A Gathering of Virgins
His father wants James to marry money, breeding, blood. His son is a purebred; no mongrel pups in his house, Tara risen again. Forget dust, rubber thong sandals and swamp cool copperheads covered with scales like alligator boots. His son and the chosen one will live in a different place; elegant, controlled and sleek.
His father wants a china figure of a bride for his son with porcelain flounces gritty as sand. So he orders a cocktail party, invites a bakers dozen of pureblooded virgins, well at least virgins on the resume.
Their twittering voices cascade over James, each word petty as a tame canary's peck. He keeps stabbing his hand with toothpicks plucked from the canapés so he won't fall asleep from boredom.
The flounces of the prospective betrotheds wilt like lettuce, their manicured curls sagged with the heat. Outside Anne hides behind the trellis, wisteria a veil over her face, tears pricking her face like thorns. No chance for her.
Fairy tales grow in England, they don't grow here. James is her other half, half of her soul, meant to be, they were meant to be. They have been entwined since they were five and he stumbled upon her grasping a plastic baggie filled with tadpoles and asked what the wiggling weeds were? Since then they have been together.
One night when they were ten, they peered through a gap in a peeling wooden fence at a couple copulating in their back yard The night so hot, the couple had dragged a lumpy mattress out in the slightly cooler darkness and then they poured their bodies into each other.
Anne and James watched intently as though they were watching a pantomime that will mean something. But now that they are old enough to testify to that meaning, his father will promise him to another body, another firm young sapling body, blood so achingly pure it would sting if you tasted it.
James stares at the eddy and swirl of delicate milk shoulders, loops of moon pearls, a prick of grit worn smooth by the trudging of years. Perhaps he could love in time one of these foals. Not like Ann, never like Ann. But still pliant flesh, warm bed, his father's money. He grabs a martini, another and another, no taste, no taste, just chill and a rarified numbness. He is a purebred, weak, hollow, a stream ruined dry.
The night before the gathering of virgins, Anne threw pebbles at James' paned window, rattled him awake, a shivering of glass. Holding hands, fingers entwined so tight it hurts, they crouched outside the bar next to the abandoned cotton gin. "Oh I wish was in the land of cotton" They wished they were somewhere else.
Eyes closed, they listened to Pasty Cline walking the floor after midnight, her voice a smudged desolate promise. "Promise we will be together always," James asked, and Anne did, but with her fingers crossed behind her back. Because she knew better, no glass slipper would ever fit her foot.
Later they filled the tossed whiskey bottles with tap water, mixing the water with the dregs of whiskey. Then they chugged it and a faint drunkenness numbed them into hope. This is how it is. This is how it will be always, they try to tell themselves.
Inside his father's ballroom, virgins swirl in dress the pastel shades of crepe paper, so easily torn, such colors were not meant to be. But they are in this world. Anne's burnt nut mane would fade in this world. They would not see her, their eyes glinting, fences of ice, one touch would burn.
James closes his eyes. He hears a whiskey drenched burnished copperhead of a voice, "Walkin' after midnight". He knows he will be so many nights from now, a purebred with a purebred wife and purebred spawn. But he will drink whiskey not beached pure gin sharp, piercing as a soprano's aria, a voice that breaks glass so you no longer see out.