In response to The Colton Review's October Prompt of the Month (write a work that features a character or figure that is usually cast in the background), the Meredith community sent in stories and poems. Read them all below!
by Kate Polaski
The smell of latex floods my senses as I pull on the gloves to keep the blood off my hands. The other nurses tell me that someday soon I will become immune to the sight of blood, I will stop physically recoiling every time a fresh wave of bodies is brought in, but it has not happened yet. I am still deeply shaken as I approach the nearest soldier.
“Hullo there, nurse,” he mutters, Cockney accent strong despite the fading volume of his voice, “You here to make me all better?”
“Yes, of course. All better,” I repeat back as I tie a cord around his upper arm, desperately trying to staunch the bleeding. I recognize the type of wound on sight. I've seen so many shrapnel wounds from exploding shells in the past few days that I have become almost numb to them. Almost. We are so close to the battlefield that sometimes, if the wind is right, I can hear them going off. And while some of the other nurses say small prayers for our soldiers every time a rattling boom shakes our supply carts, I think of the men I am surely going to have to attempt to patch up, and those I will fail to save. The bodies who we will have to send home to their families, (if they even get there, on cars across the ripped up moors and then on boats across the channel). I think about the nurses on the other side too. Surely there must be German nurses? Women like me who signed up to leave their homes for the aid of their king and country, helping the men fight this war that they must think is so important? I think nothing could be this important, to send the bodies of so many young, able, men past me. What could be worth this? I wonder if the German nurses are wondering the same thing.
I force my mind away from its foolish wanderings as I tighten the cord on this soldier’s upper arm. Despite my best efforts, the blood is not stopping. I breathe in and out shakily. He reaches out, slowly, as if it is taking the last of his strength, and grabs my hand. He squeezes it, so gently, and I squeeze back, trying to tell him that I am still here. But the look in his eyes, his soft brown, boyish eyes, tells me he is too far gone. I sit with him, a few more moments, until his breathing stops for good. Then, I allow myself a small indulgence. I brush his hair out of his eyes with the least bloodstained of my gloved fingers. Even though I doubt its effectiveness, I still mumble a short prayer for his soul, before moving on to the next man, adjusting my gloves to go back into the fray.
The Tale of Roxelana
by Dorothy Dors
In a time where women’s beauty had a price tag on it,
Roxelana was considered the ideal women to be sold at a high price
Her unusual ginger beauty made her rare
and the demand for this type was high
At the end, she was sold to the new sultan
Once in the palace, she was the most beautiful among the beautiful
She was one of the one hundred concubines who stayed in the harem,
meaning the forbidden place, where women were given the
greatest luxuries the empire could offer,
luxuries that were unusual for a women in the land of the 1500s
The women were highly educated
And always dressed in the finest clothes and Jewels
The struggles of the poor and hungry were foreign to her
Her unusual Ukrainian beauty captured the attention of the sultan
He choose her for one night
Everyone was delighted for her to spend the night with him
then he can move on to a new concubine
Everyone gave her lessons on how to please the sultan
But, then he choose her to come to him again
Again and again and again
Then everyone became jealous, and furious,
and wished they did not give her the lessons on how to please him
Mahidevran, his first lover and concubine and the mother of the heir to the throne,
hated her the most
Roxelana was now his second favorite, but he spent more time with her than his first favorite
Roxelana was not Roxelana anymore
He named her Hurrem and she made it will known in the harem
That the sultan named her hurrem, meaning the cheerful one.
One day, Mahidevran called her “soiled meat,”
Hit her and scratched her face
The sultan called for her once again
Hurrem replied that she is not worthy of his love and attention
Because she was “soiled meat”
He called her again and she appeared
And told him her version of everything
Mahidevran became the second favorite or the last favorite
Hurrem gave him a son
The rules were one mother, one son
But, she gave him five sons and a daughter
The outsiders were intrigued about this chaos
They came to the theory that Hurrem used black magic
To get her ways
The sultan eventually freed her and married her
She became the wealthiest women in the empire
This is the tale of Hurrem, who once was Roxelana
From enslaved to a sultana
by Krista Wiese
They say a picture is worth a thousand words
and so we weave until our pierced skin stains our
needles blackberry red and our voices appear
as colorful threads on the tapestry before us.
We weave the way we screamed when ripped
from husband and homeland, when raped
by your bravest heroes, when traded
between your men like goblets or cattle—
silently, painfully. The only sound in the hall:
the whirring of our fingertips tying loose ends,
knotting rainbow string. In colors, we said
what we wanted to say—we mothers, daughters,
wives, widows. We said it with a picture
so that maybe our words would have some worth
to you, the ones who keep us quiet
while wearing the clothes we weave.
by Olivia Slack
My beloved watchman’s eyes became peacocks’ feathers
at my command when my husband ordered him killed.
The watchman had helped me when infidelity
struck again—as it always did,
as it would continue to do.
I know my husband, his impulses
uncontrollable as the storms that flow
from his fingertips and the curses that fly
from his lips when he discovers
that I have killed another of his mistresses.
My birds carry my watchman’s spirit across
the mortal plane, waiting for my husband to find another,
to realize again that I cannot meet his needs,
for what can such an aged goddess offer him
that a young, fresh mortal woman cannot?
I say I can offer death, for any of those who take
my family away from me,
or who are taken by my husband.