How to Take a Vacation: A Guide for Medieval Women by Maria Poulatha

1.  Pretend You Fell into a Well.

You are up before everyone, so take your time lowering yourself into a dry well. If it is full of water, be sure you know how to swim. Do not forget to pull the rope down with you and bring a meal that does not spoil. After you are discovered (because the bairns will sniff you out), tell them that you have enough food and water, and to fetch an extra-long ladder that only the chimney sweep two towns away owns. Count how many clouds passing over the window of your well-mouth are shaped like wheelbarrows. Listen to the sound of mud settling.

2.  Break a Leg.

Hold an iron pot as you collapse onto one leg. Continue to scour soiled clothes, stir the pottage, milk the sheep, and plant vegetables with a splintered cane because you can. If you have earned no more than four hours of vacation time, see number three.

3.  Break All Your Limbs.

Jump into a dry well, then order the husband to lower a basket. Stay in bed avoiding all household chores and farming, but remain immobile and unable to dodge even your toddling littlest. Rest your bones as you are fed boiled turnips from a wavering spoon and get assailed with crusty kisses. Limp off in three weeks, otherwise die from thrombosis or bedsores.

4.  Get Abducted by Pirates.

Stay put and look smug, as others flee while your village is getting sacked. Learn new songs, see the world, and abet some despicable crimes. Imagine how much the children would enjoy this.

5.  See Visions.

Describe a field of flaming poppies in the shape of the holy babe, remove yourself to a cloistered space the length of a broomstick (the shed where the dog expired in labor yesterday), and like the mystic of Norwich, accept only visitors wishing to confess their deepest darkest secrets through a peephole or children in need of a wound kissed.

6.  Join a Nunnery.

A convent may not admit a woman with six children, but insist that your husband has lured your offspring with the dark arts and is now trying to convert you. Complete a needlepoint cushion, see a book for the first time, and press it to your breast so that the words may seep into your heart. Notice that the tallow in the votive candles is the same hue as your youngest’s complexion when she has a humid fever. Announce you miss fornicating with the devil, get returned home in a horse-drawn cart full of garlic.

7.  Go on a Pilgrimage.

Make a vow to visit the Holy Land, then collect funds from friends and family to secure their heavenly passage and a slice of the True Cross. Discover that there are new names for birds and flowers and even bugs in Flemish and Breton. Feel faint at the French words parapluie, pantoufle, choufleur. At night, when you lean your head on a rock to sleep, remember the husband’s muscle and jelly arm under your head, and giggle at the way the brute could make you laugh. Go as far as Marseille, then return on your pirate friends’ ship sailing in the opposite direction.

8.  Grow Old.

With the help of wormwood tinctures and magical amulets, reach the all-gum and barnacle age of forty-nine. The surviving children have their own families and the house overflows on Sundays. The eldest daughter brings candles she molded herself and the middle son arrives with baskets of turnips. Bend tiny loaves into bunnies for the little ones and in the evenings, let your husband knead the knotted twigs of your feet, as he tells funny stories about the neighbors. Laugh until the sun sets.


Originally from New Jersey, Maria Poulatha lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly (finalist for the Grand Micro contest), Copper Nickel, trampset, and others.

One thought on “How to Take a Vacation: A Guide for Medieval Women by Maria Poulatha

  1. Pingback: Short Story Sunday – Coffee and Paneer

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