Bedtime

Well, here’s a nice turn of things. The bed’s gold and silver and ivory, the coverlets are glass. They may as well be ice. This wasn’t my idea: beds should be welcoming. There’s a piece of flax under my nail, a piece of apple in my mouth, a poisoned comb in my hair; the spindle lies next to the bed, bloodied. I am very beautiful, but this is not sleep, and I hate to think what I’ll dream about.

I am not safe in this bed. The briar hedge, the crystal coffin, the locked room, won’t protect me. I can feel the eyes out there. My lord will dig down through the fairy hill and demand my silent body. My prince will come. The falcon will find me, the old women betray me at every turn.  The stranger will bed me, kiss me, carry me away, lie with me for forty days and nights. Insensible, I’ll bear him children. This is not sleep. You can keep it.

How’s this? I will consent to wake up when the prince has wrapped himself in seven winding sheets and sleeps in his grave in the garden. When he bites the apple. See how he likes the spindle. It’s a test. Princes should be tested.

But I’m only pretending. While he lies here, pale and silent, I’ll be elsewhere, safe as nut-meat in a softer bed. Cotton sheets and a fire in the grate, or maybe tender grass and the moon through trees. Alone. Unwatched. Sleeping.

Holy

Every kid has a favourite bedtime story.  The story they want to hear over and over.  My bedtime story was the best and my mother was the best at telling it.  It started with a man, a man full of faith.  This man was so full of faith that he believed it was his destiny, no, his purpose to rid the world of all evil.  He had been ordained by his god to do this.  And he believed he would be victorious.

Every night he would set out to rid the world of the evils that festered in the dark corners and seeped into forgotten thoughts.  He would go forth with his cross, his holy water, his book and his utter conviction that he was right – his true belief.  The story went on to tell of the horror that he came across, the fallen and the unmentionable.

My brothers and I would sit, begging for more as the sun started to rise.  Once more before we go to bed, oh, please.  Once more so our day dreams were filled with our heroics – we would vanquish this man, his faith would fall before us and our might.  We were children in shadows but in our dreams, we were heroes.  Hail the victorious Undead.

The right thing

Alisha watches her future husband through a gap in the curtains. “What a brute”, she whispers. His muscles coil like knots, his face locked in a permanent snarl. “He is the one, my sparrow”, says Nanna Tersia gently.

[He radiates an animal grace that’s irresistible. No wonder the clans follow him, birds drawn to the sun.]

Her parents offer salt and bread, as is the custom. Her suitor gulps and chews. Alisha, in the shadows, watches with sickened fascination.

[He shares their offerings, honouring their house. Alisha watches, enthralled, entranced, enchanted.]

“It was a miraculous thing, child, to negotiate this. Our people could not hope for a better union.” Alisha agrees, understanding the politics completely. If only she was braver. She reaches for the vial.

“This is serious magic”,  Mama Tersia warns her. “You will both be undone. Do you understand?” But the thought of his monstrous arms embracing her, his foul breath on hers, his bulk on her small body, shakes her to the bone. She’s not strong enough.

She lets a drop of the potion fall into each goblet, sealing their fates.

[She thinks of the clans united, the dream of a golden age. She imagines touching, caressing, loving him. Being his.]

She emerges, carrying the wine. “This her?” His cold eyes judge her, dismissive. “Let’s hope you bear sons.”

[Their eyes meet and lock, finding each other for the first time, completing and consuming one another in a burning moment of realisation.]

He raises the tainted wine. They drink. The love potion takes effect, and they are both unmade, [remade, for each other, in all the past and all the future, for ever after. ]

The Celebration of Sure Thing

From the street the Jenkins estate seems as quiet as usual. A uniformed groundsman, clippers in hand, tends to the hedges. The quietness is interrupted only by the snapping of his clippers and the soft song of birds in the trees. It is difficult to say what the groundsman is thinking of — perhaps of rich people and the seclusion they make for themselves.

Inside, along the wainscotted passages, a brief peal of laughter rings out, and, as sudden and brief as a flight of birds, the clinking of champagne flutes. This comes from the Main Dining Room, where most of the household stands around the old oak table, toasting life, the family’s thoroughbred, and Craig, their jockey. Craig leans over to Mary Jenkins and whispers something in her ear; she touches his arm and laughs again. In two months they will marry, with smiles just as large and white as now. In three years they will have divorced, but they’ll still dream of this day from time to time.

Across the estate’s paddock, beneath a looming acacia, are the stables. Sure Thing rests in her stall, but isn’t offered any celebration for her win. She chews from a bag of oats, mostly ignoring the boy Timmy Lagrange who shines her bay coat with a body brush. Timmy also doesn’t celebrate; I like to think that he’s imagining being old enough to race, perhaps on a horse as fine as Sure Thing. But maybe he’s only thinking of home, warm food, and a bed to rest in.

Bet

Thomas took another hesitant step towards the counter. He scratched at the back of his hand and the chip underneath. It contained his last twenty thousand credits. But he had a tip: Pretty Face, three o’clock, track fourteen.
He glanced across at the cages again. The next six runners were wallowing around in filth, oozing and bleeding. Third from the left was Pretty Face. Poor bastard, he thought, turning away.
Taking a deep breath, he took the final steps to the counter and placed his bet. He felt a pang of guilt, betting on this man as though he were a dog or a horse, but the chance to eat more than just mouldy bread and sap was too good to pass up.
He walked around to the viewing stand and used his bony shoulders and elbows to needle his way through the crowd to the grate at the front. He got there as the klaxon sounded and the electric fence began its loop around the track, spurring the racers out of the starting block. Thomas gripped the fence so tightly that his fingers had turned white by the time Pretty Face had lurched across the finish line in first place. As a mark of respect, and thanks, he watched as the fence finished its circuit and reduced the runners to smears on the cracked tarmac. He scuttled back to the counter with a slight smile on his face, clutching his hand to his chest, eager to collect his winnings.

White Ships

He has flung out of the house in rage again, a tall man striding furiously through the sunset quiet of the streets. His anger marks him in the scant crowds of evening, and our calm-moving people glance at him and move aside, perturbed but respectful. It is the old argument: the white ships, the legendary promise. In his mind the pale sails will crest the horizon on any tomorrow, a thing close and real, as inevitable as cream into butter, as the sprouting of the corn.

The clack of my loom is stilled as I watch his going, troubled. I have grown up on the same tales: the white ships, the travellers more like angels, their wisdom and power. Down the hill, the bronze ship statue gleams between the pale buildings, shaded by trees. I look to the tales for a vision of possibilities, but to him and others like him it is more: a reality, a promise, an inevitability which makes our shared life hollow, no more than marking time. We have lost each other because I betray his faith. He will return through the quiet night streets, to kiss my cheek, and eat, and take up his life, but he will not forgive.

Even if the ships confound me by some day cresting the rim of the world, white sails spread in the sun, who is to say their occupants will be wise rather than bloody? I do not think the white ships will save us. I do not think we need saving. I hope they do not come.

Sunrise

Sunrise

It used to be a sure thing.  Sunrise.  Golden rays creeping over the ground, lighting the world.  Not that the sun doesn’t light the world now.  I’m just not there to see it.  I see the sun, alright – you can’t miss it in space.  Actually, you can’t miss them – they are everywhere.  And nowhere.  Speed of light?  Fast.  There are no windows other than the bridge.  What is the point of a window when you are moving too fast to see anything.

Out here you live by sure things.  They keep you sane, they keep you safe and they keep you alive.  To be sane – it is a sure thing that your contract will end and you can return to Earth.  Safe? Don’t accept things from strangers – there are many strangers in the long dark.  And alive – you will die in space, there is no air.  Soon, my sunrise.

Sunrise

I am waiting for his return – my one sure thing.  My days are long and alone without him.  I have no strength for the day and the sun seems to blind me.  I know he sees many suns out there but here is his sunrise.  Together we will watch the sunrise, huddled in the chill purple air.  First, light will hit us and then the warmth will seep into us.  Giving us strength for the day.  My days will be short and I will be happy.  Soon, his sunrise.

Dear John

Dear John,

I want you to know that I still care for you. But when you are not here, I sit with Rose and feel more deeply comfortable than I ever do with you. She never belittles or disappoints me. She often comforts and delights me. She has remained with me for years, no matter how badly I treat her; a sure thing in my life.

In a way, I envy her stamina, because I can’t do the same with you. I need someone who will provide a safe place for me when I am down and share my happiness when I am up. Someone I can look forward to and rely on. Rose and I silently have coffee together every morning and it is a peaceful and energising start to the day. When last did you and I share such a moment? At the end of a difficult day, I know that just sitting with her for a few minutes will make me feel better. When last did you restore me? I used to be so eager to see you, so that I could tell you my news, and now I would rather tell her. I need a sure thing, and you are not it.

I know this must bewilder you, that I’m dropping you for Rose. But she is a symptom of the problem, not its cause. The point is that I have more of a relationship with her than with you, and she is a plant.

Goodbye.

The Sure Thing

Jonny told me it was a sure thing, the perfect crime. It was easy to convince me to use my real identity: there were 26 temporary staff at the party that night and the cops had no reason to suspect me; a fake identity would eventually be discovered and investigated.

Jonny was well informed and his plan clever. As the fireworks reached a crescendo, balloons showered from the ceiling and bounced from the laughing guests. The heiress, drunk and excited, never even looked up as I snipped the gold chain and smoothly pulled the necklace away. After that it was easy; I slipped it in into a half-full gravy boat and casually carried it to the kitchen. All the cameras in the kitchen recorded was me disposing of some waste food.

Security questioned everyone that night but paid no special attention to me. I waited around to see the garbage out and then drove to the quarry to wait for Jonny.

It was almost dawn when I heard the police. Jonny must have been caught rooting in the trash and given me up. I was livid; cursing his name when they cuffed me.

The one cop seemed kind enough: “Don’t know about your Jonny son; we’re here on a tip – anonymous old lady phoned us, said she saw you out here prying some diamonds from a necklace.”

They found 2 diamonds taped to the inside of the rear bumper when they searched my car.

After I gave my statement, that same cop pulls me aside, “Listen son, you seem a good enough chap, but you stole a million dollar necklace; someone has to pay. Help yourself, give up this accomplice fiction and tell us where you hid the necklace.”

Jonny was right: it was a sure thing, the perfect crime.