Thou Art My Choice

As I thread ivy through the spinning-wheel, my thoughts drift again. His hand in mine, would it feel warm. His arms around my waist, would they feel strong. His lips upon mine, would they feel like wool. Snow is fluttering against the shutters; a harsh Yuletide draft is pushing beneath the door. I pull my shawl tighter around my shoulders.

The idle wheel, bedecked with greenery, allows us time to breathe before Twelfth Night. But this winter, I’m being pressed like dough. Nearly a whole year that Thomas has not made his intentions known. “You can’t stay in this house forever, Anne,” my mother had said, patting her swelling belly. Her seventh child is due and I, the eldest, need to move on. Marriage. Marriage or take my vows. “You’ve not grace enough to charm a village boy. Take yourself to St. Winifred’s, girl, before the next harvest.”

Thomas is my calling; of that I know. Like the early lark, it greets me each day as I wake. I’d first seen him at the well, muscles pulled taut with hauling a pail. As the months passed, our ways crossed more and more. After morning service, families lingered; we found a means to exchange pleasantries. Only, I never knew if the dance in my heart was mine alone.

“Anne! We need more wood fetching,” my mother calls from the kitchen. Distracted by tapping on the shutters, I peep out, see a gloved hand beckoning. I glance at my brothers, but they’re playing well enough. My sister, asleep in her crib by the fire, her holly-berry mouth puckered. I’m gone before she can ask again.

“Thomas!” I clamp my hand over my mouth.

“Sshhh!” He takes my arm, and we hurry away, boots stamping a dual path through the snow. 

“But where…?”

He leads me to a shrine, a simple alcove sheltering a bowing angel. Her stone eyes, downcast to her bare feet. “This belongs to St. Winifred’s, does it not?” I stifle a smile; he raises an eyebrow. “What of it, Anne? I just wanted us to be away, at last.”

“Well, it’s a lovely place, but…” He’s beaming at me and further words catch in my throat like snagged yarn.

Thomas holds out a posy ring, golden as sunrise. ‘Of Earthly joys thou art my choice,’ he says, slanting it to reveal etched words. Taking my hand, he glides it onto my finger. His arms around my waist, strong as pillars. “I wanted to see you smile like this, all these days.” Fresh snow is settling on us, thicker and thicker. He brushes a flake from my nose; I giggle like evensong. He kisses me then, and it’s not like I imagined, but velvet in place of wool. “Shall we wed in Spring?”

“As soon as the new shoots appear,” I reply, thinking of mother’s ugly, bulging middle. I will drop my ‘grace’ on her like a stone upon a toe. The rosemary garlands will shrivel, the bay leaves dry and curl. The promised scent of Spring will fade like our tracks through the snow. I won’t be there to dress the Yuletide house again.

“I’ll relish Christmas more than ever, my love,” he says, gathering me in a snow-swirl spin, a dance of us both. The bell of St. Winifred’s peals the hour and I laugh, high and clear, as new falling flakes conceal us from the world.

This story was chosen for our Christmas countdown and the author wins tickets to 5 Zoom workshops in 2023

About the author: Christine Collinson writes historical short fiction. Her first novella-in-flash was longlisted in the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award 2022. Over the past four years, her work has been widely published in online journals and print anthologies. Find her on Twitter @collinson26.