Distant Early Warning

We all know how these last few weeks have been.

Like many of us, I lost track of time. But back in February, my story “Distant Early Warning” appeared on Season 14, Episode 2 of The No Sleep Podcast. They do a good job over there, and it’s a fine way to pass all this time.

Since I don’t have a great deal more to report at this time (soon, soon!), I leave you with this, first published in The Rose Red Review a few years ago:

 

The Queen in Red

A year is not enough time to forget,

to see my face instead of hers

when he closes his eyes.

Her girl reminds him.

But I took my vows to him, I cannot go back.

 

She is mine now, in status if not fact.

Revenant. Dead queen’s daughter.

I would have named her differently,

Cynthia, Bianca, Alba,

but it was not my choice.

 

Mirror image in the flesh,

her mother’s echo, to remind

him that she gave him a child

and died to do it, to remind

him that I am his second choice, to remind

him of how fine she was.

The dead are always so.

I cannot compare.

 

I think sometimes he pretends she is her,

their two faces confused,

the girl’s scent her mother’s, the rustle

of her clothes a herald

that she is alive still and waiting—

and I am made of nothing, lost

among ghosts.

 

She reminds him that he can engender,

that my empty belly is my fault alone.

 

The glass does not lie. I am still a fair woman.

I will wear my hair loose

as she does, as I did when I was a girl.

I will fold my bodice so, to show my breasts,

I will perfume my lips and tongue with sweet fruit,

lady apples to please him,

but it will not matter;

I am not her.

 

She reminds him

that she filled her mother once.

She is old enough to marry off

but he keeps her near.

 

I will name my daughter Alba, if she is born.

 

A year is not enough of mourning,

not for a man’s desires.

Still I stay bare as a stick; he remembers

what it is to get a child on a wife, remembers

what it is to make her bloom.

 

I have felt it stir and bleed away,

twice now. Barren as old dirt.

Nothing will grow in me, nothing

but loathing.

I will carry one if not the other.

 

It is her he wants,

whose mirrored image he still can see.

 

I hate her, poor orphan. She gnaws my soul.

 

One would think she would smell my poison

on my skin like rank sweat,

weeping from my eyes. Bitter as salt.

Better hate the man that made her, but too much depends.

I took my vows to him.

I cannot go back.

 

She is obedient, if nothing else,

and coddled enough not to question.

Even me. Even now.

 

Come to me here, now, my poppet, my pet

 

Her name is awkward on my tongue,

I want to say Alba, my Alba—

yet she comes.

 

Come sit with me and let me comb your hair

Come sit with me and let me lace your dress

Come sit with me and let me feed you from my own mouth

as if you were mine.

 

I have paid dear

to host this banquet.

She will eat well

of the only fruit my womb has borne.

It is not sweet.

 

It will be me he sees then.

 

Only me.