Female of the Species

by Sophie Bagster

I decided for whatever seemingly fickle reason – quite unbeknownst to myself – to take my tea on the balcony that night. I didn’t particularly have much else to do, and I thought, if I were to do anything, why not melt a lump of sugar into a teacup while the world was dark. The night occurred to me as the moonless moments before the beginning of a film. An audience jittering, begging to know what will happen. I felt as if I already knew the answer. I was encompassed by a black boredom, and grim as it sounded, the lull of the city did not excite me. These nights were long, long as the sea and I was no sailor. Never had been. An insomniac, perhaps, but no sailor. 

Here, the nights bore a full set of teeth that did indeed bite. The streets squirmed with arm-in-arm lovers lavished in fur coats and candy-striped canes, funny-looking men on stilts high as the stars, toothsome jazz pouring from every crevice of the city’s perfumed neck. A circus. Perhaps I had become a touch mad in my anguish, but the city did not scream such magic to me. I was deafened. I was wrapped in the suffocating absence of a long gone paramour, turning my ribcage to stone. Here I was, a young woman sipping from a chipped teacup alone and oh! In a city of whimsy! The moon appeared to me but a prop, painted by stage hands. The streets below a mirage of an audience, fickle and adorned with jewels that shone like little fish in a strange sea. The whole thing just flickered like a film reel. 

I let the tea slither down my throat, and I think of how it would feel to swallow a worm, still writhing all the way down, lost in that peculiar and warm, dark place. Would it have felt familiar? Mistaken it for homely dirt? 

I lit a cigarette.

I was watching the smoke curl into the air like an illustration of sorts, when my eyes caught sight of the spider gathered up in the corner of the balcony. I didn’t know spiders could look like her. She was all femme-fatale sitting pretty in her decadent web, speckled with pearls like beads of morning dew. It glistened at me. She had this ovoid spectral face like a mime with painted cherry lips and long legs, all eight of them clad in fishnets. Her eyelashes flickered under the paper moonlight, so long that I wondered if when she bats them a soft wind might ripple my earl grey sea. 

This lady didn’t do so much as to even glance at me, and I thought it quite rude of her, considering this is my balcony she was looking so handsome in. Her eyes were fixed someplace else, toward the ledge of the balcony which separated us from the circus. What was it that took her fancy? Not the maddening streets below, not my half-lively cigarette, but rather at the gent in the coat and vest. He wasn’t half bad himself, almost as handsome as she. Perhaps I was about to get a show. My own balcony, a cabaret of well-dressed creatures. 

He notices her slower than what I believe she would have liked. I think I saw the poor gent gulp when he caught sight of her. He moved quite haphazardly, flitting about in the air before landing in the same spot he was already sat in. Then, he vomited all over his hands. How, gentlemanly. I squirmed. The lady didn’t appear too phased, maybe she’d had a long string of paramours who 

had the same vice. He vomited on his hands once more, this time slicking back his hair. The pair stared at each other for what seemed like forever, as if the air had turned thick with my tobacco. Anticipation ate away at bones, chewed on the flesh of my heart ever so slightly. I wanted, quite devilishly, to be entertained. I wondered if they were in love, or were soon to be. She grinned at him, flashing her oh-so-sharp fangs, knowing the poor gent was already dumbstruck. She was waiting for him to make his move. Everything was in its right place –

nights were just made for lovers like these. The ones you eye off from across the theatre, caught up in the strange beauty of one another rather than the melodramatic mockery atop the stage. I shimmied further into my seat and took another drag. The gent finally mustered the courage, and entered stage left, buzzing up to where she sat in languid silence. He perched adjacent to the dashing lady and offered her his hand – as any gentleman would. She accepted. And then they began a waltz. 

Not a waltz I had really seen before, where sweethearts walk to-and-fro in a square of footsteps. No, this was magical. The pair seemed to fly, swinging each other around in their own glittering microcosm of a buggish-dance no human could possibly muster – not by the way they mangled and contorted their bodies. Twists! and turns! and sails! and soars! A thought passed me at once, 

surely one cannot dance that deliciously with a stranger? They must be in love, they just must be! The thought gnawed away at my heart. 

The handsome gent and the dazzling lady danced, and danced to the beat of the city with top and bottom molars (that do, indeed bite) until she stopped him in a spin just short of her opalescent web. The air of the scene became heavy with something, something one could not name. In one swift move of utter grace, the lady sank her glittery fangs into the crook of the gents neck. All three-thousand lenses of his eyes widened, not languishing in such revelations. Oh. 

The gent’s poor little limbs twitched and tottered, his coat and vest drenched in the colour of fear as the lady began to oh-so-delicately wrap him in silk. Velvet, the coloured like mother’s milk. Like a babe. Like he was precious, begging to be coddled. Oh how well it would suit that already beaded web of hers! 

Shock! Shock! Horror! Horror! Ladies and gents and…others.

The curtains closed in on my balcony. I could feel the velvet suffocate me. The lady finished her delicate wrapping and I peered down into the street below. Although flashy, the night did have some sort of ringing charm to it, a luring charm that perhaps I had resisted for too long. I knew the story, I had known it far too well but yet there was just something about it that did not sit correctly with me. How starving must one be? How cruel must one become in order to eat? In order to live? It toyed with me, until I felt the whole ocean swell in my stomach. I glanced back at her, and she winked at me with those long, long lashes. Batted them at me with a gracious swoop. Mister Cardboard Moon beamed at me. Loose leaves pooled in the bottom of my teacup in shapes I cannot make out, but give the faintest impression of a long gone paramour. I felt like perhaps I was taking up too much room on this balcony. Overwhelmed by the sheer darkness of the dark sky, the lure of the alluring city below. I could not stay perched on that balcony to watch the languid lady devour the gent and lick her eight limbs trying to gather what aftertaste she can. 

I left my tea astray on the balcony in a rabbity decision to descend into the circus below. I was a crescendo in the darkness of the apartment complex. I tap-tapped down the staircase right into the grinning, drooling jaw of the night. It was like a cat, sly and nimble and purring up against my leg. It may as well have been a large body of water, swallowing me whole.

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