Not Safe for Work

From Testament, a revisioning of Wuthering Heights (novel excerpt)


Ere I die, I will set down how I have loved.

For of death’s advance, I have no doubt; before long I will meet my Maker, be He God or Satan. When I am gone, they will say I was Catherine Linton: the wife of the handsome young Edgar, the mistress of elegant Thrushcross Grange. A patroness of dress-makers and portrait-painters—in short, the finest lady of the district. Distinctions the world admires, and that provoke in me only the bitterest laughter.

Is it folly to write these words—words that may never reach another’s eyes? Perhaps it is—I have been accused of madness. But some vital force within me drives my hand across the page. I must tell my story, though I write into the void—though my hand trembles as rage and grief wash over me in waves, and though I ache, to my core, with nausea and chill. I must create my testament, in the faith or the delusion that a mind will one day live who can receive it, and through whose understanding—finally—my truth will be known.

Dearest reader—whoever you may be—know this, if nothing else:

I am Heathcliff.

Memory is a gift, a treasure beyond price.

Alone in this dark night, my mind reaches, searches; drawing around me like down the softness, the tender starglow, of that night in the summer of my fifteenth year.

I lay in my bed fully clothed and sleepless, waiting for what seemed forever as one by one, my brother’s drunken companions took their leave. Shouting and cursing and slamming the doors, they strode in heavy boots across the courtyard stones, whistling for their horses and finally, thundering out of our gate and onto the moors. At last I heard Hindley’s own heavy tread upon the stair, and the door to his chamber close.

If I listened carefully, I knew, I might soon hear his weeping. Since Frances’ death, my brother’s life-clock seemed broken: each night, to him, was like the first after he laid her in her grave. With the cruelty of youth, I wished him no comfort: it was Hindley who had separated me from my life, my all, by reducing Heathcliff to the status of a servant after our father’s death. I thought of Hindley only as our tormentor, and knowing him out of the way, I hastened with a light heart down the stairs.

Heathcliff stood in the back garden, just as he had promised; the faint light from his covered lantern showed the broad, tall man my childhood playmate had become. I ran to him and he caught me by the waist, swinging me in a high circle before setting me on my feet again. He laughed, his face and heart open, joyous, as they had long ceased to be by daylight. I raised my hand to his cheek.

“I have missed you,” I said. A strange thing to say to a daily companion, and yet true. He’d begun to act the sullen servant Hindley hoped to force him to become; but now his black eyes shone as they met mine. He glanced quickly to the windows behind and above me, and took me by the hand.

“Come, Cathy,” he said, leading me out of the courtyard and onto the moor path I knew so well.  In an instant I was a girl again—not the young lady Nelly now insisted I had—as if through some witch’s curse—become. I knew we were heading for the ruined church. The path seemed rougher, and farther, than it ever had before, well though I knew the way; and I once stumbled, catching Heathcliff’s arm for balance, and making the lantern he held swing from side to side.

He looked down at me with laughter in his eyes.

“My lady’s boots are made for dancing, not for walking on the moors,” he said.

“The hateful things!” I replied; and stomped along with resolution, ever faster, until we reached the churchyard gate.

There are but a few headstones there, listing strangely at odd angles; and so old that their markings are effaced and can no longer be read. As children we used to play hide and seek among them, daring each other to walk upon the graves and risk the vengeance of those poor, forgotten souls. Even now, I felt a chill run down my spine as we passed down the path that wound among them. Then we were standing at the base of the old church tower.

The lock on its heavy door had long ago decayed; when we were small, we had pulled the handle hard together, leaning back until it opened with a creak. The ravages of wind and weather had now further warped the wood, which stuck in its ancient frame; but Heathcliff’s strength, honed through long days and years of toil on the farm, was now more than equal to the task. Shifting the lantern to his left hand, he set his shoulder to the door and thrust his weight against it once, twice, as I watched the muscles in his back move beneath the linen. The door gave way, yielding inward, and Heathcliff stepped inside, into the darkness and chill air.

I followed him with a shiver. Heathcliff raised the lantern, illuminating the staircase of rough uneven steps, and the windows carved at intervals in the walls. I breathed in the faint smell of his skin, mingling with the cold scent of stone, and a hint of the midsummer primoses that—I knew, but could not see— grew in profusion in the neglected churchyard.

Slowly he began to climb as, looking over his shoulder, he extended one hand behind him for me to hold. I took it, feeling its strength and the calluses at the base of his fingers, following the gentle warmth that pulsed between our palms. Upward and upward we progressed, through the flickering lantern light, the rhythm of our ascent lulling me so that I failed to notice when he reached the upper door. I jostled against him of a sudden, feeling the stiffness of my bodice strike his back; my cheeks flushed as I stepped back in confusion. Heathcliff, however, seemed to take no notice, only setting his shoulder once more against the wood. So we emerged to find ourselves—it seemed to me—suddenly standing in the sky.

Stars were everywhere above and before us on this moonless and crystal-clear night; while below us lay the moors, limitless and dark. Heathcliff leaned his back against the parapet, the warm wind rippling through his shirt and hair—his face and figure a picture of utter ease. My own clothes and shoes, meanwhile, pinched terribly; and overcome, suddenly, by the injustice of the fact, I sat down on the stones and unlaced my boots, flinging them against the wall near where he stood.

“It isn’t at all fair,” I said, getting to my wounded feet. “Men are allowed to be comfortable, while women can hardly walk or breathe.  I would a thousand times rather be a man!”

Heathcliff neither flinched at my missiles, nor smiled at this outburst; but a shadow seemed to pass across his features, as if he recognized, in my complaint, yet one more in our world’s long list of cruelties. He said nothing for a moment. Then he observed:

“There’s no one here but us— dress as you like.” He turned away from me to look out over the moors, leaning his arms upon the stone.

I stood motionless an instant, feeling myself alone somehow, despite his presence. Alone with the pressures of my own, bound flesh, and with the enticing caress of the wind that seemed to speak, without words, of freedom. From somewhere deep within me—or perhaps from deep below that hallowed ground—there came a faith, as strong as any I had ever known, that what I would do was right.

In a moment I had undone the fastenings of my dress and loosed my stays, casting off, with flying fingers, all these strict constraints of womanhood—and breathed free, feeling the wind on my skin through my shift. Then, obeying an impulse that rose as naturally as the cresting of a wave, I lifted that garment, too, above my shoulders and let it fall to the stone beside me.

Heathcliff had turned and was regarding me, silently.  In his eyes, I read an expression of wonder.

“Look,” he said softly.  “Look how beautifully you are made.”

He stepped close to me then, and with exquisite gentleness, his hand traced the line of my cheek, and throat; lightly stroking, too, my collarbone, and at last taking hold of my chin, tipping my mouth up to meet his. His lips pressed mine, then opened; and as I felt his mouth, his tongue, I felt my whole body soften and yearn. With my arms wrapped around him, I caressed his back. My fingers traced, as if with a mind of their own, the scars I could feel beneath the linen—relics of the whip that had so often torn his flesh. Heathcliff held me, then, gently away from him; and though my eyes welled with tears, he only smiled.

“Woman, not man, is the peak of all Creation,” he said, taking my hand and drawing me down with him to the floor. He arranged a bed for us there of my clothes, removing his own shirt to deepen its softness. “You must never regret what you are.”

I blinked back tears again, for—as my friend well knew—many were the passionate dreams, the eager wishes, I saw foreclosed to me forever by my sex. But as Heathcliff’s hands moved upon my skin, I knew true solace.

Resting at ease, I watched his palms trace the curve of my breasts and the sweep of my belly and hips, over and over, as if sculpting me from clay. Closing my eyes, then, I let the darkness intensify his touch as his fingers stroked my thighs, and I gasped, finally, as he found the wetness between them. I reached for Heathcliff, then, grasping him to me in an embrace as fierce as it was fond. His kiss filled my mouth as I felt my pleasure soar, and sear; leaving me finally laughing, speechless, all my limbs like liquid in his arms.

Heathcliff drew softly away, moving down to kiss me just below the navel—two, three, four times—caressing my womb with his lips.

“Here, one day, new life will grow,” he said, and in his eyes I saw amazement—even, perhaps, envy—a clarity, above all. Woman, in spite of everything, you are blessed.  

I slept, then, awhile; Heathcliff remaining, however, awake, and watchful, holding me in his lap and now and then, stroking my hair. He kept me as long as he dared, all to himself, in this private aerie; until, the red dawn advancing, he roused me to return to Wuthering Heights.

~ Kimberly Gladman ~