The Priest and the Witch

 

Inside the long, winding hallways of gray lay a small, shrouded black figure.
 

The airport was desolate, wreaked of quiet desperation and delayed flights, crying babies and irritable parents, steaming hot coffee to weary travelers with sunken eyes. Groups flocked together, sitting in huddled chairs, examining itineraries with great confusion, as though something great and foreign—this tiny piece of paper which had eluded them so. Bags dragged along wearily, carried prostate by limp hands, the smell of sweat permeating the air, the cold, lifeless grey encroaching, creeping up the walls, across the glass panels reflecting planes, great hungry beasts, bellies filled with hundreds of bodies, swimming with lifeless tile floors and smiling faces waving from sunny billboards.

 

And inside this palace of transition, this lonely, gaping hole lay the tiny figure, curled over into herself, weeping loudly.

 

The people around looked at her with disdain and plain aversion, struggling to crane their necks as far as possible from her view, as though her pain was contagious; as though it would creep up to them, wrapping its feelers around their wan faces; as though it was a crime, something absurd and humiliating, to be so very naked. Frowning fathers turned their children away, fearing her maudlin air, pushing their prams away. A few lone travelers eyed her curiously, yet not without contempt, as the seats next to her remained vacant.

 

Yet she went on sobbing, completely oblivious of their sullen hatred and apathy, crying as though her heart were fit to break. Huddled into herself in a mass of black coat, black dress, frayed, cheap tights, her black hair dirty, swinging over her face and covering her swollen eyes, she wept so sincerely, so honestly and simply, that the airport itself seemed to reverberate her broken cries, her childlike whimpering, broadcasting it plainly to those dulled hearts around her.

 

The weeping was momentarily broken by the sound of footsteps—a simple one, two, one two, walking down the hall as a lone figure came into view.

 

He was by no means, outrageous looking: he appeared simply as a tall figure in jeans and a long, sweeping black coat, almost like a cassock’s robe. His face was simple, radiant with a quiet peace that seemed to emanate from him: in his pale complexion, his full lips, his green eyes, clear as glass, jade, the treasure of empires and centuries of poetry, pale, beautiful perfection; long fingers and a gentle smile.

 

He appeared thus before the witch, aghast in her odious cries, shaking in her chair, and stood looking at her quite plainly. Standing above her, he looked down into her face with a clear gentleness. A hush fell over the terminal as curious onlookers examined him, their lips pulled into twisted grins, convoluted frowns, wondering.

 

He took a seat next to her and, by means of addressing her, tapped her delicately on the back.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

She looked up at him in surprise, and it became clear to see the pain she had suffered—the anguish engraved into her face, into the violet circles underneath her eyes, the blood drained from her face. Yet the blood remained in the circles around her eyes, bloodshot, dejected.

 

He didn’t see the horror of the blood, the many successive deaths she had suffered.

Instead he saw a gentle dusting of freckles around her nose, rosy cheeks, a sharp and clever face, wisps of hair falling over her eyes, black fading into blonde;  but above all what he saw were her eyes: bright, beautiful green.

 

She looked up at him, her eyes shining, with a look of complete surrender, of a gratitude encompassing a humanity for all things which had lived and suffered. In her look, in that one, sweeping glance of the eye, he felt bound to her. He sat down next to her and began to talk to her in a low, subdued voice, a voice gentle from disuse.

 

The crowd watched as this thing began to grow—this haze of a soft light that had begun to emanate from the two, the witch and her priest. As he spoke, she grew, by degrees, to find comfort in him; to smile crookedly, as though it were against her will, to gaze at him rapturously, as though she had never seen anything quite like him before. He sat with his simple black coat, speaking to her in his steady, even way, and as she grew to inch closer and closer to him, the hunch of her back spreading, her form growing, he ran his fingers through her hair, stroked her hair so tenderly as though he feared she would shatter altogether and disappear.

 

The light grew; from where, no one quite knew—it surrounded them, seemed to reflect from their pale faces and the green eyes that bore into each other with so much patience and understanding. She inched closer and closer to him as he sat there, wrapping his coat around himself, his lips bursting into a joyous grin, a grin so large it seemed to sweep over his face, animating his features. What the tourists saw was this—this vital life which they created—they saw it in her face, in his hands, running across her hair; and were startled to realize she was a witch no more, but a beautiful girl, enraptured with rosy eyes and swollen heart—a love which had sparked, brought to life by the tender hands of the priest, which bled from her very pores, from her face and her tiny warbled hands onto his face, a tiny kiss that she planted, and the light grew and grew until suddenly there was no more—

 

nothing but the shutting of two doors and the resuming of normal, monotonous, the doldrum life which had captured the dead hearts of the tourists, waiting, waiting, from which the priest and the witch had escaped quietly, without a word, into the light.

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Zed B. Young

I killed you on a Wednesday.

I didn’t want to, but I had to. I loved you.

But the place you resided had grown foul; it became a stinking hole, a wasteland. It became a place too horrible for you to stay in. I couldn’t watch you die in that pit, and so, I had to take you out myself.

I never, ever wanted to.

I can barely even do it now.

I just hope I’m not taking you anywhere I can’t come back from

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The two sat next to each other on the bench.

“So what brings you here, little girl?” asked the old man.

“I’m running away from home,” the girl replied simply, haughtily swinging her knapsack over her shoulder.

The girl was eight. Her name was Dolly and she wore tiny sparking black shoes that she loved deeply. Her hair was auburn, golden red swimming under the rays of the sun. She carried her small red knapsack with pride and sat rigidly upright against the bus stop.

Meanwhile, the old man next to her stared at her curiously.

“Now why would a sweet little thing like you want to run away?”

Dolly, skeptical of the honey in the old man’s voice, frowned.

“None of your business,” she said coolly, running her fingers through her hair. She squirmed in place, fidgeted with a charm bracelet around her wrist, began to grow disgusted by the old man’s kindly, attentive smile.

“Leave me alone, will you?” she barked angrily at him.

The man, apparently taken aback, feigned the appearance of one who has been gravely injured.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, little lady.”

The words rang out clear, despite his age. They belonged to a voice much younger than his, to a body that was firm, supple, confident.

His own appearance seemed to possess a quality of docility, yet had lingering traces of something else in it, something Dolly decidedly did not like. She found the sunken in, hollowed eyes sinister, the twisted thin lips cruel, the haggard cheekbones repulsive. Yet there was a deep pity for him in her heart, a fondness which could only be described by the swelling in her chest she felt while looking at his face. It broke her heart, seeing how much he had obviously suffered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He must be harmless, little Dolly thought, a guy like him, all beaten up. Her tiny little soul began to feel pangs, conscious of just how mean she had been with a total stranger. Yet she continued to clutch her left hand, balled up into a fist, in her jacket pocket, as tightly as she could. The fist wrapped clumsily around some sort of object, barely concealing its shape.

However, the old man didn’t seem to notice.

Dolly shifted around on the bench and turned her eyes up to look at him, smiling apologetically.

“Listen…I’m sorry if I was mean. I just know better than to trust strangers, ya know?” she rattled on.

The man nodded his head slowly, as if in agreement. Gradually his lips began to spread into a wide grin—it seemed to take him ages—then he began to laugh, a slow, steady laugh.

“Hey, what’s so funny?” demanded Dolly, surprised at his reaction.

“Ah, nothing kid. You’ll understand when you’re older, of course…there are certain things adults find amusing that you couldn’t possibly hope to understand.”

“Nuh uh!” she replied excitedly. “I know plenty about adults and the real world and all that stuff. I read books, you know,” she finished proudly, twisting around a little.

“Oh how nice, books you say?”

“Yeah, adult stuff, real hardcore. I’m no small fry to these things,” she piped up, tremendously excited at the prospect of an adult listener.

The man stared at the street ahead blandly, as though neither excited nor disappointed at the prospect of the bus ever arriving.

Meanwhile, Dolly continued to prattle on; his eyes turned to her every now and then, always with the corners of his lips turned up in a faint smile. Whenever her voice broke (and it seemed to as she reached the climax of her story), he folded his hands across his laps gently and chuckled; when she hopped off the bench to go around and stare at the bus schedule, he urged her patience; and when she returned as impatient as ever, tapping her new shoes against the pavement, he consoled her with the promise of the new life she dreamed of.

“It’ll be good, a kid like you. You can do plenty in this world, as long as you’ve got a smart mind…Wouldn’t you agree, Miss Dolly?”

“Mhmm,” replied Dolly lazily, digging around in her knapsack in search of candy.

“Where are you headed anyways? You got some family out there, some nice people to take care of you? You must be smart, Dolly. Always be safe.”

“Yeah yeah,” she continued on, dreadfully bored. “I’m gonna hop a bus and visit my big sister. She’s cool, man. She’ll take care of me til I’m old enough to do newspaper routes and all that and when I have enough money I’m going to move to Canada.”

“Canada?” The old man laughed jovially. “Why Canada?”

“Eh,” she shrugged, “I like nature and the idea of living out in the middle of a big forest. Plus, you know,” she giggled, “I really love maple syrup,” she finished, bursting into laughter.

The two sat there as the sun dimmed, laughing away the wait.

Meanwhile, no bus arrived.

“It’s starting to get awful late, Dolly. I’m beginning to fear we’ve missed the last bus.”

Dolly twisted her lips in discomfort, her left hand shaking in its pocket.

“That’s…okay,” she began, standing up from the seat. She straightened her back and raised her chin, so as to look as large and foreboding as possible. To Dolly, the authority in her voice was unmistakable.

“I am going to wait right here for the bus, and if in fifteen more minutes it isn’t here,” she began clumsily, pacing around the bench, “then I’ll have to resort to plan B.”

At that moment, her stomach grumbled loudly, dismayed at the lack of candy in her knapsack.

The old man stared at her knowingly, seemingly amused, and tipped his brown hat back just enough for Dolly to see his eyes. They were green, shockingly green, with the innermost circle of the iris colored bright orange. Temporarily dazed, Dolly stepped back with her mouth slightly open to get a better look. His eyes reminded her of grass in the summertime, of sunflowers, of gentle weeping willows, emeralds, mint chocolate chip ice cream and all things young and good.

For the first time, Dolly reached over towards the old man and grabbed his arm delicately with her right hand.

The man sniffed his nose slightly, pinching it with the fingers of his free hand as he turned his face away.

“Little one,” he cooed at her. “What could you possibly expect from me, hm?”

“Nothing,” she said, standing in place while swinging his arm back and forth. “Let’s just keep waiting here for the bus. I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she said timidly, staring around anxiously.

“Well my dear,” the man resumed, “I am very sorry to tell you, but I fear I have to go now.”

Dolly released his hand.

“Go? But…but why?”

“I have other places to be,” he smiled gently.

His words were pronounced resolutely, in a voice that was nearly a whisper—in a voice far too solemn. Dolly stared up at the mangled face with the beautiful eyes and began to grow confused, twisting her mouth as she did, biting her lip and skipping her shoes along the pavement. A brief moment of silence ensued as the last of the sun fluttered away.

“You could, of course,” the man resumed, breaking the silence, “come with me. I’m going to walk to the next bus stop over on 40th and Broadway. It’s an all-nighter bus.”

Dolly’s ears perked up.

“All-nighter bus? Really? I didn’t even know—”

She cut herself off abruptly, embarrassed at the slip.

“Yep.”

The old man rose from his seat gravely while Dolly stared at the floor.

“Miss Dolly,” he said, taking a step up to her and extending his hand, “it was certainly very lovely to meet you. I wish you well, my dear.”

Dolly’s left arm was shaking uncontrollably in its pocket, her small fingers slipping away from the thing she so desperately clutched. She felt her eyes boring into the cement, her vision focusing down to a point, to the golden buckles on her shoes, felt the icy rush of the wind whip her curls back.

The spell was broken as the man gently placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Dolly? Are you alright?”

Shaking her head, as though to wake from a lazy dream, she yelped.

“Wait! Wait! Don’t go!”

The old man looked at her quizzically.

“If you want to come along…” he began cautiously.

“Yes, yes,” she replied firmly. “I would very much like to.”

Her eyes cast one final glance at the desolate street around her, taking it all in. It seemed to strengthen her resolve.

“Let’s go,”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“My sweet Dolly,” he breathed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The two walked down the street, turned up an alley. A few dim lights shone up ahead. The man walked steadily, shuffling along, while Dolly hopped from step to step, her left arm loose in its pocket, the fist slipping away.

“How about a bite to eat, Doll?” the man asked.

“Yes pleeeease,” she said with great relish. “That sounds wonderful.”

She curtsied in place as a token of appreciation for the man. He laughed in turn, pleased with her behavior.

“Dolly,” he began suddenly, stopping abruptly.

“What is it?” Dolly looked around, panicked.

“I feel cold, terribly cold,” the man whispered.

Something awful was happening to his face; it began to spasm horribly, the old grinning mouth dripping saliva, the eyes slinking away into the skull—he bent over, spluttering terribly, spitting up little pools of blood onto the concrete.

“NO!” Dolly shrieked.

what’s happening?!

I must save him !

Dolly rushed forward to the old man, throwing her arms around him.

“please, no! be safe! Be okay, for me, pleeeease!! !”

His eyes grew farther and farther away.

Desperate, her heart pounding madly, the deafening roar of cymbals in her ears, her tiny fingers dripping in sweat, Dolly clutched the man tighter. Feeling him sinking to the ground, she gripped him tighter, wrapped her body around him; the two of them sank to their knees together, slumped over in the cold alleyway.

And yet, suddenly, the man’s eyes seemed to return—but they were not his, decidedly not his—Dolly’s arm reached to her pocket—

she pulled out the tiny thing,

the little switchblade

but the man

with cinders for eyes

smiled at her again,

wrapped her up completely

“no! no no no NOOOO!” she screamed, a bloodcurdling scream, her voice cracking.

A final scream—

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHhhAaaaAH!!!!AHH!!!!”

And with a positive roar of energy, a wave so powerful it nearly knocked her to her feet, Dolly launched her little switchblade into the man’s face, watched him crumble onto the floor, immobile.

Grinding her teeth, she paced up and down the alleyway listening to the last sounds of the man’s breathing, weeping, not recognizing the blood all over her yellow coat (whether it was hers or his), desperately…wishing…

Not wanting him to quite die, she finished feebly.

Cautiously, she stepped near the puddle where he lay, eyeing him from above.

“I’m…”

He turned over on his back, a bubble of blood rupturing horribly across his broad grin.

“I know you are, Dolly”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

too simply for my words,

we say goodbye,

goodbye,

little Dolly

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He reached out to touch her hand, the brittle fingers shaking uncontrollably. Pulling it to his mouth, he kissed it passionately.

The kiss burned Dolly’s hand, seared it as though a brand, nearly blinding her with pain; her vision swirled as she saw crimson—

The man sat up, pulled her gently onto his lap as she screamed, blinded, her bottom lip shaking as the tears cascaded down her face.

“I love you, little Dolly”

And with that, he sealed their kiss; pulling a large dagger out of his jacket, he delicately inserted it into Dolly’s lower stomach, dragging it along, gently, gently all the while—

“only for you, Dolly, only for you—”

Lifting it up, he sunk it into her chest with as much care as the first wound, dragging it downwards to her waist, his eyes bulging at the sight of her young blood. He draped her tiny body over his arm, sitting cross-legged, looked down into her proud face paralyzed with fear.

In one last moment, her eyes locked with his. She spat into his face with disgust.

The man felt her body shudder in its final throes, watched it intently, with immense curiosity, until her eyes, the little glass eyes that shone under the moon, trailed away, the little green eyes once filled with so much hope.

Pressing his face into her neck, the man began to sob, weeping over her little, now dead body.

The Life and Times of Bloop: Part I

“The giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas) is a fish native to the northern Pacific Ocean. Despite its conspicuous size and curious nature, relatively little is known about its biology or behavior.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile at The National Academy of Sciences, two scientists were struggling…

“He’s trapped, trapped I tell you! It’s only a matter of time until he…”

“No, no, we won’t let that happen. Come, quickly now, call Karen and get her over here. She’ll know what to do!”

“Karen! Yes my God why didn’t I think of it!? I’LL GO GET KAREN AND MEANWHILE YOU HOLD ON TIGHT HERE, OK?”

And with that, Kevin bounded out of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen Sanders sat at the head of her mahogany desk, giggled, and swiveled in place. The telephone lines were flashing dangerously, or rather, frequently, which was really all the same to her as she danced in the expensive new chair. She had recently received a promotion—for what, she didn’t exactly know, but she was immensely proud of it all the same; at times, it even had a tendency to make her giddy.

Which she was right now. She was rather giddy, and so the phone lines went on ringing long past the point when they should have been answered, so much so that Kevin was frustrated beyond all belief. Twenty-two missed calls and still squat, what the hell was she doing up there?

Whether it was the new, expensive swivel chair or the promotion that made Karen so silly, no one quite knew. However, what was one-hundred percent totally and utterly true was the fact that somewhere during that very moment, 7:27 on a Monday morning in April to be precise, a very, very large fish was struggling desperately to stay alive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The other scientist was Kyle. Kyle was lanky with hairy arms and weak shoulders and there was nothing he could do about it, though he often wished there was. He sat nervously at the edge of the tank, his eyes riveted on the opening, from which a giant, fantastic form emerged: chiefly, an enormous, shriveled gray tail that protruded two feet outside of the tank. He was undoubtedly very nervous and seemed to be swaying slightly.

“…wasn’t supposed to, I mean, be this…big…I sure hope they can…or…” he muttered nervously to himself, walking steadily in laps around the large tank. He kept his eyes on the fish’s tail as he continued to babble and mutter incoherently.

Meanwhile, the fish itself seemed mildly perplexed, yet continued to flap its tail gently to- and-fro.

It was perfectly content and blissfully unaware of everything. It was a giant blister in the face of total beauty and perfect radiance, a crease in the otherwise harmonious fabric of space and time, a joke and an outrage at every moment you beheld it, the damned thing was so ugly.

It was a giant, gray sea bass, and he was two-hundred-and-twenty-three years old.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This great sea bass, or Bloop, as we will now affectionately come to call him, was really a magnificently pitiful creature. Sorrow and misery were painted into every line of its face, seemingly creasing the old, bent scales, gray, hideous, black on the outside flanks. The latter trait was widely attributed to be a defense mechanism unique to the species. During periods of high tension or stress, the bass creature (we will refrain from using Bloop in this particular example, so delicate is his constitution) will exhibit a reverse “molting” as the fish shifts and changes shades from black to gray, so that the ventral end is white and the dorsal layer black. The logic of this curiosity is that the change serves as a communication mechanism, signifying a general atmosphere of danger and acting as a presentiment of sorts between the fish.

This was, at least, one known thing about the way these miserable creatures communicated with one another; for even though they are a species so very large they were few in number, endangered hovering on the fringes of extinct, and it was no wonder why. These animals weren’t the kinds featured on post cards or textbooks. They weren’t to be found in coloring books or on National Geographic programs, either, and you could bet that not a single one was to ever be found as a plushie in a toy store anywhere, ever. In short, they were sad, dejected things that had unfairly been condemned to a life of judgment for the suffering their decidedly ‘uncute’ faces revealed.

Nature had been cruel to them thus far, and so it was with little wonder that the idiot scientists Kevin and Kyle began to take an immediate disliking to Bloop. It was beyond the apathy that accompanied their jobs—that luster had faded long ago. It was solid, outright dislike, and it could be for no other reason except for the fact that Bloop was a huge fish and not so nice to look at. Kyle, our favorite of the two idiots, felt particularly itchy around the fish for some reason.

“It’s just fucking unpleasant, is what it is,” he resumed out loud, after what was possibly a very long period of silence. He couldn’t tell how long he’d been lost in thought, or whether or not he had even been talking aloud the entire while. All he was aware of was the half-rolled, lit cigarette in his hand as the smoke wafted up his face, stinging his eyes. He rubbed them sorely.

“He better get back here soon or else I’m going to have to go up to that bat myself…” Kyle went on, itching his arm thoughtfully.

Bloop gurgled cheerfully in his tank.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen was drunk, and Kevin knew it.

She was, after all, holding a martini glass in hand. Standing in place, barefoot in her office, she leaned against the side of her desk and looked at Kevin with profound curiosity. Staring at him for a few moments, she seemed dazed in her silence, tilted her chin slightly, looked upward at the ceiling, paused.

“Who…you…?” she managed to spit out.

Her words slurred together like the sound of a large soap bubble rupturing in mid-air.

Kevin stared heatedly into her eyes, flailing his arms wildly.

“You insane floozy! The fish is dying, you hear? The one the Fulbright scholar was going to study!…DO YOU EVEN HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT?” he cut off abruptly, positively roaring at her.

Karen suppressed a muffled giggle,

“Hee,”

and toppled over backwards into the waste basket.

The young and decidedly sober scientist sighed, pivoted on the spot, and left the room laughing uproariously.

the lovelies

The secretary walked out of the mahogany-laden office, her tiny, black heels clicking against the tile rapidly as she turned left into the hall. A minute later she emerged and stepped into the waiting room. In it was a man and a woman, sitting somewhat awkwardly next to each other on the two available chairs. She rolled her eyes.

Miss…Vishnevskaya?”

The woman looked up expectantly.

He’ll be seeing you now,” the secretary finished and turned to leave, but not before stealing a dirty glance at the man remaining in the chair.

He had thin, whispy hair, white hair that crowned the back of his otherwise bald head, wore a faded pair of navy blue slacks torn at the knee, brown loafers that had lost their soles long ago, and what appeared to be a pair of very dirty socks. But the most intolerable thing about him was his face: it was a face of immense suffering, pockmarked and scarred all over, wrinkled, ripped. It was just simply too…real. The eyes alone stood out, the lone perfection in the otherwise hideous face, twinkling and gentle in their sockets, dark brown against the pale flesh with the smiling thin lips.

Ignoring the secretary’s glance, he continued to sit quietly as the other woman took large, lumbering steps down the hall. He eyed his surroundings politely. On the desk across from him he noticed a small fish tank and grinned broadly, watching the fish.

Twenty minutes later when the secretary returned, he was still watching the little fish, seemingly with deep amusement; the grin had spread all over his face.

Mr. Miller, you are wanted inside,” the secretary spat out, avoiding his glance. She turned away and vanished on her heels.

Henry got up from the chair slowly, his eyes still lingering on the fish, and began to walk down the hall.

Inside the principal’s office, Katyusha Vishnevskaya was in tears.

The woman with the lumbering steps whom we have mentioned earlier was the school lunch-lady, and her beef stroganoff was under attack.

What I simply can’t understand, Miss Vishnevskaya, is how you managed to spoil the meat supply so quickly. It was ground beef, for God’s sake! and it cost us a pretty penny too, surely you must remember having forgotten something that day perhaps…?” he trailed off hopefully.

Katyusha said nothing, merely protested silently through her tears. She was a large woman, an exceedingly large woman, built at around six-foot-two, two-hundred pounds, and yet, here she sat, unable to say a word to defend herself.

Do you realize the kind of damage you’ve caused here? That boy’s parents could very well threaten to sue the school, a cost which I’m sure you’re aware no one can afford to cover right now. Why, I would have to…”

After blinking back a couple of the stray tears, Katyusha steadied herself, shifting upright in her chair. She was a considerably more menacing figure in this position, and she knew it. To add to this, she clenched her jaw and her fists, resting them against the thin, wooden strips of the chair.

I am very sorry, Mr. Lankenstein,” she leaned forward, “but I can most definitely assure you that I prepared the meat in the standard, healthy way that is good for the children,” she concluded in her thick, Russian drawl.

The principal shrank away from her square, thick-set face and shifted uncomfortably in his chair, turning it instead to face the dilapidated window.

That seems funny to me…’good for the children’…I wonder, do you think feeding a ten year old boy poisoned meat is ‘good for the children’, do you?”

Katasya flushed, rose from her chair with fists intact, when suddenly Mr. Miller walked into the room.

Ah, Mr. Miller, do have a seat here…my apologies Miss Katasya, I’m running a bit late and have to close up soon, so I hope you won’t mind me speaking with Mr. Miller briefly.”

Silence.

Henry was already bored.

…well well, either way, won’t you have a seat?”

He sat and turned his head to Katasya, who was determinedly trying to hide the flow of her tears, her face muffled against the sleeve of her dress. He turned again to look at Mr. Lankenstein, who had apparently been talking the entire while.

…so all in all there’s the remainder of the second grade science week activities in room 202, the bathrooms on the first floor by the gym, the water fountain by the music room, and…” Here, he looked directly at Katsya, his stupid, accusatory glance reddening his cheeks.

…and that one, whatever she’s done to the child, well he’s been sick all over the trophy case in the auditorium, absolute nightmare, I just can’t believe…”

Henry stood up abruptly, hands at his side.

Sounds like I’ve got a lot of work to do, then,” he said, facing Mr. L. “I’ll just be out of your way now,” and turned to leave.

Mr. Miller? Take Katasya with you, would you? I’ve really got to go…”

Sure Mr. L, sure, why not?”

Katasya rose quickly, her hard, heavy eyes puffed and swollen, her bottom lip twitching slightly.

Fine.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Inside the broom cupboard, Henry produced a steel thermos and handed it to Katasya.

What is this?”

It’s brandy, sugar. Drink up.”

Katasya smiled shyly and took a large draft of the thermos, Henry watching her, wide-eyed.

Never seen a lady drink like that,” he said, smiling at her.

But it was clear that he had offended her. She sniffled once or twice and set the thermos down, frowning.

Oh no no, I didn’t mean it any harm…I’m just saying…it takes a real lady to do it.”

Zvell, good, of course I am a lady.” she said, somewhat haughtily. “In my country, this is thing of fortitude. We can handle strong drink, strong food, good spices and sharp weather. We do not break easily,” she concluded.

I like that, Katasya. Tell me more,”

I came to this land when I was twenty-nine, you know Henry, I had big dreams. I vanted to be a cook, a very good cook too I was, back home. I used to feed the little neighbor girl more than her mother…all people enjoy good food, but children especially. They can just eat and—” (she hiccoughed) “ —eat and eat…” (she giggled).

Henry reached across the cupboard and gently plucked the thermos from her. She didn’t seem to mind.

…but what I loved the most was Petersburg, the colors on all the buildings! There ees nothing like that here…your buildings, your America is so dead with its streets of grey and black.”

I’ll have to agree with you there, Kitty, it’s a real damned shame,” he began, taking a drink. “People don’t care about what colors the buildings are down the street because no one’s looking at ’em: man’s always hurrying along from once place to another, constantly doing, you know, so busy that he couldn’t care less about the damn colors, because his concern is his job and his lousy stinkin’ paycheck.

They sat in silence for a while, sipping from the flask occasionally. Katasya looked thoughtful. Henry was excited, terribly excited. His eyes gleamed fiercely in the dark shed, riveted on her, the flask, the broom forced into the corner. Katasya hiccuped again.

hic…so, I wanted to be chef, Meester Miller, I want to study cooking, but first I had to learn Eenglish. There was little money I had saved was enough to take some classes, so I deed…learned some Eenglish, mostly good, but I wanted to learn more. I signed up for loans, took classes enough to learn to speak, but after a while…HIC…still was not chef, had no money…it wasдо свидания, simply kaput.” she concluded sadly.

Henry shook his head in confusion. He was aware of several things: the spiders accumulating in the corner, the smell of dust wafting through, the smudged lipliner on Kasasya’s sorrowful face, but mostly he was aware of how incredibly drunk he was. He bowed his head and sat silently. Katasya looked at him and laughed, a big, hearty laugh, an honest laugh.

It seemed to fill the air, somehow.

Aw, Henry,” she said, squirming in place slightly, “you are drunk, ha ha! so very drunk my boy!” Suddenly, she attempted to stand up, and several things happened all at once.

The toolbox above Henry’s head fell down to the floor with a crash; Katasya screamed, and Henry swooped in to kiss her, that pink, rosy mouth.

Aaaah…Meester Miller!” she exclaimed heatedly, blushing to the very roots of her hair. “What was ‘zat for?”

Well…” he began, staring decidedly at his shoes, “you were just so…I just find you very…cute.” His eyes remained glued to the floor.

Katasya eyed him wearily, then burst into tears.

Oh, Henry,” she sobbed, collapsing into his arms, “eet isn’t fair, my stroganoff was good, I made it special, Henry…”

I like your mole, Kat, I think it’s real adorable…” he began drunkenly.

No! No! The stroganoff!” she screamed, flailing her arms wildly. “Eet was quality meat, and cooked good! I do not know why…what is happening!”

The broom cupboard grew steadily into a colorless haze as Henry and Katasya held each other, rocking in place violently until the last of the brandy was diminished.

Kat…it’s okay…don’t cry, baby…”