Women's Writes - Works

Women's Writes

Well-behaved women seldom make history.
— Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Day 17

Today, I give you an allegory.


The entrance to the tunnel was her only way out. She clawed at the sides, hoping to widen the space because it was too small for her to move forward any further. She worked furiously, not caring that the rocks were ripping her hands to shreds, not noticing the dirt filling her mouth and eyes. The more she worked, the narrower the tunnel seemed to become. Still she dug and clawed, hoping to move forward at last.

The walls of the tunnel were lined with bones and skulls, the bones and skulls of other women who had passed here and had failed. She didn’t intend to let that happen to her. She knew what had happened to them. They had rested. They grew tired, slowed down for a second, maybe two, and the tunnel closed in around them, engulfing them, and they couldn’t breathe. She mustn’t rest. She dug faster, faster, and still the tunnel seemed to narrow. She couldn’t keep up with the walls closing in on her.

She had come so far, she couldn’t stop now. She mustn’t quit, must never quit, but it was hard…so hard…she didn’t know how much longer she could dig. Her mouth was full of dirt now, and it threatened to choke her. She spit it out and kept going. Her eyes were full of dirt, but she couldn’t stop to wipe them out. She blinked, allowed the tears to wash out the dirt, and kept going. Her hands were torn to shreds, her knees were ripped open from the rocky floor of the tunnels, and she was hungry, so hungry. She would be hungry until she escaped the tunnel; her hunger could only be satisfied with the nourishment that waited for her on the other side.

He walked up, not having to kneel in the tunnel. He looked at her as if he didn’t see her, stepped on her hand, and walked around her. He picked up a shovel nearby, the same shovel she had tried to operate, but it wouldn’t work for her. He picked up a single shovelful of dirt and threw it to the side. The tunnel opened a bit. Another shovelful. Another. Two or three more, and the tunnel was open. He stepped through. She tried to follow, but the tunnel slammed shut the moment she got near. Somehow he managed to stay upright, walking easily through the tunnel even as it narrowed, narrowed, narrowed, until she could barely see him. He opened the door at the mouth of the tunnel and stepped through.

She kept digging, and the tunnel widened, ever so slightly, just enough to let her move an inch forward. She dug some more, inched some more, creeping forward inch by inch as her hands bled and ached. She moved forward slowly, so slowly, but she was moving forward. She would get there. She would step into the light. She would eat and drink her fill. She would live.

The door was locked when she reached it. She tried to turn the knob, but it wouldn’t give. She found a small piece of wire someone had abandoned in the tunnel, and used it to pick the lock. She was through. The door was open. She was on the other side.

There was a party in the room. He stood at the buffet table, loaded and groaning with food. She stepped over, hoping for a plate. He offered her a piece of toast. This was her share, he said. She had earned no more. Her mouth watered as she watched him fill his plate with meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, pastries and cakes. She nibbled her toast, glad for what she had, not willing to lose what she had gained, trying to figure out how to gain just another bite, just a small piece of cheese to put on her toast. He saw her watching him, read her desire on her face, and held out a piece of cheese. She drew closer, closer. He put his hand up her dress.