by Diane Root
In the beginning was the Word …T.S. Eliot.
There was no doubt that he was not just handsome, but beautiful. The golden curly hair, a halo surrounding a sculptured head, seemingly perennially sunlit; the face of aquiline nose and sky-blue eyes, ever so slightly almond-shaped; the lithe body, flexible and fine-boned; the near-swan neck that rested on carved collar bones squarely set on broad, tanned shoulders; the swimmer’s smooth torso, sculpted by the sea he so loved.
Sleek as a seal, he slipped effortlessly through the waves and into the deep. He would emerge, flashing a triumphant smile, casting off the sunlit droplet diamonds that quivered on his bronzed body that cascaded back onto the cool glittering aqua surface of a warm and foreign ocean.
There was no other way to describe it, as her friends would readily tell whoever might ask either then or later, she adored him. Not hard, they would say, to love an Adonis. A Piscean Adonis, which explained, she thought, for his love of all things finned and scaly. The more dangerous, the better. But that was the dark side—the side that nobody saw. Except her.
Clearly goldfish were not for him; too tame, he declared. No matter how fancy, koi, he joked, were too coy. Nor would sea horses do, a favorite among some of his diving buddies. “Too domesticated,” he said. “The males carry and rear the young in their pouches. Can you imagine!” Unacceptable. He was nothing if not macho.
When he first acquired the aquarium, he had even considered barracudas—but soon rejected them as being too ugly. Piranhas, he finally decided, were “the real stuff.” As for the subservient seahorses, the preference for piranhas made short work of that idea.
And “short work” was precisely what she wanted.
Besides, he liked his fish with serious teeth. Big, sharp teeth. Sharks were his favorites, but he decided to settle for what he could fit into a fair-sized aquarium.
Piranhas, in his mind, were the perfect solution. After all, they were not unlike scaled-down sharks. Those carnivorous, vicious specimens of the finned fleet held a special fascination for him. Needle-like dentition and a prehistoric past. In his view, they couldn’t be more perfect.
Not long afterward, he had his heart’s desire. Like others would refer to a pride of lions or a pod of whales, he referred to a [perfection?] passion of piranhas.
Her father had said: “The more brilliant the sun, the darker the shadow.” She remembered that when she, a taxidermist and a chemist, had contemplated the brilliance of her husband’s beauty for far too long, time no longer counted. The only thing that counted were the mistresses—the blonde bimbos, the red-haired hell-hath-no fury females, the raven-haired reticent mysterious ones—just to name a few. There were others, but by this time she had lost count. And by that time, it didn’t matter. His fate was sealed, she chuckled, in more ways than one.
The shadow he cast was dark indeed, not that anyone was particularly aware of or even recognized its manifestation. Around there, people tended to mind their own business. Rumors only roamed in bars that no one ever admitted going to and as dark as the secrets they enclosed.
The devil-may-care golden boy had more devil than care. The darkness within inhabited him like an unseen shroud casting the deadly night shade of a poisonous tree. Devil, she suddenly realized, contained the real essence of his satanic side: the word evil.
Even Adonis’s mother, a literate woman, said that. But nobody ever heard her, of course, since she had died mysteriously when he was just a boy in Florida. A boy who liked all things scaled, especially snakes—most particularly the colorful, banded ones—with a pretty name: corals. Skillful, even way back then, he caught one of them and draped it around her neck.
“Look how beautiful it is,” he said. Right before the snake bit her.
She planned the bath carefully. It had to be inviting, his favorite color—the blue-green of tropical waters. A “foam bubble blanket,” perhaps “chemically induced” to keep him “warm and playful” that would float and later hide what would be slipped into the water. Yes, that might do.
With her usual adoring solicitude, she oiled and perfumed her hands and his body with an elixir of attar of roses from Morocco. She slid her hands everywhere, even over his most intimate parts, eliciting ecstasy from him; low and melodic, he moaned, gradually reaching the higher pitch of release, satisfied at last. Later, she left him still in the bath lit by honey-scented candles with a glass of champagne. A special champagne, one laced with drops of ergot. Cogito, ergot sum, she thought.
She liked playing with words.
As handsome as he was, she too was quite beautiful. Lithe and long-limbed, she walked like a ballet dancer. The unsmiling cool ivory oval face reminded anyone who beheld her of a Modigliani. The graceful arms and hands, usually still at her sides or on her lap, now stealthily introduced a new element into the bath as, slightly somnolent, his head slowly began to sink beneath the blue water.
It was then, and only then, that she tipped the contents of the aquarium into the bath.
It didn’t take long.
The first screeches slithered within her hearing and slid into her heart, now as ecstatic as his had been only moments before.
The excruciating screams slivered into shrieks, streaking and slicing the air with screeches, jagged and angular, sharp as knives, dissecting the dusk, cutting into the corners, shattering–at last–like glass.
Then, and only then, the ensuing silence, as strident as his cries, slipped silken into her soul, did she smile.
Diane Root, a dual-national, was born in Paris of an American father, the journalist and writer, Waverley Root, and a French mother. Primarily known as a painter, she is, as she describes herself, “an accidental writer.” She never sought to be published but that notwithstanding, she was nonetheless published in the New York Times Magazine (“The Artful Dodger” about lunch with Picasso) and various other venues. View her art: http://matakia.com.