Emmet Brosnahan, self-appointed poet laureate of Galway, sat nose to the countertop in a pub of forgotten name on E 91st Street. His head was supported only by an elbow, that being at the other end of a firm grip on a tuft of ruddy hair. Emmet had never actually been to Galway. He grew up near Delvin in Westmeath, which, by Galway accounts, isn’t very close. And it had been a good while since Emmet had written anything poetic.
A stupid grin was twisted about Emmet’s mouth. It was twisted there in one part love, two parts remorse. Whatever parts remained were twisted there as the result of a facelift, a facelift courtesy of gravity and the firm grip Emmet had on his own locks.
It didn’t matter who was asking it. The bartender maybe? Odd query for a Yank. Emmet struggled to stop “the story” from consuming his soul again. He couldn’t bear to hear it. No self-respecting writer would be in New York at a time like this. Hemmingway would be in Paris. Oscar Wilde would be in Paris. His head reeled…
This had little to do with writing. She was in Paris.
“I should have kissed her,” Emmet mumbled apologetically to the stained hardwood counter. His stretched faced distorted the sounds.
“You’re drunk,” chuckled the voice.
“Amn’t,” protested Emmet, dragging his head up by his hair.
“Arse-o. You’re fluthered; sloshed; arfarfanarf.”
Emmet forced himself upright. “I’m after a few swigs,” he admitted with a wink, flipping open his lapel to reveal a green-labeled silver flask tucked neatly away in its lining.
His companion at the bar, might have surprised many men, and that wink might quickly have turned to a look of shock or even concern. At the bottom of it, any companion might have offered some sort of surprise, but as it chanced, Emmet found himself confronted by an empty stool.
Emmet wasn’t easily surprised.
The flask, as it had countless nights ere, was filled with absinthe, an elixir of… Well, it had once been filled, and to that end, Emmet batted not an eye at the empty seat that spoke. Nor when it spoke again.
“I’d be after the whole of it if it was her kiss I was wanting.”
Emmet blinked, trying hard to regain his focus. Not because the commiseration was unexpected. He blinked because a lavender blur in his peripheral vision revealed that the empty stool was not the source of the voice. Empty stools had spoken to him long and oft, and he was quite prepared for a conversation with this one. What he was not prepared for, was a conversation with the tiny butterfly perched almost unnoticeably on his right shoulder.
“Want it? You’d give your life for it!”
“Wasn’t her kiss I was meaning,” the butterfly said wisely. “Twas the kiss I’ll never forget. Twas the kiss of anise.”
“Annie’s?” Emmet snickered. “Some brasser got you in a flutter?”
The butterfly was serious in a serious sort of way. So it goes with butterflies, at least the serious sort. “My point was, you shouldn’t have,” he said.
“It’s good I’m sitting here then.”
The butterfly flexed his wings. Majestic radiant purple shone from their topsides. Emmet watched as the lavish stripes and spots embroidered there disappeared again behind their gossamer reflections on the underside.
The butterfly studied Emmet’s inebriety. They were clearly having two separate conversations. “Perhaps, it’s a story I should be offering instead,” the butterfly said.
“Go on then,” Emmet answered. “I’m as gone in the head listening as blathering.”
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” the butterfly began with a sigh. “Beauty I mean, dashing good looks.”
Emmet rued his vanished writing skills, ever diminishing in a blur of passing days, each blended one into the next. His inspiration was an ocean away. “I’d have about nothing if not my devilishly handsome looks,” he said sarcastically.
“Which was that then?” barked the butterfly. “Was it listening? Or blathering?”
“Go on then,” Emmet grunted again.
“Everything was simple once upon a time. My life was all ahead of me. Every day was a grand bliss of chewing, and sleeping, and chewing some more. Stay to the under side of the leaves. Try not to grow so fat you fall off. A bit of nastiness that falling… the ants and so forth…
“Life had troubles very few other than the Big Sleep. Now every caterpillar goes through the Big Sleep, but not a one in his right mind ever wants to wake up from it. It’s a full month of the grandest of dreams, and then…” he shook his head pitifully, “and then this.”
“What are you giving out about?” Emmet interrupted. “Have a look at you now.”
The butterfly nodded. “Hideous, I know,” he sighed. “I’ve learned to accept my misfortune, but then… then I was young. I was the fool. I was fresh from the cocoon, and I felt I was doomed forever to suckle nectar – an ugly blight on the face of each flower flitted, just waiting for some hungry bird to pluck me from my accursed existence.
“Many was the time I hung my head, weeping to no one, as it was no one who was listening. What a sorry lot I was, and convinced of it! If I could just go back to the days of my youth, to taste a chew, to be dashing and handsome once more…
“‘For less,’ I wailed, ‘I’d sell my very soul!'”
“Dorian Gray,” Emmet offered with interest. “But you’re hardly hideous. You’re the picture of beauty.”
“And you’re after a few swigs by your own account,” snapped the butterfly, testily ignoring the irony, but he softened. “I might be a poor one to judge, but you’ll have no way of deciding with your mouth where your ears were meant to be.”
Emmet swallowed some discomfort and allowed his winged narrator to continue.
“So then! Where was I? A soul it was, offered aloud at such a price, and it was then her voice beguiled me…”
“Annie’s?” Emmet wondered aloud, and then quickly shook off the butterfly’s reproachful glare.
“Soft and silky smooth it was, siren’s song, like the moonlight poured over a clear night sky, begging me to follow her. She promised my youth, her voice did I mean, and I? I was fresh from the cocoon. I was desperate for the allure of her promise.
“I followed her – perhaps in my misery I already had, one can’t be sure – and we came to a place of privacy where she stroked me, gently so. So tender, so delicate was her touch, I was sure I would dream again at each stroke. But remember, it was her voice which beguiled me.
“‘If it’s your youth you seek, then you must seek it where you left it. And you left it… oh, where was that… swaddled in silk, was it not?’
“No argument came to my aid. What protest I may have had, lay paralyzed in her clutch with what remained of my will in its deed. The allure of the Big Sleep, the chance again to dream. My smile signed our bond and she took me into her care.
“When once those threads upon myself I’d spun, it was at the very core of my nature to surrender to that sarcophagus. Surrender once more I did. No complaint was uttered from my lips as swiftly she spun me in strand upon strand of sticky silken steel. Around and around, dizzying me, she wrapped each thread with spinster’s skill, until snug again, in Nature’s womb, I awaited the Big Sleep in nostalgic bliss.
“Caveat emptor. As helpless I lay, there shone the promise of her kiss. That glistening dagger poised to plunge deep into my bowels, to poison my heart as the allure of her voice had so poisoned my mind. I cried out sharply at her deceit, for what evil dripped from that deadly tine was none other than dreaded nectar!
“‘Relax, my love,’ her promise was sincere. ‘My kiss is sweet, delicious with anise.’
“Anise… I chewed that vile plant once in larval naivety. It numbed the mandibles and stole away the joy of chewing. I knew then that I had sold my soul for the very price of the curse I’d hoped I could exorcise.”
A large hand squashed the butterfly flat on Emmet’s shoulder. It grasped Emmet, shaking him violently back to a pub of forgotten name.
“Hey, buddy,” the bartender demanded. “Order up or off with you now. You’re scaring off my business talking to your invisible friend there.”
Emmet Brosnahan, self-appointed poet laureate of Galway, pushed himself up from his stool in bewilderment. He staggered to the door and out onto the sidewalk of E 91st Street. Absent-minded fingers fumbled for a familiar flask tucked neatly away in his lapel. He twisted off the cap and raised it to the night in deluded cheer. Hemmingway would be in Paris. Oscar Wilde would be in Paris. She was in Paris.
“I should never have kissed her,” he toasted.
He tilted the flask to his lips and tasted the sweet sting of her kiss.
© 2014 Anne Schilde
It’s really a shame the timing was such I couldn’t have written this for St. Pat’s. Thank you very much, Joe, Isaiah, and Adam for your fabulous contributions!