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Pearson Mary E, “The kiss of deception”, public translation into English from English More about this translation.

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She stood behind me and examined the kavah, brushing her fingers along my back. “Most of it’s gone, you know? Except for this small bit on your shoulder.”

I sighed. “It’s been well over a month. It should all be gone by now.”

“It’s still quite pronounced. I’m not sure—”

“Here!” I said, holding the potato brush over my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid to put muscle into it.”

“Berdi will skin you if she finds you using one of her kitchen brushes.”

“My back is dirtier than a potato?”

She grunted and set to work. I tried not to flinch as she rubbed the stiff brush and harsh soap against my skin. After a few minutes, she splashed water on my shoulder to rinse away the suds and take a look at the progress. She sighed. “Are you sure it was only a kavah and not something more permanent?”

I swam out into deeper water and faced her. “Nothing?”

She shook her head.

I dipped below the surface, my eyes open, looking at the blurred world above me. It made no sense. I’d had decorative kavahs painted on my hands and face dozens of times for various celebrations, and they were always gone within a week or two.

I surfaced and wiped the water from my eyes. “Try again.”

The corner of her mouth pulled down. “It’s not coming off, Lia.” She sat down on a submerged stone that peeked from the water like a turtle’s shell. “Maybe the priest cast some magic into his words as part of the rites.”

“Kavahs follow the rules of reason too, Gwyneth. There is no magic.”

“The rules of reason bow to magic every day,” she countered, “and might have little regard for the small magic of a stubborn kavah on one girl’s shoulder. Are you sure the artisans did nothing different?”

“I’m certain.” Still, I searched my memories for something. I couldn’t see the artisans as they worked, but I knew the design was all done at the same time with the same brushes and same dyes. I remembered my mother reaching out to comfort me during the ceremony but instead I felt her touch as a hot sting on my shoulder. Did something go wrong then? And there had been the prayer, the one in Mother’s native tongue that wasn’t tradition. May the gods gird her with strength, shield her with courage, and may truth be her crown. It was an odd prayer, but vague, and surely the words themselves had no power.

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