The Fifth of September

The people of Stoke-on-Trent never figured out what happened to Lucius Felix on that day.

Most of the townsfolk were aware that he was cheating on his wife with some homeless girl who had just wandered into town a few months ago. Most of the same townsfolk were aware that Lucius had abused her, but they didn’t do anything about it – she didn’t seem to mind. She rarely came outside, but when she did she was happy and bought a lot of food. Then she’d return to her hotel room.

Most of these townsfolk weren’t too surprised that the whole thing ended badly, but they were surprised that it was Lucius who turned up dead and not the homeless girl. What was even more surprising however was the condition of the room.

Water was everywhere. Literally. The room was made out of wood, and the whole place was soaked. Lucius’ body was slumped in one corner, his head rolled back, food crammed deep into his throat. His clothes littered the floor, and they were all soaked. His body stank of moldy death and it was clear that this whole room had been rotting for some time.

Most of the townsfolk figured the homeless girl had poisoned him and tried to make it look like an accident. Perhaps when she realized the stupidity of her task, she fled.

Most of the townsfolk couldn’t explain the vast amounts of water, though. Most of them didn’t want to.

27

On the weekends, they often went on walks through the forests, exploring the wilderness and surrounding areas. Beatrice would become fascinated with the trees, because they weren’t trees at all, they were rivers; short, vertical rivers, and she would swim in them sometimes. The water was sparkling and clear; bubbles would float up from her mouth as a grin spreads across her face.

She spins around in the crystal water, looking up at Felix. He is sitting outside the water, on some rocks, and his body is glistening. She watches him dry off, and she finds herself getting warm as she watches his muscles twist and flex. She flips back over and descends deeper into the river, oohing and aahing over shiny rocks embedded in the soil. She reaches out and grabs a fistful of them.

They melt in her hand. They turn to white sludge. She wrinkles her brow and then something grabs her by the neck from behind, shaking her like a cheap doll. The water slides away and she is suspended in space, held up by this massive hand. Twisting, shouting, wriggling, screaming, she tries to see what is holding her but she cannot. All she can hear is uproarious laughter. Below her, the river bed is completely dry; fish lie dead, staring at her. The rocks and the sand have all melted, and slowly they form a new river. This new river is darker than the last one. The water is not sparkling and clear.

She is thrust into this new river, held under its dark waters, and she gives up fighting, she surrenders. When she goes limp, she is held for one more second and then let go, the water picking her up and rushing her along to wherever it is she is supposed to be. Assuming, of course, that she is supposed to be anywhere.

34

Felix came home from work a little before 6pm. He would put his jacket up, his briefcase down, and slump into his favorite chair (a green loveseat, sunken from too many years of love) while flicking the telly on, waiting for the martini that Beatrice always brought him. When she did bring it, he would smile at her gratefully and she would smile back, kissing his cheek wetly. Sometimes, in his youthful vigor, this kiss would stimulate him, and he would take her into the kitchen and have her, right in the middle of making dinner. She loved it.

They would eat dinner. He would describe his day. The endless government bureaucracy of such a small town fascinated her; she couldn’t believe the tangled web he had to navigate every day. He found her childish curiosity both alluring and empowering. Here was someone who found his banal existence unfathomable and exotic. So they kept each other company, each complimented by the other’s appreciation.

Of course, while Beatrice enjoyed dinner and the conversation (and the occasional shag), she adored sleeping with him. Sometimes they would make love again, but every night he would wrap his strong arms around her, pull her against him, kiss her neck softly, and fall asleep. Feeling his strength, smelling his breath, being enveloped by his warmth — all these things convinced her that the world was right, life was good, and she would do anything for this man.

He would wake up quietly and head to work; she would sleep in, often spending the late morning still in a trance from his presence. Then she’d go do errands, come home, and prepare dinner. She would think about him. How could she please him tonight? She relished the long sessions of brainstorming.

Life was good. Life is great. Life will be fucking amazing. Yes!

The Hundred Days

Beatrice woke up, unsure of what to do. Felix’s body lay rotting in the corner, and she found herself stifling her gag reflex, and then getting mad at herself. This hadn’t been a person, had it? He had been a machine, using her, robbing her of her own humanity. He had fed on her. Still, she went over to him, and picked up his bloody body, moving it to the one chair in the room.

Then she sat at the edge of the bed, and stared at him. She adjusted his hands. She pushed his head backwards, but it just rolled against his back, like a sack of quarters.

Taking money from his pockets, she went shopping for food, and brought it back. She made two sandwiches, and placed one on his lap, like an offering to a god of old. After eating her sandwich, she sighed. He wasn’t going to eat his, was he. She let it stay there, and napped. When she woke up, she took his sandwich and ate it.

This routine went on for weeks. Over time, she cleaned off the blood, and dressed him up in various clothes. She would talk to him, about anything at all. The little boys (Ethan and Ben) that she had run into at the market. A new building was going up on the west part of town, and many were upset (the architecture was a more modern style, from some eastern continent that she had never heard of). She would walk around town, shop, eat, and then talk to Felix.

One especially cold night, she woke up and, saying nothing to anyone at all, took his motionless body, laid it down in the bed, and then pressed her back into his still chest. She fell asleep like that, cradled in his dead arms.

The Evening of the Betrothal

So when he was with her, she was nothing but happy, and when he was gone she slowly went crazy. She lost sleep and grey circles began to frame her eyes (they got bigger and bigger and that was slowly driving her crazy too). It was as if she was losing control of her own life: they had been at a carnival together, oohing and aahing at the fireworks, but suddenly her life was running in front of her and it was becoming hard to see it, obscured by all the people and the darkness and God she couldn’t keep running after it and here she is falling to her knees in defeat, her life has left for good, forever out of her supervision.

When she would kiss him, her thoughts became more preoccupied with the 23 hours of insanity that would follow. After making love, he would lay in her bed, half asleep, and she would brush his hair to the side with a shaking hand.

She couldn’t do this anymore. She had to leave. Beatrice rolled over in the bed, away from his body; he looked over at her with narrowed eyes before resting again. He would leave and not come back for four more days. When he finally returned, he barely recognized her. Perhaps the most disorienting facet of her appearance was the raging fury behind her eyes. Suddenly Felix was afraid.

As he should have been. She swifly kneed him in the tenderest of spots and dragged him into the apartment by his head. Slamming the door shut, she spun around and looked upon him, radiating vengeance. Beating him unconscious, she cut his throat with a steady hand. The anger had drained from her eyes and was replaced by tranquility.

Throwing his body out the door, she thought for a minute before killing the lights and falling fast asleep.

The Marriage-Feast

The creak of the floorboards became music to her ears. Muffled birds would chirp like jazz trumpets off in the distance. The turn of the doorknob, that rich and vibrant pitch, squawked once a day, signaling the return of Felix. Her eyes would widen with expectations, and he would stride in, flicking his jacket to the side, placing a small basket of food down to the right of the door, and then he would grab her and show her just how much he loved her.

The first time he had shown her, let’s not split hairs, she was scared. Soon she came to understand that this was how men showed their appreciation for women, and she felt very fortunate that he loved her as much as he did. He showed her every day, and she came to rely on it. She probably lived for it, twiddling her thumbs all day, combing her hair, eating the fruit he had brought the day before, waiting for him, waiting for his love.

As his footsteps faded down the wooden steps outside the flat, the saddest part of the day would overwhelm Beatrice. For a time, she would simply sit and imagine him here, holding her, and that would be enough. Soon she found this was not enough, and that idea worried her. Was she becoming ungrateful of his love? Oh, if he ever found out that thinking of him was (horrors) boring her, he might stop loving her, he might leave her here for weeks on end without his touch.

So she redoubled her efforts. She thought only of him. When she found her mind wandering, she chastised herself. She would think of food, of the sun, of Father Tötges, of her long lost homeland. Then she would scream at herself: this kind of thoughts would get her in trouble.

Ever Quite as Clear IV

She woke up dry; the sun had lovingly wrung her clothes of the fierce downpour from last night. Mud was caked onto her side. She stared at it with sunken eyes, and then slapped at it, breaking it apart, abandoning it to gravity and the ground from whence it came. Clawing up the side of the embankment, she stumbled back into the town.

Stoke-on-Trent was a quiet port town; the sailors never got too rowdy, the mayor pleased most of the people most of the time, and everyone seemed content to live their lives out here. So when raggedy-old Beatrice dragged her feet through their main street, a few people looked her way. Oblivious or uncaring about their stares, she continued until she reached the fountain in the city square, where she let herself sit, and drink of the cool water.

While she was washing her face, a tall, imposing figure blocked out the sun, his huge shadow covering her as a proud oak tree would. He introduced himself as Lucius Felix, and extended his paw of a hand toward Beatrice. This olive branch seemed as though from God, and she took his hand quickly, without thought. Once he had her, he lead her in great haste to a single room apartment on the south side of the town, near the ships, away from the square.

He put her up here, caressing her cheek, calling her a beautiful sunset. She must not leave this place, he said, for she was a stranger and might be thrown out. But he would bring her food and other goods. Oh yes. He would bring her things.