Siren Calls

MonicaOConnor-060510-01

Lily padded softly through the cool mud to the river. It was a glowing day; the sun filtered through the trees turning them a thousand shades of green and the scent of moss was thick in her nose. She loosed her blonde hair from its ribbon prison and shook it out vigorously, the sudden movement disturbing the birds in the bushes by her toes. She smiled happily and removed her jacket, thick petticoat, stockings, dress and shoes until she stood in a short, frilly cotton shift. Lily stretched her arms out wide, the sun illuminating her pale, freckled skin and moved carefully towards the water. There was a thick layer of pine needles covering the mud and made the journey all the more hazardous, but she eventually felt the gentle coolness of the river against her bare feet. Not hesitating, she ran out into deeper waters and plunged head first under the blue reflection of the sky. Under the water were smooth, worn rocks and spinning galaxies of earth thrown about by her movement. Tiny fish moved in schools beneath her, darting for cover and long strands of weed brushed her calves and toes. Once, they scared her, imaginary monsters threatening to drag her down to the murky depths, but now they came as a reassuring touch. No-one could find her down here. This was her place; her paradise. She resurfaced and looked at the surrounding banks: thick moss covered most of the stones turning them a rich green that remained until her dying day her favourite colour; tall pine, oak and ash sentinels guarded her sanctuary in snug lines near the wide stream, with a single willow marking her preferred swimming place – they were her silent ancient angels, always watching and guarding; bushy clans of baby tears grew where moss did not and bees, butterflies and birds often made an appearance among the wildflowers in summer, as it was now. Lily lay on her back, nose and chest tickled by the breeze and she laughed at the clouds, for the feeling of freedom was such she felt giddy beyond words. Here, in her place, there was no-one to stare at her strangely for giggling, no-one o scold her for impropriety; there was no-one to care about anything she did.
And to Lily Blackwood, that was the best feeling of all.
***
The girl-fish moved through the water with lightning speed. Her long brown tail flashed through the water with precision and anger. In her mind jumbled words formed, but she pushed them away. She could not listen to her humanity right now. She must be a fish, quick, stealthy and silent. Humans were stupid, she knew that much from watching them when she swam near their dwellings. Fish were intelligent. Fish thinking would get her out. She slammed her body against the large pile of stone blocking her entrance, yelping in pain at the roughness of the rock. These stones had not yet been smoothed by the river’s patient waters and left deep gashes in her soft, mud-covered flesh. She let out a gush of air in frustration. Her gills, situated just above her hips, just below the water, let out a spray of mist and bubbles as she moved agitatedly around the cave. In little clefts along the nearest wall, trinkets sat: a small disc of unbreakable silver stone, a stick that had a big ball on the end and a thick, fragile square filled with smaller squares. It was made of some sort of leaf, the girl-fish thought, but she knew not to get it wet, because the markings within began to fade. It wasn’t all human things, however. Some were seashells from down the river, where the water stung her eyes, and some were sparkly pebbles she had found while swimming in the cold streams up the large, white covered hills. She didn’t like that place too much, so she kept to the lower rivers and lakes. She tried digging through the tough rubble, but it only made her fingers bleed so she stopped and thumped it with her long muddy tail, scales flying. Eventually she was hurt everywhere and she retreated to the warm pond that sat at the back of the cave. The hot bubbles rose up and popped, sending a tiny splash and an earthy smell in her direction. She climbed over the rocks blocking it off from the rest of the water and sank down, covering her wounds with steaming liquid. She let out a long breath once her head was under and fell asleep, promising to try again later. Bubbles stroked her skin like a loving parent, and she dreamt, lulled by the low rumble of the water.
***
Lily climbed out of the water, shivering. The sun had gone behind the mountains now, and while everything had turned a stunning gold and the stars had begun to sparkle like jewels, the night chill was setting in and she quickly covered herself with an old cloak she brought for drying purposes. She watched the birds returning to their nests, carrying straw and food for their young and sighed. What she wouldn’t give to grow feathers and impose on their insubstantial feast. But this was a foolish dream, and she quickly shook it from her mind. She gathered up her things and began to pull items of clothing onto her still damp body. She piled her hair up artfully so as to disguise the fact it had been wet and fastened it with a length of ribbon. She slipped her boots on and roughly retied the laces and sighed as she straightened her back. The small cave across the river caught her eye. Hadn’t there been a gaping hole there last week? She dismissed the difference, chalking it up to a small landslide or some other erosion. Such things were common in these untouched woods. Slowly she hiked the few miles back to the house, a large old structure poorly in need of repair. The only way it stayed presentable was with paint and nails these days, and they rarely had visitors. From within the creaking boards she could hear shouting, a thundering voice crushing the feeble opposition. She crept around the side door and moved silently past the kitchen, where her mother bellowed savagely at her father. She was a thickset woman with once-blonde curls spitting out in jagged angles, saliva flying as she screeched about a pan that had not been washed properly. Her father, an underfed simpleton who was always impeccably dressed, cowered in the corner, though he stood six-foot-seven without shoes. The beginnings of tears were dribbling down his cheeks and Lily knew if she did not keep moving she would be caught in the cross-fire. All the same she wanted to scream.
Get up. Get up and fight, damn you.
But he never did. Just sat there, quivering and sobbing, like a wounded rabbit. She frowned and moved on, making her way to her bedroom, a sad, mouldy thing. Her mother never considered it an important part of the house (“Who will see it, dear?”) so it never got much care or attention. Unlike Lily herself. Her mother wanted everyone to see her. She often wondered how high her mother had her standards now. When they began looking for a suitor, Mrs Ricarda Blackwood aimed for princes, dukes and lords. Now, the grocery boy seemed a likely option should he ever look at Lily, or accidentally brush her hand as she reached for the radishes. Beauty, it seems, was quickly overruled when they discovered she loathed their hands on her, even if it was only her forearm. She tried to relax, she tried to be calm and fall in love with these gentlemen. But their touch disgusted her and whenever she imagined … being … with one of them … She grimaced and turned to her bookshelf. On it sat three bound volumes: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, and an old flimsy thing she found in a box beneath the house, left by the previous owners. It was called Gunther’s Complete Guide to Baby Names and it was her favourite book. Not because she ever wanted children, or didn’t think she did, but because of the meanings behind the names. Lily, of course, simply meant the flower, but some were more exciting. Kerry, for instance means “son of the dark one”. Lily had many theories as to how that came about. She imagined a knight, dressed in sharp black armour atop a hellish mare, sword encased in fire and eyes glowing red. Marcia meant “of Mars”. She loved the thought of a being from another planet. She pictured a proud monarch, dressed in heavy gold chains and flowing crimson silk, with skin darkened by the sun and amber eyes. Her mother’s name was nothing if not apt, for its definition was, according to Gunther, “powerful ruler”. Her father’s was less marvellously appropriate – Lloyd: “meaning grey-haired”, although she had an inkling that would apply very soon. The man was constantly in an anxious state due to being attacked whenever he rounded a corner. She enjoyed flicking through the names and thinking up stories for their meanings. Until her mother crashed through the door.
“Lily. Get dressed. We’re going out. You need to impress. Now.”
With that, the broad women thumped the door closed and left Lily to prepare herself. She looked down at her clothes. Wasn’t she dressed already? As she looked at herself in the mirror and decided to change, as it was what her mother wanted, she heard a cry in the night. A long, wailing tune, like a wolf underwater. She ran to her window which looked out upon the woods where her beloved river lay. The noise seemed to shatter the quiet dusk that had settled over the trees like mist, and her stomach turned. Just a wild animal, poor thing, she thought uneasily, but Lily knew she was lying to herself. That wasn’t an animal… She only hoped she was wrong.
***
The girl-fish screamed in anguish. She wanted the river on her fins; she wanted currents coursing through her hair; she wanted to stretch out beneath the little waterfall by the big rock up the river. She wanted to swim. And, come to think of it, eat. She’d attempted to break out of her prison a dozen more times but all in vain. Something was blocking the pile of rubble she was slowly chipping away from the outside, something huge and heavy. She slumped back under the water and stared dejectedly at the sky. When the entrance caved in, so did the roof, so there was nought but open sky to shelter her from the wind and falling leaves. It helped that the weather was warm, at least. The night-sun was just peeking over the edge of the jagged curved walls, but was full and bright. The girl-fish stretched her arms and studied them in the silver light. Her skin was stained a light grey from mud and sediment in the rivers and streams, and patches of green mosses and algae made their home on her shoulders and stomach. Her fingers were webbed, with thin patches of skin joining the digits. She moved them powerfully through the water, creating a tiny whirlpool highlighted in white flashes by the night-sun. She thought about the girl she saw so often on the banks. The river was very wide, and the girl-fish mostly kept away from the human side. But she liked this girl with the bright sun-hair. She did not swim very well, but it was amusing to watch. Her favourite part of the sun girl’s visits were when she shed the frilled skins she wore and transformed from a fearful animal to an excited, free fish. Not really, the girl-fish giggled, emitting a chuckle of bubbles from her gills and looking down at her lengthy shimmering tail. The sun girl didn’t have one of these. Once she swam closer than usual to her, moving against the river’s bottom so she wouldn’t be seen, staring with curiosity and slight disgust at the long, clumsy limbs the sun girl had instead of a tail. The girl-fish knew from experience this is what humans normally looked like, but it was still strange. They had weird, thick fins at the end of their separate tails and even smaller fins at the ends of those. It confused the girl-fish to no end. The sun girl’s arms and chest looked like her own though, and that pleased her. She thought the sun girl was beautiful, so that meant she must look beautiful, yes? She’d never seen her face before, not properly. Only warped by water and ripples. Sometimes the sun girl would make noises, words from the human language. She only understood parts of what the girl said, from living around humans down river at something called a ‘port’.
“Po-rt,” she said out loud, and was pleased when it sounded passable.
She’d watch the sun girl’s lips move, her tongue wet them and her eyes blink with their single set of eyelids. They reminded her of a large green fish she had seen at the ‘port’ pulled from the water by the humans. Shining scales of all different colours: green, brown, sun, and white. “Po-rt.” The night-sun had come into full view now and she lay on her back, tail moving slowly to keep her afloat. She did need something to eat, but there was nothing in the cave, and she couldn’t get out. The simple truth was: she was trapped. She thought about her male parent, and how far away he was. She thought about her friend, another girl-fish and how last Cold she had been caught in a human ‘net’. She escaped, but now she couldn’t swim because her fins had been torn off. They weren’t going to save her. Her mind floated back to the sun girl. She came to the river almost every day, when the sun was low in the sky and the birds all went to rest. If she waited until then… maybe the sun girl would save her. For a desperate and hungry mind, this plan sufficed, and the girl-fish began her vigil, watching the stars dance across the sky the entire night, never sleeping, fuelled by hope in the shape of a human girl.
***
Lily looked around nervously at all the young men her mother had compiled in for a party. She had invited them all out, through her husband, by using the lure of cigars, heavy alcohol and the latest racing results. All men young and old had attended because, whimpering as he was around his wife, Lloyd Blackwood was quite a friendly and confident fellow around his peers and they enjoyed his company. However, upon realising all of this was a scam by his wife to find a suitable mate for their daughter, it seems his popularity took a turn for the worst.
“I say, Lloyd, did you really all bring us here so we could inspect your prize filly instead of the one that brought home another cup?” Laughter all around, echoing harshly in Lily’s ears. She blushed profusely and stared at her hands. Her mother was not present, as she would not be welcome in a gentleman’s club, but Lily heard her scolds nevertheless.
Back straight. Smile. Be a lady for God’s sake. Oh, what am I going to do with you? Fickle fool.
Her father chuckled along politely and directed his daughter towards the far corner. When they were out of earshot, he bent down to her normal-person height and grimaced apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Goldilocks,” he winced. “You’re mother… she insisted and…” Lily hated him for that. But like the lady she was, she didn’t show it.
“It’s not your fault, Father. I will acquaint myself with some of these young men and attempt to worm my way into their hearts with my looks and inherent charm. Who knows? I may be wed by the morning!” She threw her hands up sarcastically and Lloyd Blackwood grinned despite himself.
“Don’t ever speak like that around your mother, my dear,” he warned, and meandered off to his peerage, head dipping to avoid a polished chandelier. Lily inspected the room, finding the youngest faces. Most were handsome, others not so much, but they all had the same expression: snobby. The self-satisfaction practically dripped from the walls. They all wore suits, and held multi-faceted glasses of brandy, mooning about the recent win by freakish race horse Gushing Guinevere. Lily mentally flipped through Gunther’s Complete Guide to Guinevere: “fair phantom”. She liked that. She looked at some of the advertisements on the walls for whiskey and fine cigars, matching their names to their meanings. She did this for at least ten minutes before she was approached by Mr Keane Talbot. “Sharp-witted” “bloodhound” says Gunther. His jawline was strong and straight, his eyes smoky and amused, his hair dark and oiled. Lily knew he was handsome, but she didn’t feel anything that felt like attraction. Most girls would swoon under this boy’s gaze; Lily just felt tired and a little impressed by how well-pressed his dinner suit was. She wondered if his mother did it, or if they had a maid. He too leaked snobbery and he wore a gold ring embedded with diamonds.
She guessed maid.
“Oh, hello, Lily Blackwood. How goes the husband hunting? Shall I speak to you and kill your mother with over-excitement? Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” he gesticulated mockingly, walking ever closer.
“No, good sir, I shall compare thee. Sweaty, ridden with flies and without respite from the beating sun above,” she replied, and the slick young man was thrown. Clearly no-one spoke to little Keane Talbot in such a manner. Lily thought he looked like he was drowning. It was hilarious. “Would you like to try again? Maybe you could call me a hussy or whore? I have a rather witty comeback that involves a cow, a duck and a large posterior,” she deadpanned, and he straightened his jacket indignantly.
“You truly are a miserable woman. I pity the man that marries you,” and he stormed away. Lily sighed as she imagined her mother beating her over the head with a worn hand. Another one that got away. A figure sidled up to her from the shadows. She spun, squeaking with fright, but a steady hand rested on her forearm.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to scare you, Miss.” The voice was young and soft, and a boy of seventeen or eighteen years moved into her line of vision. His half of his face tipped to one side, as if it had melted and begun to dribble downward. He moved with a limp and one of his shoulders came up near to his ear. He stood a good three inches shorter than her and looked up at her with watery blue eyes. She knew she ought to be disgusted, but she was merely curious. He looked at her with such fear and apology that Lily felt the need to comfort him rather than run screaming or turn in offense.
“No, that’s…that’s quite alright.” The hunchback relaxed his already-gentle grip on her arm and took a step back.
“No, I owe the apology. I should not have snuck up in such a manner, especially looking like this…”
“I assure you, Mr…?”
“Uh, Sweeney. Morgan Sweeney.”
“Mr Sweeney, I assure you, I do not hold it against you. I am easily spooked at night time. My name is Lily Blackwood. My father is over there, by the brandy, Lloyd Blackwood. We live out near Merritt’s Hill.” She held out a hand and Morgan Sweeney took it hesitantly.
“Charmed, I truly am. My father is not present tonight, I’m afraid. He is at home. My family resides in the southern port of Stafford.”
“Oh! I’ve been to Stafford! What a charming little village. I remember hearing a tale of mer-people living in your waters,” she whispered conspiratorially and Morgan smiled good-naturedly.
“Yes, well I have not yet seen one with my eyes, I’m afraid.” Lily pouted.
“What a pity. I suppose they’ve all been caught then, poor creatures.”
“I do hope Mr Talbot was not disturbing you? He seems to have little respect for anyone, let alone women.”
“Please,” she said dismissively, “I’ve been dealing with children like Talbot all my life. He means little. How long are you staying in this fine municipality, Mr Sweeney?” The young man seemed to continually be astounded that she continued the conversation willingly, and was not about to question the surprising turn of events.
“Uh, the summer, Miss Blackwood. My parents believed it would be for the best were I to leave the family home for a number of months in an attempt to “get out and explore” the world.” He chuckled nervously. “So here I am. Exploring. I suppose I’ve been at the very least a little successful, for never before have I seen a creature so fair as you, Miss Lily Blackwood.” Lily liked this Morgan Sweeney. She could get used to his presence.
“Mr Morgan, I do believe we will be good friends.”

Lily lay awake that night, blonde hair spilled out on her pillow. She could hear her mother downstairs, snoring loudly. No doubt her father was in the spare room, his regular hovel ever since her parents’ marriage commenced. She reflected on the events of the day and concluded that it had been a good one after all. Although she had been paraded through a crowd of men like a second-rate filly, accepting any offers that came forward, her mother finally realised no-one in this town would have her. It would take at least another month for her to build up the contacts out of the area to suggest marriage, leaving Lily a month free of behaving like a show pony. But she still felt lonely in her tiny bed, knowing there would be no-one to warm it. For while her mother knew that no man within this municipality would take her, she herself knew that the law applied to the entire gender.
No man would marry her. And although this was a relieving truth, it was a lonely one.
She looked out her window to the moon hanging precariously against the velvet sheet of night. Studs of stars were sown into the universe’s fabric and she sighed in longing, the movement rustling her worn, white sheet. If only she could become a bird, or a cat, or perhaps a fish. Then she would truly be free.
***
The sun hung low in the sky, and the girl-fish heard the tell-tale splashing of the sun girl’s clumsy strokes. She was singing today, a strange warbling tune. The girl-fish could only pick single fragile words from the quivering symphony. Bird, free, trees, love… She stopped listening to get back to the matter at hand. The girl-fish moved away from the hot spring and into the middle of cave, where there was the gaping open roof. She moved her tail into a coil beneath her and threw her head back. A single gush of air from her human mouth triggered her voice, so rarely used, and she let out a wail – a cry for help from across the river. She ceased after a few seconds and listened for the sun girl. She had stopped singing. The river was running quickly today, but the girl-fish was used to its song. She listened behind it and knew the human had stopped splashing around. She cried out again, longer this time and higher. The sun girl still wasn’t coming to her rescue. One more time.
***
The third scream was the worst. It felt like a fist to Lily’s stomach. She could stand it no longer, and began to swim quickly to the other side of the river. It was coarse and rough today – she shouldn’t be swimming in such conditions. But the cries were too much. Whatever poor creature, human or beast, was in trouble, she could not sit idly by while it wailed in pain. She vaguely knew it was coming from downstream, but she couldn’t tell exactly where. Her eyes searched frantically along the banks when they came above water, and her arms pushed feverishly against the current. Water filled her ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, anywhere it could get, and she almost stopped halfway with the pure intention of clearing them; but Lily knew if she ceased swimming the river, the monster that was her only true friend, would take her down to his depths in his slipper clutches.
“Not today,” she gasped and lunged forward into the water.
***
Sun girl was coming. The girl-fish spun in a tight circle happily. She was about to be let out of this hole! She let out a final shout to lure her rescuer to where she was imprisoned. But… what if the sun girl didn’t want to let her go? She remembered her time at the ‘port’ and how angrily the fish-catchers protected their fish. She’d seen humans fighting over the corpses of shimmering fish, scrunched up faces and teeth bared. Suddenly she was afraid. What if the girl saw she was half a giant fish and decided not to save her? What if she kept her? The girl-fish became more agitated. She’d heard tales of humans who trapped her people and took them away. The beautiful girl who loved the river as much as she could not be capable of that. Could she? The girl-fish looked at the sky, splintered with golden rays and took a deep breath.
***
Lily panted as she tread tiredly through the churning water, her pale hair plastered against her cheeks. She felt the last of her strength wash away with the current. There was a large, heavy log not far away… if she could reach it… She stretched out a shaking arm and grasped the sagging wood, pulling herself close to hide from the relentless pull of the water. The creature had stopped crying, or at least she couldn’t hear it over the crash and rumble of the liquid that was, at the moment, her entire world. She could think of little more than staying away from its cold grip that so persistently demanded she join the sediment at its bottom. Now the voice had stopped, Lily regretted her decision. How would she reach the other side again? She was growing weaker. She had two choices. Make for one final push to the creature, or use her remaining energy to try to swim back home. Her arm slipped against the water-logged trunk and she was swallowed up by the thick wet monster. She reached blindly for a hold on anything, but soon gave up. A strange peace overcame her and she wondered what awaited her at home. A coward father; an abusive mother; a sagging bedroom roof. Perhaps the river was meant to take her. She’d thought of dying, but didn’t think she could do it herself. This was good. As she relaxed completely, ready for the air to escape her lungs and the river to take its place, she heard a piercing scream. It was like a whip, cracking through the water so clearly her ears hurt.
The creature.
Curse this. She was not dying today. She pushed downwards with her near-limp arms and her toes found the smooth, pebbled bottom. Crouching against the push of the water, she thrust up towards the surface with all she had left and broke through the surface in a rush of foam.
***
The girl-fish waited anxiously at the entrance to the cave, trying in vain to scrape away some of the rubble blocking her way. She felt hunger gnawing at her stomach now, and her arms were getting tired. She heard the sun girl stop splashing furiously towards her – she was outside the cave’s entrance. She let out a cry, trying to sound distressed instead of joyous so the human would not give up. She hear stones shifting and falling with thuds to the river’s floor. The human was weak – she could hear that. Her breathing was laboured and her movements slow. But she was not giving up, and this excited the girl-fish. She howled again and the sun girl quickened her digging. More and more dirt and stone was falling to the bottom of the gushing river and finally a crack of sunlight flickered through the entrance. The girl-fish splashed in happiness and began to claw at the hole to help the sun girl. She thrust her webbed hand through the chink, brown-green scales scratching against the rock and she heard a scream, followed by a splash. The sun girl was under the water once again, and this time she was too weak to save herself. The girl-fish hacked savagely at the rubble around her arm, crashing down to remove the obstacles. When the hole was large enough she broke through and slid quickly into the water. She saw the sun girl’s grasping hand bobbing haphazardly downriver and sped in her direction. After two days trapped, her tail stretched out to its magnificent length and she shot through the water like an eel, her long dark hair streaming out behind her like black seaweed. She dodged hidden tree trunks and huge boulders, slicing her way through them like an obstacle course and came up beside the human, her eyes closed and skin pale. The girl-fish wrapped a strong arm around her chest and pushed towards the willow tree where the sun girl’s frilly skins sat. She crossed the river in a short time and threw the human against the soft soil. If there was one thing she knew about humans, it was they couldn’t breathe underwater. Her female parent had saved many dying humans when she lived and had shown her child-fish how. The girl-fish hauled herself from the water and pressed hard on the sun girl’s chest. She did it again and again, panting. She was tired and soon going to run out of air. Normally she could stay above for much longer, but she’d been swimming feverishly. She slithered to the river and took a deep breath, returning to the human. She placed her pale pink lips to the sun girl’s blue ones and exhaled, then pushed on her chest again. Finally, after what seemed like a day and a night, the shivering girl opened her eyes and mouth, hacking up cold, muddy water. The girl-fish moved away quickly, stopping near the shore as the human sat up grabbing the soil and coughing up the river onto her legs. The girl-fish watched warily, remembering how their last encounter had proceeded. The sun girl began to breathe more easily and raised her moss green eyes to the figure sitting in front of her.
***
‘I’ve gone mad’ was the first comprehensible thought that rang through Lily’s mind. Her body felt like it had been dragged through a quarry and her lungs had been filled with cider. But that wasn’t what she was most aware of at the time. No, the thing she was most aware of happened to be a mermaid. Sitting smack-bang in front of her looking quite flushed and quite timid. It all came rushing through her head. The river; the swimming; almost dying; the creature; the webbed hand; almost dying again… She gasped and looked down at the mermaid’s hands. They were just like the ones that almost clawed her eyes out. She could feel her heart quickening and a scream building inside her throat. What is happening? There was a seemingly real half woman – half fish sitting in front of her. She feared for her sanity even more when the mermaid dipped her head touched her bare chest. Lily quickly raised her eyes from the girl’s indecency and let out in a shaky voice, “Are you what was stuck in the cave?” She heard no answer and had to tilt her head downwards to see the mermaid’s head. It was cocked to the right, and her pretty mouth was screwed up. Of course, she probably couldn’t understand English. Oh, of course, a snide voice in her head muttered, how did we not think of that. She frowned and pointed in the direction of the cave.
“Cave,’ she said and pointed to the fish-woman, “you,” then she made a motion as if trapped behind a wall, “stuck?”
The look of concentration on the mermaid’s face was so severe, Lily wondered if even that was too complex. But her saviour broke into a toothy grin and clapped her webbed hands. Her scales twinkled in the now setting sun and Lily gasped at their beauty. Her lower body was a rich array of browns, blacks, greens, blues and even a hint of burnt gold. Scales lined the tops of her arms from shoulder to fingertips, and her eyes had a strange, glazed look to them and overly large pupils. Lily realised with a start the maid had two pairs of eyelids; one clear and one like hers. The mermaid seemed as interested in her as she was of the fish-woman. She leaned forward tentatively to poke at one of Lily’s toes and she giggled against her will. The mermaid looked frightened, but as Lily was not running away, must have saw it was okay. She tickled her toes a few more times and stopped when Lily batted her hand away laughing. “I’m Lily,” she said, pointing at her face. “Lily,” she repeated and the mermaid nodded, and pointed at Lily’s chest. “L-lil…ee. Li-lee,” she stuttered. Lily laughed and clapped her hands like the fish-woman did to convey her understanding. What was she doing? She was laughing with a mermaid. This was not a normal occurrence. The mermaid suddenly frowned again, gasped a little and turned towards the water.
“No! Please don’t go!” Lily cried, stumbling to her feet weakly. Her rescuer slipped quietly into the water and looked once more at her. Her eyes were sad as she placed a thumb to her lips and kissed it, then swam quickly away. It must have been some sort of goodbye and Lily stood on the soil heartbroken. She had just met a creature she would never have the chance to meet again, or so she figured. The mermaid had headed downriver, towards Stafford and the sea. She sloshed into the shallows and watched as her mermaid’s tail sent up a spray of silvery mist against the purple sky, disappearing forever.
Lily sat beside the fire warming her hands. Her mother had sworn and cussed at her lighting it due to it being the summer months, but upon seeing she was close to contracting pneumonia had helped light it herself and brought thick, scratchy blankets for her. Anything for her beautiful daughter who would bring them out of financial destitution. She stared into the flames and thought about the mermaid. The dark gold in her tale looked like the cracking embers in the hearth, the deep brown resembled the muted wood of the mantelpiece, the black the iron of the grate and the deep greens… she looked down at her leather chair which was almost the same colour. But it wasn’t enough. These things were not as… alive as her saviour’s tail. Lily’s hair sat in a damp plait across her shoulder and she shivered, moving closer to the fire. She stopped to look at her toes. What would it be like to have a tail? She wriggled the digits and frowned, trying to imagine a fish’s lower body, fins where she had feet. What colour would her tail be? Where would she live? Well, obviously the river was her favourite place, even though it had tried to kill her today, but she’d always wanted to visit the ocean. Maybe she’d see the mermaid again… they could be friends. She scoffed at herself. What was the point of all this? Imagining something that would never happen. The mermaid probably didn’t even exist – was just a concoction brewed by her oxygen-deprived mind. It was pitiful. This is what Lily Blackwood told herself.
It was not what she believed.
***
‘What now?’ thought the girl-fish, rushing downriver. She stopped swimming and rested on a slime-ridden boulder, staring up at the stars blinking faintly through the rumbling water. A group of tiny, dark brown fish swam around her hair, looking for algae to eat. They nipped at her ears and she batted them away softly, her deep blue eyes straying in a memory. She thought of the sun girl’s… Lily’s…smile and how she’d clapped. She’d spoken to a human. Apart from her female parent she knew of no other fish-person who had made peaceful contact with the beings without tails. She watched the miniature fish wriggle out of her hair, full bellies, and struggle back upstream. She smiled and stretched her tail once more. The river felt cool and fresh against her tail and washed away the little blood left from the cuts she got bashing against the cave’s entrance. She liked that cave. She’d come across it one day when she came down from the high, cold rivers. Lily had been there that day, swimming about. She’d almost bumped into the human and had to quickly dart out of the way, hiding in the cave. She found the hot spring and its safe, quiet refuge. It was her favourite place since that day. And she liked watching Lily. She felt bad she had to leave so quickly, but she was running out of air and she heard someone in the land-weeds. It was as if they were already friends. Maybe they were. The girl-fish splashed toward the ‘port’ happily. She would return tomorrow to properly meet her friend.
***
Lily nervously picked at her hands waiting by the door. Keane Talbot had been invited over for luncheon by her demon of a mother. She hadn’t given the boy a chance to cool down from the other night when Lily bested him in conversation. He was sure to make a terrible mockery of her and snuggle up quite close to Mrs Blackwood, something she would greatly approve of.
“I don’t understand why you do not take to Lord Talbot’s son, ungrateful fool of a girl,” her mother muttered savagely, tugging at the ribbons of her dress, “He’s strong, handsome, rich…”
“And I’m sure he has a rather large reproduction organ, mother. He sounds like God’s gift to women.” Her mother had slapped her then, quite rightly she supposed.
“You shameless hussy. Along this path you shall ruin this family.”
“How do you ruin a family already in ruins?” Lily muttered.
“Be quiet, wench. This is an enormous opportunity today, and I will be damned to Hell if I will let you make a mockery of the next Lord Talbot.” With that, she left the room, absurd skirts swishing, and shouted something at her husband.
“You already are damned, mother. Me flinging peas at Keane Talbot’s face isn’t going to change that,” she muttered and looked out the window in the direction of the river. She wondered if her mermaid was at the sea yet, down near Stafford. Perhaps she was caught in a net. The thought distressed her awfully and she held a hand tightly against her bed rail. But sanity prevailed, and she scolded herself for thinking such nonsense.
At ten minutes to one, a soft, sharp knock resounded upon the door. Mrs Blackwood rushed towards it excitedly.
“Oh, young Mr Talbot is early. That’s a good thing in a man – punctuality,” she noted to Lily and directing a sneer at her husband. “Isn’t it, Lloyd?”
“Whatever you say, dear,” he chirruped nervously. Ricarda scoffed condescendingly.
“No backbone, that one,” she said to Lily and opened the door wide to reveal a young man.
But not the one they were expecting.
“Mr Sweeney!” Lily exclaimed happily, recognising the hunchback. “What are you doing here?” Her mother showed marked displeasure at her daughter’s enthusiasm, but moved towards Morgan with a broad smile.
The young man bowed slightly and blushed. “I do hope I’m not imposing upon you, my good lady,” he said humbly to Mrs Blackwood, who seemed caught off guard by being addressed ‘lady’, “But I was merely walking through your part of the town and I didn’t wonder if perhaps I could impose upon you for a visit. If it were to the lady’s predilection?” He again motioned to Lily’s mother, and again she seemed at a loss for words at his politeness. His mother had openly expressed disgust at her mention of the hunchback about his appearance, but now she seemed almost smitten.
Or as smitten as her mother could get…
“Well, we were just setting the table. I suppose we could lay you a place. Mr Keane Talbot, son of Lord Talbot will be present.” Mr Morgan Sweeney smiled courteously and moved across the threshold.
“It would be my enormous pleasure to share a table with any of you fine people,” he grinned, half of his mouth down near his chin struggling to lift. Smiling must be awfully painful for him. He gripped her father’s hand with a gracious nod and shuffled over to Lily. He was dressed in a dark navy suit, cut to fit his figure quite snugly. She held out her hand smiling brightly. This was a surprise, and a good one at that. Morgan’s company was far preferable to the half-wit Talbot. He arrived not long after Mr Sweeney, entering the house obviously expecting a more gracious reception than he received.
“Mr Talbot,” Lily had said by way of greeting, before leaving the door open for him to walk through and resuming her conversation with Morgan. They were speaking of Stafford and its local mythology.
“Well, as I was saying a number of sailors and ship-hands have come forward, claiming they were rescued from the deep by some maid with fins, but they were always half drowned and feverish. I highly doubt, no matter how appealing the notion might sound, that there are any…”
“But if someone whom you knew to be utterly sane came to you, speaking of mer-people, protesting furiously that she had seen one of these mythical beings with her own… their own eyes, would you believe them?” Morgan’s face screwed up in concentration, making his features seem, surprisingly, a little more normal.
“I suppose. But before completely investing my trust in their judgement, I would have to see this mer-person myself. One believes something because a satisfactory amount of evidence has been examined. No offense to this…source,” he said, glancing at her, “but I would need to physically be in the presence of such a creature to verify its existence.”
“In short: poppycock,” Lily replied sulkily. The hunchback held out a soft, twisted hand.
“No, no, no, my dear friend. Not at all. In short: my eyes. I must see it to believe it.” Lily’s eyes drifted to the window to the woods and frowned. Keane Talbot strut over, preening his feathers.
The overgrown peacock, thought Lily. He placed a hand on the mantle-piece above her head, smirking smugly. Apparently the lukewarm welcome had not dulled his intent on making the Blackwood’s daughter as uncomfortable as possible. She shied away from his intimacy and saw a flash of something dangerous in Morgan’s eyes. It felt as though thunder rumbled in the distance and the sky went dark, all in a split second. But when she looked again all she saw was timid calm in his expression.
“Mr Talbot,” he said nervously, “what an honour.” The tall man ignored him, his gaze focussed painfully on Lily’s chest.
“Hello, Miss Blackwood,” he purred to her neckline, “It’s a pleasure to meet you again.”
“Really? I thought one snick from my sharp persona would have sent you running for the bed-covers.”
“Something like that,” he breathe, raising his eyes to hers and moving horrifically close to her lips. She saw Morgan move out of the corner of her eye to push him away, but the man stopped short of her mouth. Talbot inhaled deeply.
“I love the smell of fear,” he smiled demurely, and walked away to speak with Lloyd Blackwood. Lily let out a shuddery gasp and Morgan held her hand.
“Are you alright?” he asked quietly and she nodded her head. Lily pursed her lips, squared her jaw and sent daggers flying in Keane Talbot’s direction with her mind. He was going to pay for that. She would not be made the fool nor the victim, and never the shaking subordinate her father had become. They sat down for luncheon and Keane moved his chair closer to hers. She promptly shoved a blunt heel down on his boot and she saw his chiselled jaw clench in pain.
“Is anything the matter, sir?” asked Ricarda Blackwood.
“Your cooking is simply too delicious for my inferior tastebuds, my dear woman,” he replied and Morgan smiled secretly at her from across the table.

Lily padded down through the bright green foliage. She was taking the path to the river quite a bit faster than usual, the thick branches scratching her arms. She hurried down the damp path, her boots slipping against the soft dirt and pine needles. Would the mermaid be there? Or would she have left? Lily knew one thing – if she did come back, she was going to see the fish-woman even if it meant coming down here every single day – even when the snow begins to fall or the leaves turn gold. Lily didn’t plan on missing her. She stumbled over mossy roots and twisting blackberry vines until she stood below her willow tree. Her eyes scanned the wide, twisting river for a sign of movement. The water was slower and clearer today, and she could see schools of little fish below the surface. They moved as one unit, dancing and snaking along the river’s bottom; she loved that about fish. All of them twinkled like tiny stars when the sun caught them and for a moment she was mesmerised by their spinning. It wasn’t until the mermaid was near the willow’s roots her eyes moved elsewhere. She gave a small cry and spun around to face the creature. Her heart pounded furiously as the mermaid stared at her with curious eyes. She was smiling with two lines of straight, slightly pointed teeth, half hidden by the gnarled limbs and drooping leaves of the trees above; peeking at her from behind the wood and green. Lily smiled and tip toed toward her.
“Hello,” she waved and the mermaid ducked her head shyly in reply.
She wasn’t sure what to do now. She looked more closely at the girl, taking in her shockingly black hair, tangled with algae and weeds, the tiny rippling fins on her arms and hips, the deep curious blue of her eyes that reminded Lily of bluestone. She had plump, pale lips and her ears were quite small and a little pointed. Lily blushed when she realised she was still without covering on her upper body, save her hair when the mood struck it to protect her decency. The fish-woman edged out from her cover and swam slowly away from the shore, never breaking eye contact with Lily. She was around ten feet out when she stopped and waited patiently. She made a gargling noise and frowned when Lily didn’t respond. She scrunched her face up in that sever concentration and broke out into a grin.
“C…coh….comm…come…” she said, startling Lily and splashing about happily. Lily stood on the dirt and wondered how she knew English.
It didn’t sound like she spoke it fluently.
Nevertheless, it was good not communicating in just hand gestures. The day was warmer than usual, and so Lily was quite glad to be rid of all her petticoat and skirts. The mermaid watched her with an intensity she found unsettling, but she continued to strip her layers of conservative cotton until she stood once again in a plain shift. She toed the water, and upon finding it pleasing hopped in promptly, swimming out to her mermaid.
***
Lily bobbed up and down hazardously in front of her, her human limbs only just touching the bottom. The girl-fish reached out her arms to balance her friend and Lily looked down at her tail. She took a depth breath in and made noises that bubbled fuzzily into words for the girl-fish.
‘Tail’ was one. ‘Beauty’. ‘Can’t’…a word she didn’t know…‘fish’ was another. Human was a lot harder than she thought. Last night she had travelled to the ‘port’ to talk with one of the old fish. He’d been caught by humans so many times, no-one could remember how many anymore. He said he never got chopped up like the others because he was so little and sick, but had lived longer than any other fish she had known. She’d sat there for a long time, hearing human words and relaying them back to the old fish. Soon she had expanded her vocabulary vastly and bid the old fish a goodbye to meet her friend. She reached out to touch her now, softly on the shoulder. Her hand was cold and slippery against Lily’s warm skin and the human cringed, but after a moment relaxed. The mermaid moved her hand slowly across the girl’s neck and down to her chest. Lily’s breathing quickened and the girl-fish could feel a heavy thumping under her bones. One of her scales got caught on the skin the sun girl had left on, and she tugged gently to free it. Once that was done, her webbed hand rested over the place where Lily’s thumping was strongest.
“Th…an…c…you…” she stammered. The human looked confused.
“What for?” she asked, but the fish-girl didn’t understand this question. So she pointed at the cave, then herself, then Lily and said it again. “Thank…you.” Water welled in Lily’s eyes and the girl-fish panicked. What was happening? Did the river leak through her skin? Why didn’t humans have two blinkers? It would make things easier. She moved to push the water out of Lily’s eyes but the girl caught her wrists.
“No, it’s… okay,” she chuckled and let go. “You’re welcome.” The girl-fish knew these words. The old fish had told her that was how human’s normally responded and she swished her tail happily.
“Do you have a name?” her friend asked. ‘Name’… what had the old fish said? Humans had names. Like sun girl had ‘Lily’. The girl-fish couldn’t remember having a name. She frowned.
“N…n…no.” Lily cocked her head and smiled.
“We will find one for you.”
***
Lily opened her mouth wide, held a breath and fell below the water, swimming around the mermaid’s shining tail, touching the fins gently, feeling them flex against the water. She was amazed by its strength and how long it was. From the mermaid’s hip to fin was as long as she was herself. The translucent fins were a soft brown, and moved invisibly across the dirt of the river’s depths. As camouflage went, this mermaid was well equipped for the rivers and streams of Lily’s country. She saw the mermaid look down at her through the water’s surface and dive down to meet her face to face. Lily chased her tail and the mermaid jerked out of the way. She came up for air and her friend tickled her toes. She collapsed back into the water in a mess of giggles, her shift floating like a ghost around her. The mermaid swam closer to her until there were but a few inches between them and tugged at the cotton, revealing a bare shoulder. Lily returned to the surface quickly, pushing the shift back up her arm. The mermaid appeared above the water too and cocked her head.
“Now that was very inappropriate of you,” she scolded shakily. The mermaid frowned and moved to touch her again. Lily moved away swiftly and said, “Whatever are you doing?” The mermaid pointed to her own bare chest and then to Lily’s covered one, curiosity lighting those blue-black eyes. She wanted to see if they were the same. Lily looked down at herself, realising for the first time the shift hardly covered much anyway. She’d always been by herself and never really noticed. But she wasn’t about to let someone she just met look at her breasts just to assert their own confidence in their humanity. The mermaid looked hurt and apologetic.
“S…orr…y,” she mumbled and Lily moved back to where she had been.
“It’s okay,” she said, put a hand on her chest then her friend’s. “We are the same here.” The mermaid flounced happily at that. She must have understood at least the ‘same’ part. The next thing Lily knew was she was swimming wildly next to a thought-to-be mythical creature of the deep. Then she stopped and gasped. Her mind raced with meanings from her beloved Gunther, one after another, until finally she found the mermaid a name.
“Loreli.” The mermaid pulled up sharply, ears pricked and cocked her head to listen like a puppy. “Your new name.” Lily pointed at herself and said “Lily,” then gestured at the mermaid. “Loreli.”
Silence at both parties. The mermaid didn’t seem to understand, so Lily repeated the gesture.
“Lily… Loreli…”
“Lore…ell…ee…?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it!” Lily clapped, and Loreli smiled, repeating the name like a happy chant. Loreli meant, according to Gunther, ‘lurer to the river’. It was perfect.
***
Loreli liked her ‘name’. She kept saying it over and over. Loreli…Loreli…Loreli… She liked the way the ‘rel’ gargled off her tongue and came out in funny bubbles in the water. She couldn’t wait until tomorrow, when she and Lily could go swimming again. Her male-parent and was still out in the wide blue water, where she came from, but she preferred it up here. Beautiful as it was, it was far too lonely save for the fish and local wildlife. It was good to have a friend, one almost like her, one she could swim with and play and –
A sharp crack echoed through the water, like some slim tree had slapped against the surface. Except Loreli knew it wasn’t one of the wavering saplings along the banks. It was a sound she heard all too often in the ‘port’ downriver: a net. Her sharp eyes examined above the silt and rocks around her, searching for the crossing ropes she knew to avoid. Panic set in and her heart pounded fiercely in her chest. Her head swung from side to side, frantically backing away from where she thought the sound came from. Another whip-like sound rushed past her ears, closer now, and she swivelled around. The tip of her tail became snagged in the chaffing string and she knew she was trapped. Thrashing wildly, instinct overriding every sane thought she had, the girl-fish tried to escape the large lattice enveloping her body. Another net had joined the fray and the three drew together, encasing her entirely. She cried out, yelping for Lily, for the tiny fish, for anyone except the looming figures silhouetted by the rising moon standing above her. This was not fair. This was not fair.

The Resolution

“Why do you love me?” I whimpered like the pathetic being I was. I was in the foetal position, sobbing with hair plastered to my face.
“Why?” she asked, a thin stream of blood flowing from her eyebrow.
“Look at me!” I cried, “I’m an overweight wreck who would rather spend my time playing games in which I’m anyone but me, watching at least three movies a day and eating things that will affect me drastically and negatively later in life than hang out with actual human beings, get drunk and all that other bull. I think too much. I’m a killjoy. I smell, no matter how much crap I buy and use to make me even half wiffable, my hair’s greasy, my nose is too small for my face, my chin too large and my temper is more temperamental than that cat that lives in the Mexican restaurant’s garbage downstairs. Look – look what I did to…you…Oh God! Shit!” I shouted, slapping my palms against my forehead. I was a terrible human being. I didn’t deserve to live. I never wanted to be this person. I didn’t ask to be here. I didn’t want to be here. I’m only a source of misery. People hate me. I hate me. What had I done? I pounded my fists against my temples, the pain temporarily blocking out the thoughts. My eyes began to go dark. They were crying again, hideous tears gushing down my bloated and reddening face. She gripped my hands until they stilled and took the swollen flesh of my face gently in her hands.
“I love you,” she began, “because you listen to all music except remixes. I love you because you are wild with how you feel – no-one can say you’re under-zealous. I admire that you can show that level of dedication to a television show, and hope that it might be the same for me. You smell okay to me, and I like your nose. It kind of ends in a cute little nub.” She flicked it lightly and I closed my eyes. “My hair’s just as greasy as yours and I love movies. You dance without caring. You cry at anything and everything, including kittens, terrible puns and the tiniest pieces of human decency. You hope to one day live in the country living off a small plot of land. Also, I love that cat that lives at Malcom’s Magnificent Mexican.” She smiled, one that lit up her face. Her teeth were kind of round and looked like little pearls. The bead of blood had reached her dimples. “I love you, you fool, because you’re a person. A good one, no matter what you say. You have a terrible temper, I know. I know.” She gestured to her eyebrow. “But you try to do something about it. It only comes out badly when you lose all control which is rarely. You watch and play all that stuff because you’re creative and a dreamer. And fat’s just God’s cushioning. Thin people were made to be the pillowslips.” With that she wrapped her slim body around mine and I broke down completely. How could she forgive me? How could she let it go? This wasn’t healthy. I had to get her out. This couldn’t happen again. I didn’t deserve her.
“You – you have to go…” I mumbled into her shoulder. She didn’t pull away.
“No.” she said decisively.
“Yes.” I retorted.
“No. I will not let you push me away again. I will not let you condemn yourself to a life of loneliness and solitude. One without love or companionship. We are going to find a way to deal with this, and you, my love, my darling, my wonderful beautiful person, are going to be happy and this,” she pointed to our situation, “will never happen again.” She placed her soft lips on mine gently and curled a hand around my neck. My bruised hands reached around her waist and pulled her close.
“Please don’t leave me.” I whispered selfishly.
“Never,” she replied back, and I rested my head on her chest. Her chin propped itself on my head and we sat like that for hours, listening to each other breathing, love and blood crusting onto our skin like tattoos.

Kirsty… this one is for you [major language warning I'm sorry I made this for friends]

In a land filled with glistening jewels and whistling streams, there is a clearing where fairies gather. With such delicate feet they dance, painting magic into the very earth with their toes. One, the most beautiful and breath-taking of all the fairies called Krystille, was dancing there the day our story begins. Her long golden hair spun in patterns about her head as she leaped and fluttered about the flowers. Her long, mustard-coloured flower dress swished in lavish folds as the steps quickened. Soon, she was a blur of beauty and fairy dust. All the birds and animals stopped to watch, breathless as she twirled into the sky, slicing the sky with shimmering gold. On the ground sat a creature, an elf, with thick tousled brown hair, dressed in a collection of soft leaves and white flowers. Her name was Vythia, a sneaky friend of the forest. Elves enjoy causing mischief, and Vythia was no exception. As she watched the stunning fairy in the air, her heart began to pound at an alarming rate. How could one being be so utterly gorgeous? Vythia had no idea. All she knew is that she wanted to tap that. Unfortunately, Krystille was a prisoner of the dreaded witch Mirithium. She was a bitter old woman, prone to over-reaction and a dreadful rage. She also, coincidentally, had a fairy fetish, one that only the most fantastic fairy could satisfy. A tinkling voice called out from the heavens, shining down on Vythia’s thoughts and scattering them amongst the wind. It was Krystille.
“I am so beautiful, playing and dancing in my fairy garden…” She began to beat box and make thumping noises with her delicate mouth, “Shit man, shit, shit, shit, shit man…”
“Krystille! Stop being so up yourself!” Vythia shouted in a pointless attempt to curb Krystille’s incorrigible vanity. But Vythia knew she had never heard such a wonderful voice in her life. Oh, if only Krystille was free from the wicked witch!
“Shut the hell up, Vythia. Stop being such an elf,” came the replying snap from the gorgeous being on high. Her skirts fanned out gracefully as she landed once more, making the grass seem all the more green and lively. Flowers seem to creep closer to her, as if to steal her warmth. She resumed her rhythm. “Shit man, shit, shit, shit, shit man…” From the far side of the clearing, a low thump was heard. The weaker trees trembled, a few of their silver leaves loosening and falling frailly to the ground. Another thump followed soon after, and another, and another. With it came a scraping sound, as if something was being dragged with malice. Vythia shook with fear and scampered into a nearby bush. Krystille fluttered towards the tree line, taking shelter in an old unbreakable oak. With that, the largest, smelliest troll in existence slouched into the blessed clearing. In her hand limply hung a thick wooden club, crimson blood still dribbling off the blunt end from some recent kill. She turned her thick head from one side to the other, her soft green hair flowing slightly in response to the movement.
“That troll is so fucking hot,” whispered Vythia from her foliage shelter.
“Shut the hell up, Vythia. Stope being such an elf.” Krystille snapped delicately from her tree.
“Guys?” grunted the troll, a large pale grey snot dripping from her left nostril. Vythia darted out from behind her bush, looked cheekily up at her and winked. Krystille fluttered out from her tree and flew straight into a potentially fatal hug.
“Bromlin!” she squealed in delight. The troll grinned and gave a hoarse giggle.
“Lookin’ good, Krystille!”
“Thank you, Brommy,” she blushed, her cheeks turning a rosy pink.
“You too, Vythia,” she said, and the little elf coughed awkwardly as if embarrassed.
“Oh, stop,” she replied, flipping her hand, but she was quickly distracted by a golden glow from behind Bromlin followed by the hottest creature on earth…literally. Like, wow. Tanned, rich blonde hair and abs that resembled a sexy washboard, the man was tall and lean. His soft smile was brightened by the soft gold of his eyes, a smoky metallic colour that seemed to melt the hearts of the surrounding creatures. His bare chest seemed to radiate heat, and the leaves about him shimmered with warmth.
“Hey, ladies,” he winked, a winning smile bursting over his face. Birds in the trees fainted and I’m pretty sure a fox blew him a kiss. Krystille moved towards him and leaned forward.
“Helloooo, honey,” she replied, patting him on his smooth pecs.
“Hey,” he chuckled delightfully. “Name’s Apalecheya.” Vythia crawled up behind him and gasped.
“Whoa, that is a great tattoo!” She turned her head upside down and frowned. “What…is it?”
“Oh, I was just… you know… kissed by the sun…”
“What?” shouted all three.
“Yeah, I flew into the sun and was granted the ultimate power,” he said, flexing his rippling muscles, “of emitting heat and…” He winked. “Sexuality.” The girls’ eyes fluttered and they felt their will to not screw the man’s brains out weakening. He had strong legs, thick tanned arms and a jaw like an anvil. A fine array of stubble covered his soft lips and chiselled chin like a freshly cut wheat field. The breeze ruffled his hair and Krystille flew up to his ear and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Flying into the sun… you brave, brave man,” she breathed, stroking his neck. He batted her off his shoulder nonchalantly and resumed his powerful stance.
“YOU ARE ATTRACTIVE, STRANGE MAN,” shouted Bromlin happily and the man slapped her butt affectionately.
“Thanks, big girl. Hey, you ladies want to go out for dinner?”
“Um, all of us?” Vythia questioned uncertainly.
“Yeah,” grinned the beautiful man, “Call it a tri-date.” The women all looked one another in the eyes, measuring their opponents.
“Deal,” said Krystille. She knew she was more beautiful than the other two, she could win Alapacheya’s heart.
“Deal,” said Vythia. She knew she could pleasure this man more than the other two. She wasn’t nimble for nothing.
“Deal,” grunted Bromlin. She knew this tiny gold man would need a big woman to satisfy him. They all smiled slyly and left the clearing, Vythia and Bromlin linked their arms into Alapacheya’s and Krystille snuggled lovingly into his thick blonde hair.

Please Come Closer: Chapter Two [language warning]

Turns out the two people who could’ve passed for FBI agents were only real estate agents; which was better than police or Domestic Services, but kind of worse because Charlotte was now under the threat of eviction.
“Shit!” shouts Charlotte, jumping up and down in anger. I think she’s the only one I know that actually does that and isn’t a cartoon character. We had finished the pancakes (mmm choc chip) and were now pacing the room trying to deal with Charlotte’s imminent homelessness. Rage danced angrily on her face. We were still pant-less.
“UGH. I NEED AGGRESSIVE MUSIC.” she yells and leapt for the radio. Cue ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’. I lose it. If Charlotte taught me anything, it’s to laugh when you’re angry, because that’s the only damn way anyone in this damn world’s gonna be damn happy. Luckily, Charlotte remembers this too and joins in my insane laughter. We roll about on the floor for the remaining two and a half minutes of the song. After it finishes we sit on the floor, our stomachs exhausted from the maniacal giggling. She stares at me from across the room, her face red and blotchy and it’s only now (because I’m severely deprived in the Recognising-People’s-Emotions department) I realise that she’s crying. And laughing. It’s a bit weird.
“Dude, are you alright?” She gives an ambiguous head waggle.
“Meh. Just annoyed, you know? Abusive ex-boyfriend, almost being a murder victim, you staying the night, being kicked out of my flat… it’s all a bit much.” I frown.
“Do you want me to leave?” I ask, not really wanting to leave.
“Nah, course not. You’re too damn cute to kick out.”
“What can I do to help then?” She looks over at me and then to the radio, which was now playing ‘Call me maybe’. Her eyes drilled holes in the little transistor.
“Turn that fucking thing off.” she said. “Okay,” I get up. But before flicking the little switch to cut out Carly’s voice I turn sharply on the spot. “One thing,” I say, and Charlotte’s look goes from contempt to interest in all of .03 seconds. I pause. She looks at me expectantly. I point a finger at her. “Why aren’t I wearing any pants?” She just grins and goes into the bathroom.
I stay with her that night. And the next night. Pretty soon I start leaving a couple of pairs of shoes there. Then four shirts. Then my jeans. It’s strange that I’m like nesting or whatever with the threat of eviction dangling over Charlotte’s (now our) heads. We’re supposed to leave in a month. Like you pretty much couldn’t pick a worse time for that. But here I am. Nesting. We take turns making breakfast each day almost subconsciously so that the other can get a minute sleep in, and she goes to work at about eight. She works at this massive superstore which she detests. NEVER get her started on the “needs” of consumers. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hate the huge, faceless companies polluting the minds of children and most likely subliminally messaging us through their ads just as much as the next guy/gal/either/neither, but Charlotte really hates them. It’s almost a Hitler-type hate, and she likes to talk about communism a lot. I sort of support the idea of communism, but know that people who’ve tried to make it happen sucked at their jobs. Really sucked. It doesn’t take much to piss off America, but the communists did a pretty thorough job, I think. Kudos to their rage-inducing skills, any who.
I have a couple of clients, but there’s this one lady who I drive around almost every day. Her name’s Alicia Berry and she’s a local representative with an uber rich husband. She likes to parade herself around in Eva just to show that she can afford it – at least that’s what she says. You could say she’s the embodiment of everything Charlotte dislikes. I don’t dislike her though, because she’s actually a really nice person once you get to know her after two years of driving around in an Audi. We talk about books and comedy shows and the theatre (she love musicals) and sometimes she’ll just call up and order a trip to the park or something and bring a (ridiculously fancy and expensive) packed lunch and share it with me. I think she’s about forty and has no kids. One time I picked her up after she and her husband had an argument. Henry Berry ran out the door yelling, “Go on! Run to that little slut like you always do!” I didn’t get along very well with Henry, still don’t, and probably never will. Alicia clambered into the car crying, her fancy makeup all smudged. I asked her where to drive to and she just said, “Anywhere but here,” so I drove to the park we go to and bought a bag of dollar bread and we fed the ducks. Neither of us said anything until she said in a voice hoarse from crying and disuse, “I can’t have kids. That’s why Henry’s so mad. We found out today.” I held her and she broke down.
There’s another client I like to drive around, but not for money. His name is Harold Small, and he is to this day possibly the nicest man/human/carbon based life form I have ever met. He’s small (un-ironically) and weedy. His hair is a light fluff of white, even though he must only be about fifty. YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH I WANTED MR SMALL TO FALL IN LOVE WITH ALICIA. BERRY. For one thing their last name could be Berry-Small, or Small-Berry, both of which sound awesome. Secondly, I think Alicia would be happier with Mr Small and he’s so damn sweet and I love them so much. Anyway, Mr Small can’t really afford a daily ride on a bus, let alone in Eva Luna, but I once went to this open garden thing with a hippy friend of mine and he introduced me to Mr Small who “they” say grows the sweetest (get this) berries in the entire town. He is one of the few people in this world who has next to no vices and is always nice to anyone and everyone he meets. Seriously, it’s almost surreal the amount of patience he has. We got talking and he told me about how it took him two hours to walk to the nursery where he works every morning because he has a bad back and of course I could NOT let this go on. No. So every morning at about nine I go and pick up Mr Small and drive him to his nursery in half an hour. It helps that I know some (not-dusty) shortcuts and he always gets there on time. I drive him home in the evenings and he pays me in strawberries. Which, just like Mr Small himself, are worth their weight in gold.
I drive Mr Small to work (“Thank you so much, Miss Alice! I don’t know what I’d do without you! Here are your strawberries for today! Sorry they’re a bit bigger than usual. I hope you have enough room!” Cue me drooling down my front,) and make my way around to Alicia’s place. Her and Henry are still married and keeping up the happy family veneer. Sometimes I think that Alicia may have taken to drinking. She gets in the car with her usual grace, but I get a whiff of wine off her. I think its red, because that’s the only type of alcohol Charlotte will have a glass of (“If I’m gonna get smashed, I’ll do it downing 1945 Pinot Noir damn it,”).
Alicia slides gracefully into the black leather of the back seat and I drive out of the insanely well-kept driveway. She rummages through her patent leather bag for her phone.
“How are you this morning, Mrs Berry?” I ask politely.
“Fucking wonderful.” she grins into my rear view mirror at me, and I grin back. Contrasts. She looks as shallow as a kiddie pool, but once you get to know her, she’s like this. I know she would like to light a cigarette and complete the irony, but she also knows anything that creates smoke/ash/bad smells is not under any circumstances allowed in Eva. Alicia’s one of the few people who knows I live in my car. She’s offered to help numerous times, but I won’t let her, stubborn thing that I am. Also, I’m sure you’re saying, ‘But Alice, you are a private chauffeur to many esteemed clients! Shouldn’t you be rolling in that sweet, sweet green stuff?’ Well, this is true, friend, however after I bought Eva, I was basically broke and only had enough money for some self-promotion and fuel. Honestly, most of the money goes towards keeping Eva Luna in check and buying food and clothes so I at least look like I have a house.
“Where to, Alicia?” I say to her.
“Wherever you want, honey.” Today she wore one of her signature pencil skirts and a cream blouse. Her hair hadn’t been dyed straight blonde like most women her age. She’d only highlighted some, leaving the streaks of grey to run about freely, quietly declaring that she was moving on in life. She never actually wanted kids, she told me once.
“I’m not very good with children. Too hot-tempered.” She shook her head sadly. “But Henry’s hell bent on them. Wants to ‘continue his line’.” She laughed without humour, the faint lines appearing on her delicate face. “I just wanted to go through life with just me to look after, you know? All by myself. But mother couldn’t let that happen and I got married, didn’t I? To a wealthy man, nonetheless!” Her thin hands fell into her lap limply and a strand on blonde/grey hair fell loose of her bun. She looked at me. “What should I do, Alice?” Marry Mr Small rang inside my head, but obviously I couldn’t say that so I said, “Get a girlfriend.” She’d laughed at that, and thrown an arm around my shoulders. “Good advice,” she’d said.
We drive to Maestro’s, a little café opposite the hall where Alicia works. She orders a something something French something soy skim unicorn milk latte and I get a hot chocolate.
“I don’t think I could ever be a barista.” I say as we sit down at the stylish, vaguely sticky table.
“Oh? Why’s that?” she asks, stealing a marshmallow from my saucer. I frown at her. “Hey, I’m buying.” she says, and I surrender the delicious angelic puff of sugar jelly.
“I couldn’t be a barista because if you told me what you just told that guy I would become flustered and confused and you’d probably end up with a hot raspberry spider with a Leprechaun sandwich on the side.” Alicia raises an eyebrow.
“Leprechaun?”
I scowl again, mocking this time.
“You know what I mean.”
“Sometimes, I really don’t.” At this moment guess who walks in the made-to-look-vintage door? MR. SMALL. Alicia looks where I am now staring excitedly.
“Alice,” she smirks, “I didn’t know you liked older men. Or men, for that matter.”
“That’s Mr Small,” I say, leaning in and whispering, “I drive him to work each day. He’s very, very nice.” I raise my eyebrows suggestively at her. She smiles and looks over at him again.
“Cute.” she says, eyeing his fluffy white hair and neat clothing and my heart skips a beat. This could be the start of something. “But not really my type. You may have forgotten…” She holds up her left hand to display the mother of all rocks to me. “I’m married.” Her look is joking, yet sad, and she lets her hand slump to the table top. I go back to drinking my hot chocolate, still eyeing Mr Small, and she pushes the foam in her cup around with a straw. Then it dawns on me. This café’s blocks away from the nursery, ridiculously expensive and Mr Small hates catching the bus unless it was for an emergency. He’s looking around the café frantically, until he meets my eyes. He hobbles quickly over to our table and proceeds to gasp out words.
“Police… Nursery… Flat…” he splutters. I jumps up, grasped his arm to steady him and rubbed his back.
“Slow down, Mr Small… Tell me nice and slow now… What’s happened?” His watery but bright eyes stare up at me fearfully.
“Miss Charlotte.”
I turn to Alicia.
“Mrs Berry, I’m going to need the car.”
“Not without me you’re not.”
And so it is we are out of the shop, in the car and driving down the highway extremely fast in under five minutes; Mr Small in the front, grasping the dashboard for dear life and Alicia is in the middle back, manicured hands on the back of our seats and leaning in so her face is between our heads. Mr Small starts to explain.
“I was out watering the poppies – you know how I fertilize them on Tuesdays – and this dirty, great police car sped up the hill to Miss Charlotte’s flat, which by the way, I know you’re living in presently.” Alicia glances at me suggestively and wiggles her pencilled eyebrows. “They went up the hill and I couldn’t really see them that well anymore. I stood there for many minutes. Heard some yelling and a car door slam and the police came back down. As they drove past I saw Miss Charlotte’s hair even through the tinted windows. It’s very bright.”
“Alicia,” I say, and she blinks at me using her first name, “Where would they take her?”
She thinks for a second, then snaps her fingers like in the movies.
“By Jove!” she cries, “Why, they’d be taking her down Mason Road, dear Watson!” I frown. “Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood.”
“Mr Small,” I say now, “How did you know where to find me?”
“Well, Mrs Gellibrand, you know, down at the nursery – “
“Doreen Gellibrand?” pipes up Alicia, and I raise my eyebrows in surprise. No offense to Alicia, but she’s not the kind of person you associate with people who have dirt under their nails. I glance over at Mr Small. ‘Yet.’ I think.
“Yes, Doreen. Well, I knew you drive a young lady (Alicia blushes at this) by the name of Berry around on a Tuesday. So I asked around and Doreen said about Maestro’s and how Mrs Berry always talked about it – “
“I don’t always talk about – “
“So I took my chances and bought a bus ticket. And there you were.”
“I didn’t know you knew Doreen,” says Alicia.
“My dear, ten minutes ago you didn’t know me.” replies Mr Small, puzzled.
“Well,” says Alicia, smirking at me then eyeing Mr Small’s little bowtie and ironed flannel, “I plan on making up for that unfortunate ignorance.” He smiles at her, crinkles lining his cheeks almost down to his mouth.
We drive in silence to the station.
Mason road is one of the longest in town and we pass almost a hundred shops before reaching the police station. From the outside we can see a young, bored looking officer cleaning his nails with his feet up on the desk. Apparently, his supervising officer isn’t supervising all that well. I lead as our strange looking trio march into the station, a look of seriousness plastered upon our faces. I can’t help thinking we need some dramatic background music and a backlight, but we’re already at the desk. The officer (his badge reads ‘Benson’) glares up at us.
“Can I help you?” he asks, as if he so wants to do the opposite.
“We’re here to see Charlotte Brown.”
“Who?” He’s chewing gum. It’s quite off-putting.
“Charlotte. April. Brown. Born 21st of December. Bright red hair. Probably swearing when she came in.” I pause. “Most likely swearing when she came in. Something to do with domestic violence slash attempted murder.”
The tiniest spark of understanding flashes in the young man’s eyes.
“Oh. Yeah. That one. Right. Hold on.” He presses an intercom button. “Sargent? There’s a bunch of people out here wanting to see the red haired girl.”
“Are they press?” comes the crackly reply.
Benson looks us all up and down (me a little longer than necessary) and says into the box, “Nah, boss.”
“Are they family? Only family can visit.” Benson looks up at me. I freeze.
“Uh… sister.” I mouth at him, and he nods, not questioning the obvious lie.
“Yep, Sarge.” he says, “Yeah, a sister.”
“Alright then. Room 3.”
“Copy.” Says Benson, and he lifts his finger off the button. “Only one of you can come in, sorry.” He looks at me, then the other two. Alicia is already steering Mr Small towards the tiny waiting area.
“You kids have fun now,” she says before picking up an aged magazine. Mr Small gives me an encouraging smile. Benson lightly touches my arm and leads me down a thin corridor.
“So… got a boyfriend at the minute?” he asks, faux casual. I figure that telling a guy like Benson I was as gay as Rio in Carnival season would only get him more interested. So I partially lie.
“Yes, actually. To a very nice man.”
“What’s his name?” He’s still chewing gum.
“Harold.”
“Got a last name?”
“None that you need to be aware of.” I reply coldly.
“But this, er, boyfriend business… would it happen to be outside of your moral grounds to perhaps, er, experiment with other men.”
Jesus.
“Oh look,” I say, my voice dripping with loathing, “Didn’t he say room 3? I guess we’re here then.” Benson looks at me slyly and goes to unlock the door, leaning in closer than needed.
“Always here if you need it, babe.” he whispers hoarsely, breath minty from the god damn gum, “If you ever feel,” He breathes in heavily. “Unfulfilled.” I want, at this point, to kick him in the balls and smack his head against the wall, but something tells me doing that to a policeman while another policeman, who has just opened the door, watches, might not be the best option when trying to bail out Charlotte.
A large, portly man opens the door and lets us in, thankfully ridding me of Constable Come On’s uncomfortable presence.
“Miss Brown?” he inquires. I nod. I see now that Charlotte is sitting slumped in a sorry looking couch in the far corner.
“Could you just once not be such a badass?” I ask, grinning. She leaps up at the sound of my voice and almost smothers me in kisses – on the mouth. I mean, not that I don’t enjoy it (‘cause I do), but it really doesn’t do much for the ‘sister’ routine. The two policemen share a look. I pull away awkwardly from Charlotte and laugh (I hope) casually.
“Ah… she’s a very loving sister.” I say, subtly stepping on her foot, “We were raised as very emotionally expressive children.” I raise my eyebrows at Charlotte and it finally gets through.
“Oh – Uh, yes. Well, you know, I haven’t seen her in a couple of years so this is kind of a big deal. I mean, if you lovely young men hadn’t have been here we would’ve -”
“Given each other a hug and done the secret family handshake.” I cut in, almost not quickly enough.
The policemen look unconvinced, but don’t say anything. The large on coughs.
“Uh, well, how about the two of you have a seat?” He gestures to the depressed sofa, and we walk over, hand in hand.
“Must be a girl thing.” I hear Large One murmur to Benson.

Little Doe

Silver tears ran down the bear’s face as it watched Little Doe’s lifeless body float roughly down the churning river. Occasionally she would hit a rock or some other likely object, sending her spinning uncontrollably among the rapids. Salty drops fell past coarse brown fur onto the grass. The bear’s claws dug into the soil and it bared its teeth in pain. The child’s plait had come undone and her shimmering black hair moved like the spirits that shone in the night sky. The bear hoped Little Doe would become one of those spirits; she was always talking about them. Talked about them, the bear corrected. It ran alongside the river as her limp body reached the waterfall, crashing and raging. The bear watched the tiny girl’s legs fly over the edge, her head following shortly after. The great brown beast let out a throaty howl of anguish, a sound that broke the heart of all who heard it. Its dearest friend was dead. Gone. No longer would they hunt together in the woods for small beasts and berries. No longer would she ride upon its back pretending she could fly. The bear sank to the ground in grief, moaning into the dark grass. No longer would she live. The bear closed its eyes in resignation, intending never to open them again, for nothing would ever be as beautiful as its Little Doe. It stayed like this for a long time, but no-one else moved. Then a man gasped; a woman pointed; a child shrieked with awe. A gentle hand pressed into the bear’s fur, nudging its head towards the waterfall. There, said a voice, do you see it, Bear? And there in the spray of the water and the light of the sun, the bear saw something that made it stand again. A shining doe made of mist and steam leapt from the water and pranced towards the wide open sky to join the lights.

Please Come Closer (just something I’ve been working on – warning: coarse language)

Please come closer.

That’s all I could think as she emerged from the bedroom, all curled crimson hair and blue polka dot dress and freckles and love. She was beautiful; there’s no doubt about that, you must understand. Not conventionally thin or even healthy, but… Curvy hips and large eyes the colour of the bluestone buildings you find in the country. Freckles are scattered higgledy piggledy over her skin and the best tattoo in all of human history sits snuggly on her right wrist. She told me when she got it, “People who get ones on their backs and stuff are weird. I want to have one I can see. The purpose of a tattoo is to commemorate something…how can I appreciate something if I have to contort impossibly to even look at it?” It was a phrase borrowed from her favourite book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It said, ‘You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends nose.’ That book is virtually an entire volume of quotes, yet that’s the one she chooses to immortalise in her skin…and that’s why I love her so much. She smiles as she spins playfully and asks if her arse looks big in this. I’m speechless. Usually she gets around in a hoodie (don’t get me wrong; that’s kind of hot too) but this is a whole new dimension. She wears Chuck Taylors the same shade as her red, red hair. When we first met I asked her why she died it red she just looked at me so seriously I expected some phrase of Tolkien-ish wisdom, but instead I got, “It’s the colour of the blood of my enemies. Also I’m betrothed to Satan.” in a hoarse whisper. We’ve been friends ever since. Finally I pick my mouth off the floor and choke out something akin to “youloorallypreetty.” Yep, literary genius, right here. Her smile broadens into a grin and she picks up her old canvas bag covered in quotes from her favourite books (mostly Harry Potter) and skips out the door. “Come along, Chauffeur!” she calls mockingly in an actually decent British accent, and I, straightening my tie and cap, follow. I always follow.

Outside waits a classy black Audi that is our carriage for tonight. It’s actually mine, bought with all the money I (now don’t) have. No-one knows but there’s a mattress in the back and a couple of boxes of clothes and books. I call her the Eva Luna, after my favourite story book character, even though I never understood how a car can be gender-specific. Anyway, I make a big show of opening the car door for Charlotte, as that is her name, and bow deeply as she settles into the sleek black leather that I care for so carefully. We drive to the outskirts of town where we will pick up her date in the fading light of the tired day. The trees around here have a strange gold about them, and I almost run over a dog due to prolonged inattention. As we drive, Charlotte makes jokes (“So a soccer player, Irishman and a doctor walk into a bar…”) and I laugh, occasionally supplying the odd witty comment (as they are few and far between when it comes to me) and drive. We don’t talk about Chris. We never do.

I pull up outside his house, skidding just a little to piss off the family. Chris stands outside his door; the hard-core Goth/model look he goes for is weird but suits him. Even someone as utterly gay as me can admit the guy’s got looks, but he has no idea what to do with them except become a complete dickwad. Sorry. I hate Chris. The amount of times Charlotte has called, crying; the amount of times she’s met up with me, her face covered in make-up, trying to hide. Fucking Chris. He lopes over to the car with his perpetual frown and knocks on my window – hard. I wind it down, matching his glare with my own; the air between us hazy with undiluted hatred.

“You’re late,” he sneers.

“Eww. You keep track of my menstrual system? Gross.”

He snorts and climbs into the car, not even looking at his girlfriend. She seems drained when he’s around – paler and sadder. For such a girl as Charlotte, that’s a serious problem. I hate it. I drive away harshly before he’s even done doing up his seatbelt.

What can I say? We arrive at the party (I’m allowed in as a plus one – not that I even like parties) and there are drinks (champagne) and drugs (pot brownies) etc. It’s a high class function filled with pretentious 20-somethings. The contrast between lovely, classy surroundings and wild, drunken young people on pot is astounding and surprising aesthetically pleasing. I always like contrasts. You see, Chris looks like a dick and is one. I do not like Chris. Charlotte looks sweet, but loves The Rocky Horror Picture Show and swears like a sailor. I love Charlotte. See? Contrasts. I weave my way through the crowd, taking advantage of the anonymity that comes with a chauffeur’s costume (Charlotte’s idea even though I am legitimately a hired driver) by bumping people who are making out, having an argument, or it seems like there’s an awkward moment. It’s actually pretty fun, causing havoc. I see a few people I know from high school, but no best friends. Most of them have moved away now, but I have Charlotte. I smile. Charlotte. I love her to the end of the earth. It was awkward when we first realised that you know, we were… gay…for each other. But after that, it was kind of nice.

“You have to realise, there’s Chris.” she said all those mornings ago. I made her pancakes that day. We’d watched a movie the night before, at her place, curled up on the couch in her quilt. When the credits rolled, she leaned over and kissed me. She tasted like pop-corn and it was possibly the best experience of my life. Nothing else happened, quite innocent, and we woke up the next morning on the couch; safe and happy. I nodded. I knew there was Chris, the man who I’d never met, and by the looks of things never wanted to meet. She still had a black eye that day. She squinted through it at me.

“So we’ll have to just be friends…” She spoke slowly, as if to a child. And, like the puppy I am, nodded, grinning like an idiot and wagging my tail; hopeful towards the future – a future without Chris.

And then I see her. They’re in the kitchen. Chris is shouting at her, but I can’t hear him over the music. Charlotte’s firing back, red curls bouncing around her head angrily. They’re both pointing at each other and screaming (presumably) obscenities. I push through the crowd, faster now. He reaches for the bench, grabbing the first thing his hand comes across. I almost laugh when I realise it’s a knife. I mean, of all the things the hosts could have left on the bench for people either a) drunk, b) high or c) in possession of incredible anger to come across… a knife? I’m practically running now, reaching, grabbing, flying. Time slows down. He raises the utensil, and I scream something unintelligible. He brings it down and I see Charlotte flinch, crying, the blood on the wall and Chris’ face right before I beat the shit out of it. Charlotte’s slumped against the wall and I’m punching and clawing and screaming at his eyes, his mouth, his nose. Anywhere I can inflict the most pain. I learn later they had to pull me off him. Charlotte just sits and watches.

We drive in relative silence until I pull up to the nearest public toilet, only about five minutes away. I go to the boot, grab out a bundle of old clothes and some choice sanitary items and hand them to a red faced, now-out-of-the-car Charlotte. Her hand trembles as I hand her the package awkwardly. One arm’s in a sling now. The bastard just missed major veins and we’re on our way to the hospital now. She’s silent as she runs into the cubicles, her polka dot dress forever stained. While she’s in there I try and clean up the seat a bit, then cover it with a towel so Charlotte won’t get covered in cleaning chemicals. A few minutes later she emerges from the grime-ridden toilets, dressed in my best hoodie and a pair of jeans that are too big for me. It’s a coldish night but the jumper keeps her warm and the jeans hug her figure nicely. But I don’t notice this until later. Right now, all I can think about is the shame etched upon her face. She’s still blushing profusely and won’t look me in the eye. I open the door for her and bow deeply in a vain attempt to cheer her up. She raises her gaze to the car and frowns. “What’s the matter?” I ask, looking from her to the car and back to her. She sniffs. “I ruined your seats.” I shrug. “But you love your seats.” I look at her, one hand deep into the pocket of the hoodie, the other completely hidden underneath the fabric. Her eyes look sore from crying, and freckles almost invisible amongst the current redness of her cheeks. I know I shouldn’t say it; it’s cheesy and she’s too vulnerable and I suck but I do. “Not as much as you, Charlotte.” She mock cringes, punches me softly in on the shoulder and gets in the car.

We got back from the hospital early in the morning. A uniform line of stiches ran up Charlotte’s forearm, and it had begun to hurt more and more on the way back to her flat, so I have to open the door for her. She’s getting edgy – she doesn’t like being an “invalid” (her words, not mine) and so I sit her down on the couch and let her have free reign of the television, since it is really the only thing she can do with one hand at the moment. I go into the tiny kitchen and make some porridge. marfoley@wordpress.com There are cuts on my hands and wrists that I didn’t tell anyone about, and I rinse them under the tap. The cold water stings and feels good at the same time. I can hear her sniffing in the lounge room. Fucking Chris. I hope he goes into an eternal coma and they have to clean off all his precious Goth/model make-up. I grab the tissues and porridge and go to Charlotte. She’s watching Supernatural, you know, that awesome American show with the angel/demon hunters? Wicked. I sit down next to her and offer the porridge. She takes it wordlessly. That and a few tissues. We sit in awkward silence which Charlotte breaks by blowing her nose so loudly it’s almost comical. We grin at each other, briefly forgetting what just happened: abusive boyfriend, the hospital, attempted murder, etc.

“Do you love me?” she asks. She’s not grinning now. It’s a serious question which deserves a serious answer. No poetic shit. No “till the end of time” even though it feels true.

“Yes.” I say, straining not to add how much.

“Okay.” she says, and faces the television. More tears. It dawns on me.

“You were fighting about…”

“You. Yes.”

“Oh.” I got nothing except:

“Sorry.”

She shrugs, visibly in pain. “It’s okay. You were right. They guy was a dick.”

“I never said that.” I say, placing a hand to my chest in mock offense.

“No, but you were thinking it.” A smile is returning to her face now.

“I didn’t know you were telepathic?” I say, cocking my head to the left.

“Oh, the things you don’t know.” she says, cocking her head to the right and grinning.

“What am I thinking now?”  She feigns a thoughtful expression.

“You’re thinking… ‘Fuck, I’m tired and I wish this bitch would shut up. I can’t wait to go to bed.’”

Not exactly, and if I didn’t know her any better I’d say she was hinting at me to piss off, but she’s smiling, and I do know her better. So I help her get up and go over to the bed. We lie side by side. All the lights are off now, and the only sounds are the fridge humming and the cars going past in the street. We listen to each other’s breathing, the rise and fall of turbulent thoughts. She holds my hand with her uninjured one and notices the cuts.

“Shit. Are you alright? Oh, crap. You should have said something-”

“Shut up.” I say, knowing if I say, ‘I’m fine’ she’ll go on a rant about how ‘I’m fine’ is a synonym for ‘I feel shit’ and talk until daybreak. I mean, I love her, but neither of us needs that tonight. We lie still and silent for another couple of minutes until we are tip-toeing along the edge of sleep. That’s when I feel Charlotte’s legs entwine into mine and her say, “Love you too.”

“Alice!” I wake up to Charlotte awkwardly jerking my shoulder with one hand. There’s banging on the door. The warm, sweet stupor I had been sleeping in is slipping away. “Alice! There are people at the door and want you. So get your ass out of bed and to the fucking door.” She’s swearing, but not at me – for me. She probably thinks it’s like repo men or something. She doesn’t know I live in my car. It’s the one secret I keep. But I know who it is. Did she really think last night would have no repercussions?

“It’s the police.” I sit up groggily and face her. She’s stopped shaking me now.

“Police?”

“Yeah. Or like, Domestic Services. Some shit like that. We did cause a bit of a scene.” I can tell she’s relieved I said ‘we’ instead of ‘you’, but pissed someone would come and disturb her morning. I look around. Her side of the bed was near the wall – how did she get out? And…why am I not wearing any pants?

“Um… Charlotte?” She shushes me and walks over to the door. Hang on, I need answers.

“Charlotte?” No response.

“Charlotte!” I yell. She spins around.

“What?”

“WHY AM I NOT WEARING PANTS?!” I shout… just as she opens the door to reveal two official looking people in suits. They stare at us. We stare at them.

“We’ll…come back later…” says one.

“Yeah…” says the other.

“Okay,” Charlotte and I say in unison, and Charlotte closes the door.

“Pancakes?” I ask. She nods.

 [END  CHAPTER ONE]

Blank Pages

There’s something about
the black marks
upon blank paper

Dark against light
Black against white

 The way they flow
and bend into words
telling you tales

Dark bending light
Black blending with white

 Stories of mountains
and dragons and gold
Civilizations lost

Dark marbling light
Black atop white

 Paintining the desert
drawing the rivers
shimmering upon the sword

Dark against light
Black against white

 There’s something about
the black marks
upon blank paper

Something magical
- M.F