Welcome back to Words, Pauses, Noises. This week we have a fantasy short story by Kingston University creative writing MFA student Sophia Yumi Yamamoto. It is a dark and touching tale of a girl who seems to be slowly losing herself. What I loved most about this were the allusions to an a popular fairy tail. Some are obvious, but others you really have to look for.
(I Shall Not Survive You)
Midnight fell and I found myself sobering up lying on my back at the top of the ridge. When had I taken that last pill? The night had been going great, but I hadn’t remembered climbing up the side of the hill. I had an open jar of Nutella that was missing the lid on my stomach and a lit cigarette in my right hand. Ed was on my left, his fingers fumbling through his crumpled, nearly-empty pack of 100’s for another stick. I watched him. Somehow every micro-movement he made felt special even if Ed was far from Prince Charming status.
Then the crow came, his neck wrapped with black mulberry leaves and the dark red fruits of that tree. He looked at me, hovering just overhead as quiet as the rest of the darkness.
“I shall not survive you,” he said, his voice gently forlorn despite the caw. “I shall not survive you.”
I blinked, slow as a cat on a hot day, and the crow was gone.
“Babe,” Ed said, rolling over and taking my hand in his warm one, kissing my stone cold knuckles. “I love you.”
Well, that was new.
When had Ed started calling me babe? Why?
Shit, we were high.
“Love you too,” I heard myself saying. I liked to talk when I was under the influence. There was a kind of feedback loop, a slowing down of time between me thinking the thought, saying it, and hearing it come from my mouth. What was I saying? “Love you, Ed.” I said it a few more times, enjoying listening to the words without meaning them, before turning to face him, the dirt and dead grass falling from my back. That crow was there again: just in my line of sight, behind Ed’s head. What was I doing? What was I saying? Why was my chest pounding?
“I shall not survive you,” the crow said. “You know that.”
“I know, babe,” Ed muttered to me, lighting up his cigarette and falling asleep in the dirt. I sat up and took the cig out of his hands, smoking two now.
“I know,” I said to the crow, holding out the cig to him, nearly finished. The bird took a drag from my hand and blew out gray smoke into the icy night air. “I won’t make you stay and watch.”
“But I will anyway,” the crow said. He took the cigarette from my hands, and I realized that I wasn’t speaking to a crow anymore. He was a man dressed in a black tux and white gloves: all handsome and perfect, but with a face that only half resembled Ed’s. He was still wearing a lei and crown woven of mulberry leaves, dotted with red. Still.
We sat there and smoked until there was nothing left to smoke, putting out the butts in the jar of half-eaten Nutella that was too sweet and sticky to eat at the moment.
“Why?” I asked. It was a loaded question.
“Because you like it,” he said, smiling at me with malice in his eyes. “You like him. You know what he’ll do to your heart, but you go in anyway.”
“And you watch–”
“So that when his kind comes back again–”
“I’ll remember.” I leaned on his shoulder and curled up on his left arm. “You always do.” He was always there to remind me, to tell me what I was getting into even if I ignored him each time. “When did Ed start calling me babe?”
“About three hours ago after you kissed him,” he spat out.
Shit, had I kissed Ed?
“But he’s been wanting to call you that since he met you.”
I knew that. He didn’t have to say it with that bitter tone. He was angry with me.
I sank further into the crow’s arm. “How long will he continue to do it?” I asked.
“As long as you keep fucking him.”
“But I haven’t–”
“It doesn’t matter. That’s the time limit. Then the clock will strike midnight and your carriage will turn into a pumpkin; your horses into field mice. What will you do with your glass shoes?”
“The clock is already after midnight,” I muttered, falling asleep on his shoulder. “It’s almost four in the morning.”
“No, wake up,” he said, the fluster of wings scaring me awake. “Look at him, at the cigarettes, at the Nutella jar you’ve ruined.”
I did. The smell of tobacco ash and chocolate and burning plastic mixed in my stomach until all I wanted to do was vomit. I kicked the jar away so hard that it rolled off the side of the ridge and fell to the empty highway below, shattering into dozens of shards.
Maybe it was already over.
I shook Ed’s shoulder and tried to wake him up. He laid there like a soft lump in the dirt and patches of yellow-brown grass. He didn’t budge. He just snored louder.
“It’s time to go home,” the crow cawed, an actual crow once again. “It’s time to go home.”
“It’s time to go home,” he said, squawking. His feathers ruffled, the mulberry leaves shifting loudly over the top. “I shall not survive you. I will break once more. Must I remind you? It’s time to go home.”
“I know,” I said, lying down next to Ed anyway and curling up on his right arm and letting my eyes droop closed. “I know.”
There is so much going on in so few words and the author has masterfully woven it all together into a cohesive whole. We invite you to leave your own thoughts on this story in the comments. What do you think of the crow? Of the Cinderella references?
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