by Khalilah Okeke
She drifted through the stone silent house. She was ready to be home. The moon watched through a bay window, its silvery brilliance splashed on the shadows. Valentina heard Francesco stir in his sleep, she moved toward him, far-off whipping waves drummed in her ears, the ivory train of her dress swept the terracotta tiles as she sailed down the hall.
She caught him, hot beneath the sheets, legs entangled with the tan sculpted thighs of a woman. Their peaceful profiles rested on her pillows.
Valentina’s pierced glare roused Francesco from his slumber. She mounted his lap her breath steamed like fog. “Am I hallucinating?” he whispered. He jabbed his elbow into the dreaming woman’s ribs, “Wake up.” Her drowsy eyes shuddered. She screamed and leapt from the bed, flesh bouncing as she bolted for the door. The scent of their lust trailed behind her.
“Valentina, is that you?” He regarded her lead-white skin, her hair tightly-pinned head crowned with a garland of black blood dahlias. Valentina spread her powerful white wings and overshadowed the room. She flapped them violently; the house quaked, picture frames shattered in crystal shards. Valentina wailed, spewing ash as she howled - burying his body beneath it. Francesco sat up on his forearms and struggled to wipe the soot from his eyes. He stared into hers. They still enchanted him like the African violets from her garden. Petals misted in rain.
“They couldn’t save you both,” he yelled. “I couldn’t let him die!”
“Was it ever love?” she muttered.
“Please,” he begged. “You’ll wake the baby.”
The baby’s soft utter drew Valentina’s attention. She flew over to her son lying in the wicker basket. He was swaddled in a muslin cloth, gazing out the glass-pane at blazing stars. She fluttered above him and raised a shushing finger to her mouth. Music slipped from her lips in sacred vibrations - her son grasped at their swirls of light. She sang until he fell asleep then turned her back and disappeared into the darkness.
Francesco awoke in the morning, the dreaming woman’s side of the bed ice-cold. He slunk onto the floor. “Emmanuel,” he said, into the quiet. There was nothing left but a woven casket. A feather settled in his place.
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