Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640
The story opens with the birth of Meridia, which took twenty-seven hours. When she was finally born, it took a while to get her to start breathing. Meridia grew up in a large house with her mother, Ravenna, and her father, Gabriel. The house was always cold, so as a...
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The story opens with the birth of Meridia, which took twenty-seven hours. When she was finally born, it took a while to get her to start breathing. Meridia grew up in a large house with her mother, Ravenna, and her father, Gabriel. The house was always cold, so as a child, Meridia was always bundled up in coats by her overly fussy nurse. The house had a beautiful garden and a perennial mist that hung around the front all year long. Even as young child, Meridia noticed that her parents led virtually separate lives, rarely being in the same room together. Ravenna seemed to have some kind of memory problem, as she often failed to recognize the people and places around her. Gabriel was a stern man who spent much time in his study. One day, Meridia ventured into his study to snoop around, only to be discovered by a disapproving Gabriel. Meridia’s germophobic nurse rarely let her leave the house, but one day, Ravenna decided to take her nine-year-old daughter to the market. Meridia was so excited that she lost track of her mother. When another woman found the distraught Meridia crying, the woman tried to convince her that her mother was playing hide-and-seek. When they finally located Ravenna (after Meridia smells her signature scent of verbena), the woman was horrified by Ravenna’s blasé attitude about losing her daughter. Meridia realized that Ravenna doesn’t remember that two hours have passed or that Meridia had gone missing.
By age twelve, Meridia was going to school, despite the nurse’s concerns about cleanliness. Meridia often saw an old wizened face in the mirrors and had a dream she believed was an early childhood memory: something falls, someone screams, Ravenna picks her up, and there is something warm running down her cheek. Gabriel continued his cruel disregard for Meridia, but one day, he called her into his study, where there were two men. In front of the men, he pointed out all her flaws, referring to her as ugly and stupid. Meridia held back her tears in defiance, but all of a sudden, her stomach lurched and there was blood on the floor. Shamed by her father, she ran from the study to her nurse, who told her she has become a woman. Enraged by her father’s viciousness, she demanded to know what was wrong with the house and her parents. Reluctantly, the nurse told Meridia of the once-happy couple welcoming their daughter into the world and bragging to everyone, hosting tons of festive parties. One night, a strong, strange wind had burst through the windows into their bedroom. After that, everything changed: Ravenna became lost and vague, Gabriel tired and irritable, the house cold and dark, and the couple discordant and hostile; the staircase’s length seemed to change from moment to moment (sometimes it might take a minute to climb or descend it, sometimes two hours). Within months, a permanent mist had appeared by the front door; servants came and went, often frightened by the unusual goings on. One night, Ravenna came down for dinner looking beautiful, and the couple seemed on the verge of healing. That night, another wind blew into their room; the nurse heard screaming and burst into their room. The couple had their last fight and stopped speaking to each other. Meridia was moved into her own room, and Gabriel stopped sleeping at home. When Meridia demanded to know the origins of her dream and the bright light, the nurse suddenly stopped her tale and left; Meridia smelled verbena (Ravenna’s scent) and knew her mother was nearby. Later that day, Meridia discovered the nurse’s room completely emptied out, and her mother gave her a vague explanation about a sick relative; it was clear that the nurse was gone for good.
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Following the hasty departure of the nurse, Meridia became a nonentity in her house. Her mother rarely noticed her and her father regarded her with such contempt that she kept her distance; she felt invisible in her own home. Maids continued to come and go, often frightened away by Gabriel’s temperamental rages. Meridia’s fury at losing the one loving person in her life—the nurse—made her want to learn the secret the nurse would not tell her. Meridia started by observing the mists that visited the house. The permanent ivory mist hung around the front door at all times, but two other mists came and went. At dusk, a yellow mist would swirl around the study window; Gabriel would emerge from the house, step into the yellow mist, and walk westward down the street. The mist would get progressively thinner and then disappear completely; when it did, Gabriel was no longer in it. In the early morning, a blue mist came from the end of the street in the opposite direction, getting thicker as it approached the house until it merged with the ivory mist. Gabriel would step out of the mist in yesterday’s clothes and head in for breakfast. Meridia also decided to secretly observe her mother, who was given to muttering and ranting to herself while she cooked (the one task not impeded by her forgetfulness). From a secret hiding place, Meridia watched her mother and phonetically transcribed her garbled speech. Meridia studied it in private, but could not make sense of it. One day, Meridia heard two of the maids talking about seeing a ghost outside the strange home. That night, Meridia looked out her window and saw the bony ghost down in the yard. She recognized it as the face she had seen in the mirror. She ran down the now-shortened staircase out of the house and into the mist. Inside the mist it felt as if there was no time and no sound. Meridia saw her mother and called out to her, but Ravenna could not hear. Meridia seemed to understand that the ghost was somehow Ravenna, and that the ghost was there on the night from her infancy that she could still remember. When Ravenna at last spoke, it was in the same strange language she uttered in the kitchen, and Meridia could partially understand it: Gabriel had been having an affair for Meridia’s entire life.
Meridia attempted to learn all she could from the mists. The ivory mist proved accommodating, especially if Meridia left visitors waiting on the stoop so the ivory mist could harass them. The other mists were less accommodating, and Meridia would have to chase after them to get inside them for even a moment. Once in, she would recite the transcribed sheets of Ravenna’s rantings. Eventually, Meridia converted her notes into English and learned that her father’s mistress lived in a mansion on a hill and had the usually commanding Gabriel cater to her every whim. While studying the mists, Meridia noticed that her mother’s ravings came in cycles, and that Meridia would often have her nightmare and see the ghost right around the same time. At school, Meridia was the object of jealousy from the other girls and had no real friends. This changed when Hannah, the daughter of a traveling merchant, befriended her. Hannah got Meridia to explore all of the places in town where she’d never dared to go. During one trip to the market, Meridia noticed in a mirror that Hannah did not have a reflection. For several months, the girls were inseparable, until one day Hannah was absent from school. When she got home, Meridia found a note from Hannah explaining that she has once again moved away hastily.
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Hannah and Meridia exchanged letters for a while, but with Hannah moving so frequently, they lost touch. By the time she was sixteen, Meridia had settled into a kind of permanent melancholy because of her loneliness and the neglect and disdain of her parents. That year, the town held the first Festival of the Spirits, a grand fair for all kinds of spiritualists, exorcists, mediums, and healers. The first day of the festival, Meridia explored all of the different booths and tents. At one point, she stepped on the toes of a handsome young man. Meridia was too shy to speak, but found herself thinking of the young man a lot; she returned to the festival the next day to look for him. After briefly catching sight of him, she once again lost him in the crowd. After an exhaustive search of the entire grounds, Meridia suddenly heard some beautiful, powerful music, which the people around her didn’t seem to register. She followed it through the crowd to a tent called the Cave of Enchantment; despite covering the grounds repeatedly earlier that day, she hadn’t seen this tent before. Upon entering, she was shrouded in darkness, save for the light of an orb. She spotted a fortune-teller who said she had been selected specially. Suddenly, there was a small explosion of fire and smoke, and the handsome young man entered the tent. The fortune-teller insisted that their fates were intertwined, but demanded an outrageous sum of money to make sure that fate would be happy. With a silent signal from the young man, Meridia and the young man dashed from the tent despite the fortune-teller’s warnings. The young man denounced the fortune-teller as a charlatan, like most of the people at the festival. He admitted that the reason Meridia could not find him in the crowd was because he was following her.
The young man’s name was Daniel, and after the festival, he and Meridia began to see a lot of each other. Meridia started skipping school to meet him, forging notes from her mother to provide excuses for her absences. When she saw specters in the mirror, they no longer bothered her; she continued to pretty herself for her outings. One day, Meridia and Daniel went to the beach together, and a small box washed ashore. Daniel said the box was most likely a coffin for an infant or a small child. He opened the box and they saw the rotting carcass of a fawn being eaten by bugs, worms, and rats. Uneasy, Meridia fell to the ground and eventually threw up. Although she told Daniel it was from the sight and smell of the fawn, she knew it was because she was afraid. She thought of the fawn as a bad omen—a sign that the fortune-teller’s curse would come true. Despite her awkwardness about having vomit-scented breath, Daniel kissed her passionately and repeatedly. Before they left for home, Meridia asked to bury the fawn, but the box was nowhere to be found; the tide had carried it back out to sea.
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Meridia went to Daniel’s house to meet his family for the first time. The house was unusual, and somewhat overgrown, but very welcoming. Upon entering, they found Daniel’s two little sisters in the middle of a fight. The younger daughter, Permony, had broken a glass figurine belonging to her sister, Malin. As the girls sat in awkward silence, Daniel left to get his mother. Malin was sullen and unfriendly, but Permony was intrigued by Meridia. Daniel’s mother, Eva, entered and requested a private chat with Meridia to grill her about her family and past. At one point, Eva noticed the broken figurine and admonished Permony for it; it was clear that Eva doted on Malin while Permony remained the black sheep. Meridia’s attempts to sympathize with Permony were cut short by Eva. That night, Daniel’s father, Elias, was repeatedly attacked by bees of unknown origin and was unable to sleep; undetected, Malin watched the attack through the keyhole. The next day over breakfast, Eva told Elias they should consent to the marriage, provided the fortune-teller didn’t have any objections.
One morning, as Meridia prepared for school, she heard her father throw a matchmaker out of the house. As the ivory mist continued to harass the matchmaker outside, Meridia raced down to her father to tell him he must allow her to marry Daniel. Gabriel felt that the boy and his family were beneath them in class and reputation, and castigated his daughter for her foolishness. She stood up to her father for the first time and asked him why he hated her; he did not answer her, but cruelly admitted that no one in the house loved anyone else. He also refused to explain why his shoulder seemed permanently injured. Meridia ran down to the kitchen to question Ravenna, who was in the middle of ranting and cooking. Having a few lucid moments, Ravenna insisted that Gabriel hated her, not Meridia, and vowed that Meridia would marry Daniel. Ravenna stayed up all night cooking more food than usual for Gabriel’s customary morning arrival. Meridia knew that the morning breakfast had been some kind of silent ritual, enacted every morning of her parents' marriage. At breakfast, Ravenna served Gabriel dish after dish, only to throw it in the waste can. She had prepared a dish for each year of his infidelity and ordered him to allow Meridia to marry to pay for his sins; he begrudgingly relented. For a brief moment, Gabriel saw Ravenna as she was before the wind came, when they were very much in love.
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The wedding, and the reception that followed at Eva and Elias’s house, whirled by Meridia in a blur. Her parents’ typically odd and dour behavior didn’t sour the magic of the experience. Meridia was struck by the huge amount of gifts, including her own sizeable dowry (which Ravenna forced Gabriel to provide). A group of matrons blindfolded Meridia and took her to her bridal suite (Daniel’s room, which had been made over by Eva). Meridia caught a glimpse of her parents before they left and was grateful to her mother for making the match possible. After a night of passionate lovemaking, Meridia went walking through the house and heard something going on up in Eva’s section of the house on the second floor. Meridia returned to bed, and Daniel was awoken early to go work at the jewelry shop. Eva later burst into the room and demanded that Meridia get dressed because they had a busy day planned. In Eva’s parlor upstairs, Meridia found that most of the wedding presents were gone. Eva insisted that it was a family custom to donate most of them to charity and that she did so at Daniel’s request. She then took Meridia downstairs to Patina, a hobble-footed elderly maid and cook; Meridia was to learn how to cook all of Daniel’s favorite meals. Meridia slowly began to understand the dynamic in Daniel’s house.
Meridia’s life soon became a ritual of cooking, sewing, gardening, and other domestic duties, taught to her mostly by the kind, patient Patina and Gabilan, another servant. Meridia noted the way that Eva favored the spoiled, rude Malin while constantly criticizing the sensitive Permony. Elias seemed to stay isolated from the family, reading geography and geology books. The only exception to his solitude was Permony, with whom he had a special bond. When Eva brought home presents for the girls, Malin deliberately picked a book she knew Permony wanted; Elias later gave Permony her own book, which he surreptitiously purchased without Eva knowing. Meridia also took a shine to Permony, and the two spent hours together telling fantastical adventure stories. Meridia noticed Eva’s vacillations in temperament: warm and friendly one minute and icy cold the next. One night, Daniel suggested that he and Meridia go out to dinner because his parents were having an argument. Eavesdropping on them, Meridia heard the sound of bees, the same sound she heard from Eva’s parlor on her wedding night. At dinner, Daniel seemed nervous and didn’t want to talk about the bees or his parents' squabbling. They arrived home to the climax of the argument, which was about Eva’s irritation at a noisy dog next door. Elias then ran next door, and the dog quickly became silent. The next day, one of the maids reported that something was done to the dog to make it permanently mute.
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The fall brought an overgrowth of flowers to the household, enhancing its somewhat wild look. When marigolds threatened to encroach on Eva’s beloved roses, she enlisted all of the servants to weed them out of the roses; however, new marigolds seem to reappear regardless of how many get pulled. Eventually, Eva had to accept the enchantment in the garden, but it soured her mood further. She grew more openly critical of Meridia, and seemed to delight in keeping Daniel separated from his wife. Already a penny-pincher, Eva became obsessed with their financial situation and told Daniel that the books didn’t balance; she insisted on Daniel’s help, keeping him occupied many a night. One evening, Meridia was able to quickly help Daniel because she had a gift for numbers, but Eva dismissed her soon thereafter. When the girls stopped by the jewelry shop, Meridia was fascinated by the stones and could picture all kinds of designs; when Elias tried to explain them to her, Eva hurried them out of the store. Early one morning, the entire household was awoken by the sounds of Patina's wailing in the front yard. Daniel went back to sleep, but Meridia rushed down to help her, only to hide when an enraged Eva burst out. Patina cried about a baby, and seemed to dig at the dirt. Eva admonished her and struck her severely, threatening to fire her if she did not control herself. Once Eva left, Meridia came out of hiding and attempted to help Patina, but the roses blocked her path. When Daniel refused to answer questions about Patina, Meridia cornered Gabilan, who relayed the story. Patina lost a child to malaria and blamed herself; Eva subsequently took her in as her servant. Gabilan, an orphan, arrived later, and Patina acted as a mother to her.
Eva’s obsession with saving money led her to tear up the house looking for things to sell. She was particularly merciless with Permony, who lost many of her favorite things, while Malin kept almost everything she owned. During the search for sellable items, Eva and Meridia came across family photos and went through them as Eva reminisced. Meridia was struck by one photo, which featured a much younger Patina with a young girl: Eva. When she questioned Daniel about it, he revealed that Patina was actually his grandmother. When Patina lost her baby, she and her husband adopted Eva from unknown sources. The next day, Meridia spied Patina speaking to a woman covertly in the backyard. When the woman left, Meridia followed her and discovered that she was Pilar, Patina’s sister. Pilar hated Eva for abusing the woman who raised her, and relayed several family secrets. The house and the business were actually Patina’s, but she signed them over to her daughter out of guilt for not telling her she was adopted. In addition, Patina’s baby used to be buried in the front yard, but Eva had the body moved. Pilar’s dark description of Patina’s servitude contrasted with Daniel’s assertion that Patina was happy and chose this lifestyle. On her way back into the house, Meridia spied Malin, who had overheard everything.
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Meridia waited anxiously for the backlash from Malin's telling Eva about Meridia’s conversation with Pilar. Meridia constantly felt like she was being watched by Malin, but the girl was never there. Meridia did notice that Eva was now more overt in her criticism of Meridia, which she suspected was because of Malin. One day, Malin confronted Meridia alone in her room. Malin marveled at the control Eva had over Meridia and wondered why Meridia hadn’t seen through it. Malin said that Eva talked about her behind her back, and kept all of Meridia’s wedding presents for herself. She also insisted that the necklace Meridia wore (a wedding gift from Eva) was cheap, and probably enchanted by one of Eva’s fortune-tellers. She wondered why Meridia allowed Daniel to live on an allowance doled out by his mother instead of taking a regular salary. When Meridia called Malin a liar, the girl told Meridia to listen outside Eva’s second-story window. She did, and heard Eva spout a long list of lies and insults about Meridia: her greediness, her slatternly sexual appetite, her corruption of Permony (she even hinted that she might be abusing the child), and her conspiracy with the servants. Meridia was enraged.
Meridia decided to fight Eva using Eva’s own tactics. She feigned errors and subtly maintained a calm, pleasant facade. When she asked Daniel about it one night, he refused to believe her; she realized his alliance was with his mother. One morning, Patina broke her usual silence to ask Meridia to stop trying to needle Eva. When Meridia confronted Patina about Eva’s mistreatment of her, she realized that Eva hobbled her own mother; when they took away the grave of Patina’s biological child, Eva crushed Patina’s feet with a fragment of the gravestone. Eva suddenly appeared and insulted both Meridia and her parents. Her words about Meridia’s parents hurt all the more because they had the ring of truth. Eva said that Ravenna cut off all marital relations after Meridia’s birth. When Gabriel started philandering, Ravenna flew into a rage and attacked him with an axe while he slept. The story connected to Meridia’s recurring dream: the flash of light, the scream, something running down her—it was the axe catching the moonlight before Ravenna wounded Gabriel, giving him the shoulder injury that made him stoop. Meridia then smashed a tray of soup at Eva’s feet and ran to her room. Later, Elias began pounding on her bedroom door in a rage. Meridia realized that during the week that Meridia defied Eva, Eva was spending the evenings with her bees, stirring up Elias’s anger (just like she did the night he attacked the dog). When Daniel came home in the middle of this fight, he tried to calm everyone down. Elias and Eva accused Meridia of insulting them; she accused Eva of her lies and mistreatment. Elias and Eva demanded that Meridia leave their house; when Daniel protested, Meridia said she would return to her parents’ home. She walked out the front door of the house, knowing that Daniel would not come with her.
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Ravenna had not spoken a single word since Meridia left the house. Her usual rantings subsided, and though she longed to go after Meridia, she forced herself not to interfere. Ravenna recalled the night the wind came, and Gabriel’s subsequent betrayal. Ravenna was so hurt and so angry, she could not stop herself from getting the axe. It was Meridia’s cry that saved Gabriel from death; he awoke in time and the blade struck his shoulder. Ravenna always believed that letting her child see that was what condemned her to forgetfulness. When Meridia showed up at the door having left Daniel’s house, Ravenna’s speech returned. That evening, as Meridia listened from the stairs, Eva, Elias, and Daniel came to the house and were confronted by Gabriel and, surprisingly, Ravenna. When Eva attempted to insult Meridia, Ravenna slapped her; when Daniel insisted he would fight to win Meridia back, Ravenna pointed out his weakness in letting her leave in the first place. Meridia was heartened by Gabriel’s defense of her, and Gabriel in turn saw some of Ravenna’s old fire in her confrontation with Eva and Elias. When they went to leave, the staircase suddenly became thousands of steps high, and Meridia’s calls to the exiting Daniel went unheard.
Daniel showed up at the house every day for the next month, despite being taunted by the ivory mist. As her parents were locked in battle with Eva and Elias over how to resolve the discord, Meridia ached for Daniel but would not go to him. Then, one night, a wind blew through Meridia’s room and knocked her flat. She assured herself that the wind was different from the one that visited her mother, and she ran downstairs and outside to Daniel. He begged for her forgiveness, and she told him he had to earn it. Then she put his hand on her stomach to tell him she was pregnant. When Ravenna and Gabriel learned of the baby and the reconciliation, they forced Eva and Elias to agree to new terms: Meridia and Daniel would be set up in a house of their own; Meridia’s dowry would be returned to the couple with interest; and Gabriel would offer no future help to them or to Eva and Elias. Despite Eva and the bees’ strenuous efforts to thwart it, Elias agreed. The couple moved into their new home, which included a small jewelry shop.
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The young couple’s new house was old and rough, but both Daniel and Meridia were elated to make it their own. While Meridia cleaned and decorated the house, Daniel set up the shop. One day, Ravenna stopped by for the briefest of visits, but when she left, the house seemed brighter. Later, Daniel and Meridia discovered a verbena-scented parcel with two gold bars (a secret gift from Ravenna). The shop opened to very little interest, and there were no sales. A discouraged Meridia was walking into town when she ran into Hannah, her long-lost childhood friend. The two caught up, and Hannah vowed to help her spread the word about her business. For the next few days, Hannah and Meridia canvassed the downtown area, handing out toffees and business cards. They finished their promotional walkabout by meeting all of Meridia’s neighbors; like the businesspeople, Hannah insisted that Meridia learn all of their names. As they approached home, Hannah was about to explain her abrupt exit in their childhood, but Meridia silenced her. When Daniel opened the door, Hannah was gone and Daniel insisted she was talking to herself. Meridia found a note from Hannah on her table, but did not bother to read it; her friend was gone again.
Daniel and Meridia’s business slowly began to grow. Meridia proved to be good with the books and excellent with customers, locating just the right piece for each one. She also befriended two women in her neighborhood, Leah and Rebecca; the two helped her poster the town to continue advertising the shop. Despite their early success, Eva often took more than the sixty percent the families had agreed on when the new house and business were set up. Realizing that Eva was bad with numbers and had little practical knowledge of jewelry, Meridia and David began to alter the books and inventory to mask some of their profits from Eva. In addition, Elias, who was trying to make amends for his mistreatment of Meridia, smuggled in gifts for the baby and nourishment and medicine for Meridia. One night, Meridia dreamed of the nurse Ravenna fired as a child, and Meridia realized that the nurse was about die and wanted to see her one last time. The nurse started to warn Meridia about the next time the three mists would come together, but the mists carried her away before she could finish. Eva’s frequent visits to the shop were filled with criticism—mostly for Meridia’s spending and laziness. When Meridia discovered Eva had hired a local delinquent to spy on them, Daniel told his mother that she did not need to visit anymore; he would bring the books to her. A furious Eva, bees buzzing, cursed Meridia and her unborn child from the street.
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Meridia went into labor earlier than expected, and soon Leah, Rebecca, Ravenna, and the midwife were at the house to lend a hand. Rebecca and Leah were responsible for keeping Daniel calm—and out of the bedroom. Ravenna and the midwife began preparing Meridia for delivery. The labor proved long and difficult, and suddenly Eva was in the room unbeknownst to Ravenna and the midwife. Soon, Meridia was covered in bees and screaming in pain; she recalled the curse her mother-in-law had made on her child and felt her strength leaving her. Daniel kept trying to enter the room, goaded by Eva’s incessant needling. Finally, Ravenna successfully ejected Daniel and Eva from the room, and the midwife tried to help Meridia, whose baby was feet-first in her womb. Suddenly, Ravenna became aware of the bees (which had been visible only to Meridia), broke a window in the room, and sent them out. As soon as the bees left, Meridia felt some of her strength return and braced herself for the midwife to cut the baby out of her. The baby was a boy, and Daniel was relieved to see mother and son doing well. The midwife took Daniel aside and told him that because of the difficult delivery, Meridia would not be able to have any more children. Both Eva and Meridia overheard the news, and Meridia was sure that the dead fawn had been a harbinger of this; Eva cackled with delight.
For the first week of Noah’s life, Ravenna showed up every day and helped care for the baby and the house as Meridia recuperated; soon after, however, Ravenna’s forgetfulness returned, and she no longer came to the house. Leah and Rebecca observed a man step out of the mist and peer in the window at Noah; when they asked Meridia about it, she pretended not to know that it was Gabriel. Although Noah was especially fond of Elias (who continued to visit secretly, sometimes with Malin and Permony), he had no use for Eva. After that, Eva rejected the child to save face. Noah proved to be a difficult baby, and Meridia wondered whether her own difficult infancy drove the wedge between her parents; she saw many similarities between her postpartum state and that of her mother. Eva began to use Patina to drain Meridia and Daniel of their finances by sending her on shopping expeditions in her neighborhood and making them pay for it; if Patina didn’t return with the groceries, Eva would beat her. Eva also started giving them third-rate inventory, and the business suffered. To prevent Patina from being physically abused by Eva, Meridia used their meager savings to help pay for the food bills.
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Eva’s demands for food through Patina increased, and eventually, the extra money Daniel and Eva had saved under their floorboards was about to run out. Meridia came up with a risky plan to thwart Eva: they would buy jewelry from an independent seller without telling Eva and Elias. This way, they could offset the damage done by the low-quality inventory Eva sent them. Daniel found an independent dealer with no ties to Elias’s shop. He was a large man with a thick black beard named Samuel, and both Daniel and Meridia were impressed by his kind manner and moral approach. To pay for their first installment, Meridia gave him the gold bars Ravenna left for them. One day in the market, Pilar approached Meridia and told her that Patina was very sick—she had a lump near her heart that required costly surgery. Pilar had asked Eva for the money but was soundly rejected, and Patina seemed willing to die. Although conflicted, Meridia gave Pilar the jewelry from her father’s dowry to pay for the surgery; she and Daniel now had nothing. When Daniel’s family later came to visit, Eva’s bees were in full force; she insisted that she had offered to pay for the surgery, and the entire family (including Daniel) was mystified by the impoverished Pilar’s ability to pay for it.
Sales of Samuel’s merchandise were initially very small because the couple did not dare to display his wares in the shop, where Eva or Elias might have seen them. Instead, they hid them around the house and brought them out only to customers who had no connection to Elias. When Samuel visited, he was angry that his jewelry was not displayed and gave Daniel and Meridia thirty days to display it or end their agreement. The couple’s sex life continued to suffer, in part because of their exhaustive work and Noah’s needs but also because of Meridia’s guilt at not being able to bear another child. Eva delighted in visiting the impoverished couple and flaunting her own success. As Daniel and Meridia were on the brink of starvation, Ravenna paid one of her fortuitous visits, bringing tons of food and supplies for the baby. After she left, the couple found an envelope of money under the mat—enough to last them a month. When Noah was six months old, Meridia took him to see Gabriel per his request. Though Noah seemed terrified the entire time, Gabriel liked the boy, kissed him, and asked him to come every year on his birthday. One day, when Elias visited the young couple, he discovered one of Samuel’s jewels hidden in the pantry. After a quick search, he brought out the hidden jewelry to the couple and told them to display it; he would tell Eva he had an agreement with his friend Samuel to allow him to display his jewels in Daniel’s shop. Samuel was pleased to see his wares on display, but claimed he does not know Elias. Shortly afterward, Noah’s long period of fussiness ended.
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Over the next few years, the couple’s fortune slowly grew. They were getting close to their ultimate goal: a home and a shop free from Eva’s control. Meridia continued to show innovation in her sales techniques, even using the Festival of Spirits to drum up business. With Elias’s complicity, the couple continued to hide their profits from Samuel’s participation. In addition, Ravenna continued her periodic visits, which not only brought money and supplies but seemed to put the house in order. One night, Meridia felt passion again for the first time in a long while, and she and Daniel made love fervently. When Patina visited the shop one day, the couple was surprised to see her walking better and glowing with positivity. She revealed that the source of her happiness was that she believed Eva was the one who gave Pilar money for her surgery. She took it as a sign of Eva’s forgiveness, even when Eva treated her badly. Eventually, Patina’s miraculous glow and rejuvenation increased to the point where she became diaphanous and disappeared into the spirit world, exactly two years to the day after her heart surgery.
Shortly after Patina’s disappearance, Eva accused Pilar of secretly harboring her. When Eva called Pilar a prostitute, Pilar revealed that Meridia paid for the surgery. Eva seized the opportunity and set her bees to work on Daniel, planting all kinds of lies about Meridia’s desire to dominate and outsmart him. The bees worked, and the couple fought about Meridia’s keeping the secret from him. Meridia recognized the signs of the bees, but was unable to overcome them that night. Eva and her bees next went after Elias, depriving him of sleep for nearly a month. When they came to visit while Meridia was out, Daniel had to tend to the shop. Alone with Noah, Eva worked Elias into a rage by telling him that the child was being coached into not respecting him. When Noah tried to get away from Elias, he followed the boy under a table and hurt him. Daniel rushed in and Meridia came home, demanding he get a doctor. Once the boy’s head was stitched up and safe in bed, Meridia threw Eva against the wall; Daniel had to restrain her from causing Eva further injury. At Meridia’s prompting, Daniel told his parents that they would no longer need their financial assistance. An embarrassed and guilty Elias agreed, dragging Eva out.
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Meridia and Daniel found a two-story house in the heart of the merchant district. The couple lived upstairs and set up the shop downstairs. The location, combined with Meridia’s savvy and Samuel’s quality goods, made the shop a success. For the first time, the couple had money in a bank and a household free of Eva’s interference. After settling in, the couple hosted a dinner party whose guests included Rebecca and Leah, their former neighbors. The women revealed to Meridia that no one has rented the house since their departure. Part of the reason was the sighting of a ghost, who looked like an old woman with the glow of a much younger one. The ghost loved to cook and sent all kinds of smells from the household. Meridia knew it was Patina’s spirit, but did not let on. Ravenna continued her visits, and Noah became very attached to her, despite her severe appearance. Noah remained terrified of Gabriel, but submitted to his yearly visits bravely. Noah was still angry with Elias for wounding his head and completely ignored him. When Meridia caught Elias crying about Noah’s rebuffs, she talked to her son and told him to forgive Elias. When the boy asked her why, she hinted at Eva’s culpability in the attack.
Eva keenly felt the rejection that followed Daniel and Meridia’s move to the new house and shop. Noah’s rejection, coupled with flagging business, made Elias even more removed from her. Malin, now twenty, was actively pursued by a suitor and seemed headed for marriage. Permony, now seventeen, had grown more self-possessed and was no longer wounded by Eva’s unending criticism. Eva found her way back into Meridia and Daniel’s household through Noah. Biding her time, she slowly insinuated herself into his life with treats and other gifts. Eventually, Noah wanted to spend all of his time with Eva and frequently rejected Meridia. This became especially problematic after Eva gave Noah a talking bird as a gift. Meridia was sure the bird had been enchanted and was helping Eva turn Noah against her. Soon, Meridia came down with a nasty viral illness that covered her in sores and boils and left her exhausted from vomiting. The doctor who called noted that this particular bug seemed to affect young married women in their twenties. On the sixth night, Meridia had feverish dreams about Noah and the bird. The next day, she woke up feeling better with her skin clear. She discovered an empty cage, and Noah said the bird had flown away in the night. He accepted Meridia again and rejected Eva on her next visit. A few days later, the bird was found dead in the gutter by some cats; its neck had been wrung.
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Malin was soon married, and the wedding and reception were a lavish affair. As usual, Eva was the consummate hostess, despite her secret efforts to sideline Meridia. She was also delighted that Jonathan, Malin’s groom, came from a wealthy family. At the wedding, Noah went to see Elias, who lit up briefly but then withdrew again into himself. Permony, despite her mother’s constant abuse, proved radiant at the reception, gathering much attention. One foreign gentleman was especially taken with her; Elias seemed to recognize the foreigner and frowned disdainfully at the attention the man paid his daughter. Shortly after the wedding, Elias began to decline physically and mentally. The doctor diagnosed a rapidly deteriorating brain condition, and soon Permony and Eva were caring for him around the clock, helping him eat, bathe, and go to the bathroom. Eva was especially jealous of Elias’s attachment to Permony even in his altered state. When Eva found Elias speaking to Permony in a secret tongue about his impending departure for the afterlife, Eva accused them of having an incestuous relationship. As death approached, the family came to pay a final visit to say goodbye. Malin, who had been curiously absent during Elias’s decline, wept alone in her room; Meridia found her and realized she was pregnant. As they all gathered round Elias as he died, he locked eyes with Meridia and mouthed, “Save her.” Unsure whom he meant, Meridia remained baffled but got no further answers because Elias passed away.
Jonathan and Eva fussed over and pampered Malin throughout her pregnancy. Fortune-tellers and a host of doctors were consulted to ensure the health of Malin and her unborn baby. Malin was softened by pregnancy and reached out to both Permony and Meridia to form stronger relationships. When Malin went into labor, Meridia arrived at her home to find it in complete chaos. Eva and an army of arguing doctors and midwives were crowded into the room with a weak Malin. Meridia was struck instantly with a premonition that Malin would survive the delivery but the baby would not. When Malin finally delivered the dead child, she demanded to see it, and Meridia allowed it despite Eva’s protests. The child was a boy, and it was carried away before an emotionally devastated Jonathan could see it. The funeral was held three days later, and Malin became one of many almost-mothers who frequented the graveyard visiting her lost child.
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One morning, the blue mist was late in delivering Gabriel to the house, and when he arrived, he had no appetite for Ravenna’s cooking. The yellow mist picked up a weary-looking Gabriel earlier than usual that day, and the following day, neither the mist nor Gabriel returned. When a note from Gabriel arrived saying he would no longer live in the house, Ravenna flew into a rage, fired all the servants, and destroyed his study. She set out for Meridia’s house as a storm began brewing. Once she got Meridia, the two set out in the inclement weather without Meridia knowing where they were headed. When seedy characters began to appear at every corner, Meridia realized that they were in a disreputable part of town she had never seen before. When they finally arrived at a very meager cottage, they saw the mist waiting in front of the door. When Gabriel’s mistress refused to let them in, Ravenna knocked the door down, and Meridia was shocked to discover Pilar was her father’s mistress. They headed back into a bedroom and discovered Gabriel immaculately dressed and sealed in a block of ice. All around the bed were buckets of hot coals. Pilar explained that Gabriel took ill and got very chilly; by morning, he was encased in ice. His doctor believed he was still alive, but none of their efforts to melt the ice had worked. When a small crack appeared over Gabriel’s heart, the three women chipped at the ice and used the hot coals to dissolve it. Against Pilar’s protests, Meridia and Ravenna propped up the barely conscious Gabriel, covered him in their cloaks, and carried him out into the raging storm. As they trudged along, a warmth emanated from Ravenna and passed through Gabriel to Meridia. By the time they arrived at Ravenna’s house, Gabriel was completely dry despite the tempestuous storm.
At home, Meridia and Ravenna tried to stave off the ice, which began appearing as Gabriel lay in his bed. A demon appeared and built a wall between Meridia and Ravenna, but Meridia used her ice hammer to slay it. She demanded her mother to take action, and reluctantly Ravenna reached under the bed and brought out a spade (not an ax, as Meridia had long believed). Blow by blow, Ravenna chipped away the ice, and Gabriel faintly uttered, “My love.” The entire atmosphere changed, free of the years of cold and darkness. From her bed, Meridia heard whispers of forgiveness between her parents along with declarations of love. When she went down to Gabriel’s room to relieve Ravenna, her mother said he hadn’t been awake, and Meridia wondered if she dreamed what she had heard. The next morning, a woeful Pilar showed up at the door asking to see Gabriel. She explained that Gabriel always loved Ravenna and that was why he kept Pilar in such meager conditions. She also told Meridia that it was Gabriel, not Ravenna, who left all of the gold bars and money over the years; he had Pilar deliver them and scent them with verbena. Meridia sent Pilar away without seeing her father and watched as the woman disappeared in the same way her sister, Patina, did. Meridia realized that Pilar used some enchantment to deliver Patina from Eva’s clutches into the spirit world and had now commended herself to the same place.
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The town soon began to whisper about Ravenna and her lack of sanity. Daniel was displeased when Meridia spent more and more time at her parents’ house caring for the increasingly frail Gabriel. One day, Meridia stood at her father’s bedside, holding his hand and asking for a sign. She heard her nurse’s voice and looked outside and saw the three mists together. Meridia held back her mother, and the mists burst through the window and carried Gabriel off to the spirit world. After the funeral, Meridia inspected her father’s study and found his finances severely limited, making his secret gifts of money and gold to her all the more meaningful. She also realized that many of the books in the study were about reclaiming lost love. Wilder stories started to circulate the town about Ravenna’s crazed behavior, even though she always seemed to be at her house when Meridia visited. One day, Eva dragged a ravaged-looking Ravenna into the shop, making a big display of how she rescued her. With Ravenna tucked away in bed, Meridia went to the irate Daniel and asked whether her mother could live with them. Still smarting from Ravenna’s treatment of him during their separation, he refused, noting that Meridia wouldn’t let Eva live with them if the situation were reversed. Meridia realized Eva and her bees had been working on Daniel while she was away tending to her parents. Finally, Meridia told Daniel she and Noah would move to her parents’ house if he would not let her mother live with them.
Meridia moved Ravenna into the house unobtrusively. For the first few weeks, she kept her in her room to allow Daniel to become accustomed to the idea. Noah enjoyed a special bond with Ravenna, even through her fog. Each day, he brought her a different kind of scent for her to enjoy, and it was the one thing that momentarily lifted the fog. Business continued to prosper, and some customers even sent flowers and other gifts of sympathy for Meridia’s situation with Ravenna. Unbeknownst to Meridia, Eva and her bees worked steadily on Daniel. Permony saw it firsthand when he told her of his life at home as a war, with Ravenna, Noah, and Meridia on one side and him alone on the other. Permony tried to warn Meridia about this, but Meridia brushed it off as Eva’s typical meddling and assured Permony that Daniel loved her; she was too distracted with her care of Ravenna to really listen to the young girl. Meanwhile, Eva became the subject of much gossip regarding Malin’s troubled, grieving marriage and her mismanagement of the jewelry shop since Elias’s death. To make matters worse, Gabilan and Eva’s other servant ran away in the middle of the night, taking Patina’s pots and pans as keepsakes. Just when things seemed as though they couldn’t get worse, the foreigner who had taken a shine to Permony at Malin’s wedding showed up in Eva’s shop. The foreigner, whose name was Ahab, was rough around the edges, but reminded Permony of her father. They enjoyed a brief, whirlwind courtship, and he soon asked her to marry him. Permony’s relationship and engagement brought approval and tenderness from Eva for the first time in Permony’s life.
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The news of Permony’s wedding took Meridia by surprise. When Eva brought Ahab to the shop to meet them, Meridia could not detect any trace of the bees. Eva was incredibly warm, particularly to Permony. Daniel seemed to like Ahab well enough, but Meridia sensed there were things about him she didn’t know. She asked both Samuel and Leah about him, and Leah was able to drudge up a story about his past. In another town, he sought to buy several houses from the townspeople so that he could have the land to build a factory. When the town members refused, a number of their daughters developed symptoms of hysteria. They no longer appeared to be virgins and showed signs of venereal disease; all of them had nightmares in which a half-man/half-beast ravished them. When Meridia presented the story to Daniel, he laughed at her. She realized how much resentment had built up inside him. He attacked her for thinking badly of his mother while expecting him to embrace Ravenna. She knew she had to find a way to bring down the wall between them. The next day, Meridia decided to visit Permony, who was ecstatic about the gifts Ahab had showered upon her. When Meridia tried to find out whether Permony knew about Ahab or had heard about his past, she was surprised by her response. Permony knew everything, but saw Ahab as a way out of Eva’s clutches. Meridia realized how grown up Permony was, but lamented that the girl has chosen to marry a man she did not love.
Permony married Ahab in December and was pregnant not long after the new year. Things remained chilly between Daniel and Meridia, and a horrible stench overtook the house; Meridia believed if she could take down the wall, the stench would go away. Ravenna continued to decline, and one day, Meridia walked her downtown for some fresh air. There, Meridia ran into a distraught Malin, who was leaving the cemetery strewn with tears. She was not jealous of Permony’s pregnancy but lamented her own inability to carry a child. She and Jonathan had been trying, but now he refused her physical advances. Malin had softened and recognized the damage she did to her relationships with Meridia and Permony. After she left, Meridia thought she could hear the voice of townswomen gossiping about her, Malin, and Ravenna. Not long after that, Ahab financed a complete remodeling of Eva’s shop. At the opening party, Meridia noticed Ahab and Eva’s pretty young assistant, Sylva, eyeing each other; the very pregnant Permony also took notice of it. Late that night, Meridia took Noah home while Daniel stayed to help his mother clean up. When Meridia awoke the next morning, Daniel wasn’t there and the stench had disappeared. Noah and Meridia ran into Ravenna’s room and found her ranting and convulsing. Outside, a blue mist carried Daniel home, followed by a swarm of bees.
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At first, Meridia tried to play it cool and hid her knowledge of Daniel’s infidelity. He came up with half-hearted excuses for his departures when the mist would carry him off. Noah, who had developed traces of clairvoyance, sensed something was amiss. Meridia made excuses, not wanting to burden the child with adult problems, but he began to withdraw more and more from his father. Ravenna provided Meridia with her only solace, even though she was blind and uncommunicative. One day, Eva loudly delivered a package to one of Meridia’s maids and remarked how Meridia should meet her assistant, Sylva. As Meridia looked at the contents of the package, she realized her mistake. The package contained receipts and checks from an account Meridia did not recognize. It was Daniel, not Ahab, who funded Eva’s remodeling, which Eva had concocted for the sole purpose of bringing him to Sylva. In her rage, Meridia suddenly saw Ravenna looking more like her former self, not in her current haggard state. When Meridia tried to hug her, she vanished. Rushing through the house, Meridia found that Ravenna and all of her things had disappeared. She raced to her parents' house and found the kitchen ablaze and full of Ravenna’s things, but not the woman herself. A blue light shot through the room and the kitchen swarmed with fireflies.
When she returned to her house, Daniel was out and Noah was waiting up for him. He had clearly been crying because he realized Ravenna was not coming back. Meridia prepared for her exit and waited until Daniel came home. After he nodded off, she laid the clothes he had been wearing out on a chair. Traces of his mistress were all over the clothes, but as usual, they began to disappear (most likely the enchantment of one of Eva’s fortune-tellers). She took out her mother’s spade from under the bed and struck the clothing. The spell broke, and the stains remained on the clothes as evidence of his betrayal. Meridia packed up her suitcase and took Noah out into the night. The next morning, Daniel awakened to find his clothes laid out and searched in vain for his wife and son. He flew into a rage and raced over to Meridia’s parents’ house; he pounded on the door but could not get in. Suddenly, hail that felt like bullets rained down on him. He ran from the house blinded and flailing, knocked his head, and passed out. Passersby saw nothing other than a deranged man clawing his own eyes out. When he awakened, he realized he was in his home and rejected the touch of his mistress. Over the next few days, he adjusted to blindness by touching familiar objects and remembering Meridia’s contact with him; however, the objects soon disappeared as Eva erased every trace of Meridia from the house.
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The night they left, Meridia and Noah stopped at a newly fashioned grave for Ravenna; in the distance, they spotted Malin, still grieving at her baby’s headstone. Once they arrived at her parents’ house, Meridia began a complete overhaul—remodeling, repainting, and installing new furniture and appliances. Eva came the next day and demanded Noah, but Meridia dismissed her and warned her to stay away. Even with the brighter décor, Noah was still a bit afraid of the house, especially his grandfather’s study. One day, Ravenna’s spirit appeared and coaxed him into going into the study. There, Noah played with Gabriel’s instruments and began devouring his books. Permony sent a note explaining that Daniel has been ill, and Meridia almost went to him. At the door, she heard Eva and Sylva entertaining guests, and Noah convinced her to retreat. At Leah’s urging, Meridia decided to go back to work. She partnered again with Samuel, and decided to design as well as sell (inspired in part by the fireflies). One early morning during her preparations, Malin showed up at the door with a bundle asking for help.
Malin relayed the story that brought her to Meridia’s door. The night before last, Permony went to bed as usual even though the baby was unusually active in her uterus. The tonic Ahab gave Permony normally made her sleep through the night, but the very pregnant young woman was awakened in the middle of the night by strange noises. Not finding Ahab in her bed, she crept downstairs into the basement. There, she saw a swinelike monster raping a young girl—it was the monster from the story both Permony and Meridia had heard about Ahab. In the flicker of the light, sometimes the monster transformed into Ahab and then back into the swine creature. Terrified, Permony fled into the night to her mother’s house. After hearing her story, Eva refused to believe her and told her to go home to her husband. Setting off on her own for her sister’s house, Permony grew increasingly weary and ill feeling. She collapsed in the graveyard and demons began to taunt her; she felt blood running down her legs and knew she was in labor. When she came to, her sister Malin was fighting off the demons. Malin had Permony transported to a nearby hospital, but despite all of their efforts, she died from blood loss; her baby, a boy, survived.
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Malin finished the story and revealed that Daniel wrote a letter to Noah, but Eva never delivered it. With Leah watching the children, Malin and Meridia set out for town. Malin went to Ahab, told him his wife and baby had died, and threatened to tell the authorities about his crimes unless he left immediately and never came back. Afterward, Malin went to Jonathan and proposed that they raise Permony’s baby together. Jonathan believed that they no longer loved each other; stung, Malin gathered her things and left, determined to raise the baby on her own. Meridia first stopped to see Permony, who miraculously was still warm and preserved despite her death. Meridia paid the midwife, who agreed to tell Ahab that both Permony and the child died in childbirth. Meridia then stormed over to her old house and threw Sylva and her friends out of the house. With Eva at her heels, Meridia went to Daniel's room and saw it covered by bees. She broke the window and the bees either flew out or disintegrated. When Eva charged in, Meridia revealed all of her deceit as well as her rejection of the now-dead Permony. Daniel staggered to Meridia repentantly, but she said he had exhausted whatever love she had for him. She dropped a necklace at his feet and left; it was the necklace she gave Pilar for Patina’s surgery that Daniel had repurchased as a token of their love. He dismissed Eva, who still tried to make excuses for her lies.
At Permony’s wake, Eva showed up and made a huge display of her grief. Malin refused to let her stay and forced her out of the funeral home. She confronted Eva with her selfishness and told her she would never see her again. As Eva left the church defeated, she had the bent-over, hobbled walk of Patina. Earlier that day, Noah noticed a man outside his grandparents’ house. He had seen the man for the past three days—ever since his mother went to visit his father. When Malin headed off to the wake, neither she nor Meridia seemed to be able to see or hear the man, despite his pleas. In the library, as Meridia looked out the window, the man placed his hand on the pane from the outside. Seeing the pain on Meridia’s face, Noah ran outside and yelled, “Papa,” which made him finally visible to Meridia. He came in and begged her forgiveness, taking full responsibility for his selfish actions. Meridia said that they could no longer start again and the reason was him, not Eva. She gave Daniel one concession—that they did once have a great love together. She left for the wake, and Daniel shook with sobs.
Meridia’s shop proved to be very successful. She rented the same house that she and Daniel had shared when they were first married; it still smelled of Patina’s cooking. Noah stayed with Daniel on the weekends, even if he was closer with Meridia. Malin and Permony’s baby, Joshua, had moved away for a year as a precaution against Ahab—who left and never returned. Meridia ran into Hannah, who insisted she was staying for good. She helped Hannah move to Meridia’s house, but the people around her saw only Meridia carrying suitcases and talking to herself. Soon, the Festival of Spirits returned, twelve years after she and Daniel had met. As she walked among the booths, reminiscing, she spotted an apparition of a younger version of Eva. She followed it through a brown mist back to Eva’s house. Inside, she found the house in horrible disrepair and an emaciated, neglected Eva curled up in bed in a pool of her own vomit and excrement. Realizing the maid had been neglecting her, she ordered the young woman to clean Eva up. Later, she met Daniel as she walked Noah home. She told him of Eva’s neglect and he promised to help her. After a moment, Meridia said that Eva didn’t have long. She told him to care for her in her last days and death, and then she would take him back.