Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
On the Blindside
by Sonya Taaffe


I’ll tell you all my secrets, but I lie about my past
So send me off to bed forevermore
         —Tom Waits, “Tango Till They’re Sore”


The alley was full of late afternoon shadows, and the bricks were scattered with frost.

Stooping for a closer look, fingers hesitant over the cracked wall, she knelt among dead leaves and splintered plywood, the remains of fruit crates that late October rains and chills had gnawed on; stripped branches overhung the wall, out of reach and so brittle to the eye that they might snap under even the weight of the pale sunlight, the sky wind-polished to a fervent blue. Her eyes were beginning to cross, from staring. Newspaper rustled like the black-and-white ghosts of the leaves, and she felt colder inside than the dying wind.

Harder every time, to force her vision through: worse than staring a 3-D design into focus, Sam thought, and refused to blink. More like finding the trick to an optical illusion; pinning down the blind spot in her sight.
Which eye do you see me with? Chion had asked her that, boy’s dauntless voice more than twenty years gone: thin, ragged as autumn, a glancing quick-copper ease in his movements as he circled her; and she, who knew the fairy tale, held still in sick terror of the needle stabs, blind darkness, blood. Behind him, a pair of slender figures put hands up to identical mouths and giggled as Sam whispered, shaking, Both . . . Within a week, she would not fear them, Mimiko-Remembrance and Mimiko-Regret, their white-peach faces like two halves of the same moon, angular bodies that interlocked like jigsaw when one leaned on the other or wrapped an arm around a skinny waist. Then, she had closed her eyes against their merciless laughter and only opened them—fear suddenly dissolved like honey in tea, alchemized comfort—     when she heard that Chion had also begun, much more startled and much more wryly, to laugh.

A dull ache pulsed at the inside of her temples, and she exhaled hard between her teeth. Black grains were crawling across her vision now, as though brick and cinderblock and cold autumnal air were shivering apart, a cloudy break-down of atoms, molecular bands snapping one by one to reveal the vibrating emptiness between. Under her palm, the wall did not give: more solid to the touch than the eye. How had she ever found this easy? Frustration swelled in her throat like tears, dryer and more nauseous; she was scratching across the wall with both hands now, unable to see anything more than the constant headache fraying of her sight, feeling nothing more than the crystallized damp that her nails skidded through, over these rough blocks laid down in a year of industry and reason.
The blank plane of brick and pecked-out mortar shivered. A tic of flesh, skin twitching off a fly, an unwanted touch; and Sam leaned in harder, turning sideways, twisting, until the bricks like dusty, cinnamon meat yielded to her body’s weight and parted. A last icewater wash of wind skimmed over her shoulders before the wall slid grainily around her, clay and soft fruit, a smell of rotting iris and chrysanthemums sagging in a forgotten vase. Her head pounded like the god of wine’s own hangover. In the smeared and sparking darkness inside the wall, between states and certainties, Sam realized she was smiling.
Heat struck her like a slap across the face. Beneath her sweater and turtleneck, jeans worn milk-white at the knees and work boots with laces double-knotted, she was instantly rinsed with sweat; some inverse summer here, or they always kept the heat turned up. The light was gas-lamps and fluttering candles, not the sun declining toward winter. The air smelled of freshly-baked bread and, the wall’s aftertaste, decaying flowers. Stumbling from the momentum she never felt herself pick up, awkward from lack of practice, she almost ran into the broad granite workbench before she could stop herself. Across the room, a light, sliding voice said, “So the wanderer alights at last.”
Even through three years’ unfamiliarity, she could hear the surprise. Straightening, Samantha Fine wiped sweat-tangled hair away from her face and laughed, a little breathless still, a little bitter and as always dazzled.
The room was as crowded as she remembered, with the same tatty velvet and tawdry antiques that had so entranced her as a child and even a young woman. Even the broken-down gramophone, that no one had ever wound up, still stood among dried sheaves of grain and a wooden doll whose neck had broken and tilted over to one side. Unlike her memories, it was empty but for herself and Chion in the corner, one leg hooked up over the overstuffed arm of his chair and one booted foot swinging, the skirts of his vast, mole-mottled coat spread out over the stained blue upholstery like shed skins. He had acquired a walking stick since the last time she saw him, hand-polished blackthorn and a cat’s-eye slug winking in the head, that she saw when he moved his long, tea-stain fingers. All too easily, she could picture the myriad uses he would find for it.
Over his shoulders, his hair scattered like an explosion of fallen leaves, shaggy and all the colors between gold and crimson and tannin-brown. She could not read his narrow face, grooved with all manner of sidelong expressions. His eyes were lazy and metallic, warm buttons of brass.
“Is this a social visit?” If Chion had mislaid his composure, he had it back before Sam had all her breath; gaslight and candlelight sieved his eyes for brightness, dipped up reflections and dropped them as he blinked, owl-slow. “Some people write before they drop by,” and she saw finally the smallest twist of a smile at one corner of his mouth, for the thought of a letter slipped through a slot in the derelict brick, the wall at Sam’s back where threadbare tapestry made over into curtains hung down across faces of stone still harsh from the quarries. Briefly, she wondered what kind of postcards Mimiko would write, what images would appear on the stamps. Milk poured over corn; constellations like the night sky turned inside out and over itself; urban skylines as looped and jagged as handwriting. She could not imagine Chion in a post office.
Hand to hand, deft and absent, he was tossing the walking stick like a decision still unmade. She wanted to pull off her sweater, cable-knit wool gathering heat against her skin like a private greenhouse effect; not under his glinting scrutiny. Too much time between their last meeting, too much change, even as her muscles remembered an easiness in his presence, her skin their contrasted shades. For a moment as sharp as a needle, she wished for Dalmaty or even dark, bristling Vistres, anyone else in the room to break not the silence collecting between them, but all the unspoken things of three, or ten, or twenty years. Next time, I’ll remember, she had almost said; had not. Her first words, here, now, were crucial.
Gravely, Chion said, “You’re looking well.”
Unless she wanted to shout at him, she had nothing to say to that.

Of the books strewn across this side of the workbench, red and green and royal blue covers water-stained and battered at the corners, Sam picked up a random volume, opened it and stared at the neat, close-printed diagonal slants of lettering across the rough paper, the color of brown rice. Her laughter was gone, the migraine aftermath of transition back; she turned pages that she could not read and felt sweat bleeding through her shirt where it stuck to her shoulderblades, a prickling ache diffused down her bones. Children were meant to hurtle through the spaces between here and elsewhere, the fearless and innocent heroes of daydreams and nightmares, not married women returning to university in the fall for degrees in medieval history. Once she had wanted to catalogue the dynasties and protectorates that Dalmaty could recite like the alphabet, riddled with coups and illegitimate cousins and the occasional occupation, and prophecies that were neither believed nor discounted; had written down what she could remember, thirteen or moody fourteen in her mother’s never-unpacked apartment, and a classmate had read the pages and promptly wanted her to join a club for students who wrote science fiction. Probably she was not staring at a history book, right now. Poetry, or omen texts; with her luck, a romance novel.
She put it down on top of a volume whose crimson binding had washed out to pressed rose, staining the pages, and looked finally back at Chion. He had caught the walking stick on its last pass and not lowered his hand; he looked like a magician who had forgotten, halfway through, how the trick ended.
“Ah.” She could not tell what the sound meant: understanding, resignation, or simply a syllable to stall the conversation until he figured out what came next. His mouth ridged on one side in another smile, not unkind and not reassuring. “So, then. What do you want?”
She had no other first words: she gave them to him as calmly as she could. “Look at me.”
Thinner than the last time he saw her? Did he know where all the new lines had come from? Three years ago, Sam had worn her hair in a long, fair, unraveling plait; short and unexpectedly spiky for another year, it had grown out now to an uneven shock too short to pin up off her neck, too long simply to run her fingers through in the morning. Changes she did not care if Chion noticed, and she waited until his gaze moved across her face and stopped, double-checked, and he stared back into her eyes whose irises were the acid, translucent pale-green of limes: not the rind, but the tart broken flesh.
“Two years ago,” Sam said, “they were brown.”
Chion swung his leg down from the chair’s arm, dropped both hands onto the walking stick and set its tip against the timbered floor; he might have been sitting for a portrait, regarding her. “It’s a good look for you. Myself, I prefer something a little more prismatic, but the world would die of boredom if we all looked the same.”
She had not expected much of anything else. Still it astonished her, the immediate hurt and all the retorts that leaped up behind her teeth; she kept her mouth closed until she was sure none of them—The world would die of boredom if it had to listen to you talk!—would startle out. “Myself,” she said tightly, “I prefer how I looked.” Anger made her absurdly confident; she skinned the sweater over her head, left it lying over the tattered books and strode around the workbench until only an glaze-green vase half full of dry sticks stood between her and Chion. “Like myself. Not like this.”
Close enough now, she put up one hand and pushed back a forward-falling hank of hair, still fair and shot through with early grey, like all her father’s side of the family. But these strands were not silver from age, or even yellowed to ash, but hard and gleaming as wires. She had never dared cut one, to find out if it broke differently. If she would need tinsnips. Sometimes, when she turned over at night, one scratched.
When Chion’s eyes widened, their pupils dilated in slots. “That’s different.”
“That’s the obvious.” He did not ask; she did not offer. As he looked up at her, she could have reached down and sunk her fingers into his heavy, tatterdemalion hair; touched the pale scar that furrowed up one cheekbone, healed and new since she had last seen him. There was no place for desire now, even without the cold in her bones and throat as she spoke. “But even this, how long until people start to notice? Until somebody checks the color of my eyes—I have photographs, I have a driver’s license, damn it. And,” the words spilling over, no gentle way she had ever envisioned to say this fact, unwieldy, imperative, “I’m married. And we want to have children. And I can’t. Not like this. I can’t.”
One of the gas-lights sputtered in its brass fixture, sank into blue petals and died. Chion’s laugh was softer than the slight, extinguishing sound. “I shouldn’t have expected an invitation to the wedding, I suppose. When?”
“Eight months ago. Lucas. He’s an engineer.”
“Sounds very steady.”
Sam said helplessly, “He sings opera in the shower. Badly. He wants to put speakers the size of California into my car, the Bonneville, it’s the color of cherry cough syrup and he wants to make it sleek; that’s the sort of thing he obsesses about. He doesn’t know I—” Lunatic, schizophrenic, lost in fantasies; nothing Lucas would ever say, and the phrase conjured up nothing else. “See things. I don’t want to talk about him. I want—”
“To stop seeing things?” The way Chion moved, he could have broken her neck before she had time to draw breath for a scream; he ducked out of the chair, slipping past her reach and around the workbench, with little more effort than if he had leaned back into his lazing, contemplative pose again. Had he thought Sam would hurt him? The thought was as inconceivable as crushing quicksilver.
Even with the crowded span of granite between them, glass flasks and retorts clustered at his end, some still crusted with colored crystals from their long-dried contents, he hardly looked at ease. Puzzled, aching, Sam said, “I can’t keep looking in rivers and seeing a different season’s trees reflected behind me. Passing strangers on the street and noticing their shadows have colors. Windows look like doorways. Stairways stop in thin air. When I want to see, it’s like shoving mountains aside with my eyes. It gets worse every year. Something you grow out of, maybe . . . But all the little details, the distractions, they’re getting worse too. And this.” She did not have to widen her eyes, or indicate her streaked, glimmering hair. “What am I going to turn into? Lucas thinks my eyes have always been green.”
Chion picked up a small graduated cylinder, shook it until an azure glitter of dust roused up from the glass. His voice was dry as the last of autumn’s leaves. “Some husband, if he’d leave you for the color of your eyes.”
She must have been able to talk to him once: now, she could not think how. “That’s not what I mean. That’s not the point,” Sam started, and lost her temper and the rest of the sentence in a sudden shout, “Stop talking about Lucas! It’s not what I am! It’s not what I want my child to be!”
The cylinder shattered on the floor in a puff of shards and powder-blue. Chion yelled back, “And what am I to do about that?”
The savagery in his face, that had always looked made for wry smiles and harmless, biting commentary, frightened her more than the question: energized her. Like a card reversed, she stared at him across granite, books, desultory alchemical pastimes: slight and fiery as a tree unleaving, tense against the backdrop of white-flaked stone and raveling, knotwork hunting-scenes. He looked furious, stretched thin with something like terror that she had never seen in him, and for once not fast enough to evade her. Caught in her grip, his wrist was skinnier than she remembered, but the same odd hinge of bone slid under the skin as he twisted to free himself.
Hold me fast and fear me not, for I’m the father of—once, maybe. Not anymore. She wanted Lucas.

“Chion.” For a moment he stilled, eyes blind rings of bronze. “It’s your world. No one in mine has any idea. If you walked out of a wall in my Bede class, my God, the whole class would need therapy for years. That’s why—if I’d seen the way I do from birth, I’d never have made it to adolescence. I can’t pass that on to a child. It has to be here, or nowhere. I thought staying away would be enough. It’s not. Your world bleeds into mine and I don’t know how to stop it. I never see mine showing through yours,” and as she added, “It’s a one-way mirror. I’ll show you from my side,” her vision pulled apart into haze and grains of black.

Chion rippled like a reflection in stone-struck water; headache thumped into the back of her skull, jolted a sound of pain from her mouth. The walking stick clattered out of his hand. Groping for the wall, her fingers dragged through his pelt-soft hair, and he made a noise that was all protest. Her shoulder hit a heavy fold of tapestry, a chisel-scarred roughness that would take all the room’s lights like snow if she could see it. Beneath dust-choked cloth, Sam felt the stone, ungenerous, reluctant, buckle inward and into itself.
“Sam, don’t—” Darkness that eddied like oil on water, that smelled of flowering decay, dissolution and generation, cut off his words. She was burning cold, her sweat-soaked turtleneck suddenly stiff with congealing salt; she felt herself rising toward the surface of brick and razor shadows like a sleeper from dreams, a swimmer from deep and arctic water. Just before she broke surface, she realized that she was no longer holding Chion’s wrist.
She did not know how to turn, in a place with no directions; how to shout, in a place with no air; she slammed out of the wall onto hands and knees, small pains against the ironworks in her head, onto broad planks that years and bare feet had worn silken, with a grain as fine as wave-settled sand.
Within her reach, arms drawn up tight around his knees and his head bent over them, Chion huddled in his weatherbeaten coat. The noises he made might have been tears, or retching. When Sam pulled herself into a crouch, all the small bones in her spine glittered with pain; she knew no stories where travelers to the otherworld threw out their backs, and the thought would have amused her except that Chion raised his head.
His face hurt to see: sickened, shaken, all defenses scattered like the leaves of his hair. Quicksilver, crushed. She said, her voice shrunken by his pain, “Why didn’t you come with me?”
Beneath its tea-brownness, his face had turned a curdled, pale color. The scar stood out like a signature. “I can’t.”
“I can’t—cross over. I can’t even see over. I could stare at that wall until my eyes fell out and I’d see nothing more than marble and curtains. Even Mimiko couldn’t, though Remembrance always swore he could see a kind of track in the air where you’d gone. Peire tried to cast for you, once or twice, to see if we could tell when you’d arrive. She never got anything, just a mess of stalks and stones.” He swallowed audibly. “We couldn’t figure out what you were.”
Words from another reversal: what she should have spoken to him, the man in whose arms she had lost, or laid aside, or shared her virginity. Nineteen years old, and Chion scarcely two years older; Mimiko had found them wrapped in one of his perpetual winter coats, tucked into an arch of ivory-colored stone beneath the sky that dazzled so blue it was almost violet, daystars pricking out a web of greater and lesser lights above the afternoon skyline. The warm air had smelled of cinnamon and snow. Crows black-winged against the brightness. Someone practicing an instrument that sounded like a cello, persistently and inexpertly, somewhere in the great terraced honeycomb of stone. Even under Mimiko’s absentminded, overlapping mockery, Sam had imagined that she might stay there, that way, forever: so much stranger and easier than scholarships and dormitories and phone calls from her father. That year, and ten years after. The only thing ordinary in a world full of arcana.
She was not crying. She did not know why this surprised her. “You never said.” Blankly, as though her brain and tongue had parted ways, “The stories are full of people like you.”
“No.” He was recovered enough to tilt one dark-copper brow at her, weakly. “The stories are full of people like you.”
Walking on the blindside, she had always called it: because no one else ever seemed to notice, the thin places in the world that were like neon and magnets to her less than invisible to everyone else. With both eyes, she had seen him; and never seen him at all.
“Your eyes,” Chion said, dreamily and acidly. “Your hair. If those were the price even to glimpse half a second, half a shadow of somewhere else—suns, I’d pay it in a heartbeat. Less. Are you mad? Your child would be blessed.”
Easy for him to say, who wanted and paid nothing. Who had not found, sluicing off soapsuds in the shower, the birthmark that had tattooed itself around one ankle, dapples as random as watered silk and delicately charcoal-grey; who had not woken from a nap to find that the piercings in his ears had healed over while he slept, and punched them anew with a needle heated over the stove’s gas flame; whose children would think a skyful of scattered suns natural, and never startle at seeing them wink like heat-haze among early-morning skyscrapers. Sam raised one hand to pinch the bridge of her nose hard, halted the gesture to look at the candlelight flicking warm sparks from the band of plain gold on her fourth finger.
“You promised to spoil my wedding,” she said slowly, remembering. “If I married anyone besides you. Years ago you said that, and I was still actually worried, waiting for you to show up. Lucas had to promise he’d personally beat up anyone who stood up in the middle of the ceremony, even if it was his grandmother—you’d like him, I think. So I thought you knew. You swore . . .”
“I know, I know: oak, ash, thorn, and bone. I know.” Rueful and shyly defiant, a glance across the no longer incalculable space between them, “I boasted.”
“I believed you!”
“Well.” The familiar smile like a lick of flame across his dark face, slowly gathering color and confidence back to itself like the sun kindling in a burning-glass, refractions in a prism. “That will teach you.”
Once she might have kissed him, to take that smile from his face. Now she leaned her head back against the draped wall, immovable as belief, as friable, and laughed. “So,” she said softly, when even her smile had faded, “you can’t stop it.”
“No. I am sorry.” Cross-legged with his back to the rusted clepsydra that had run dry years ago, its tall brass mechanism set with the enameled faces of planets and stars, houses of the heavens and wandering orbits, no zodiac of Sam’s sky, Chion laid his walking stick across his lap and looked her over. Head to foot, the usual differences and the odd; tabulating, and perhaps not caring. Sam returned his scrutiny: her stranger. Not hers. She had never asked what Lucas saw, when he looked at a river, or a sunrise, or her. Perhaps she should look more closely. Perhaps she should ask; and hope that, whatever beautiful monster might look back from her mirror in time, Lucas’ eyes were better than her own.
Chion’s face was quiet, considering. Over her shoulder, as she rose to her feet and began to look again through molecules and void with her eyes as bright as limes, secondhand sight, Sam said, “Just hope that the kid inherits from me. Because this will be sad all round if she never gets to meet her godfather.”
Both, and he had laughed in the same wry surprise. Standing again among frost and bare-branched shadows, Sam thought for a moment that she could still hear him. But she looked back and saw only sunlight, moving like a maze on the unremarkable brick.

"On the Blindside" was originally published in Flytrap #4, May 2005.

Sonya Taaffe
has a confirmed addiction to folklore and mythology. A respectable amount of her work has recently been collected in Singing Innocence and Experience and Postcards from the Province of Hyphens (Prime Books). She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Classics at Yale University.
That's what she said about herself, but many others are saying a lot more (especially now that two collections have been  released), all along the lines of "Sonya Taaffe is a young woman with an immensely bright future."
 Just released
with introductions by Tim Pratt

Postcards from the Province of Hyphens marks the debut of Sonya Taaffe's first full-length collection, with nearly fifty poems and prose pieces, including the Rhysling award-winning and -nominated poems.





Singing Innocence and Experience is Taaffe's first collection of short fiction (though she has several chapbooks available). Here,boundaries between worlds dissolve to reveal unmasked harlequins and women made of stars, serpentine plagues and New England storm gods, and many other denizens of the spaces between.

Read a Bookslut interview of Sonya here.

Visit Myth Happens, Sonya Taaffe's livejournal


The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"On the Blindside" copyright © 2005 by Sonya Taaffe, first appeared in Flytrap #4, May 2005.
This short story appears here with thanks to Sonya Taaffe, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This is the first in a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004