The Hands Can Only Do So Much

Photo by Denise Scicluna

 “In Faerie, things are always the same. There are poles of sugar that feel like compacted ash to the touch, and people with heads the shape of televisions, people with heads the shape of beetroots, people that aren’t people but things, things that may be pretty but feel that much less alive for it.

“You are hungry once you step in, even more so because everything looks edible, somehow. The leaf stalks could be made of chocolate or meat – you can smell them, you can touch them and they feel like food. The clearings contain hidden delights: under bushes and fallen leaves, you will find acorns that look roasted to eat, to dip into the honey stream that runs on either side of the forest.

“But you won’t be able to do any of these things, because you’ll either be there in captivity or – and this is more likely for children like you – if it ever comes about that you end up in Faerie on amicable terms, you will be so overwhelmed by what you see that you wouldn’t know where to start.

“I’m telling you this because it is a thing you should know. Not many people do, and it is to their detriment. Granted, few end up there, but that is no reason for them to ignore it.

“What will strike you most, however, is how things remain the same. The place looks like a battlefield of the beautiful and sensuous – you will see Centaurs chasing randy Satyrs away, you will see faeries corrupt the honeyed waters with disappearing fluid for a joke and, when it is drunk by the royal elves, the mild scandal would lead to endless squabbling, some of which will end in execution.

“But everything will revert eventually. Everything will remain the same.”

***

The old man almost burns his robe making tea. A flicker of oven flame catches the edge of a dangling sleeve – a preposterous, wizard’s sleeve – and I half hope it grows and engulfs him, that the house would be mine after he painfully, slowly turns into a wisp of black bones.

The house is nothing more than a cottage, but I know I’d turn it into something great. I was chasing after my dog when he caught me. He used some kind of booby trap on the way; I was too dazed to tell how, exactly, the combination of ropes and pulleys captured me.

But instead of catching fire, the old man reacts with the jumpy panic of the weak elderly (they’ll jump at anything, won’t they?) and bats the flame away on the counter. He looks at me as he pours the water in, and smiles. At least the infusion smells sweet, and strange; part cashew, part marshmallow.

Clearly, the old man thinks I’m enjoying this as much as he is.

He carries the two tall mugs of tea – they’re battered ceramic, white and cracked with no patterns on them – and undoes the rope around my hands and ankles.

“I think you’ve suffered enough, and I daresay I trust you,” the old man says. He says it in a perfect cadence, like he’s reading from a script. And it chills me to think that this is at least half-true: I am, after all, a victim, and his behaviour reeks of clockwork psychopath.

“Drink. I assure you it is not poisoned.” To assure me further, he takes a sip from the mug he’s offered me. The creases on his face appear to concentrate to a single point as he shuts his eyes and takes a sip of the boiling drink. As his brittle, powder-white skin is pulled taut, I catch a glimpse of him when he was younger and uncreased. Was he always a loser?

“Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind,” I say, taking a liberal swig of the tea after he props it back on the table. It is delicious.

“Good, very good,” he says and smiles. “The candle will soon be out. Time to continue our lesson.”

For a moment, I’m unsure whether this means the rope goes back on first, or the story. But, his tea barley touched, the old man appears to be lost to himself now, his well-oiled script swivelling into autopilot and his story squeezing its grip. His eyes, previously a tame auburn, shade their way into black. The candle is on the table is weakening, and it’s dark outside. It would be ridiculous to remain here for more than a day.

“Faerie will not be kind to you,” he says. He takes my hands and turns them over.

“Imagine a mouth in the shape of a bower. Imagine one tooth, dangling like a giant branch. Imagine that being your only purchase in a world you’re neither sure exists, a world you’re not even sure is full born yet, a world that you think might end at any point but that shows no sign of ending…”

He is brushing my hands.

“That’s what awaits me, huh?”

“Yes, yes. Are you ready, then?” he says, lifting both hands up to my face. It looks like he wants to pray, or to drain the energy from my body.

Break his neck. Why haven’t his victims done it before?

The hands move towards me, a finger brushes past my nose as my own hands grab at his neck.

I twist and twist, and there are no other noises but the squeeze and twist of resilient old flesh.

“You can leave, and leave again,” a voice says. I can see the man’s bald head. He is busy with something.

“You can leave, but all you would have done is leave to leave again.”

***

The sky is never blue around here. Though that’s not entirely true. It is either covered by thick foliage and trees, or decorated by fireworks at night – “oh, these are garish shapes, aren’t they?” a satyr told me once.

Each night, I leave the place, and each night, I’m back to a new Faerie. When I wake up, instead of sand in my eyes, all I get is the taste of that tea in my mouth.

Always, always the same.

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1 Comment

  1. I really like this, simply awesome, it made me happy :-)


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