Blood is Not Pink
“I believe my blood is pink,” she said brightly, “not red.”
Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman, glanced at her with raised eyebrows.
“You know, the red comes from all that red meat you eat,” she explained. “We vegetarians have pink blood. Isn’t that great? Much prettier.”
Richard stared blankly, unsure what to say. Trying to work out if she was being serious or playing some kind of joke. Peacock finally looked up from her book and also fixed her with a brief puzzled stare. But here in the Yellow King cocktail bar, everything was comfortably quiet – too quiet for thinking up a response to something like that. This place was a strange oasis from the bustle of Camden outside. An oasis that Richard always loved. The décor was a surprisingly effective yellow and black, with black wooden tables and soft, low-slung chairs. Quiet classical music in the background and a drinks menu that went on for six pages.
Fortunately the slightly awkward silence was interrupted by Alice, quietly delivering the starter. He focussed on the salad before him with some relief. It looked tasty – packed with leaves, fruit and hot-smoked salmon in a nice seasoned yoghurt dressing.
“Alice,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Peacock shoved her book away and accepted a plate of antipasto with a smile.
“Princess?” he murmured. “You sure you don’t want anything?”
“Oh no – thank you. I am fine, really. And you know, I really do have pink blood.”
Richard coughed and quickly snapped up a sliver of salmon.
“Um,” he managed. “Really?”
Peacock absorbed a thin slice of Parma ham and smiled privately.
“Yes – really. Hey – Peacock. Those artichokes look great?”
“Uhuh,” Peacock said. “Yes – marinated to perfection.”
“Hey – mind if I steel one?”
“Are you sure it won’t pollute that pink blood of yours?”
“No no – I’ll take that one – hasn’t touched the ham . . .”
Before Peacock could respond, the artichoke was captured quickly and ferried towards Princess’s small mouth, which received it eagerly. It squished in there with a waft of olive oil and she made a happy noise. “Hey – these are good.”
Richard chewed salad and grinned.
“I am happy for you,” he said.
Princess shook her head.
“I would demonstrate,” she said enthusiastically, “but, well – you can’t can you.”
“I dunno,” Richard said. “Got a knife?”
Peacock winced. “No no – please. Alice would not be happy . . .”
Princess gave a smug grin. “Then you’ll have to take my word for it, wont you,” she cried. “How’s the salad?”
Richard sighed and pushed the plate in her direction. She grabbed his fork and picked around in there for a moment before capturing a scoop that was safely fish-free. Again that perfect tiny mouth absorbed it with an inbuilt smile.
“Hey,” she protested, muffled. “I know what I am talking about. My blood is pink. End of story.”
“You don’t believe me – I can tell.”
Richard pulled a face. “Well,” he said, “it’s just that prevailing scientific wisdom . . .”
“Fuck that,” she said. “Scientists all eat meat as well.”
“Do they now?” he muttered under his breath, while Peacock coughed over a pickled mushroom.
“After all,” Princess continued happily, “humans never evolved to eat meat, you know. It was after the fall of the Roman Empire that the starving masses were driven to desperation and started to eat each other. And since then we have never managed to shake off the taste for our own flesh. Only now, of course, we are forced to use other animals as surrogates.”
Richard swallowed the last morsel of salmon, carefully saved until the end, and slid his plate aside.
“Yes,” Princess continued. “Back in the middle ages, the favourite dish of the lords of the manor would be a slow roast baby, not three days old, which the villagers were forced to provide as a part of the tithing system. Roasted whole on a spit and with honey and spice.”
“Please,” Peacock said sarcastically, “You’re making me hungry again.”
“Oh tut,” Princess scolded.
Just for a brief second something flickered across Peacock’s face – an almost invisible warning frown. Richard coughed and glanced at her uneasily. The salad was making him feel comfortable and relaxed though. Relaxed enough for something to click in his mind slightly. He leaned forward with an ever so slightly alarming twinkle in his eye.
“Ok,” he said smoothly. “Lets get to the bottom of this. You have some rather interesting theories there. I always had the impression that the red had something to do with iron oxide, haemoglobin, something . . . Um – you are offering to prove this pink blood thing I take it? The essence of science is visible evidence and proof, you know.”
Princess gave him a startled look. “What do you mean?”
“Pink blood,” he said with a happy smile. “That is easy to prove, I think.”
Princess looked uncomfortable.
“You want me to cut myself or something?”
“Please,” Peacock said, “this is a high-class establishment. If you want to cut yourself, do it in the ‘ladies’.”
Richard grinned. “Not at all, hang on one moment.”
He hauled his case up onto the table and, while Princess watched nervously, began rummaging in it.
“Um – Richard . . ?”
“Here we are,” he said, plucking out a green first aid box. “And here,” opening it, “I happen to have a small hypodermic . . . and a sterilized needle. I reckon that would be much more polite, don’t you?”
“Richard,” she said unhappily, “I promise you, my blood is pink.”
“Yes yes of course,” he said. “I believe you. But hey – I think Peacock is a bit dubious. And seeing is the ultimate believing after all.”
“Hey,” Peacock growled, swallowing the last of her artichokes, “leave me out of this. Richard, are you going to . . .”
“Hush,” he said, grinning wider. “Princess, give me your arm.”
“No way,” she cried crossly. “Here – give me that thing. I’ll do it myself, if I have to.”
She snatched the hypodermic and turned away sulkily, rubbing at her arm.
But then Alice arrived again, bearing plates, glancing rather curiously at the hypodermic. Richard gave her a wink.
“One T-bone steak, rare,” she said. “And a side order of our special croquettes. And one Thai Prawns. With jasmine rice. Your friend is not eating?”
“Thank you,” Richard said. “Um – no, I don’t think so. You don’t want anything now?”
“Oh no thank you,” Princess insisted. “I really am not hungry.”
“Especially now,” she muttered, looking at his plate uneasily. “I am a vegetarian and you order a rare steak?”
Richard shrugged again and Alice withdrew. “I like rare steaks,” he said simply, that twinkle still in his eye. “No mystery. And you know . . .”
He cut the steak, which bled red blood onto the plate.
“You know, cows don’t usually eat meat – though it has been known – and yet the blood is still red. That’s curious. But anyway, you were about to demonstrate something I think?”
She scowled and turned away, trying to hide what she was doing from the rest of the diners.
“Ok – now don’t look,” she said.
“Don’t look at your arm?” he asked, puzzled.
“Don’t look at my arm,” she reiterated. She didn’t even roll up her sleeve, simply felt about for a moment, then the hypodermic found its mark. Both Richard and Peacock stopped eating, ignoring her injunction and watching curiously.
There was a flash of pink.
Slowly, her blood coursed into the clear barrel of the hypodermic. Richard and Peacock stared, eyebrows up. In the light from the window, the pink liquid almost seemed to fluoresce – almost glisten and sparkle.
Then Princess whipped it out of her arm and held it up with a triumphant look.
“Happy now?” she demanded, grinning. Richard took it without a word, stared at it from several angles, then squired a tiny amount out onto his napkin and sniffed.
“Ok,” he managed. “I am impressed.”
He vaguely reached for a croquette and bit into it, still frowning.
Princess grinned happily. “So what say?” she said. “Are you interested? You can tell a lot about people from their blood colour. If your blood is red, it is a sign of the impurities. That’s why period blood always remains red.”
Peacock signalled urgently to Alice, who came over.
“A glass of Calvados please,” she said with a sigh.
“Yeah, I’m interested,” Richard said doubtfully, “Though I am still going to eat this steak.”
Princess gave the meat a distasteful look. “Look at it,” she said plaintively. “Blood all over the place. How can I try anything that has been on that plate?”
“Why don’t you order a meal?” Peacock demanded. There was a glitter in her eyes and Richard hastily placed a hand on her knee.
“I shouldn’t,” Princess said. “I don’t like to eat too much. I’m on a diet. Richard, you seem very naïve.”
“Naïve?” he cried, shocked.
“Make that two calvados,” Peacock called, and Alice signalled acknowledgement.
“Hey,” Princess cried. “Can you make it three Calvados? I’ll pay.”
She sat back comfortably. “Food and perversion are inextricably linked,” she said. “From ancient times right up to that – that thing on your plate. In 19th century France, young girls like me would be taken on the day of their 18th birthday – on the day their sex organs opened. Their eyes would be put out and they would be kept in a dark box – and force-fed huge fucking amounts of sweet and spicy food. Until they blew up like soft balloons. And every night they would be massaged for three hours. Then, after a couple of weeks of this, they would be trussed and wrapped and then roasted alive for the king’s banquet. Served whole and basted in their own fat and seasoned by their own food. That was the real delicacy of France.”
“We are a perverted species.”
Richard stared restively at the shimmering pink syringe. “Yes – I have to agree about that,” he said gently.
Peacock drew a deep breath. “Richard – whatever you are thinking, please don’t.”
“Hey,” Princess murmured, leaning forward. “Those croquettes look good. Are they nice?”
Richard flashed her a look. “They are great,” he said. “The Yellow King really knows how to make its special croquettes, but . . .”
“Hey – can I try one?”
Richard hesitated. “Well sure,” he said. “But . . .”
“Richard!” Peacock hissed.
“I really don’t think you ought, it’s . . .”
However, she had already speared one on a fork and swallowed. She made a happy sound and a few more bites and it was gone.
“That’s fabulous. What’s in it?”
“You . . . like it?”
“Yes – a very nice taste. What’s in it?”
She blinked at him.
“Uh uh – can’t you taste it?”
“I never t-tasted . . . before . . .”
“Very finely minced and with a dash of smoked paprika – adds such a wonderful flavour to the potato. I love these things.”
Then Princess was lurching to her feet with a clatter and a choked sound.
“Hey,” Richard cried, spreading his arms, “I was going to warn you, but you just took it . . .”
But Princess was already heading across the room towards the ladies, blundering past a startled Alice and knocking a wine glass from her trey with a dismal smash.
“Richard,” Peacock wailed.
He glanced round at her sharply. “What did I do?”
“You . . . she . . . agg, you did that on purpose.”
“No I didn’t,” he said dryly.
Peacock buried her face in her hands. “That fruitcake is going to flip,” she said heavily.
“Oh gawd,” he muttered. “Yeah – I had better go and see.” He scrambled to his feet and made to follow her, then paused and grabbed up the first aid box.
“Excuse me – sorry Alice. Put that wine glass on my bill.”
“What’s happening?” she demanded.
“Look,” he growled, “If a medical helicopter is needed, I’ll let you know. I don’t think she likes your croquettes.”
“What? But . . .”
With Alice following close behind, he plunged into the sanctum sanctorum of the ladies room, looking round sharply. It didn’t take long to find Princess, either through vision or hearing, for she was on her knees over the toilet bowl, dry-heaving noisily.
“Princess,” he cried. “Take it easy.” He hurried in and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him. He stared sharply – at her baggy top flopping open, revealing a glimpse of a small flat pouch strapped to the skin of her arm. A pouch that shimmered a startling pink. He stared at it a moment, then shrugged and fumbled in the first aid box.
“Here,” he said producing a couple of small pills. “Take this – Alice? Some water?”
Princess ignored him though and fumbled in her pocket. He didn’t realise what she was doing until she had grabbed the straight razor and drawn it across her arm.
“What the hell are you doing?” Richard demanded sharply.
“My blood,” she stammered, gazing at the red that flowed from her with huge eyes. “It’s red – it’s fucking red. I – I mean . . .”
“Of course it’s fucking red,” he cried.
She gasped and spluttered, tears streaming down her face, and Richard held her shoulders. “It’s ok,” he said gently. “Hang in there.”
“Meat,” she stammered, cringing with some kind of ultimate horror – cutting again, deeper this time. “I’m – I’m meat.”
“Princess, give me that thing,” he growled. He finally got the razor away from her and held her face firmly.
“Open up,” he commanded.
“No,” she cried. “You will feed me meat . . .”
“No I wont – these are just to calm you down.”
She blinked at the two white pills. “Is there any meat in them?”
“No – no there isn’t. Just herbs and things – and a little sugar probably. They’ll calm you down. Here.”
Alice handed her a glass of water and at last the pills followed the artichoke, salad and croquette down her perfect pink throat. And hopefully, unlike them, they would stay down. She gave a splutter and clung on to him, while he and Alice struggled with bandages, eventually getting her slashed arm under control.
“Alice – I think you had better call someone. There’s going to be stitches here.”
She nodded and hurried out.
“You’re ok,” he said, ruffling her shoulder. “Nothing is happening to you. We all love you . . . you make life interesting for us all. Just take it easy – from the look of things, that croquette was only in contact with you for a minute.”
“But,” she stammered, “But – it’s all red. I’m – I’m . . . red.”
He helped her up and finally supported the floppy figure of the Princess back into the Yellow King and back to a chair, where she sat looking blinky and unhappy.
“Thanks,” she mumbled. She sat there in silence until some friendly people came in to take her away and patch her up – make sure that the red stayed inside where it should be.
Richard picked up the hypodermic and stared at it quizzically – then put it down again with a sigh.
“Fake?” Peacock murmured.
“Of course,” he said. “Alice? Any chance of warming this up a bit?”
“Sure,” she said, taking his plate with the almost untouched steak on it.
“Tell me,” he said wearily, “what would you say to serving braised Princess tomorrow?”
She nodded gravely. “With ginger and crispy potato wedges perhaps?”
“Well – it would make a change from the usual.”
“And don’t forget to serve it on a pink platter.”
Bio: David Rix is an author and publisher from the UK. He runs and does the design work for the specialist Eibonvale Press. His published books are What the Giants were Saying and the novella/story collection Feather, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill prize. In addition, his shorter works have appeared in various places, including many of the Strange Tales series of anthologies from Tartarus Press and Monster Book For Girls, from Exaggerated Press. As an editor, his first anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright, a collection of Slipstream stories connected to the railways, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award in the Best Anthology category.