Katherine sat in the blackness, allowing the dark to swallow her and the wind to whip her hair into a frenzy. It calmed her; the smell of the ocean and the feel of the wind as it beat a steady tattoo against her body. She closed her eyes, breathing in the salty air as she leaned against a broad, flat rock, occasional sea spray misting her face. Beside her a lantern shone; a flickering flame, the only circle of orange, yellow light for miles. Opening her eyes, she looked out across the vast nothing of the ocean. She could hear the waves crashing against the shoreline, but could see very little of it.
If she concentrated, she could feel the cold water consume her, the panic she had felt when she realised she didn’t want to die, that her despair was not great enough that she was willing to forfeit her life. But for a moment, it had seemed like the easier option. She would no longer be treated like a liar, a toy for mans pleasure, she would no longer be hungry, dirty, alone. Surely, the colony was a version of hell on earth – with its oppressive heat, harsh punishments and restricted movement.
How dare you do this to me? How dare you prefer death…?
She frowned. He was a lot like the ocean, she reflected. Dark and dangerous, cruel sometimes, changeable with the ability to swallow a person whole. But then there were moments when she had seen light penetrate the darkest depths of the ocean, allowing the observer to see the beauty that lay beneath. Katherine wrapped her arms around herself. Major Ross was not beautiful like the ocean, she thought. He was a storm, furious, wrecking havoc on everything in its path. She hated him. She should, she reminded herself. She should hate him. But today her feelings were complicated, her inability to make sense of them frustrating her endlessly.
If you wished to burden me with guilt, if you wished me to think I drove you to your death, you have failed there too.
She knew little of men like him, only that they took what they wanted. But she was absolutely sure of one thing – her death would have haunted him, and the guilt would have troubled him for some time. He had exposed himself during their confrontation. She would never forget the way his voice shook with anger, his body taunt, his eyes on fire. It had only been in part because she had dared defy him. The other much greater part of him had been terrified, his pride wounded by the fact that she would rather die than be touched by him.
Katherine sighed, exhausted. She had come to the beach to meet her Corporal. It was her night with Major Ross, but he had fallen asleep as soon as he had lay down beside her. He had been mourning tonight, she mused with a frown. She never thought him capable of such emotion, having only seen his wrath exercised with such zeal. His pain had touched her. Proving that she was likely the greatest fool to ever roam the colony.
Reaching into her pocket, she withdrew the petite statue of the Virgin Mary that Major Ross had given to her. It fit into the palm of her hand perfectly, the surface of the bauble showing signs of wear. It had probably belonged to someone else, or perhaps it was something he had brought with him from home. He would have no idea of how such an insignificant trinket could mean so much to her. It reminded her of her childhood, of the bible stories her mother used to tell; of Sunday mornings after church... it reminded her of forgiveness.
Katherine purposefully straightened her mouth, wiping away any trace of the small smile that threatened to curl her lips upwards as she caressed the fine figurine. He confused her, she realised. Cruel and forceful, then proving himself capable of being kind – generous even - vulnerable, just like everyone else. She stared off into the darkness, blind as memories danced before her eyes.
Is it the sex? If it is, we could refrain… you could come to me, lie with me, talk to me, naked or fully dressed, whatever you wish.
His desperation to continue seeing her was even more puzzling. Removing any sexual overtures from their arrangement, he essentially asked her to lie with him so that he could talk to her. Talk. It astonished her – even him, she thought – the intimate nature of his whispered confessions. Katherine shook her head, trying to dispel the vision of his face, the haunting lilt of his voice as it rang through her ears.
Corporal McDonald was a good man. He loved her. She loved him. Yes, she did, she reiterated. Then why could she not get the image of a small, dark haired boy who only wanted to help someone out of her mind?
There have been many times since then that I have felt the urge to show compassion. I’ve always managed to resist it.
Katherine shivered, brushing at the goosebumps on her forearms. Maybe they weren’t so different after all. Major Ross, despite his protestations, just wanted someone to talk to. And she, she wanted to be believed. Believed by him, a man of power and authority. Perversely it wasn’t enough that her Corporal believed her. Katherine was ashamed to admit it, but Major Ross’s belief meant something… it meant more. It was irrational, she conceded, that his belief would carry a weight that not even her lovers could. But she felt it; she recognised it as her truth, no matter how foolish.
In the distance she heard the clang of a lantern as it hit the rocks. No doubt, her Corporal approached. Katherine stared back at the figurine in her hand and sighed. How could she feel so changed after just one conversation? Or perhaps it had been building for so long she had scarcely begun to realise it. Looking back in the direction of the sound, Katherine saw a faint flicker of light in the distance. Her Corporal deserved better.
She had lied to him, omitted the truth of her interactions with Major Ross because there was something private about the confidence he had established between them. It had felt… disloyal somehow to speak about it. Disloyal. She snorted at the absurdity, the sound lost on the wind.
A whore. Major Ross saw her as a whore. Whom he shared private and intimate details with, her conscience whispered. Katherine shook her head, her hair flying with the action. She owned him nothing. And yet, the truth was plain. It had been some warped sense of loyalty that had made her sensitive to the memory he had shared with her.
With regret, Katherine picked up her lantern and turned away, scrambling around some rocks and up the other side. She couldn’t face her Corporal, not when she felt the forbidden, unwanted attraction for another permeating through her body. He would wait for her in the cold, and she was sorry for it. Katherine hated herself for the deception, but she could not shake the unwanted feelings stirring within her breast. Lifting her skirts, she hurried, mingling into the shadows.