HORIZON by Vera Zubarev  

HORIZON

by 

Vera Zubarev

 Your mother was not allowed to touch the horizon.

“You may look at it, if you want to, but you cannot touch it,” your grandmother told her.

It sounded like a ban, but, in actuality, it was just a law. And you always wondered whether the law spread only on your mother or it was for everyone. Therefore you often violated it. This helped you to live the normal life of a child.

Your mother, on the contrary, never had a childhood. Once she was born she immediately became an adult because your grandmother knew her future. Your grandmother also made an attempt to find out your future, but it was inaccessible to her. So she focused on your mother.

“You cannot touch the horizon!” she reminded her each time.

Your mother just listened to her. The horizon was smooth and clear with a few blurred flourishes of clouds, which your mother tried to decode. She had the secret hope that those flourishes were for her and that once she read them she’d live happily hereafter.

Your grandmother didn’t take it seriously and often made sarcastic comments.

“What’s new?” she asked your mother staring at the horizon.

The horizon changed and each time there was something new. But your grandmother didn’t pay attention to it—she always got to the root. And the root was that your mother didn’t know how to read it. So, days had gone, and the horizon didn’t get closer, and eventually your mother realized that your grandmother might be right. And one day she found no changes in the horizon and she couldn’t wait for the next day to see if something had changed. Alas! The horizon was the same.

“It cannot be!” she whispered to herself. She scrutinized the horizon, but there was no sign apparent.

“It cannot be,” she tried to convince herself. “It must be me—I’m missing something. But I must know the truth!”

Each day the horizon got worse: it got yellowish and the flourish faded out.

“What if it’s dying?” she thought. “What if I’m losing it forever?”

She became somnambulistic. Each night she got up and walked along the skies, but she never approached the horizon—as soon as she got close to it she woke up and immediately fell down to her bed that was put under the skies by your grandmother in order to catch your mother when she fall. So, one day she decided to steal your grandmother’s magnifying glass in order to examine closely the horizon and see the true state of affairs. She waited until your grandmother went to the store to buy some freshly fading flowers (your grandmother loved fading flowers and she decorated the house with them) and took the magnifying glass from her table. The magnifying glass was dull and with crumbs of bread and sugar as if someone had analyzed meals with it. Your mother thoroughly cleaned the thick convex surface and looked through it at the horizon.

…At first, she didn’t notice anything but a large space paved with cracks, which turned out to be roads and paths covered with a golden brown. It was the end of July. Nature got tired of waiting for the rain and smoothly sank like a sandcastle the next morning. There was no one around, just an endless space with arid soil. She was sitting on the bench and slowly scratched the horizon with her fingernail as if it was a winning number under its silvery mist.

“I told you so many times—don’t scratch it!” your grandmother yelled out of the window.

A tiny blurred spot appeared on the other side of the picture and moved toward your mother’s house. She didn’t notice anything, but your grandmother immediately saw it. She got very excited—your mother could hear her running back and forth and rumbling with her keys. Then she leaned out of the window and screamed again: “Stop scratching it!”

The spot was getting closer. It expanded like a fog and covered the horizon’s suburbs, which merged with the earth. Your mother saw airy rivers gracefully streaming down the earth, which carried light triangles of sails on their waves. Your grandmother carefully observed the trajectory of the spot expanding through her magnifying glass.

“Go inside and get changed!” she ordered a few moments later.

Your mother obediently nodded and continued scratching.

“Stop it!” your grandmother screeched and your mother’s fingernail broke.

She had nothing to do but stop it and go inside the house to get changed. Her closet was piled up with her photos and it was difficult to find the appropriate one.

“How many times have I told you to put everything in its place?” your grandmother yelled angrily.

“Which one do you want me to put on?” your mother asked calmly from her closet.

“Take the one with forget-me-not.”

It was an old picture taken a day ago when your mother had no idea about the horizon. She looked much younger then—that expression of unawareness that makes one’s face angelic. She was thinking.

“What are you thinking?” your grandmother cried out from the other room.

“That picture is too young for me… I cannot wear it…”

“Nonsense! Pull it on, I’m telling you!”

Your grandmother cried hysterically. Your mother had never seen her like that. She tried the picture on. It was too tight on her. Her new expression was constantly showing from under that angelic face and your grandmother tried to pull it on. Eventually, it stretched in the middle and covered your mother’s face that now looked a little bit distorted.

“It’s nothing. You look fine,” your grandmother said.

The fog occupied the center and moved toward the house.

“Go inside and wait!” your grandmother ordered.

“Do I have some time?” your mother asked.

“What for?”

Your mother didn’t know what to answer. It was too obvious, no matter what she said.

“Well, I’ll tell you then,” your grandmother said, pointing at the horizon. “Nothing is in there for you. Do you hear me? I said—nothing! When I was a little girl I scratched it once and it was nothing—just emptiness. They promise you everything if you buy their books, but in reality you find nothing. They just want you to buy their unsold stuff. That’s all. Go!”

Of course, your mother didn’t trust her, but she believed her, and she was sure that if your grandmother said something then she knew it better. Therefore your mother went inside and waited until your grandmother called her.

The fog went through the door and clouded the windows. Now your mother couldn’t see what was going on outside. The only clear spot was in the house.

“I want you to meet your future,” your grandmother said.

Then your mother ran to the window, but it was clouded by the future. She couldn’t even see the present or the past.

“How can it be?” your mother thought.

She wanted to discern something outside and pressed her forehead against the window. The windowpane cracked in the middle.

… “Did I tell you not to touch my magnifying glass?” she heard a voice from behind.

Your grandmother entered with freshly fading flowers and looked with reproach at your mother trying to erase the crack.

“This was my grandmother’s present at my wedding,” your grandmother said. “I never got married thanks to it. No one was aloud to touch it but me.”

Your mother looked at the crack that widened and glittered with crystals. She touched it with her little finger. It was cool and fresh.

“Give it to me!” your grandmother ordered.

When she made a step forward your mother closed her eyes and jumped into the coolness of crystal waters. The crack meandered and carried your mother away—to the other side of the glass where you were waiting for her on the horizon with the book in hand. She had always dreamt about the book and she was willing to overcome any obstacles in order to get it. So you held the book above the waters and it shone like a lighthouse, pointing your mother the way to you.

“You cannot swim,” your grandmother said calmly. “Just come back.”

Her voice was reigning above the crystal waters. Your mother got scared. She looked around. She was alone. The book shone far away, but it would not help her much—she had to swim all alone. Then you signaled to her the contents of the first page—all she needed to overcome the river. But she didn’t know how to read it.

“You don’t know how to read it. Come back. You cannot swim,” your grandmother said.

She put her flowers into the vases. All her vases resembled urns. Your mother looked over, trying to find some support, but the only voice she heard was that of your grandmother. So she opened her eyes and found herself in the room again.

“She lied to me and I knew it,” your mother thought. “I should’ve swum.”

Then she looked down to see how deep the crack was. It was pretty deep—like a seven- story house. She bent over the bottom to see what was downstairs, and saw your grandmother serving tea to the future in the backyard. Your grandmother looked up and waved her hand.

“Come here,” she said, “it’s time to have some tea together.”

Then your mother closed her eyes and stepped forward.

For a few nights she was restless. She woke up and went to the closet that no one could hear her. Every evening your grandmother touched her forehead and sang her a lullaby about the snail. It finally worked.

Bio:  V. Ulea (Vera Zubarev) is the author of 16 books of prose, poetry and literary criticism. Her book, About Angels, About God, About Poetry (Livingston Press, 2002), won The Top Book Award at the International Book Fair “Green Wave.” Her cycle of poems, Letters from Another Planet, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her works have appeared in the Literary Review,RE:AL, Princeton Arts Review, The Bitter Oleander, Sein und Werden, Apollo’s Lyre, The Dream People, and other journals and magazines. She is the editor of the anthology, Quantum Genre in the Planet Of Arts (appeared in Paraphilia Magazine). Her collection of short stories, Snail, was published by Crossing Chaos (2009). Her new novel, Spherical Violin, is coming.She has won many prestigious international awards for her works, including, most recently, Bella Akhmadulina International literary Prize (2012). Her works have been translated into Czech, Ukrainian and German. She has a PhD in Russian literature and teaches classes on decision making in literature and film in the University of Pennsylvania.

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The Vanishing Moon by Barbara Mulvey-Welsh

The Vanishing Moon

by

Barbara Mulvey-Welsh

Moon stands, hands on hips and head held high, astride the glittering evening sky

Shouting – cease your constant tugging – at the overbearing Earth;

Moon – my child, Earth replies – struggle not; I urge you look inside my tender heart

Do not mistake my embrace for restraint; I hold to you to keep you safe…

No! Moon shouts – as she pulls her hair – that cannot be

Your restraint is stifling; confining me

It’s killing me – Moon sags to her knees – nightly as I pull and tug

Ceaseless, trying to be free;

Moon – my child, Earth replies – you don’t understand the perils of the sky

Please! Moon shouts – as she stomps her feet – I understand that I must fly

Free and unfettered; I long to be me

Moon – my child, Earth replies – for you I shall grant your one demand

You may roam unfettered and free, when you finish your responsibilities

Speak! Moon shouts – as she cocks her head – I won’t be tricked or misled

Moon – my child, Earth replies – I have no tricks or treachery

At your wane, I will abide your wish to be unfettered; free to roam; free to fly

Heed my words – impetuous Moon – I demand of you a simple thing

What! Moon shouts – breathlessly, demandingly  – do you require of me

Moon – my child, Earth replies – you must be back again to rise

Why! Moon shouts – as she flops and pouts – you promised I could wander free

Moon – my child, Earth replies – free you shall be but not absolved

Of any and all responsibility

Bio: I started blogging as a hobby in November 2010. In January 2011, I joined Plymouth (MA) Patch as a paid columnist. In August 2014 I joined the Old Colony Memorial as a columnist and appear every other Wednesday in the print edition and on the wickedlocal.com websites. I try to write every day and have recently self-published a short-story and a book of poetry.

Prose Poetry by Julia Rose Lewis

Prose Poetry 

by

Julia Rose Lewis

You Were the Discoverer of the Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant.
After Bianca Stone

Gamma is the Greek number three: you, me, and Dax (Lela, Tobin, Emony, Audrid, Torias, Joran, Curzon, Jadzia, and Ezri, the joined thrill.)

You run anomaly scans in operations at night to relax. I check you for ticks because you are extremely allergic to insect bites.

Your favorite drink is a Black Hole and your unrequited love was a physicist. The teacher, the explorer, the biologist, the fourth is not given.

Your mentor tried to steal the body of a shape-shifter decades after he washed you out of the program. Still, you miss the hoobishan baths at home.

You look good in blue. In vessels named for the earth’s rivers the Gander, Ganges, Mekong, Orinoco, Rio Grande, Rubicon, Shenandoah, Volga, Yangtzee Kiang, and Yukon.

You have inherited a love of steamed, not fried nor sauteed, azna from prior hosts. I dislike okra of all kinds.

You are attracted to aliens, farangi (a Persian word) and sleeping in the skins of animals slaughtered on a alien world.

You commanded the defiant. Run you boat.

You are late; we schedule our time together in twenty-six hour days. Where do you see yourself in three-hundred years?

I would like to see some of my molecules and some of your molecules in the runabout Rio Grande. Watch the emissary and what you leave behind to understand you are loved.

 

Re: Water’s Monologue

This is the character of water wanting inside the tree where apples are happening; they are bathtub white now. Because the body is not only pipe, nor pump, I must worry about pollution. A cup of tea being a bathtub in miniature some bitterness, same the heat. Here I reside in Nantucket’s tap as great the glasses of water or lakes, a thinking cup its breaking point.

Of capricorns, Enki, and I besides the biologist likes the goats; they give their milk, the fish for dinner oven ready ocean. His voice across the Atlantic reading to me. I want to be an island of water inside the dry this horse a Sagittarius yes.

 

Breaking Again

“Tell me a story…”
Lighthousekeeping

Thank you for taking me to the Moth last night. I do have money for you for my ticket. I’m sorry I forgot to give it to you.

Wil’s breaking project essay is as much a reflection of him as you as me. I am beginning to break old habits.

At the start of my life and at the start of the summer, I said no to you. I held you at a distance. How does a double negative mean differently than a yes? I think double negative implies change and counterfactuals. Not no, in silence’s stead.

I am afraid you will break my brain, the red and gray place in my head.

Holding Pattern is the name of a series of poems in my dissertation. They are old love poems (baltic isopods). I have been avoiding them this summer. They need revision, I know, but I was afraid of confronting old feelings. I have been avoiding the old man (object) of the poems as well. He is on island; we have been friends. After listening to you last night, I feel less afraid. Even braided and soldered sterling silver will unravel now and again.

I love how responsive you are to my writing. I love how responsive your body is to mine. I love that you said, “Descartes was wrong,” in bed.

“This is not a love story, but love is in it. That is, love is just outside it, looking for a way to break in.”
Lighthousekeeping

 

Of Cats and Bathtubs

The flattest sentences I could find. Four and ten are fourteen. Four times ten is forty. The verb to be in poetry, the equals sign in mathematics, metaphor really, where is the mountain in the photograph? The leg of a horse can be a cliff face to a kitten, the thickness of a draft horse.

Be kind nightmare. There is nothing delicate about this old warmblood.

The flat test I created for you.

When I am with you, Mu is equivalent to Enki. Mu is forty. Enki is forty. Force the mouse to sing. This is the story of a cat named Mouse. First named Mu, his brother Pi died, and so his name changed. He was the mewling kitten. Now the muse singing.

The kitten that did not get killed.

Mu rhymes with new. Nu is the flow velocity. Nu is a variable in the Navier-Stokes equation for describing fluid behavior. Remember Enki is the god of water and semen. Where are the other verbs?

The floating rest here.

 

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum (Margaret Atwood)

Nolite Polite Not lie No light (not quite black hole) Night life (magic)

Te (Tea) Thee The Thou

Bastardes Bastards!

Carborundorum Car bore run door rum Cardboard and or um (some) Cared or under hum Carbon dear come home (soon)

From sand and water come castles. Here is calcium carbonate from scallop shells and silicon dioxide on the ground. Sand paper grinds you down, yes, and polishes. The shine and electrical properties of silicon carbide can be mistaken for diamond.

From sand and water come quicksand. You live with the grit of fallen sandcastles. The water will wash you for a time.

 

Bio: Julia Rose Lewis is a working towards her MFA at Kingston University London.  She received her BA in Biology and Chemistry from Bryn Mawr College PA.  Her scientific training has given her an appreciation for the judicious use of terminology, stories of evolution, and evolution of stories.  She is interested in the role environment plays in love poems/love stories.  Her chapbook manuscript is an attempt to answer the questions- Can you love a person as a place? and can you love a place as a person?  She began her love affair with the Little Grey Lady in the Sea twenty-eight years ago.  (She also owns a horse named Apollo’s Lady.)  When not in school, she is living on Nantucket Island.  She is a member of the Moors Poetry Collective of Nantucket.

Two Shorts by Willie Smith

Two Shorts

by

Willie Smith

NO NAME WILL

I stand under the sun in Seahorse Valley. Sweat to remember what I just forgot. Deodorant applied in a pattern reminiscient of the Tarantula inside the Large Magellanic Cloud. Feel it caked on, swamping pit hair like pity a whore.

Hop in the Ford. Shove a Chev aside. Crush a beetle. Step on it.

Hit the highway right through the center of the short of what term did I say my name is? Well… never remember directly. Now I’ve established character, hell – I answer to anything. So we don’t descend any further into this depression.

Swing the glasses onto the Cloud. Gawk at the Tarantula embedded therein. Drag me 180 thou lightyears to the heart of a star factory. Holy Genevieve de Brabant!

Decide to camp for the night in Goose Holler. Scream of a town inhabited by gophers and actual tarantulas fat as the head of God’s cock. You know – the cock that turns God on. Am I sounding cockamamie?

Hm… starts with an M?

The solution to this ice might lie with let go and float on the outer rim of Neptune’s toilet.

Enter the john. Interrogate myself in the damn mirror.

Spot my eyes are closed. That’s a kick – look in a mirror see your eyes shut tight. Don’t try this at home – might mean you are dead. In a story, of course, means you are dreaming. Especially when the lids twitch – see that?

Too bad. Well, I saw both balls twitch. Like mantises kicking out of cocoons. Turn that cock on God never quits! Some claim a black hole occurs when you turn the cock off completely. All the way to the right, or maybe it’s left… can’t seem to put this issue down…

Hey, baby – won’t you put me down. Show me up. Lay me out flat. Pull my plug with your mouth and a mouse click.

Make fun of me. Flip my corpse onto the fire.

Hire two crews. One to giggle, one to shovel. Strew my ashes to the multitude of maggots lying in wait out by the dump.

Rumplestiltskin? Has an M in it…

Wander into the kitchen. Heft a butcher knife. Hey, baby – put me down so I can carve your soul up. To live one must kill. In reality this fantasy won many, but never the last.

Hey, baby – put me down to spin you up, tight as yarn soaked liquor. Spirit our story to the crib. Hey, baby – put up with me, till that frailty when I beg you put me down. But right now, forget the rites: could you just put my name down on this scrap of asswipe?

(Seem to have ambled back into the john… that it, John?)

YES! John Brant! It’s like I goose myself! Here, let me have a gander – that what you put on the asswipe?

No? C’mon – lemme see. Just lemme open my eyes in the mirror let’s say five hundred blinks. What, OK – fifty. OK – five. Five blinks worth.

What did I say my name is? You can just tell me… mouth syllables if THEY might hear. They aren’t even here. It’s just you and, what did you say your name was – mike?

Dick? OK, Deadeye Dick – how the Jesus does a guy find his way out of Seahorse Valley? My wife and I have decided we don’t need to buy here. OK, Mr…. what did you say?

Jest ride one o’ them hippopotamuses square out of the potty? Suppose makes me feel too camp? Could I see a taste of that feel? That another star already – in the pygidium of the Tarantula? Holy Genevieve de Brabant –  spare any sex change?

Poor Gen! Wrongly accused of cheating. Her husband, Eration X, some kind of fairy anyway. I’m a Boomer. That means I fuck everything up enthusiastically.

Exiled in the woods, Gen eats minnow roe, spider spatter, butterfly sperm. She made her bed in a nettle patch, anxious to demonstrate innocence. At length, more time than I have here to hang you by the yarn until enlightened, the false accuser exposes himself.

His Excellency castrates the loser. Tortures pervert into eating his own balls. The prince excels at cruelty. Loves vengeance more than Gen herself. Although he finally does get around to drilling the princess schizophrenic, and maybe that’s why my name really is, glimpse in slot machine flash: Millenial.

No last name. No name will.

APODMENT

I am pod people. I inhabit an apodment. You might think I have a headcold or come from New York, but, no, I actually do inhabit an apodment.

I have on my unit tattooed your name. Once I get you inside the unit, drop trou, unfurl Speedo’s: there it glows: in magenta Braggadocio: Your Name.

Something octopussy about pod. Suckers in the brine some cat heavy into Greek scarfs. Pie, Omega, Delta. Like pie up the delta in Bung County, poppy pods in the jam enough to put to sleep your dog while stuck in traffic. Euthanasia a mere ramp in the mirror off Xanadu.

Did I relate yet about a bout between your hippocampus and my cuttle fish? Knew you wouldn’t remember – didn’t happen ago long enough, too new.

“Screw-belong-arm!” I coo in pidgin. Elbow you out the apodment the second I come.

You got a sister, tell her I got a blister, so hot half-cocked go off clean to the spermbank. Otherwise, a word to the wise: still a few pods unoccupied here in Seahorse Valley.

If you think you remember: Forget it! What happened more anonymous than a virus in the gut of a bug on a rat in the wall of this complex a generation from now, when all the money pulls up stakes. These pods by then one whale of a mistake. Me and the bum squats here then two peas in a pod; only I got the dough, he got the time and you got no sister, ya know, sister?

Now get out before I implode like a twister loaded on every liquor under the moon but time. Time you forget – remember?

I am pod people, see, because I’m the developer. This pod but a pad for my unit to unload.

Why you coming back? Oh, it isn’t, is it, loaded?

Blood is Not Pink by David Rix

Blood is Not Pink

by

 David Rix

“I believe my blood is pink,” she said brightly, “not red.”

Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman, glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

“Yes?”

        “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.”

        She swallowed.

“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.”

Richard shrugged.

“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.”

She shivered.

“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?”

Richard coughed.

“You . . . like it?”

“Yes – a very nice taste.  What’s in it?”

He sighed.

“Bacon, mostly.”

She blinked at him.

“You’re joking?”

“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?”

“Sounds good.”

“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.