This girl, her name is Alphabet because she was there at the beginning and she will be there at the end. Alphabet has seaweed-coloured skin and a beautiful candelabra where her left arm should be. The candelabra was dripped out of hot silver by her lover. Alphabet is in love.
“Once upon a time,” Alphabet tells her lover in the middle of the night, “my brother and I set sail in a coffin to escape. It does not matter what we had to escape from. We floated for years and years, and my brother and I learned to swim like Olympic divers, and dreamed our parents were rainbow trout. We floated around the tip of Africa. We lived for three weeks on a chip of ice in the Antarctic. It was cold,” she says, “but we loved each other, so that helped.”
“Did you ever come ashore?” her lover asks.
“No,” Alphabet says. “Never, until you caught us in your fishing nets.”
* * *
When the two of them first met, Alphabet did not have a candelabra. She had nothing but a space where her arm should be and a haunted smile. Her lover—although he did not know yet that he loved her—pulled the coffin in from the sea, expecting a handful of old bones or pirate treasure or a sleepy Middle Eastern zombie, but instead found Alphabet with her brother curled up around her, precise as a slipstitch in fabric. He brought them to his mansion by the coast. He dressed them in expensive designer clothes and gave them their own quarters. Alphabet’s lover is a rich man.
* * *
After a while Alphabet grows silent. She used to light all the candles on her silver arm at night, to trickle wax down her lover’s bare back while she knelt above him, naked, the firelight making her into a Picasso sketch. Now she only lies in bed without speaking. Alphabet’s lover knows she is nursing a secret.
He goes to visit Alphabet’s brother, whose name is Ghost Story. He finds Ghost Story playing chess by himself in front of the bathroom mirror. “Do you like my chess set?” Ghost Story asks cheerfully. “I carved it myself.”
“What is the matter with Alphabet?” her lover asks. “She hardly speaks to me. She hardly speaks at all anymore. Have I done something wrong? Have I offended her somehow? How can you play chess, when all the pieces are white?”
Ghost Story smiles. He offers a white king. “I’ll show you,” he says, and he does. His smile tastes sharp and very sweet.
* * *
That night, Alphabet tiptoes past the bed where her brother and her lover sleep tangled together. She walks out to where the tide reaches up to the back door of the mansion house. She walks into the water.
Once upon a time Alphabet and her brother set sail in a coffin and ate the ocean up in bites with their sharp teeth. Ghost Story is always hungry. In the middle of the night Alphabet grasps sand on the ocean floor, wanting to breathe water, but Ghost Story pulls her out of the ocean, a grin on his face, heroic. Alphabet lies on the beach and screams and screams. Her lover carries her to bed, makes her hot cocoa, kisses her cold skin. “Do you love me?” she asks him, asks him again, and he says yes, I love you, yes, of course I love you, staring at the white meat of her right arm, delicious on the bone.
* * *
Alphabet’s mother was shaped like a church bell, and had soft pale skin. She taught Alphabet to sing and play the piano and stitch delicate bleeding hearts onto silk handkerchiefs. She gave Alphabet herbs growing inside old dancing shoes. In a different life, Alphabet thought, her mother might have been a mollusk, that sweet flesh inside a shell, and Alphabet thought she might have ended her days in hot water, salt, butter, thyme, sorrel, rosemary. Alphabet’s father had a voice like a shotgun. In a different life, he would have been the fork that lifted his wife to a mouthful of teeth.
Alphabet’s parents are dead now. There would have been a funeral pyre, but there was so little left to burn. Ghost Story took his mother’s coffin and made it waterproof with varnish, and packed his big knife and his fishing line. Alphabet packed a mint plant growing in a black high-heeled shoe, and a pair of evening gloves; two gloves, one for each arm.
* * *
Ghost Story and Alphabet’s lover play chess for hours. All thirty-two pieces are white, and the game is not so much about winning as it is about the way their two heads bend in close over the board, and their fingers brush each other’s fingers when exchanging pawns and bishops. “I am in love with your sister,” Alphabet’s lover says, firmly. Ghost Story smiles. “I know,” he says, “don’t worry. Everyone is in love.”
Alphabet is sitting up naked in bed when her lover comes in late and flushed from playing chess all night. She pops the buttons on his waistcoat, one by one, each button a tiny flick of two fingers. She slides her hand up underneath his shirt. “Tell me you love me,” she says.
“I love you,” he says breathlessly.
“Tell me you love every bit of me. All of me.”
“Say you love my left arm.”
Her lover is beginning to feel uneasy. “But we’ve never met,” he says, bewildered.
Alphabet kisses his neck, down his neck, chest, stomach. Her lover sighs. “I love your left arm,” he says. She bites the skin of his stomach, at first gently, and then hard enough that he hisses breath, and then hard enough that he shouts. She licks her lips. “Sweet,” she says.
Alphabet offers her right arm. Her lover nips her skin. “Sweet,” he says.
She bites his shoulder. He bites her breast. “Mint,” she says.
They chew and chew. This is how much they love each other, and are consumed. Bones litter the bed. Some day, before they devour each other, Alphabet’s lover will mould silver in the shape of forks and sugar spoons and picture frames, to fix in the place of their missing limbs. Ghost Story will gather up the bones to make chess sets. He will win every time.
Alphabet eats her lover’s smallest finger. He eats her right ear. “Tell me again,” he says, and so she begins. Once upon a time.
Becca De La Rosa lives in Dublin, Ireland. Her fiction has previously appeared in Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Behind the Wainscot, among other places. She dreamed this story. It was not a happy dream. To read more of her work, visit her website: www.beccadelarosa.com.