to my age, stretching skins on the fleshing beam. There had to be more, I would think.          

We all belonged to each other yet each to no one. I longed to be an Other, a somebody’s someone. I couldn’t never see no one ever putting their arms around Mam, certain not no man though I’d no idea what theys were like. We had to have been born out of something softer than red rocks, dusty wind. All these hard women around me, I came to think men had to make the world gentler.      

“Ang, how was it between us and the menfolk?”

Ang wasn’t so hard as the othern. I’d seen her once with a fledgling that had fallen from an eaves nest. Any day in the season, there’d be five or so fledglings outside the large house. Mam made use of all things, fledglings no differn, so we’d frequently have Baby Birdie Stew when the snows weren’t high. I saw Ang; she built that fledgling its own nest from pelt scraps. She didn’t know I watched but I seen her fetching worms. Seen her too on the third day, crying, when she found the bird dead. I watched her bury it, nest and all.

Ang fixed with me with a stare.

“Men do things for reasons we won’t ever have no answers for. I seen Chick and Red Boy kill a cat just cause they could. It was Chick’s own cat. He’d had that cat since he was done suckling. I heard him crying for it later but he’d done it hisself. That’s when Mam said it’d be best if he and Red Boy was out off to fighting with the rest of ‘em and we ain’t heard nothing from any of ‘em since. There’s not much accounting for what’s in men’s hearts.”

I put Ang’s words away with my othern feelings, the ones I sometimes get when I am sure all the womens are asleep and I lay awake, running my hands over my body. I feel the springy coarse hairs on the mound between my legs. I’ve touched myself, felt sick with shame but also something else, like a burning need to put my hand into a blue flame. I’ve kept touching, almost in a fevered state, with an ear cocked. My hands belong above the covers.

I am standing in the creek swollen with fresh snowmelt, scrubbing the rusty iron-smelling stains from my britches. Haven’t heard horses hooves in quite a stretch so at first I am looking at the sky, blue as kittens’ eyes, searching for thunderheads. Then I see ‘em. I know these aren’t womenfolk. Three people big as bears, with fur on their faces, ride up to the edge of the creek. Foam on their horses’ necks, steam coming out their nostrils. I shield my eyes from the sunlight, peering up into the faces of weathered skin and bloodshot eyes. Men, I think.

Gone. My soft notions of menfolk leave me the minute I see their twisted ugly smiles. The red bearded one spits a stream of brown and rubs the back of his hand over his tobacco-stained lips.

“Don’t this look like a picnic?” I know he is speaking of me and not to me. I feel hot piss running down my legs, can taste something sharp and salty in my mouth. Fear. I tilt back my head and howl. It is not a cry like the wolf, hungry and alone, would send out into the cold night, looking for companionship. It is the scream of the rabbit, snapped in jaws. It is Ang holding the fledgling in her hands. Run. And I am off.

“Hot DAMN! We got us a chase!”

“Get her, Chick!”

Panic. They are on me like vultures on a carcass, rending clothing from limb, flesh from flesh, pieces of me torn, scattered in the short dry grass which is just beginning to green.

I am above them now, watching as they push and grunt, shove each other. There is blood and spittle, tears which were mine, and a mess I cannot name over all of us.

Gone. I am no one’s Other.


Fannie H. Gray is an active member of The Write Group in Montclair, NJ. She is currently compiling short stories and completing her first novel. Her poem The Trick was published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s Langston Hughes Tribute Issue. She prefers a strong Rob Roy.

Allison is continually inspired by nature, her relationships with other women, and the small moments and observations of daily life. Her work is a mixture of observations, reactions, and reflections on experiences, conversations, and emotions. These collages are from her Mother series, created in May of 2020. Each collage in the series celebrates and reflects on Motherhood from the experience of daughter and mother. After studying Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduating in 2001, Allison worked as a jewelry and accessories designer in New York’s Fashion District. Over the next several years, Allison chose to become an art educator and is currently pursuing her own artistic career. Allison lives and works in Mamaroneck NY with her husband and two young children.