Listen to Let Me Tell You by m b blissett
He’s my doppelganger
Aside from the scar
On his cheek
Splits the beard like
A fork of lightning
Tells me to put the
In the 1230 at Kempton
He promises me
A life as fierce and testing
A final masculine riot
Of bruising ecstasy
I spend the money on a coat
A hardback and a good cup of coffee
Feed flakes of a pastry to the birds
Watch the grease shining
On my fingers
Bear the joy
Of it all
Are too long
Like a chattering nest
Of insects in the walls
Not the bleak anxieties
But the hope
The wonder when it will
All come together
Like finding a religion
On the ability to
Find the broken
Bulb on a string of
And some nights
Gone too soon
Lit up from within
And I bear them both
As I sit with
Hold the pen
And work a little
I’ve been careless
Clumsy with enthusiasm
Following stories to their ending
Still refusing to walk under
Ladders even though there are
People gluing themselves
Back together in my wake
And wishing I would
Offer cake at my passing
And sing made up lyrics
To the songs they’d play
But how I know
They thought well of me
Once and in time’s passing
Might not wish me the
Hurt I’ve caused them
Alexandra Garrett, Captain of the dread ship Fish Tailed Bitch put her hands to her head as it throbbed like an abscess. She heard her first mate Oliver whispering her name. She moved onto her side and rasped for him to bring her chamber pot to her.
Oliver held it so she could vomit with the blithe ease of experience before she wiped her lips with the back of her hand. She reached under her pillow, uncorked the bottle of thick, red liquor with her teeth and slugged half of it down before rinsing her mouth out and spitting it into the chamber pot. She sat up as Oliver took the pot outside. When he returned, she had lit a cheroot and pulled her long red hair back into a loose ponytail.
‘Now what the fuck warrants a visit at this hour?’
Her voice was the crisp, nasal tones of a good education and breeding. It had the colloquial rasp of years spent traversing then conquering the pirate underworld but each time she spoke, Alexandra could see the light in a man’s eyes change. The other times she saw it was when she killed or fucked them, but it was always the voice that unmanned her efforts.
The previous First Mate, Leopold had learned that to his detriment when Oliver had summoned to her cabin five years ago. Leopold walked away, clutching his groin and weeping before being thrown overboard. Oliver had never asked what Leopold had done, and it had been the first of many careful decisions that had led to his tenure being without incident.
‘We have a small problem, Captain.’
Another careful decision was that Oliver presented any problem to the Captain as small.
Attempted mutiny? Small.
Sightings of a leviathan or Raoul, the cannibal squid? Miniscule.
A dose of Galloping Cock-Rot that was making the crew eat one another? Tiny.
In three years she had gone from Captain Lithe-Britches concubine to captaining her own ship. Oliver needed her to come to the upper decks and see what had happened, but he did not want to die trying to achieve it. She had managed this with a permanent case of violent seasickness whenever she stepped aboard.
‘You had best lead the way, then.’ she said.
Oliver hid his relief. He walked as he heard her buckle her sword belt on and mutter to herself. His heart skipped a beat.
Captain Garrett would figure it out, he told himself.
She had to.
Captain Garrett had faced down many threats and situations. She prided herself on her capacity to endure and thrive, to look Death in the face and keep going.
What she looked at now was her own reflection, distorted by the curvature of the solid wall of glass that stretched beyond the limits of her vision.
‘So, did we sail into this or did it appear?’ she said.
Her voice was playful, perturbed and curious about what had happened. She looked at her crew, some of the deadliest, most cunning pirates to set sail and not a single one of them had a clue.
Garrett sighed and shook her head.
‘I want cannons fired at it, Oliver. I cannot remain in one place, trapped inside whatever the fuck this is, understand?’
Oliver gave a small cough and asked permission to speak.
Garrett watched the shimmer of light on the glass, the lazy, sibilant slap of the waves against the curvature reflecting the sloshing knot inside the pit of her stomach. She paced the upper deck, swallowing the sour, hot acid of mingled nerves and excitement, head aching from dehydration as her thoughts grew sharp and ugly, dashing themselves against the inside of her skull.
The association made itself apparent, she fought the impulse to ask for a drink, instead walking repeated circles, looking at the huge translucent wall curved upwards. She plucked experience from the bone powder and blood meal fat morass of her memories, asides and inferences given new context with a blithe, intuitive lack of care. The poetry of a cannonball, the tang of smoke in her nostrils and the flight of splinters given terrible velocity by the precise application of force.
Men who had lived and died for her, without promise or expectation of reward.
‘If it’s too thick, it won’t do much but waste a cannonball, Captain and it might bounce back. Plus if we shatter it, then won’t it fall on us?’
Garrett gave a cold smile and winked at Oliver.
‘So, as things go, this is bloody strange eh?’ she said
She smiled, fighting a sudden bout of the crippling sea sickness which she passed off as accepted pirate behaviour.
‘Hell of a way to go out, though, isn’t it?’ she said.
They went to gather the barrels of powder for the cannons.
Captain Garrett gave the order to fire.
The concern was the behaviour of the round shots.
Much like herself, Garrett knew of how she could caper and flail, leading to a windage which had the potential of bouncing back to reward her initiative with further destruction. A lifetime spent amidst flame and ravage had prepared her to face the worst of the world with a smile and a plan beyond the initial disaster.
Strange, large structures presented a new challenge for her.
Oliver saw the trembling in her hands as she raised them for the cannons to fire and his heart fluttered with nascent sympathy. She had been wrong before, but they were always small incidents, embarrassment over anything lethal. He muttered a small prayer and looked away.
The sound of the cannons became a tangible bank of force, pinching and slapping the breath from their lungs, rocking them backwards on their heels as their ears rang and eyes stung from the acrid smoke.
Garrett peered through the smoke. She cupped a hand to her left ear.
What came back from the confrontation in the beginning was the percussive refrain where the shot reached and struck the glass, a sound more felt in the bone than heard in the ear. It echoed around them, making Garrett give a raised eyebrow to Sketchley, already loading another shot into the cannon to prepare for a further assault.
She narrowed her eyes as the echo faded.
The sound warped, moving from audition to vibration as the crew stood in a perfect, desperate silence.
Oliver watched his captain retrieve a small faded photograph from her breast pocket and pressed it to her lips. She squeezed her eyes tight and murmured a name underneath her breath before she replaced the photograph and lifted her chin upwards. She adjusted her hat, rolled her shoulders back and pointed to the curved wall of glass.
The cracks were silver, summoned by the force of Garrett’s will, condensed into a single assault and making themselves known in an air of subtle menace. They appeared, shy at first, before gaining boldness and depth as they fed upon the inviolate, impenetrable glass. The ocean streamed in, trickling before rushing in and sending up banks of fine spray which soaked everyone on the upper deck.
Garrett and Oliver looked at one another, eyes shining with fear and excitement as the cracks spread across the curved expanse and the world fell in around them.
Kim looked up from her book. A sharp crack travelled to her from the back of the store.
Harold had called in sick so she had to unpack the inventory by herself. She did not complain because Harold never got paid for his time at All Kinds. He took whatever books he wanted, but they had thousands of them in the back.
Kim got up and walked through to the second room where they displayed the items that looked interesting. It ranged from hand stitched dolls of Japanese kitsune through to brass sextants. As she switched on the light, she heard the dripping of water and her heart sank, afraid that the pipes had given up and died on her.
To her mingled relief and regret, the jagged remains of a fish bowl laid there, the water puddled amidst the broken remains of the miniature wooden ship that had sat floating within it now splinters and lumps.
Kim looked down and sighed. She went to call for Harold, but then she remembered and trudged away, looking for a dustpan and brush.
Garrett, Sketchley, Oliver and Benjamin sat atop the constructed raft, looking up at the new world around them. Oliver cast a glance at Garrett who was looking up and grinning.
She looked at him and her grin widened.
‘This will be epic.’
These are not words
But the stamping of
My heels to the floor
The beats of my heart
The growls of command
My passion wears armour
To hide the scars
But such as I am
I am compelled to
Fight and risk wounds
Seen and unseen
The floor was hard against my bare knees. My hands were cracked and reddened from the lye Mrs Peters insisted on using. My shoulders and back ached from scrubbing the same spot over and over, creating thick plumes of suds and fumes to make my eyes water.
I had been tasked with the cleaning of the kitchen. It was another of Mrs Peter’s polite cruelties disguised as request. The kitchen collected grease and dust the way a miser hoarded pennies. She took great pleasure in giving me the responsibility of bringing it to a standard since Nan took a turn and had to go back to Warwick.
Her disdain, dressed in decorum had made my month in service feel like an eternity. My references were sound. Mr Lewis was not an effusive man, but he had listed my qualities with clarity.
Mrs Geraldine Peters had set herself to the task of instructing me in misery. She had gone over to Reverend Granger’s house, such was her confidence in my obedience.
Arthur the stable hand had gone with Mr Peters to purchase a colt from auction. So I did not even have him to keep me company. The sun had risen to a great, furious height already when I heard the sound of footsteps.
I glanced upwards. I met his warm, brown eyes. Over the lye-infused steam, I caught the scent of him, his musk, leathery and with hints of sandalwood. He wore a suit of faded velvet, with a silver watch chain dangling from his waistcoat. His shirt was silken, faded to shades of autumn that changed wherever the light struck them. He had mismatched buttons of pearl that were sewn on with practiced care.
‘How may I help you, sir?’
He chuckled and scratched the stubble on his chin.
‘Oh no, Miss, it is a matter of how I may help you. I have useful wares to sell if you’ve a mind to look.’
I stopped scrubbing and sat up, rubbed the small of my back with my palms to alleviate the ache.
‘A mind to look is all the currency I have, Sir.’
He smiled and gestured outside.
‘The finest coin of all, some would say.’
I sighed with amused impatience. He had an easy smile and large, muscular hands. The thought came to me of being caught with him and it made my stomach churn.
‘You should go, sir. My mistress doesn’t take to peddlers.’
He frowned and leaned forward.
‘And you’d rather be here on your knees when you could come outside for a few minutes, find something you’d like.’
He gestured to the warm, bright day behind him. It was his accomplice.
I had worked since breakfast. A moment with him if only to see him off the grounds would be a small reward for her efforts.
I got to my feet. He flashed a grin at me over his shoulder and I followed him outside.
His pack was by the gate, awash with scarves and trinkets tied on. He reached inside and retrieved a bolt of silken material with a theatrical flourish and laid it at my feet.
‘A little theatre brings fire to the soul.’
He moved between the pack and decanted the contents onto the silk.
A handful of button that made wondrous play of the sunlight where each one caught it.
Reels of coloured cotton and needles of various sizes and configurations, gleaming steel and glistening bone.
Silk shirts with monograms stitched into the breast.
A thick shawl woven with rainbow colours and patches of different pieces of fur.
Skirts and bonnets, good but worn from previous use.
If his wares had been too fine, my suspicions would have drawn me away. Yet their quality had weathered a few seasons.
He had one more item to offer. A long necked bottle stoppered with a wax seal. An amber fluid sat at the base, heavy and thick.
‘Trust a tinker to sell a potion.’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘Regardless of whether I am a tinker or a pedler, I offer wares of import and import. Things that a cunning woman might use.’
I pointed at the bottle.
”What might a cunning woman use that for?’
He picked it up and handed it to me. The liquid was warm through the thick glass of the bottle.
‘The buyer decides before the seller has cause to speak.’
I tilted the bottle, watched the liquid play within it.
‘Unless it’s a salve for my hands, it’s pretty but useless.’
He curved his silken lips into a smile.
‘For a bit of bread and a cup of water, it’s yours.’
Mrs Peters brooked no tradespeople or unannounced visitors, so I was already at risk so bread and water made no difference. I glanced at the bottle, wondering how the seal of wax would crack beneath my fingers.
‘What’s it called?’
I blanched and started to back away.He shook his head.
‘It’s no poison. It thwarts despondence and lends adventure.’
I blushed and looked away.
‘Do I look like I need those?’
‘Every woman does.’ he said.
‘A few glasses of ale does that, I find.’
He laughed and closed my fingers over the curve of the bottle.
‘A drop between your eyebrows before bed and you’ll be preaching its virtues.’
The silver watch chain on his waistcoat caught the sun in a sharp flash of light.
‘Or decrying its vices.’
He smiled and took a step backwards.
‘The difference between the two is a matter of opinion, Miss.’
My heart thumped a little faster at the slow curl of his voice.
‘Come, I’ll feed and water you, sir, but not more.’
He bowed from the waist and grinned at me.
‘I like your spirit, Miss, it’s a true beguilement.’
I cut him two thick slices of coarse bread, buttered it in thick layers and drew up cool water from the well. Despite his fancy words, he ate with a primal lack of self-consciousness.
Sharing this simple meal with him put me between duty and pleasure. Duty wore the grim face of Mrs Peters, smeared with dust and kitchen grease.
Pleasure sat across from me. He had a smear of butter on the cleft of his chin. The bottle sat on the table and I kept glancing at it when the caramel pools of his eyes grew too enticing.
‘Try a drop.’ he said
My hands shook at his directness.
‘What if it should render me insensible?’
He laughed and finished the last piece of bread.
‘A drop on the forehead would lend you the vigour to get this kitchen finished.’
His challenge was indirect but implicit. He held no judgements to thwart me and I cracked the seal with a thrill of greed. I decanted a single drop onto my fingertip.
I dabbed it between my eyebrows. The skin tingled and grew warm. The warmth moved downwards, gaining power on its descent. A giddiness enveloped me and the muscles in my body relaxed into a state of utter bliss.
I awoke to the sound of amused consternation. Mrs Peters stared at me in disbelief. I was still at the stool and flinched, preparing to apologise for my slovenly ways.
Until I looked around at the kitchen.
Every visible surface was scrubbed, swept and polished. A pot of stew bubbled happily on the stove and gave off a meaty aroma that made our stomachs yawn with hunger.
‘You’ve outdone yourself.’
The lack of effusiveness did not make her compliment any less surprising. The tinker had gone along with the bottle, but I was too stunned by the state of the kitchen to notice it then.
He had placed it in my effects, with a sheaf of paper wrapped around it.
You did not ask, you simply trusted to your instincts. Consider this a gift, and I give those without expectation of reward or acknowledgement. I will walk in this part of the world again soon and I will call on you.
I hid the bottle. Something of me hid alongside it, flushed and covetous by what had happened.
Three nights later, he returned.
Three nights after that, I left with him.
Mrs Peters would have offered references worthy of being mounted in a frame or adapted to the stage but I had no need of them.
He did not need a maid. Not in the places he took me to.
Me in thought
If not in flesh
And the latter feeds
Have me leaving marks
On your skin
Deep as the ones
On your soul
And I remain
Fierce with desire
Yet gentle in my touch
Until you compel
And even then
I hold enough
To deny even
Myself on occasion
So I can taste your own
Of delicious agony