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Boston Marriage

Emilee Martell lives on a hobby farm in rural Wisconsin and is currently buried in cats and kale. In addition to all manner of short stories, she writes science fiction and fantasy novels about social justice, a broken multiverse, and queer people of all stripes. You can find links to more of her work on emartellauthor.wordpress.com, and visit her on Twitter at @sanguinaria15.
It's amusing, the men who coo at our virtue, our spinsters' garb, the way we walk down the street with arms linked and eyes demurely downcast, amusing how they could scarcely imagine how well we know each other with our petticoats off, corsets ripped with haste, hands and tongues dancing, devouring, worshiping in ways it has never occurred to them to worship a woman.
It's amusing, the jealousy in their eyes when they see the prosperity of our small inn, the way they loudly attribute our success to the kindly sympathy the customers must feel for us as we struggle with unfeminine labor, as though hard work and good food and a strict lack of lice are entirely irrelevant efforts.
It's amusing that they don't feel jealousy when their wives come to visit us, telling their men it's to buy our healing tinctures, and leave the inn relaxed and rosy-cheeked, perhaps a little more knowing, a little more confident, perhaps even turning to their husbands in bed and telling them where to put their hands, making themselves a little less of a vessel and a little more of a partner.
It's amusing when the affluent gentlemen on their strolls about town glance over the garden gate and compliment us on its tidiness, laughing at the funny names of the strange plants they don't know: thorn apple, henbane, musk mallow, bogbean, dittany.
It's amusing how they rush up to us when we return from our full-moon walks and caution us against the night air, the feverish draughts, the knife-edged rocks of the sea cliffs, and most of all, the wicked men who could fall upon us like wolves upon a lamb.
It's amusing when they tell us how good we are to the orphan girl we took in after her heavy-handed drunkard of a father disappeared, how the whole town noticed the sweet way she would visit our garden to pick flowers--and confide in us, though they don't know that--the summer before he vanished, how we haven't made her work for her meals now that she's under our roof, how we shield her from the glittering eyes of the sailors from the docks, how they heard we have even hired a tutor for her--womanly whimsy.
It's amusing, in the worst way, when they tell us how they would never dream of such an indulgence for their own daughters.
It's amusing when the boorish ones come to our inn and compliment us on our tender pork, our crackling bacon, our many cuts of pig, and on our tits too, usually in the same breath, and then go on to describe in great and self-pitying detail what a shame it is that we are such chaste and timid creatures.
It's amusing how not one of them ever notices that we get no deliveries from the butcher.
It's amusing how they think all the witches died in Salem.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 13th, 2019


"Boston marriage" was a 19th-century term referring to the practice of two women living together without a male figure. It fell out of favor when the wider world realized it was, as modern readers may already assume, a hotbed of lesbianism--although I want to acknowledge that gender and sexuality in the past were very different concepts than they are today, and also celebrate the indisputable existence of ace, aro, nonbinary, and transgender individuals in Boston marriages. With their social, financial, and sexual independence from men, women in Boston marriages were arguably the most liberated of the era. It made sense in this story to link that freedom to another group of women who wielded their own power: the infamous American witches.

- Emilee Martell
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