Tales of the Asp: The Asp's Serenade, by Aidan Butler

     Every surface in the ladies' room at Hartford's seemed to reflect and gently focus the light radiating from a chandelier that looked like a gigantic diamond exploding very symmetrically into countless tiny, even pieces suspended like an angel's ghost in mid-air. Every feature of the room was made of polished marble, silky brass, burnished hardwood, or gleaming porcelain with indentations of jungle scenes stamped into it.

     Sasha Kimmel entered the clean, cool, fresh- smelling lavatory and found it empty -- except for one stall, in which she glimpsed large, slightly muddied boots. This unlikely sight did not interrupt the flow of her thoughts: she had stroked, smelled, and studied many fabulous articles of clothing over the past three hours, and their respective qualities and prices were rushing through her head like a perilous stampede of horned, boulder-like creatures braying and panting, whipping their tails about, splashing drool and the rarer juices of their wild, globe-like dark eyes everywhere. Sasha wanted a thousand breasts: she wanted to wear in one huge moment every stylish bra that had ever been sewn -- and, in fact, she wanted to feed every loose child on the planet. She wished her legs were like spokes on a bicycle wheel, so that she could slip into dozens of pairs of stockings. For as soon as one article of clothing is taken off, its exact feel has left the body; as soon as the next one is put on, the memories of the former are prejudiced. No comparison with history -- even the history of a clothing fit two seconds ago -- does history justice.

     Sasha entered a stall. Making sure the toilet seat glistened as purely as Bridget Fonda's lips, she unzipped her skirt and sat down.

     The person in the stall next to hers rose quickly, opened the door of that stall, and --

     "You flaming one, you eruptress!" A dramatically stretched, masculine voice boomed at Sasha from just outside of her stall. "You, flashing at the stony, dead sky, at the dying, choking sun -- I adore you."

     A hand reached up over the edge of the stall and tossed a red rose into the stall. It landed on Sasha's lap.

     "The universe revolves behind you," the voice continued, "a black spill, a colorless, bleak code of perpetual darkness: meaning has left it, pouring like a thousand restless hearts into your voluptuous image."

     About a dozen more roses flew at once upon Sasha.

     "You are everywhere, omnipresent, but still eluding me. I adore."

     This time an expansive box of chocolates -- its lid removed -- was tossed into the stall. The chocolates flew everywhere; several bounced off Sasha's head.

     "Your wit tears me open and leave me in a desert. You are the oasis somewhere else."

     A bottle of red wine was set on the corner where the door hinged with the stable side of the stall. Sasha stared at it. A finger appeared; nudged the bottle forward. It fell; smashed on the floor. Burgundy splashed across Sasha's legs.

     "Your laughter ripples across the earth like wandering rivers. The wooden vessel upon which I should sail through you? It is a forest of saplings, tender sprouts, newly-cracked seeds -- unmoistened, the dew falling somewhere else."

     An uncooked slab of steak -- filet mignon, Sasha hoped -- leapt over the door like its soul was still with it. It clung, bloody, to Sasha's bare knee.

     "But I cannot have you: no, no. You are the lock that even God cannot pick; you are a puzzle with pieces that are like living creatures, all living at different times, one dying when the next appears. You are the pastry that cannot be unwhirled, kissed with succulent cheese. I? I am a fly on the filthy, stained counter that you spit upon! You, you sadistic, female demon, you cruel, arrogant djini, I give you the blood of my dying heart!"

     Two hands appeared over the edge of the stall holding a gallon-sized bucket of red paint. Sasha closed her eyes. The thick acrylic goo drenched her. She felt it soak into her scalp.

     She heard the empty tin bucket clang off a wall, then collide on the floor. She heard the door open and, slowly, close.

     And then, her head swirling with emotion, she wept.

     She wept, for her heart was profoundly moved by the Asp's serenade.

Tales of the Asp
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