Ophilia

Cecilia paused. She could never remember their names. Perhaps she is never told; perhaps she is made to forget. Briefly wondering how many have come and gone, she then decides that names are ultimately inconsequential, before lamenting sotto voce, “What’s in a name…”

They are only labels. She’d been given many labels by the therapists, in their vain attempts to understand her. Sufferer of pictophilia or metrophilia or autagonistophilia or whatever ~ilia sprang into their desperate minds. It never occurred to Cecilia, though, that her concupiscence was “suffering.”

Just a harmless fetish or two, not madness. There is surely a difference. Not all ~ilias are dangerous, after all. So what, if she was drawn to artists. So what, if she was excited by the intensity of their piercing gaze, as they painted her portrait. They’d proclaim it was amore a prima vista, amidst their subtle seductions.

She felt like they bore into her soul; the only ones who could see her, see her secrets, see her desires. She supposed, none truly ever could. Although, the best of them could capture something in the portraits; in her eyes. Something thrilling, yet unfamiliar, someone deep inside whom she longed to know.

Cecilia stroked a finger across the clotting rue. She’d let them paint her, then she’d let them paint her. She was in control, the seducer; she was the power, and she was powerless.

While massaging the ruby rue between her thumb and forefinger, she turned away pococurante, wondering why Ophilia loved it so. It was one of her fetishes, she assumed. The aroma, or the texture…

Ophilia only visited after Cecilia fell asleep on nights like the last. From what she gathered, for she could never remember waking during the night, Ophilia had her own pruriences. Not the least of which, the therapists would no doubt label erotophonophilia.

It confused and frightened Cecilia, at first. She soon rationalized, however, that it was none of her business how Ophilia spent her evenings. “Come Dio comanda,” she’d think. Ophilia made her whole, so she learned to turn a blind eye to these “cries for help,” as the doctors would say.

Ophilia would also let the artist paint her, surely waking him from contented slumber in a boon to his ego, but afterwards, she’d paint with him. She, too, is an artist, it seems. Cecilia’s portraits always bore a more scarlet hue, the mornings after. Sometimes still wet, and flecked with the telltale rue.

After cleaning herself, Cecilia began to dress. She could never stay long in the mornings; it became habit to muse to herself, “Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino.” She knew Ophilia made it more challenging, but they worked so well together; feeding each other, supporting each other…

The last thing Cecilia would do before leaving, almost reverently, was remove her portrait from the easel. Kleptophilia? Is it really stealing, since Ophilia contributed to the final masterpiece? For they each were masterpieces, regardless of talent. She always kept the paintings to add to their oeuvre. A magnificent gallery of themselves.

Deep in thought after leaving the flat, while neatly rolling the canvas, Cecilia bumped into him outside the door. Upon dropping his paintbox and portfolio, he began profusely apologizing. They always apologized first. She had come to expect it, and found it endearingly opportunistic.

After gathering himself, he saw her for the first time. “E tu come ti chiami, bella?” he put suavely, suddenly envincing machismo. Cecilia smiled, taking him in, as she absentmindedly, elegantly tapped at the ends of the phallic, portrait scroll to straighten the curl.

She then coquettishly replied, “Sei un’artista?”

art: Portrait study #2 by Jeremy Mann

Flabbergasted

He stood flabbergasted in the open entryway,
darkening a threshold he never again thought he’d cross,
frantically searching the room with as yet adjusted eyes

Backlit by dusk before it drew its curtain closed,
silhouettes of deadheaded roses were strewn upon the table,
casting long, hateful shadows of short, loving memories

The censorious scissors lay haphazardly on the hardwood,
glistening with maddened haste and violent torment,
while diaphanous dust danced on the moonbeam stage above

In a room thick with all the answers to absent, burning questions,
she was the biggest question of all, missing amidst mayhem;
save her tumultuous trail of breadcrumbs escaping between his feet

art: Wondering about the shift by Jeanne Bessette

Ceremony

He hears her before he sees her, garrulously babbling from inside the drive-thru window

Poor decisions, or unfortunate circumstances, unceremoniously brought her to their employ; skills lost to anachrony – or having none to speak of – she had no choice, she has to live…

He supposes

She was macilent, nearly emaciated, with grey cropped hair, and wore thick-lensed bifocals, fastened to a flowered lanyard hugging her slender neck

As she carries on cheerfully, regaling her half-century younger, fellow employees with non sequiturs and minutiae, her utterances chase after them

They totter here and there, busily filling orders, perhaps being sped up by the words launched in their direction

Soft clicking and tapping percolate from the floor; every step, every stutter echoes with the noise; it’s not unpleasant, rather like the staccato of heels in an acoustical hallway

Curious, he nudges upward in his seat, venturing a quick glance, in hopes of discovering its source

Ears; dozens, upon dozens, hundreds of ears strewn across the tiles

Quite unconcerned with her surroundings, the prattle continues

The ears appear to span years of decay; a gradient from the hardened noise-makers to the soft, silent sliders

Hurried footfalls urge their accelerations and ricochets, fleshy pinballs batted through a grandiose machine

And it’s only then that he notices the glaze in the eyes of the juniors, and the smooth, uninterrupted skin on either side

The volume of her galimatias increases, or certainly at least, he’s now losing sight of the aural detachments

It’s come to this for her, and many like; metamorphosed into a beetle, surrounded by incomprehensible lions

She finds her contentment in the speaking, not in the being heard

Is this where it ends? A tristful journey into senectitude, forced to ignore being ignored? Filling empty space with sound where, of course, it can’t be heard? Feeling useful in a token role, just to make ends meet?

And as she turns her head, still verbally masticating, he sees that her glasses are lopsided, with nothing there to hold up the far side

The young man at the window startles him out of surreal cerebration, and clearly mouths the words “Have a nice day,” while handing over the order

He mouths a “You, too,” in return, before driving away with his coffee, heartbroken…

And earless

Pretty smiles, pretty walks

When he’s distracted – by a pretty smile
or pretty walk – when ego has distracted
id, he senses the existential moments

Moments when his evanesce into periphery
isn’t paramount; he’s inconspicuous in
a spotlight, living amongst the living

Not a shadowed pock at its center,
quaquaversally thrusting hands with
fingers of hands in fractal perpetuity

But a being like any other, with the
same chances and lack of chances,
iustitia and prudentia upon his shoulders

Then nature takes hold, quite without his
own intervention, rampaging id reminds
him who he is, what he is, how he is

Reminds him that pretty smiles seek
out pretty smiles and pretty walks travel
in vastly different circles

So his eyes fall upon his path, his heart falls
out of favor, his walk leads him tangentially,
and his id bears the only smile

He’ll exist in this life out of focus, and
remain off-center of attention, before he
finally disappears in a blur

art: Verklärte Nacht by Antonio Palmerini

Welcome mat

Her serrated scissor smile bares auriferous caps and barely concealed rubies on artificially plump lips, as she pours pyrite pleasantries over late night, lamplit sidewalks and creeping, drive-by lechery

She’s made threats of paper dolls to ensnare desperate secret keepers into paying for secrets and keeping nothing else, and spit out flurries of giant snowflakes for those who can only afford to supplement her habits

Morpho menelaus perch above her unscrupulous, squinting eyes, as she chain smokes with clinquant claws buried beneath the peeling paint of baroque gaud; buried within the backhands and promised lands of they who force feed her

Dressing half her age, and getting half the pay, from men that project more hate than she can reflect; she’s stuck in her own honey trap, stirring in the bitterness through the cyclic repetition of septic recompense

Sometimes when the night is still, she’ll lie in bed listening to her chest echo the steady, stalwart footfalls of approaching Death, and she wonders when he’ll grace the welcome mat she’s placed before her door

Nun the wiser

nun

She expected the spider’s web to shimmer, having felt the draft an instant before. Nothing more than a peripheral afterthought, as she prepares her Rosary, in the heat of mid-afternoon. As she prepares to pray for him.

Her cell is modestly decorated in passing time and empty space. A single bed, made each morning with military precision, lies unkempt. Small depressions mark the eternities spent kneeling at her thirdhand prie-dieu.

Dust glistens in the light filtering through the open window. A mesmerizing breeze ushers in visitors destined for the spider’s web, in natural brutality. The room is otherwise closed, like the minds that came before. A requirement of its occupancy.

Staring out to the ancient oak, upon which sits an empty nest, she contemplates the wretched twisting of leaf and twig, where once were babies cradled. Its time has surely past; probably will chance never again to bear the young. Can that be true?

She feels the wooden beads between her lithe fingers, and wonders how many decades have past between them. How can this simple chain hold all of the mysteries, when it leaves only space for twenty?

Each tear in her fractious faith, each breath in her silent servitude, each heartbeat in her doubtful dedication, she counts. Numbers much greater than twenty, and mysteries all. Another tear falls, landing on the crucifix.

Rust has stained her hand red, as the peccant years passed with these vacillations. She looks down as her thumb runs over the engraved, nearly worn smooth, Made In China on the back. Not joyous, or sorrowful, or glorious, or luminous; it’s just a mystery.

A rap at her cell door lifts her out of reverie. It creaks open and the new Father greets her with a trepidatious smile. She returns it. Answers only ever come when the mind wanders freely, when not chained by the chain.

She diverts his attention to the bird’s nest outside. Extols its beauty and ultimate sadness, while moving toward the door. She prayed, and he came. The sound of the lock prompts the Father to turn inquisitively.

He stammers as she slides off her habit, letting her raven hair fall over her shoulders. She raises a red-handed finger to her lips and begins to disrobe. He backs away, but he’s young, impressionable. She places a hand on his chest, his heart is galloping…

And a rap at the door startles her from the unexpected slumber. Freedom is not a sin, sin is simply a choice of freedom. She dries her eyes before welcoming entry. Then the door creaks open, and she smiles as the new Father crosses her threshold.

Is another man’s treasure

Slip through the night he must, challenging the darkness in corner and alleyway, twixt apothecary and bakery, ‘tween hovel and cesspit.

I must embrace the space where shadows lurk, if I’m to quest successfully this night.

…he whispers to himself, knowing his treasure is nigh.

He pauses to hearken for a rumble of the dragon overhead; the beast has been here recently, the air is befouled by its mephitic stench, so he mustn’t tarry long.

It’s a still eve, music and melodist can be heard from yonder alehouse, the varlets and ruffians who frequent the place are almost as dangerous as the dragon, when toped with a bumper of mead.

Go with caution, lest ye suffer the recompense of a misfortunate existence…

But ere he continued, forsooth, ere his next breath, he espied a patrol approaching. He cowers, willing himself into a common rat. They shone their torches thither he hid, but appear not to espy him, or not to care enough to stop.

He makes haste across the final leg of his journey, whitherward his fortune lay in wait, passing the strumpets enticing bucks, chapmen begging for doit, and cutpurses absconding with their take.

Nary feet from his prize, he freezes in terror…

A steed approacheth! That can only mean a knight is on the march, he would surely run me through! Mayhaps he seeks the same treasure as I!

He panics and begins to dig frantically through the rubble and refuse, and is elated to quickly come upon that which he seeks.

A tocsin briefly split the silence, as red and blue fulgurations swirl around him, whence the guard approacheth…

You ok, buddy? You must be freezing…

It matters not, he thinks. In his hand, he beheld the impetus of his quest. A fist-sized ruby, barely brown on one edge, but uncorrupt. Sweetly fragrant and nearly whole.

Dispatch, we have a 10-73, at the corner of 10th and Broadway, under the el; seems harmless enough, but his faculties are definitely impaired; probably lives in one of these nearby alleys, by the looks of him…

His wild hair and beard whipped with the frigid, gusting wind; while his emaciated frame struggled to cleave to the rags on his back. Esurient, he lifted the browning, half-eaten apple to his lips…

…and 10-85, dispatch. How about we leave the sirens off, I have no desire to spook him again.

We’ll get you out of here, pal. Just hang in there; we’ll get you someplace warm.

He was unconcerned by the train rumbling overhead, pulling with it noxious fumes from the street. A blanket was laid across his shoulders to shield the winter chill, as he licked his bony fingers. Not even his core remained. This night he dined like a King.

art: by Lee Jeffries