The Rosemary Bride

by Matt H

She tugs at the hem of her skirt and fiddles with her corset, and casts aside all the other problems to wish, just for a minute, that she’d found a job that let you wear more clothes.

The wind is just slightly too sharp for comfort, and it’s started to drizzle. She cosies up to the corner of the building behind her, and silently curses the sky. The rain starts to bring out an odour of vegetables and excrement, but she doesn’t particularly notice. It always smells like that around here.

In his chambers, the man who (for today) calls himself John Coates is suffering a fit of melancholy. Tomorrow he will be going out on a job, in fact a Job. He is going into dangerous lands with people he intensely dislikes to kill a man whose name is mentioned in proverbs about dangerous people. It is also the most important thing he has ever done in his life. Nevertheless, there will be a price, and he does not relish that price, that discarding of old and valued connections. He sighs. Maybe for a moment, he wishes that he not spent quite so much time in theft and betrayal. But only for a moment.

Abruptly, his mood is broken. A quiet wooden noise comes from the back bedroom, accompanied by a faint, stifled grunt of feminine distress. He realises that the time has come. He checks the dress hanging on the wall, brushes some imaginary dust from it. He is reasonably sure it is a good one. He snatches the purse of hexa from the sideboard and sweeps from the room, slamming the door behind him, out into the city.

She admits to herself just how bored she really is. Because she’s so new, she’s had to come to this corner, and it’s not exactly in the right area, although it is on the edge of it. There isn’t much passing trade, especially this early in the evening. Or at least the people that do pass aren’t trade, and she isn’t keen on the looks she gets. Also because she’s new, the spot she’s picked is bad for another reason. It’s too far from the other girls, too far from her inattentive pimp, too far from people in general, in fact. She is too close to Being On Her Own. But she doesn’t know that yet. She glares at the drizzle and prays to the Lady she gets one that washes, or has manners, or shows some extravagant financial appreciation. For once.

John walks through this near deserted district and nods approvingly at the dirt and the rotting buildings and the tarnished armour of the patrols. He loves these streets. Of course, he loves all the parts of this squalid hypocritical city, especially when he’s in the right mood, and now he’s soaring on the wings of anticipation. But this is where he lived when he first moved here, years ago. It’s a part of him, a real sentimental attachment. Also it’s the best place to find the kind of person he’s looking for. He rounds a corner and sees a perfect example, obviously bored out of her mind, cold in her ill-fitting clothes, and at the moment quite alone.

Fear rips through her mind like a bolt, her body screams huntedhuntedhuntedhuntedhunted… and then she realises it’s just a prospective client. A well-dressed young man is walking across the road, smiling. She smears a smile across her own face and tries to look seductive.

He looks kind of like a weasel, she thinks; some predator. Must learn to be less jumpy.

“Hi! You know, I’ve got a job you’d be just perfect for.”

“That right, mister? Well, maybe I’ve got a job you’d be right for, an’ all. Right urgent it is, too. So show us yer money, and we can go talk jobs.” She jerks her head towards a nearby alley. He glances in that direction with faked interest and produces some coins from within his cloak.

“Oh. Right. But you can’t really do the job here, you see. We’d have to go back to my place.”

She looks askance at him, suspicions aroused. This was one of those dangerous situations you heard about. There were stories the girls told. On the other hand, he’s smiling a bland and innocent smile, and occasionally taking long looks into her cleavage with a simple pleasure.

“It is rather chilly,” he points out, touching a nerve with the barely-clad girl who has been out for an hour already. Her expression softens somewhat, but her posture remains defensive. He sighs, and reaches into his cloak, producing rather more coins. She glances around. She should at least ask her pimp, but it would take ages to find that bum, and by that time this client and his shiny hexa would likely be taking another girl home.

“All right then,” she says, “but no funny stuff, right? No groups. No…,” she digs into her limited experience and the girls’ collective stock of stories “…agricultural livestock, right?” He nods solemnly.

“You have my word.” She finds herself trusting him. Then, because she is new and because there’s no-one there to warn her, she goes home with him. He lends her his cloak to walk in, and she tries not to feel pleased.

His home turns out to be a few almost-posh rooms above an upper class tavern. They go in via a back staircase. He hands her to a seat, pours her a cup of rough red wine from a pitcher, leaves the money on the table while he takes his boots off. The third thing she notices is that this is something of a bachelor residence; a bit messy, very plain. The second is the ornate hourglass, currently exhausted, on the sideboard. The first thing is the beautiful dress carefully hung by one wall. It is clearly designed to flatter and subtly show the wearer off. One day, she thinks, I will catch the eye of some gallant nobleman, and I shall wear dresses like that every day. Maybe he’ll want me to wear it later. Or maybe it won’t be me wearing it. There were stories the girls told.

She freezes with the wine halfway to her lips, as her self-preservation instincts kick in once again. There could be anything in this. There were stories the girls told. She doesn’t want any weird poppy-juice or vinechild blood or something filthy inside her. She wants to keep her wits about her. She lifts the cup more slowly and surreptitiously sniffs at it. Is that the hint of something sweet and sleepy in the cup…? No, she thinks. Seems okay. She begins to drink, in shallow gulps.

The man who calls himself John watches this performance with silent amusement. He knows of at least ten different poisons that couldn’t even be tasted, much less smelt, in that wine. The sideboard behind the girl houses samples of three of them. However, none of them are in the wine. He stretches and yawns, feigns relaxation. “Well now,” he says, “I’d like it if you could start off with a little performance. To get me in the mood?” He looks to make sure he has her attention. Frozen mid-gulp, she eyes him cautiously, and gives a small nod. Not guaranteeing anything yet, but open to negotiation. He walks across to the door to the back bedroom. He ignores the small knot of tension and shame, deep in his stomach. He steels himself and with a slight flourish pulls the door open. The sleepy-eyed girl in the shift who was standing on the other side starts slightly, then gawps in bewilderment at the outside world.

She tries to find words, while her face flushes. It’s a little like the aftermath of a slap. She looks for a way she might have misunderstood, but he cuts off that escape route. “I enjoy displays of… feminine passion. Perhaps the two of you can oblige me?” For a second she wonders if this is going to be too much for her, if she’s just going to get up, leave the money on the table, run out of the door and down the stairs. The other girl is just staring at the client with vague interest. Her eyes are quite empty. Maybe this girl’s been drugged. She doesn’t even like other girls that way, she feels faintly revulsed. In the name of the Lady, maybe this other girl’s one of those retards. Now she’s being asked to… work with… this (drugged dupe? Retard?) other girl. She manages to come out with “I dunno…?”

Apparently the client senses her troubles. He steps briskly to the sideboard, rummages in a drawer. With a tinkling of silver, the money on the table approximately doubles. With that, the part of her that thinks Business wakes up. Does it matter? Does it really make the smallest bit of difference? He gets you, or maybe he makes you do whatever – something – it doesn’t matter what, this time tomorrow you won’t remember or care – with this whatever-she-is. And you get paid for it. Paid, in fact, extremely well. “Uh… yeah. Sure.” She shrugs, puts on the thinnest veneer of casualness. “You’re the customer.” She gets up, tries to look the other girl squarely in the eye. The other girl gives back a peaceful, slightly lost smile. Her nerve almost fails. She turns to the client as he seats himself at the table. Tries to say something. Finds her gaze drawn to the pitcher of wine.

John follows her gaze, and nods to her indulgently. She pours herself another cup and swiftly downs it. She turns back to the other girl, and takes a few hesitant steps forward. Now she’s standing close enough to touch her, if she put out her hand. The other girl watches her, apparently curious. Opens her mouth slightly, then stops, seems puzzled, as if trying to remember a name (hers? Mine?). The moment lengthens. She decides that she has to take the initiative. “So…,”

Another moment lengthens.

“Here we are, then…,”

The sound of her own voice falls flat in her ears, and she’s aware that it’s not going well. No help from the other girl; she’s still trying to remember that name. She turns back to the client and looks at him with embarrassment and anger, but mostly with pleading. What am I supposed to say now? What am I supposed to do now? How am I supposed to get from here to… where you want me to be? But all the client has for her is a smile with the hard edge of impatience right behind it.

She turns back to the other girl. A small frown of frustration is creasing her forehead and a pout is twisting her lips. Suddenly there’s something comical, perhaps childish, about her expression. She finds it endearing, and that changes things. The silly, cute expression on the other girl’s face makes what was impossible, just about possible. She couldn’t have told you exactly why. She takes a step and leans forward, so that the other girl’s face fills her vision, and she lets her lips sag open. The face in front of her looks surprised, then seems to get the idea, and leans in towards her, eyes still wide and slightly startled. In the last seconds before their lips make contact, a strange smell fills her nostrils. She immediately wonders what perfume this girl could be wearing, and has just time to recognise the scent of rosemary before the gentle pressure and frission of the other girl’s kiss sinks onto her mouth.

John watches the kiss with detachment. It goes on for some time, but there is little of the erotic in it, even if he was interested in that aspect. He isn’t, and the only appeal the spectacle has for him is as a prelude, of sorts. He takes a mild academic interest in the development of the usual symptoms in the young lady he’s hired. Her posture relaxes, becomes slack. Her eyes begin to dart around, as a hint of panic enters her expression. She twists slightly, as though uncomfortable. Her mouth continues to move, but it’s increasingly apparent she doesn’t really know what else to do. Finally the two girls pull apart. The young lady he’s hired takes a step back, stumbling. Her mouth hangs open and she takes a long, stupid look at his apartment. Her bewilderment is complete. Just as planned.

She brushes spit from her mouth and frantically tries to make everything fit together in her head. Obviously, she’s just been kissing this girl. But why? She hadn’t wanted to, she was sure of that. Why would she be kissing someone she didn’t want to, someone she didn’t even know? And why here? But where is here? And who was the man sitting at the table, the man who’s face was darkening with anger? She thinks that maybe she should leave. But where to? Where does she go? She feels panic whirling upwards in her chest and with a mighty effort forces down a scream. There’s nothing. Inside her she can find only the blank spaces where everything she knew, she’s sure she knew just five minutes ago, where everything she knew used to be. She tries frantically to remember, a madwoman ransacking an empty larder. She reaches the final absence and her last straw of hope slides away as she asks the question. Who am I? Once again, she has no answer.

Now the man at the table gets to his feet, face flushed and breathing deeply in anger. “GET OUT!” he roars. Before she has a chance to respond, he’s shouting again. “ How – dare – you? How dare you, you filthy bitch, come into my very home? How dare you invade my wife and I in our own home to practice your beggary? I don’t believe your-… your-… your fucking gall!” She doesn’t know what to do. In fact she doesn’t know very much of anything, but this hurts the most right now. She doesn’t know how she normally behaves at times like this, doesn’t even know how she’s supposed to behave, certainly doesn’t know how she needs to behave. Wasn’t she a complete person until a minute ago? Mustn’t whatever happened, have happened here? Has she done anything to deserve this tirade of hatred? Aren’t all the things she needs to know here somewhere? Why does he need to be this angry with her? Can’t she just stay for a moment, until she remembers things…? But now he’s striding towards her, and roughly seizing her shoulder. “You’ll get nothing from us, you slattern! Now out, before I have your hide!” He hauls her bodily towards the door, and blind terror stabs through her, makes her cry out.

“Please! You’ve got to… whatever it was, I’m sorry… I don’t know… I just need to… PLEASE…”

“Shut up, Gods damn you!” He shakes her. “Now… get… out!” They struggle briefly on the threshold as he opens the door, but he is much the stronger, and she is propelled down the steps that lead to the street with a brutal push. Immediately wind and rain cut into her. She looks at herself as she half runs, half falls down the stairs. Why is she dressed like this? It’s too cold. These clothes don’t fit her. She doesn’t understand. “And stay out!” He roars behind her. She realises that she has no idea where to go, nowhere she remembers, and that she knows no-one. Her eyes burn and tears make her cheeks hot, and she stumbles onwards into the rain, cold and exposed.

Back in the apartment, John closes the door, and turns to his beloved. “I’m sorry about that, my dear. What a strange girl, coming into the house and begging like that.” He turns over the hourglass and the sand begins to run through. Its period was set based on some very accurate experiments. It will run for eight days.

The woman in the shift looks at him appraisingly. “You… hired me, didn’t you? We’re going to sleep together, and then I get the money. Yes.”

“No, my dear, not exactly. You’re my wife, do you remember? My wife.” Their eyes meet for a long moment, and then light slowly seems to dawn in her face.

“Yes, you’re right. We met in the North, didn’t we? And we fell in love.” She smiles shyly.

“And I came south to live with you, only,” and she frowns slightly here, “only I’m not always myself, am I? Sometimes I forget things.”

“Because of your family illness,” he supplies.

“My family illness, that’s right. Well, you’ve made me better again for now, haven’t you, my love?” And she quickly kisses him. As always, he feels his heart melting, and embraces her.

“I missed you,” he whispers into her ear.

Eventually, reluctantly, he lets go. “I’ve some bad news, I’m afraid. I’m going on a job tomorrow. Rather a dangerous one. You’re going to have to go back to your family for a little while. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.” Her disappointment is obvious. She brightens with an effort. “Oh well. I’m sure you’ll be champion, like normal. I’ll live.” She thinks for a moment, then grins roguishly. “Going tomorrow, you say?” He returns her grin.

“Exactly.” He winds his fingers in hers. The next part is not something he’s used to. In fact, he can feel his stomach leaping, and his face beginning to redden. “I thought we could have dinner together. You know… properly. I mean, like normal… er, like some other people do.” She smiles and nods encouragingly. “I’ve… kind of arranged things with the landlord. I’ve… erm… got wine. And…,” he clears his throat, “..there’s a new dress. Er. For you.” He gestures to the dress hanging by the wall. Then he starts, walks across, and brings it to her. He presents it with gallantry, and just a hint of nervous terror. He wants, so very badly, to have Got It Right. “Do you like it?”

“Do I like it?” She presses her hands to her mouth and giggles. “It’s beautiful! Darling…” She delicately takes it from him, and kisses him on the cheek. “Of course I like it. Silly. Can I go and put it on right now?” He just smiles idiotically and nods. She sweeps out into the back bedroom and closes the door – “No peeking!”

Foolish with relief, he briskly changes his own clothes, and unstoppers another flask of wine, one much better than he served the young lady he hired. He arranges candles on the table, raps smartly on the floor with his heel, and waits. A few minutes later, a brisk knock sounds at the door, and a large covered tray is handed in. As he’s unpacking dinner, the door of the back bedroom opens, and his beloved sweeps in. Even by the standards of his fevered dreams of her, she looks stunning. “How do I-,” she is abruptly cut off in a small shrill noise as he kisses her, with some force. Eventually, when he releases her, they breathe deeply and gaze adoringly at each other. “So then. Dinner?” she suggests.

They sit down and eat. He tells stories of his travels and the people he’s met, and she laughs and marvels and sometimes gently mocks. They gossip and philosophise and laugh together.

He enjoys her admiration, he loves her sense of humour. He knows that she’s probably at least a little cleverer than he is, and he’s proud that she’s his wife. He knows he’s going to miss her terribly when he’s away, and when she’s slipped back into the mists of her ‘family problem’. He’s glad that he took the time and trouble to find her real self. Of course, he muses, scholars would probably claim that a Rosemary Maid (although there’s this one shouldn’t be called a maid, not for some time now) has no ‘real self’, that whatever he was talking to here was just something he’d made himself, probably out of the half remembered scraps of all the women she’d devoured over the years. Maybe there would be a little bit of that whore in there now, waiting for him to craft it into the mix if the two of them so desired. Frankly, he found theories like that horribly unromantic, and romance was what tonight was all about. No, he was convinced that all he’d done was to find the pure gold that was already there, just beneath the surface.

After the dinner they finish the wine, and open the door to let some air in. They share a pipe while watching the rain, and when it’s finished they kiss once, kiss twice, kiss again more lingeringly, and then go to the bedroom.

She walks forward blankly, not knowing where she’s going, and without the energy to care. The rain beats down on her and mingles with the tears that flow ceaselessly from her eyes, and which she no longer notices. Her throat is raw from howling the emptiness inside her, and now she mouths meaningless words. Squares of light mark the way to people and warmth, but she walks on by, without seeing or even trying to see. Every one of those houses are filled with nothing but strangers, and she has no home to go to. She looks inwards and hopelessly tries to find something, anything, from before. But her past and her future remain as dark as the starless sky above her.

misc/fiction/rbride.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/03 22:34 by osj01
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