The music began.
Elaborate columns soared and capricious breezes, cooled from fountains in the courtyard, flirted with diaphanous hangings. Brass descending, the Sultan entered.
The tempo slowed, sweetened, and in the doorway of the palace in his mind, she appeared. Flute and clarinet gave her form and flesh. Silver chains, at wrist and ankle, chimed as she crossed the polished stone floor. Drawn out to unbearable longing, the notes rose, bowing and pirouetting, swelling with passion.
They came from her — a lush and invitational waltz — filling every cell, pounding in his blood. Heat in growing tumescence flushed through his body. She was not real. He knew that. Yet…far away, through the honeyed low notes of the cello, he heard her voice.
A whisper behind her storytelling…a breath against his soul…
I am here…
He lifted his arms, eyes closed, and his fingers blurred as he caught the notes floating in the air, sculpting them to the vision behind his eyes.
If he could only find the one, true interpretation…the exact vision of the composer…could he? Might he? Bring her here — ?
Behind him, the door shook in its frame.
“Francis! Open the God-damned door!”
Eyes squeezed shut, he bids his ears close. Horns and percussion clashed, a storm at sea —
“FRANCIS!” The pounding of the door ceased with a sharp, dissonant crack. “God-damn you, Francis, I bin hollering and beating that God-damned door for the last fifteen minutes.”
The voice was splintered and strident: the pitch, the timbre, the hideous, grating drawl — it crawled through his brain, tearing him apart.
“Open yer eyes, ya God-damned moron!”
Melody shattered, notes fled, his temptress dissolved. His lids snapped open.
“I-I-I told y-you n-n-n-not to interrupt m-m-me!”
The old woman sniffed in contempt, wiping her nose on a filthy sleeve. Rheumy eyes, the color of weak tea, blinked at him slowly, like a reptile’s. She leaned closer. “The hell anyone cares what you say, retard?”
Her reek swallowed him, an odor of over-boiled vegetables, ash and bleach. His testicles drew up as his erection withered. The tendons in his neck creaked as he turned his head away.
“High-Miss-Madam from the hospital is here again.”
Memory brought a phrase: a clash of cymbals, strings and woodwinds in harsh and cacophonous disaccord.
“N-n-no — I c-c-can’t — ” He shuffled backwards, jerking as he ran into the music stand and sent it clattering to the floor.
“You c-c-c-an! I ain’t dealing with her.” She scuttled across the bare boards, a monstrous, loathsome insect. Her hand flicked out, finger and thumb fastened around his ear. “Come on.”
“M-m-mother — d-d-d-d-” He stooped beneath her grip, head twisted over. Not his ears, not those…
“Don’t you d-d-d-d me! Get up there!” She leaned close and shouted, spraying his cheek with spittle.
He was four years old again, shivering in the dark, arms covering his head as the door opened.
Dingy and cluttered, dust lay thick over furniture and piles of old newspapers and magazines, the light from the grime-covered window barely illuminating the parlor. The woman stood in the center, arms drawn close to her body, as if afraid of what she might catch if she touched anything. Dressed in a solid brown suit, her wide shoulders, jutting chest and bullish neck strained the material into shiny, horizontal creases. A tiny head, crowned by a thicket of tight curls held in unnatural rigidity, is perched on the thick neck. A child’s disturbing sculpture.
“Mr. Morgan, we need to discuss your situation.”
Her voice boomed, basso profundo, shaking the lamp fitting in the ceiling and stirring dust that hadn’t moved for years.
Tell her whatever she wants to know…
A voice — her voice! — whispered in his mind, sweetly intoxicating. His eyelids fluttered. Her voice, under his, guides his words.
“H-how can I help you, Ms. Stone?”
“You haven’t kept an appointment in six weeks, Mr. Morgan,” Ms. Stone said, her volume just short of a bellow. “It won’t do. I can’t keep approving your payments if you don’t show up.”
The prince would not stand for this behavior from a peasant. He looked around, spying the heavy poker leaning by the fireplace…
Francis looked around. By the mantle, the wrought-iron poker appeared to shine. He walked to it.
“Mr. Morgan? Are you even listening to — ”
In his hand, the poker became a magic sword, heavy, balanced, thirsting for blood…
Francis picked up the poker by the handle, the elaborate basketwork curling around his wrist and snaking up his arm. It bit into his flesh and he repressed a cry.
With a single motion, he turned and struck…
The swing was smooth and quick. The impact traveled from fingers to elbow, oscillating in his bones.
The tiny head was much smaller now.
“Aaaaaah! What’ve ya done, ya God-damned idiot?”
He turned. His mother stood in the doorway, staring at the body.
No one questioned the prince…
A single long stride took him to the doorway, the sticky end of the poker ahead of him. It punched through the filthy, flowered dress. His mother’s eyes opened so widely he wondered if her eyeballs would drop from their sockets. Her mouth opened. Rotten teeth and a greenish-gray tongue protruding. His knuckles brushed the fabric of the dress.
“I t-told you I couldn’t be i-interrupted,” he told her, lowering his arm.
She slid off the bar, the dress blooming scarlet as she hit the floor.
And now, my darling…
He dropped the poker and walked back to his room. In his mind, the orchestra was warming up, the disparate instruments in curious harmony.
He closed the door. Righted the stand. Closed his eyes and lifted his arms.
Swelling and building, the symphony’s portentous opening theme yielded to the single violin and she formed in the darkness behind his eyelids.
I am here…
The violin implored, an unbearable plea.
You are mine.
Fingertips caressed his brow, slipping down temple and cheekbone, brushing over his lips.
He opened his eyes, the music lifting him, transporting him, she was so vividly wrapped within it…her breath on his mouth, her heat touching his skin…here…real…his…
He didn’t make a sound as she swallowed him.
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