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A Jar of Honey
by George Mackay Brown

A woman came from every house that morning to the croft of Scar. Slowly, like holy women, they moved through the fields. Seven men stood at the end of the byre of Scar: five young men, an old man, a boy. The oat fields were yellow, gulls dipped and squabbled over the mackerel in the bay. The men stood outside the ceremony, unwanted and useless. One of the young men shared the holy look of the women, but he too was outside their ceremony. The other men did not have a thing to say to him. They kept turning away from him. He stood there in a double isolation. A woman with huge hands and a face like stone crossed the fields, Bella of Windbeck. She walked slowly, by herself. The door of Scar opened and shut on this priestess. Now it was noon. The men at the end of the byre smoked their pipes, all but the lonely one. Once the boy chased a butterfly with a shout but the old man checked him and the boy sat down at a fissure in the wall, watching bees oozing in and out. A girl, an acolyte, crossed over to the burn from Scar for water. With a pure white look on her she passed the men and returned, silent and intent, a heavy brimming pail at each side of her. Another woman came out for peats, her arms red from the flame. The sun dragged through the afternoon like an ox through furrows. Suddenly the water girl stood in the open door of Scar, her arms wild circles. 'Simon!' she cried. 'Come now.' The young man turned his burnished face to the house. He wouldn't move. He was afraid of the elemental women inside there, with their water and fire, the terrible priestess and her servers, swaddlers, shrouders, guardians of the gate of birth and the gate of death. He couldn't move. The other young men were laughing all around him now. They laid earth-coloured hands on him. They buffered him gently. They turned his face towards the open door. Two of them walked with him, one at each side, to the threshold. He went inside alone. The boy sat at the end of the wall, gray wax at his mouth, his fingers threaded with honey. The old man knocked out his pipe, spat, lifted six creels from the wall, and slowly walked down to the boats.
A young man lifted scythe from the end of the barn. He began to whet it on a red stone.
The gate of life had been opened.
Between that and the dark gate where the fish and the fleece and the loaf, the oil jars and the jars of salt and the jars of grain, and the one small jar of honey.
tjj Posted by tjj
12th November 2010ce

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