Veil of Ebon

She is only a moth, thoughtless and lovely, fluttering through the midnight garden of my mind—


From behind, a veil of ebon hair, sinuous back, dimples at the base of her spine. The music throbs, and her hips respond. A shimmy ripples the black feathers that sweep from her tailbone, revealing a flash of thigh. When she turns, the feathers frame a curve of hip, a wedge of lace. The rest of her naked, transfixed by the spotlight, but for her arms. Those winged arms!

It’s wrong (it’s right).

When she spreads her wings the room releases a fervent sigh.

She kneels, arches back until her shoulder blades kiss the dance floor. The smooth curve of her belly descends to round breasts, peaked nipples. Wings drift to earth and pulse. The contours of her shoulders rise and fall, and then she settles into stillness.

From my table, I shine wisdom like a beacon, wishing only to lure her into enlightenment. But she is senseless to all but the drumming of her own heart and the pheromones emanating from the dark recesses of the club.

Valentine, Valentine. Why must you beat yourself against the glassy ignorance of their desire?



I wait for her outside, beyond the light. She exits, wings in a messenger bag.

As I watch she becomes confusedpoor little moth, so easily misled—headed for the streetlamp instead of the moon. I redirect. She tries to fly, but with no feathers she is bound to earth.

Valentine, this is good. Yes? 

I help her into my car.



Even her eyelashes glitter. I wash her face and they dissolve. She turns pubescent, showing one year to four of mine.

“I am Henry.” I lift her chin, but she reveals only the whites of her eyes.

“Liza,” she whispers.

“No. Valentine.” I’ve captured her, named her, but still she folds into herself. Refuses to see.



Valentine sits pinned to a straight-backed chair, repeating after me:

“Illumination. Perception. Sanctitude.” But her voice is flat—she doesn’t mean it. The rhythmic stroke of my words fails to move her. When I cup her in my hands, she flutters.

Small, foolish thing. I tighten my fingers and she calms.



I strap the wings back onto her arms, but they sag broken to the linoleum.

Too late, too late.

She has been struck dumb. She is lost.



I squeeze her heart into a mason jar. It pulses against the glass.

Outside now, can she feel the geomagnetic pull of truth? I shove a spade into the dark earth under the oak tree.

I work in circles around the edge of the hole. The knowledge of the river seeps up through the dirt as I reach for the jar. Here I will extinguish the spotlight, the streetlight, and leave only the moon—a spirit line from my mind to her heart.

~Kelleynne H. Riley