“Zamora Keres…” She whispered her own name into the mirror in front of her—glaring into it with disgust. Her eyes dropped to the sloppy, black blotches on her porcelain like arm—letters. Letters to a word she’d read every morning and night, and yet hidden with long sleeves and sweaters during the day. Letters that stuck to her, defined her, cursed her. Words that had been with her since she was young. She didn’t pull her shirt sleeves down now, though. She didn’t try to hide letters. Her eyes roved over each letter slowly, painfully, hatefully.
Hot, angry tears sprung to her eyes, and her eyelids shut forcefully. Even her name: Zamora—pain—and Keres—evil spirits. Pain and evil spirits. Her parents had named her after what she was to them. Nothing. The name told her she was worthless. It communicated the insignificance of her very life.
She tried to imagine, to remember her parents—unmarried, poor. She remembered wanting someone, anyone. Her mother was nonexistent. And all she knew of her father was what put him in jail: drinking, drugs…child abuse. He had put this word on her, forever stained the ink onto her skin, the meaning into her life. Zamora’s eyebrows drew together in hatred as she imagined him, intoxicated, without compassion or love, and holding that cursed tool that had burned not only her skin but her soul.
She’d been hurried off to an orphanage after his imprisonment. “What mean?” she would curiously ask the nurses and caretakers as a child, pulling her sleeve up and pointing to the letters. “Why nobody else has?” But she never got an answer. They would often pretend to be too busy to give her a moment of their time, hoping she would just go away. Others would sigh hesitantly, never meeting her eyes, and simply pull her shirt sleeve back down and hurry her off to the nearest playroom. It didn’t take long for her to learn, though.
Winter winds whirled around her tiny house, now, one she could barely afford. Chilled breezes snuck through tiny cracks in the windows, letting parts of the storm inside. She opened her eyes, red with tears and anger, and looked out the window. All she could see was a white haze of snow. Nothing more.
She hated this body, this life. A passionate rage consumed her mind for several seconds. And then—nothing. A trance. Numb. Senseless. She opened the front door. The icy coldness stole her breath away at first, but she walked out into the storm. The wind bombarded her tall, thin body as she pressed on. Her arms hung limp at her sides and her brown eyes were glossy. Snowflakes, white crystals from hell, flew at her so quickly that they felt like tiny stones. But still she moved on.
At last she stumbled, though, falling into the snow. Her eyes again caught sight of the letters. She cried out, rage and resentment returning to her mind. She wailed and screamed into the wind, tearing at her arm, scratching at the letters, wanting them away.
Pain. Evil spirits. The words encircled her—trapped her. She so desperately wanted to be free of them, but they stuck to her—and she somehow felt that the Devil was smiling, for he had claimed her life.
She was his.
Her nails dug into her skin, but the cold had numbed her body. The force of one hand and the pain of her arm were indiscernible. But she could see. And she still saw the letters. “God! They won’t leave!” she screamed.
But they would never leave. And she couldn’t see past them.
Her strength was giving way, and she collapsed further into the snow. It melted through her clothes, creeping into her skin, freezing her fingers, soaking her hair. It stiffened her body and stifled her already shallow, irregular breaths. She was almost anxious for everything to end. And it would—soon. Darkness was creeping into the corners of her vision. The wind beat at her harshly. She looked down to her arm, again wishing the word away—but it was still there. Beneath the red and bleeding scratches, it was still there. Still… Her body convulsed; her lips trembled. Nothing…
Hours later she awoke, her eyelids lifting slowly. Everything around her was blurry and her head throbbed painfully; but blankets had been piled upon her, and she lay in a small bed. She made out a glowing orange light in the corner of the room and knew it was a fire. The cottage felt familiar, though she couldn’t make out small details. She closed her eyes, blinking hard several times. Her vision focused more, and she could see that sheets covered several pieces of furniture. She assumed the owner had been away, recently. But who he was she didn’t know.
Her mind was slow, and she didn’t understand what had happened. She didn’t speak. She tried to look around, but the movement only caused a more intense throb, and she winced, leaving her eyes closed. She sighed, her body slipping into a quick shiver.
“Zalila?” someone murmured.
Realization swept over her mind and she felt more at peace. He was the only one who called her that. It meant “dearly beloved.”
“Eamon…” she whispered.
In a single moment, she remembered his departure over two years ago; she never thought he would return.
“I will come back,” he’d said. “My father needs me, right now…I don’t know how long, but I will come back. I promise.”
She’d wanted to break the space separating them. She’d wanted to embrace him—hold onto him, force him to stay and not to abandon her. But she couldn’t. And she didn’t respond, either. The only relationship she had ever formed was being ripped away from her. The only care and love she’d ever felt was leaving. It was as if the warm glow of the fire was dying down and she was left behind in the darkness—a darkness she was all too familiar with. A darkness she hated and feared.
And yet, now he was here. Her voice had been quiet—barely audible—when she whispered his name. Emotions swirled about in her mind. He had finally returned. Sheer delight filled her mind as love filled her heart.
But then shame. He knew what she’d tried to do, then, and he’d saved her from herself.
The window revealed the grand night sky, inky and mystical, shimmering with white dots. The storm was over.
How could she have fallen into this mess after everything he’d opened her eyes to? After everything he’d taught her?
Glittery hazel eyes opened to find him searching her face. His own emulated sadness, disappointment, and concern. Had she had forgotten everything—all he tried to show her about her life, her worth? Without speaking, Eamon’s face dropped to her battered arm, resting limply beside her body.
And in that moment she was horrified. The little sprout of hope and joy completely shriveled inside her and she cringed, turning her face away for a moment. But he gently took her arm into his calloused hands, his blunt fingers softly, lightly trailing down all the scratch marks and cuts she had inflicted upon herself in an unconscious rage—and she looked back at him. His blue irises reflected an everlasting space, full of stars and lights like the auroras. But it was his tender touch that evoked her tears.
“Zalila…” he started, still holding her arm. “You are dearly beloved.” He clasped her hand, his warm fingers wrapping around her own frail ones. He looked up. “The ‘pain’ in ‘Zamora’ would have been mine had I lost you—the ‘evil spirits’ in ‘Keres’ who I’d have lost you to.”
She’d listened intently to his words, and now her tears fell more forcefully as she slid her hand out of his to cover her face. He moved close to her, kneeling at the bedside, and pulled her into him. Strong arms wrapped around her; he was her rock. Her body shuddered as she wept, clinging to the arms that sheltered her, protected her, loved her.
The “shhs” from Eamon quieted her in time, and a serene rest settled on her mind. Her muscles relaxed and her head stopped throbbing.
“Zalila Karamat,” he whispered into her ear. “My dearly beloved miracle.”
She didn’t know how long she’d cried, or how long he’d remained there with her, but she’d fallen asleep in peace.
“Dearly beloved miracle.” She would try to believe in the name Eamon had given her. The word marked upon her body would still be there tomorrow, though. Her past wouldn’t change. Her arm would still be bruised and scratched. Her today would become a horrible memory. And she did not know if the taunting thoughts would ever quit her mind.
But instead of death, she’d received life. Out of the storm’s icy grip—the Devil’s dreadful hand—Eamon had pulled her into the clear, peaceful night.