by Emerson Flanagan
Josephine sat perched on her balcony, porcelain teacup cupped in her hands, her nails tapping the sides. She watched the bustling streets of Paris, young people coming and going early in the morning. Below the apartments across the street, a café full of older couples enjoyed the winter breeze. Her eyes darted from jewelry pieces to expensive wrist watches, envying their glamour. Standing, she went back into her apartment. The walls fashioned knickknacks from cuckoo clocks to displayed vampire hunting kits, her ever-growing collection. She walked with her cup, pushing her small bifocals up on the bridge of her nose and eyeing Van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette painting hung in an aged, golden antique frame along the hall’s wallpaper.
Setting the tea down, she flipped through her wall of clothes that spilled from the closet and into the room. Grabbing a small pile of clothes, she slipped behind the folding screen to change. Upon leaving and seeing herself in the mirror, something felt different. She puffed her chest out a bit but felt an emptiness. A lack of presence. She shuffled through the top drawer of her vanity and pulled out her cravat, tucking and flattening out her Edwardian-style blouse, a fashion trend she’s always been fond of. The corset dug into her ribs, poking and prodding with each movement but she didn’t mind. It made her chest and shoulders seem wider, more threatening. Puffier, yes that was the word.
Josephine pinned her brooch that bore the portrait of a beautiful lady on her left side of the blouse. She didn’t wear this brooch often, but today she believed today was important. The woman who had this before her had been wearing this on her special day, so it only seemed fitting. She picked the shiniest earrings she could find before standing in the mirror again. She pushed her chest out again and felt a bit better. She spun around and danced for a moment, watching her cage crinoline sway rhythmically.
Pleased, Josephine made her way to the door, stopping by a cluttered bookshelf and opening a small box. Inside were her most prized objects. Engagement rings, lockets with photos, and pocket watches of all sorts, taken from passersby. She didn’t like to steal, but something drew her to it. An overwhelming feeling of greed gnawing at her from the inside out. She liked the exhilaration of it. And, if it went well, she had a new, glistening object to look at.
Shifting through the box she removed a necklace. A simple, gold chain with a charm on it. Not just a flat, gold charm, no, this necklace was special. The centerpiece was a black diamond surrounded by small ruby gemstones. Josephine hesitated to take it with her in fears that maybe he would not like it. Would it be too much? Too forward? Too feminine? She thought again and put it in her coin purse, certain he would like it. She grabbed a pocket watch that matched her theme for the day. Running her thumb over the lid she pondered the emblem of the crow.
"People must be intimidated, she thought. Intimidated by Death’s whetted scythe. All but him."
Josephine left without hesitation for the shop. Her heels clicked against the paved and cracked streets of Paris, echoing across the concrete buildings and ringing in the ears of those around. Some ignored her while others stopped to gossip. They’d call her things like the reaper or “an omen of death.” Perhaps it was the way she dressed? The way she held herself when she walked? Well, that’s what she thought, at least. Though, the thought never remained long as she shooed it from her mind. Death is dominant over life. People must be intimidated, she thought. Intimidated by Death’s whetted scythe. All but him.
She pushed open the door to the coffee shop and stepped in. The aroma of the morning roast was so captivating one could sit there for hours. As usual, the same few old people sat at the tables outdoors while young businessmen sat inside, reading. Josephine went to approach the counter, but at the same time, he rounded the corner. A tall, olive-skinned man with a flashy smile. He had freckles across his nose and cheeks that laid out like constellations. Stars she could reach out and touch. Stars she could keep for herself.
“Josephine!” he said, tying the apron behind his waist as he approached the counter. His nametag read “Albion.” Josephine nodded at him with a smile and looked at the menu. “You’re early today,” he continued, “got something important to attend to?” he concluded, leaning over the counter towards her. She looked up and smiled again.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say it’s important. Something I’ve been meaning to do.” She spoke. His expression changed to intrigue.
“Oh? Can I know?”
“Certainly,” she said, taking out her coin purse, "open your hand.” He hesitated but obliged. Josephine plopped the necklace into his hand and looked at him eagerly. She puffed up her chest again, standing up straight.
“A necklace?” Albion asked wearily, looking at her confused. She nodded. “Ah... Well, this looks rather expensive, I don’t want to take this from you.” “Please, it is a gift.” She said, pushing his hand closer towards him. “Do you not like gifts?” Albion shook his head. It wasn’t disgust or displeasure on his face, no, it was worry. Did he know the person who she had taken it from?
“Take it, Josephine. Maybe I can accept it some other time. I fear I may lose it.” he laughed it off, handing the necklace to Josephine again. She frowned, retracting her chest, and softening her stature. It was okay, she thought, he’ll take it later. She thanked him for his time and left the shop. Lost in thought, she bumped into a man on the sidewalk.
“Watch it, freak!” He shouted at her. Freak? Was he speaking to me, she thought, or someone else? She felt herself return to that dusty old classroom again. Sitting on the creaky, chipped wood floor surrounded by hundreds of laughing faces, waving fingers and a wall of people. She wanted nothing more than to run, flee, anything. Fly. To leave all judgement in her dust and fly away to a place where she could see a bright smile and the stars in one place. A place she could have all to herself.
But for now, that place is but a distant dream. Not that it mattered much. She perched on her balcony once more, this time, clutching the new addition to her collection: a twenty-four-carat engraved pocket watch signed, “my Emily.” Her wings drooped behind her, dusting the concrete floor with sleek feathers as the breeze blew past. She twirled the necklace between her nails, now loosely resembling talons, with her free hand, lost in thought. Would Albion ever say something like that? “My Josephine” or something of the like? She’d like that. For him to look at her with that warm smile and say it. Just once, that would be enough.
About the Writer...
Emerson Flanagan is an active sophomore writer in the creative writing department at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. She enjoys writing fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She prides herself in her use of description with setting and characters.
About the Artist...
An artist looks at ordinary things, things that wouldn't interest other people, people who have no time to waste, and it's like being hit by lightning. The feeling is so erratic and fleeting; an artist has to paint it to life before it is lost. I find myself in that very cycle, I live, then I paint it.