Notorious

Hers was a notorious disease, crippling. The lamb’s slaughter for most, the lion’s share for those whose madness was brought to bear; until they too were brought to slaughter. An existential blemish, she found nary equipoise nor heartsease in her quotidian quiescence.

An only child sans a brother’s stillbirth, whom she always supposed was the more sagacious; privvy to ominous knowledge that escaped her – about the world or big sister, she was keen to know. His brief presence, inhered in her an avant-garde avarice to quell this question.

Left pacing outside the cages, the lioness concluded that the best source for the answer she sought, must be those who have yet embraced that fate. Fortunately, she found accomplices in her patients, who supported the quest, albeit unknowingly.

She trusted her intuition after their office visits, a sense for which little ones were conflicted. They number six now, those she’s asked, after the mothers were lured to her clean room. It was the only way to question their unborns.

Often the last word she’d hear was “why,” which was a gratifying confirmation of her purpose. They, too, wanted to know in their final breath. Why their baby? Well, why hers… Or was it brother? It was confusing, her mutinous muddlement.

The gorging predator rarely thinks clearly beyond the carcass, unsatisfying though it may be. She’d found no answers yet to assuage her torment. So she’ll rouge her skin instinctually, on the hunt for her share of the truth, until to her slaughter she’s drawn.

art: The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches by Henry Fuseli

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

The gambler

Gimme your damn wallet

Said the middle-aged pyknic, in a slow and deep cadence. A clearly edacious black man, with an air of dumbfounded innocence. His pinguid complexion bled rancid stains beneath rolls and rotund. While a mayfly’s attention echoed in his cleanly shaven dome.

Gimme your damn wallet

A macilent, black youth wearing a white, tank-top and a minacious gaze. The gold-toothed bruxist, seethed the words with venomous bravado. He was a sheep in wolf’s clothing, surrendering to a survival instinct that perhaps worked better in darkness, than a well lit room.

Gimme your damn wallet

The hoary, flocculent patches of his otherwise dark hair, betrayed his age; as much as the tired wisdom reflected in his watery, bloodshot eyes. His measured, nonchalant delivery, showed he’d been here before; he knew the routine. A gelid, gliding stream hidden within a sinewy, ebony derma.

Gimme your damn wallet

An obviously hispanic accent, flourished each syllable with susurrus threats. He had coriaceous skin, covered in a black, hirsute down almost as thick as the monochrome tattoos constellated across his aggressive frame. His bandoline hair, was pulled back into a ponytail that hung away from his heavily inked neck, as his jaw protruded forward in defiance.

Gimme your damn wallet

Chittered the glaucope, in a rapid, pauseless utterance. His cyanic eyes darted vagariously around the room, from above rubicund, haughty cheeks. Nervous, but in an unperturbed way. Like a confident gambler betting on a sure thing, but harboring a morsel of realistic doubt. An anxious excitement anticipating a favourable outcome.

Do any of these voices sound like the man who killed your wife? asked the detective standing to his right in front of the 2-way, almost guarding the token white.

The old man wonders if they are aware of this gradience of guilt. Is this layered lineup learned after years in law enforcement, or is it bred into them at the academy? It could simply be a coincidence. Or it could be a bad seed.

He knew he was wasting time, but they all sounded the same to him. He didn’t see the perpetrator, and only heard – or only remembered hearing – that phrase.

Gimme your damn wallet

He deeply wanted justice, but would justice return his wife? His breathing had become operose. The detective looked at him with impatience, but otherwise little concern.

The old man didn’t know who it was, but the police surely must. This was just a formality, right? Everyone here is guilty of something. Did it really matter? He just wanted this to be over, so he could grieve.

Finally, he concluded that he had no choice but to gamble, too. So with a tearful gesture, and his voice caught in a viscous, bubbling tar, he noncommittally waved his trembling hand leftward, and muttered

It was him.