In the beginning, I was not attracted to her at all. Quite the opposite. I don’t know if it was intentional on her part, and honestly, I’m not the sort of dick who always judges women on how hot they are, but if there’s any situation in which a person’s attractiveness matters, I think everybody would agree it’s a blind date.
The candlelight in our attic erased the imperfections from Libby’s round, heavy features: She seemed time-smoothened, a madonna of golden stone. But when she posed for me in the dress, her over-ripeness—the way she thrust out her chest, the coy glances—spoilt the illusion, corrupted it with indecent knowledge.
“There are one thousand eight hundred bolts total,” the old man said. “You’ll work every night until sunrise. Always go in order. Never skip a bolt.”
One day Lily decided to be someone else. Someone with a past. It was an affliction of hers, wanting this. The desire was seldom triggered by any actual incident or complaint but seemed instead to be related to the act or prospect of lateral movement. She felt it every time a train passed.
A loon called this morning, loud and clear in the cold hours before dawn, but it was not that which woke me from my sleep. As I opened my eyes, the bay and the beach were wrapped in heavy blackness, invisible clouds shutting out any hint of starlight above. For a moment, I lay in my lean-to, breathing heavily under the shaggy bison skin blanket.
In desperation and black hope he had selected himself for the mission, and now he was to die for his impetuosity, drowned in an amber vinegar sea too thin to swim in. This didn’t matter in any large sense; his comrades had seen him off, and would not see him return the very essence of a hero. In a moment his death wouldn’t matter even to himself. Meanwhile, he kept flailing helplessly, ashamed of his willingness to struggle.
Once, a mermaid fell in love with a prince who fell from his ship in a storm; when he had ceased to struggle, the mermaid took his face in her hands, passed her fingertips over the lids of his closed eyes, pressed her mouth against his mouth. Then she delivered him to the surface, where he was safely found.
Perhaps you’ve heard an anecdote about a child named Cresencio who was skipping barefoot between hills of corn when a shallow bowl in the field, long turbulent with mutterings, broke into pieces. Cresencio spied a tongue of smoke, like the mockings of a demon; he bent, staring into the jagged mouth that was about to spatter the nearby trees with sparks and set his childhood on fire.
My feet are scraped and bleeding, my slippers shredded and almost useless. The dress hangs in tatters around me. No longer white, it still bears the pearls along the bodice, and I hope I can keep them close and sell them in whatever town I find myself in. Provided I find a town. Provided I ever leave these woods. I have traveled for two days, surviving on puddle water and berries, hoping that the sounds I hear behind me aren’t my father, Roland, and the dogs.
You’ve heard of bottled cities, no doubt—society writ miniscule and delicate beyond reason: toothpick spired towns, streets no thicker than thread, pin-prick faces of the citizenry peering from office windows smaller than sequins. Hustle, politics, fervor, struggle, capitulation, wrapped in a crystal firmament might reclaim the land, stoppered at the top to keep reality both in and out. Those microscopic lives, striking glass at the edge of things, believed themselves gigantic, their dilemmas universal.