The London Magazine

[43] & [67]

- Sam Riviere

Thirty over-thirties were invited to a party

so tedious that no one would ever speak of it helping the scene to establish its true profession­alism

as intrigues failed to ripen on the barren networks everyone drank and many regarded their options

I myself inspected for an hour a softening apple watched a postgrad pair off with a flexible broom

and when a stray pomegranat­e seed was discovered it became the night’s major point of discussion

how its transience mocked the little imitation tulips . . . Later someone showed around a fogged image of a girl

a colleague announced she could murder an olive I recalled a recent dream ¹ and everyone listened

because a need to see the night through had arisen not in case someone put on that film about dwarves

but as a task in which career prospects were levered so at twenty to four we were still wearing our spectacles

as the ambassador remarked to a visiting presence with the ample disinteres­t we all routinely employed

in this line of work there must be time for time off . . .

1. By the time the inn came into view it was almost dark. I was weary from the day’s long ride, eager to find sustenance and shelter, and it was a relief to see its little windows lit. On the threshold, stamping my boots and steaming in the peat-scented gloom, I could see I was fortunate to have kept my appointmen­t. Bowed over a small table, a figure was toying with a large orange tulip, a travelling cloak not entirely disguising the signs of bondage. Erotion – for it was she – quickly showed me how the papers I was carrying could be hidden inside the tulip’s artificial petals to ensure safe transport. Then, sipping slowly on a mud-coloured stout, she told me how she’d come into possession of the item. The tale² carried us deep into the night, and by the time I retired to my haybed in the attic I was so fatigued I felt sure that sleep would swallow me immediatel­y. But instead I lay awake, until the sounds of the village began to fill the country air outside – observing the false flower as it rested in my hand – only its weight giving a clue as to its secret cargo.

2. Formerly the slave of a benevolent though taciturn landowner, Erotion’s freedom had been promised to her in his will. On his death, however, this informatio­n was suppressed by the sickly eldest son,

who had long wanted Erotion for his concubine. When the landowner’s young daughter took pity and revealed his secret, Erotion plotted to escape, using the flower to conceal a copy of the will (a delicate contraptio­n of indetermin­ate origin, she’d discovered it among her master’s possession­s following his demise), delivering it to the nearest authority and thereby winning her freedom. But after only days on the road, news of the daughter’s untimely death (by plummeting from her bedchamber window) had reached her.³ When we met, she was intent on returning to her late master’s estates to exact revenge upon his wastrel son, her persecutor.

3. The messenger, a scribe, claimed to have overheard this detail at a university drinks party – by this point my colleagues had lost interest.

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