It is exquisite the taste of paper. The glue dissolves in his mouth. He has eaten plum cake at the register and knows there will be a contest for the best-tasting mouth if a girl will kiss him. He will turn his face to the crowd and wave.
The fisted girl is fighting a rabbit that runs around her. She is on her knees at the lilac bush and her body brushes the yellow of bumblebees. He is on stilts. He is practicing for when he will kiss her. It is easy to kiss trees and to put his hands upon a trunk that is the size of her torso.
His ear pressed into the layers of bark hears the heart beating in there, and it slows his breath.
“That’s no lady,” he recalls his mother saying of the girl with the blue top cut so low that a bird could perch and nest between the egg-shaped leaves. He is not interested in a lady. He is interested in knowing how and why the gristle in bones makes for good chewing. He is steeped in the feathers of parrots and coffee plantations and has a ticket to Uruguay.
The fisted girl has gone home to write him a note. “I will meet you in Uruguay after you learn the language. Do you think I should reconsider you? Which line should I take you? There are stars in the sky.”
He reads the note. He does not know what it means.
“OK, men,” she said. “Win me something.”
It was a lot of pressure to put on them. They would go to the sea, to the land of spices, to the borders of nether lands and cross into them with rifles. They would keep trying. They would hire mercenaries. Some of them would pillage villages and take the strong to put into the hulls to row and to carry the winnings of competitions. They would die in a storm off the coast of Africa. Others would succumb to diseases that ravaged the skin. Blood would be poisoned. They might be killed at night as they walked into a bedroom to make love to another man. If there were a woman found in the maze of doorways they used their horns and made penniless children. The lure of treasures and promises of pleasure they drank in blood.
She did not marry. She called herself a virgin. She wore jewels and bracelets made from the coins of the nation. She loved to begin a competition with a prayer. “May the best man win and the most deserving of you falter and rise again.”
They ran. They swam. They jumped. They fought. They killed. They died.
She lived to be almost a century old. By then, the winnings of the men who returned to her were paper now or museum artifacts.
An hour before she died, she was interviewed. “Tell us. What was your favorite prize?”
She thought of the men who had knelt at her feet. She thought of the ones who had tried to enter her bedroom. She thought of the ones who had cunning and regal bearing. She thought of them all. “I loved each one,” she said.
There were two death masks. One was bronze. The other gilded. She knew how they would look even before they were made, even before they became spittoons in the house of the last servant who touched her, a girl who wanted to go out to play.
Kristi Nimmo is a writer, painter, and meditation teacher. Her art and writing have appeared in journals such as Pour Vida,Thought Notebook Journal, Finery, Mouse Tales Press, em:me Magazine, Mandala Journal, The Weary Blues, and Liquid Imagination. She lives in Leesburg, Virginia.