Their eyes turn away as they pass this willow, sheltering your grave. Men who could not look elsewhere while you lived will not spare a glance for your tomb. And I – when I was your Prince Charming, women gazed at me under their lashes and dropped their kerchiefs by my feet. Now I am invisible: a mourner, a living reminder that all flesh is grass, that even the most beautiful star in the heavens must fall.
When they do speak, it is almost always of your beauty. How you dimmed the ballroom chandeliers with your radiance. How the whiteness of your skin shamed the very snow. If they speak of me at all it is to wonder at how I can live without your glory at my side.
It is true. You stole the light wherever you went, drawing it into yourself. No woman could stand beside you. You did not take what you wanted; it came to you of its own desire. I, once adored by so many women – on the day of our wedding, I became merely an accessory, an adjunct to your exquisiteness.
And our little daughter, fading so soon after her birth. Amidst the sympathies and the grief: the whispers. The admiration. How fragile, they said, yet strong. How delicate your shimmering beauty, refined by suffering. They loved you the more for the crystal tears you shed so perfectly above her tiny grave. No-one asked how the infant came to die. The doctor who attended her illness succumbed not much later to an apoplexy. Failure to thrive, he wrote on the certificate you pressed into her slim album, next to her christening dress.
Nothing can thrive in your shadow.
No-one questioned your beautiful death, wasting elegantly in the aftermath of your loss. Even as you faded, your beauty blossomed in a manner I did not understand. Could not understand.
Now I know. If the others looked, they would know too. They would see the grass around your grave is brown, the willow tree yellowing. They would see the fallen birds, the dead mice, the bees and insects in their number lying in the detritus and the dust above your coffin.
Those others turn their eyes from me, and I am glad because it means they do not see the carpet-bag at my feet, the long shapes under my black coat. They think I mourn your vanished beauty, and they do not observe my dry eyes, my steady hands.
Just two nights you have been buried. I do not know what to expect, so I have brought many things. Salt and iron and garlic. Rowan wood, and hawthorn stakes. Silvered blades and blessed wafers. Grim tools from the stories. I do not know what will be needed, so I have brought them all.
Come to me, my love. The sun is setting on the third night of your interment. Come to me. I am ready to greet you.
This time you will stay dead.
And here’s the story of the story: I’ve just come back from Conflux, the Canberra science fiction convention. As ever at these events, I had a fantastic time. Met new people. Caught up — all too briefly — with old friends. Launched a book, attended other launches. Oh, and I read that story above to the accompaniment of a monstrously creepy musical score composed by Eve Klein who absolutely nailed the feel of the piece.
It seems there was something of a flute festival alongside the SF stuff in Canberra. And I was tagged by Laura Goodin — another SF writer and a good friend — alongside folks like Jack Dann, Sean Williams and Rob Shearman (among others) to create a short piece that would be accompanied by flute music. Except that as I am a dreadful ham, I asked if I could do my own reading and Laura was nice enough to allow me.
There’s something really special that happens when one of your stories passes through the mind of another artist. I’ve had a story adapted to short film, and I loved the work, the collaboration, and the outcome. This time, hearing Eve’s music helped me completely reinterpret the way the story sounded in my head. The score was written for subcontrabass flute, and it was performed by this gentleman, Peter Sheridan, on the very instrument you can see in that clip.
Spooky sounding bit of gear, that thing. And of course, the story itself is fairly creepy.
Peter and I had a couple of run-throughs on the morning before the event, and I thought we had it sorted. He, of course, was on top of the game but I found it challenging to ensure that I could both deliver a reading with meaning and intonation, and still stay with the musical cues. I was a bit worried about screwing it up, finishing wayyy too early or whatever.
Nahhh. I got a bit carried away with the reading — went the full Gothic creepster, actually — but Peter covered beautifully. The audience appeared to enjoy it, anyhow… and as soon as some kind of video is properly available, I’ll post something here. In the meantime… well, I enjoyed hell out of myself and I’m grateful to everybody involved. Here’s hoping the story brings you a frisson or two as well…