Joen is not vain enough to look at his reflection. He follows the flow of the summer crowds at the museum until his nose is almost touching the security glass but never raises his eyes. His eyes know the picture by heart. Instead he sucks in both nostrils and waits for the sins of the world. It may be his last chance. Tomorrow he must leave the cloying beauty of this city.
Aleid arrives at the same time every day, sneaking five minutes from her lunch break in the museum cafeteria to stand before the triptych. It never bores her – it is so rich – she finds something new each time she looks. Today she focuses on the left-hand panel where the naked figures of Adam and Eve are presented to each other, and slightly higher up, beyond the river where unicorns drink, her eyes settle on a white giraffe – so elegant in its stance that it reminds her of Eve herself - the same slightly-curved back, the long reach of its neck. She is distracted by her own reflection, becomes aware of the tension in her shoulders and rolls her head as her Pilates teacher has taught her. Her neck cricks and she smiles. Her eyes flicker to Adam sitting on a hillock - his gaze eternally fixed on Eve - then back to the giraffe. There is a small hare downslope from the giraffe. She remembers that the hare is a symbol of fertility and raises a hand to her belly, smiles again.
Joen smells her presence and smiles too. In the glass he watches her watching the painting and is pleased she has not chosen the right-hand panel. He cannot counter her gaze on the depravity of man, its darkness, the death of nature itself. The girl is summer, ripe fruit and abundance. He sees how tired she is, breathes in her milk-honey hair as she rolls her neck, offering her scent up to him as an ultimate sacrifice. He’s afraid he might faint. Then he sees her hand fall on the soft mound of her belly.
Aleid catches the grotesque face of a man in the reflection of the glass, a drollery, his face scrunched up with pain and pivots in alarm. Perhaps he feels ill. She signals to the security guard who arrives to catch the man before he hits the floor. The room has become incredibly hot. She has time before they carry him away to notice how bizarrely he is dressed, his red breeches rolled up to his calves, his devilish countenance, the cutting blades of skates on his feet.
They Fly to Your Nest
They’ve been bringing you pips for so long that by now you could have planted an orchard. They fly in like lechery, their wings stretched wide to show their colouring but never their true colours. Some come flighty like Christianity, saying that God will save you in the end, others like Lucifer with the head of a nightjar, proud of their true intentions. You peck at their words, take their seeds on your tongue and swallow. Because you are hungry for a flutter in your breast, a companion for your nest, a dawn chorus to make you believe that it WILL be a good day. You believe the vain peacock with his trained eye at the side of the running track, the heron with a red fruit for the taking, a whimbrel on the shoulders of a party crowd. You are amazed by the vibrant hypocrisy of the kingfisher, the way he moves so smartly and speaks so critically, the hoopoe and his false doctrines, the taunting jay on the boughs of a strawberry bush on your solitary flights. You get thinner, craving morsels, content with the worm even as it’s turning. Their calls fill your head, pushing out your certainties like small blue eggs cracking on sidewalks. It’s a long way down. You get dizzy. Then it gets colder, it always gets colder and they are gone. Some say they’ll be back and you believe them because there’s always a second summer. You find feathers in your sheets to remind you. It takes seasons, my God it takes years. You learn then about the beauty of silence, the time for reflection. You watch as crying autumn leaves cover your nest and find that even so, light filters through.
The Passing Pleasure of Strawberries
After we finish making love I slip from the sheets to get her a glass of water. She follows me into the kitchen. Her hair is so long it covers her breasts completely, falling to just above her pubic bone. She is so pale she must be moonlight. She does not smile. She does not speak. Eve.
On the table there is a saucer holding a handful of wild strawberries. She takes one between her thumb and forefinger and brings it to her face. She wrinkles her nose to smell it then holds it out for me. I smell the woods. I hear serpents sliding. She presses the strawberry to her lips and rolls it from left to right, holding my gaze. I can feel my arousal and in this setting, suddenly, I am ashamed. She bites into the strawberry and a single drop of juice falls onto the soft mound of her stomach. There is nothing I can do. I have fallen. She guides me into her, there on the table, her hair like a pendulum, her pale gasps sweet and sacred.
By the morning she has gone. In the saucer there is a single strawberry. Its smell arouses me once more as if she were standing there before me. I let its juice run round my mouth until I’m done.
Then I shower, clean my teeth and begin.
The day brings distraction; by evening I have almost forgotten her name. As autumn comes, the saucer is filled with darker fruit that stains when I press it to my lips.
Julia Ruth Smith
Julia Ruth Smith is a mother, teacher and writer. She lives by the sea in Italy where she gets a lot of her inspiration. Her work has been published in Atlas and Alice, Flash Frog, Vestal Review and New Flash Fiction Review amongst others. She can be found @juliaruthsmith.bsky.social or on the beach with her dog Elvis.
The Ekphrastic Review
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