the fantastic Angela Carter

unit one
unit two
unit three


... I went to my dressing room and put on the white muslin shift, costume of a victim of an auto-da-fé, he had bought me to listen to the Liebestod in. Twelve young women combed out twelve listless sheaves of brown hair in the mirrors; soon, there would be none. The mass of lilies that surrounded me exhaled, now, the odour of their withering. They locked like the trumpets of the angels of death.
On the dressing table, coiled like a snake about to strike, lay the ruby choker.
Already almost lifeless, cold at heart, I descended the spiral staircase to the music room but there I found I had not been abandoned.
"I can be of some comfort to you," the boy said. "Though not of much use."
We pushed the piano stool in front of the open window so that, for as long as I could, I would be able to smell the ancient, reconciling smell of the sea that, in time, will cleanse everything, scour the old bones white, wash away all the stains. The last little chambermaid had trotted along the causeway long ago and now the tide, fated as I, came tumbling in, the crisp wavelets splashing on the old stones.
'You do not deserve this,' he said.
'Who can say what I deserve or no?' I said. 'I've done nothing; but that may be sufficient reason for condemning me.'
'You disobeyed him,' he said. 'That is sufficient reason for him to punish you.'
'I only did what he knew I would.'
'Like Eve,' he said.
The telephone rang a shrill imperative. Let it ring. But my lover lifted me up and set me on my feet; I must answer it. The receiver felt heavy as earth.
"The courtyard. Immediately."
My lover kissed me, he took my hand. He would come with me if I would lead him. Courage. When I thought of courage, I thought of my mother. Then I saw a muscle in my lover's face quiver.
'Hoofbeats!' he said.
I cast one last, desperate glance from the window and, like a miracle, I saw a horse and rider galloping at a vertiginous speed along the causeway, though the waves crashed, now, high as the horse's fetlocks. A rider, her black skirts tacked up around her waist so she could ride hard and fast, a crazy, magnificent horsewoman in widow's weeds.
As the telephone rang again. “Am I to wait all morning?'
Every moment. my mother drew nearer.
"She will be too late," Jean-Yves said and yet he could not restrain a note of hope that, though it must be so, yet it might not be so.
The third, intransigent call.
'Shall I come up to heaven to fetch you down, Saint Cecilia? You wicked woman, do you wish me to compound my crimes by desecrating the marriage bed?'
So I must go to the courtyard where my husband waited in his London-tailored trousers and the shirt from Turnbull and Asser, beside the mounting block, with, in his hand, the sword which his great-grandfather had presented to the little corporal, in token of surrender to the Republic, before he shot himself. The heavy sword, unsheathed, grey as that November morning, sharp as childbirth, mortal.
When my husband saw my companion, he observed: "Let the blind lead the blind, eh? But does even a youth as besotted as you think she was truly blind to her own desires when she took my ring? Give it me back, whore."
The fires in the opal had all died down. I gladly slipped it from my finger and, even in that dolorous place, my heart was lighter for the lack of it. My husband took it lovingly and lodged it on the tip of his finger; it would go no further.
"It will serve me for a dozen more fiancées,  he said. 'To the block, woman. No—leave the boy; I shall deal with him later, utilizing a less exalted instrument than the one with which I do my wife the honour of her immolation, for do not fear that in death you will bedivided."
Slowly, slowly, one foot before the other, I crossed the cobbles. The longer I dawdled over my execution, the more time it gave the avenging angel to descend . . .
"Don't loiter, girl! Do you think I shall lose appetite for the meal if you are so long about serving it? No; I shall grow hungrier, more ravenous with each moment, more cruel . . . Run to me, run! I have a place prepared for your exquisite corpse in my display of flesh!"
He raised the sword and cut bright segments from the air with it, but still I lingered although my hopes, so recently raised, now began to flag. If she is not here by now, her horse must have stumbled on the causeway, have plunged into the sea . . . One thing only made me glad; that my lover would not see me die.
My husband laid my branded forehead on the stone and, as he had done once before, twisted my hair into a rope and drew it away from my neck.
"Such a pretty neck,' he said with what seemed to be a genuine, retrospective tenderness. 'A neck like the stem of a young plant."
I felt the silken bristle of his beard and the wet touch of his lips as he kissed my nape. And, once again, of my apparel I must retain only my gems; the sharp blade ripped my dress in two and it fell from me. A little green moss, growing in the crevices of the mounting block, would be the last thing I should see in all the world.
The whiz of that heavy sword.
And - a great battering and pounding at the gate, the jangling of the bell, the frenzied neighing of a horse! The unholy silence of the place shattered in an instant. The blade did not descend, the necklace did not sever, my head did not roll. For, for an instant, the beast wavered in his stroke, a sufficient split second of astonished indecision to let me spring upright and dart to the assistance of my lover as he struggled sightlessly with the great bolts that kept her out.
The Marquis stood transfixed, utterly dazed, at a loss. It must have been as if he had been watching his beloved Tristan for the twelfth, the thirteenth  time and Tristan stirred, then leapt from his bier in the last act, announced in a jaunty aria interposed from Verdi that bygones were bygones, crying over spilt milk did nobody any good and, as for himself, he proposed to live happily ever after. The puppet master, openmouthed, wide-eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandon the rituals he had ordained for them since time began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of his pawns.
You never saw such a wild thing as my mother, her hat seized by the winds and blown out to sea so that her hair was her white mane, her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh, her skirts tucked round her waist one hand on the reins of the rearing horse while the other clasped my father's service revolver and, behind her, the breakers of the savage, indifferent sea, like the witnesses of a furious justice. And my husband stood stock-still, as if she had been Medusa, the sword still raised over his head as in those clockwork tableaux of Bluebeard that you see in glass cases at fairs.
And then it was as though a curious child pushed his centime into the slot and set all in motion. The heavy, bearded figure roared out aloud, braying with fury, and wielding the honourable sword as if it were a matter of death or glory, charged us, all three.
On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a  man-eating  tiger that had ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now, without a moment’s hesitation, she raised my father's gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband's head.

Skidmore College Foreign Language Department web site design by Jennifer Conklin '98 revised July 1998