The ivory keys, once the tusks of a raging bull elephant the king of all that he surveyed, slid like oil-scented bathwater beneath my slender fingers and the with the slightest pressure, the tiniest twitch of the warm muscle underneath my flesh, I depress the keys and the melody resounds, not quite the precision of Brahms or Bach, but a lullaby nonetheless.
As I lose myself in the movement, replacing the reverberating strings with whistle of the wind in the forest and twittering of the night birds, calling out their good eves to family and friends alike, in my mind’s eye, I bend expecting the sweet scent of night jasmine to fill my nostrils, instead it is the spiced leather that calls to me, drawing me out of my meadow sunset and back to this place with the warm oil lamp softly glowing at the edge of my vision, drenching the room in its own orange sunset.
Gently, my finger strike on, my revere now lost as my stomach begins to clench in anticipation of his approach. How close is he that I can smell him as clearly as the fresh-cut hay in early spring, I wonder, but know that I cannot guess for his movement is like the spring itself, seductive and alluring, hinting at its coming, like whispers in the night no completely heard, absorbed as they flow across your skin.
For just an instant, I remember thinking that I should turn to greet him, but he likes this game, acting as though we were children again, playing peek-a-boo in nurseries adorned with bright blocks and perfect china dolls in white pinafores and blond ringlet curls, so I continue playing while the tiny muscles along my spine tense in preparation for the chilly touch of his hands on my face as I guess who might be there. He is, as always, the perfect suitor.
The chocolates he brings me today are Austrian, I think, the smoothest confection I have ever known, sweeter than a sun-ripened peach or an apple pressed in the fall to make the cider that warms us as we dress in woolen finery, bound in furs, as we head to the church for services for All Saints’ Day. The tension erodes like waves sliding out to seas as he covers my eyes with his hands and his scent envelops me, tucking me as a warm blanket on the first frosty evening of the fall, the crisp air chilling my cheeks and the tip of my nose, the rest of me secure as a babe in swaddling clothes.
Knowing what he wants, remembering the game, I laugh lightly, not quite the giggling school girl, but not a womanly laugh either, something in between maybe, too mature for a school year, but ignorant of love’s mysteries and pleasures. I feel something odd when his scent reaches out to me, a burning in my thighs that I recognize as the woman in me reaching back to him, and the strength of it frightens me and thrills me as I imagine what it will be like to be his bride, to be completely owned by this man who hides behind me now.
In the happiest of my daydreams, little girl fantasies, I guess, I imagine sunshine filled days and gorgeous balls, packed with the highest society matrons all primping and preening like a peacock in matting season, hoping to catch my eye and be invited to our estate, his ancestral home for a more private affair. My other dreams are more sketchy, less clear and so much more complex.
I am dreaming of bearing his child when his hands finally close over my eyes and I hear, I think I hear, him asking, “Guess who? ’ My mind fills with wonder that he could bring me to this point so quickly, pull me away from other dreams, draw me fully into his world and the desire to belong to him alone. I wonder, fleetingly, what happened to make me feel this way. Was it something about the way he moved or the way he spoke?
The knowledge of his ancestral home, a castle by the sea, sounding so much like the security and peace that my mother has longed for since before my birth attracts me to him, but there is more, words that I cannot comprehend or even think to speak. For love, my mother gave up her dream of security, the plans for a large home, society functions and the best of everything. Now, as I play my suitor’s game, I wonder what I am giving up to assure myself of those things she gave away.
In truth, I recognize his very scent, the spiced leather calls to me across the room and I feel his presence long before I see his face. Is that love? Is the burning in my thighs, the softly peaked interest in my breasts, the ever-flowing fantasy of our life together, love? I think to tease for only a moment, pretending that I don’t know who it is that has lain these flowers before my feet and chocolates by my hand, then think not, wondering that he might be slighted, injured if I play along too coyly.
Instead, I ask quietly, just a hint of wonder in my voice, letting the excitement that his presence builds in me seep out in my voice and into the room, “Is it you? ’ Early in her novel, “The Bloody Chamber”, Angela Carter writes of the bride’s memory of her suitor coming to the conservatory to surprise her with hot-house flowers or sweets. The scene that I have written is about one of those visits, extrapolated from the very short description Carter writes and the tip off of the suitor’s scent as he silently glides up behind her.
The key to this writing is the way Carter describes the scene, making the reader feel, hear and even smell the scene as it unfolds. This appealed to me as it seems that Carter’s reference to the courting process seems to deliberately invoke the bride’s willingness to play with her suitor, to humor him and use her knowledge that he is approaching to prepare her false reaction, to make him believe that she is surprised or even frightened by his soundless approach.
More importantly for me in choosing this selection to write about was to see how effortlessly Carter alluded to her main character’s almost supernatural ability to move quietly despite his size. The challenge as I saw it was to use deeply complex sentence structure laden with imagery, simile and metaphor, to make the picture so clear that the reader cannot miss the underlying and completely unspoken message.