Scarlet was wearing red; dark red like blood, or raspberries ripening among the thorns. He watched her cross the park, appearing and disappearing between the lines of the trees. She was going to visit her grandmother. She went often, though he had only been once. Her grandmother, stiff backed with pride and rheumatism, had looked him over as he arrived and promptly rejected him. Not aloud of course, but he had seen the revulsion in her eyes, as clear and piercing as a dog whistle. He had spent the rest of the visit sitting in the corner, like a good boy, whimpering and wagging his tail on command.
They were to be married, you see, he and Scarlet. But her grandmother controlled the money and without her blessing their marriage would be one of few means; and he had grown up poor. When you grow up poor, a filthy and flea-bitten whelp, in a litter of too many and all unwanted, money becomes paramount. It makes everything possible: not to be cold, not to be lonely, not to be hungry. Oh! – not to be hungry – not to be starving in the dark, desperate for food, for anything to put between your teeth.
There was something about eating, he thought as he watched Scarlet walking, that went beyond just a full belly. The satisfaction that comes from ripping flesh off the bone, of cracking and breaking things between your teeth. There was nothing more reassuring, he decided, than eating. The more your meal is demolished, the more alive you are. So very reassuring.
Scarlet was nearly through the park by now. He followed her at a distance. The sight of her warmed him, rather like eating. In the growing dark her red coat flickered and flared; the colour deepening and growing richer. More like blood now– heavy, arterial blood – than raspberries.
She looked back, once or twice, through the trees but, though she grew more noticeable in the gloom, he had only grown more invisible. For he had been christened, cradled and cared for in the dark; and darkness, unlike the treacherous light, is loyal to its own, forever ready to embrace them.
“He’s barely human,” said her grandmother. Her hands lay still and stiff in her embroidered lap, too heavy with rubies and gold to be lifted. “Certainly not civilized.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Granny,” Scarlet smiled. She had taken off her coat, underneath her dress was black. “You’re exaggerating, as usual. He cleans up beautifully, not to mention you can hardly hear his old accent these days. He’s like a puppy really, all bark and no bite. Besides, it’s given me something to do, you know – in the evenings. He’s a project. And, let’s face it, at this time of year there’s precious little else to keep me occupied.”
“Then clean him up and set him loose, there’s no reason to marry the man.”
“What other man will bring me my slippers after dinner? No, no, Granny, I’ve got him so well trained. Why waste all the effort?”
“His ears stick out.” Her grandmother’s thin mouth pulled down at the corners. “Not to mention they’re practically pointed; he doesn’t have Slavic blood does he? You never know with those easterners—”
“You’ll never notice them with the right haircut,” Scarlet interrupted gently.
“His eyes are too dark.”
“I think they’re beautiful.”
“His hands are too large to be decent.”
Scarlet smiled, her painted lips as dark as her blood-red coat. “But he’s so good with them.”
Her grandmother frowned at her. “Don’t be vulgar, Scarlet, it’s not becoming. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I told your mother no good would come of such a provocative name.” She shifted irritably in her straight-backed chair. The complaint was an old one.
“Oh, Granny,” Scarlet sighed.
“Well, what about his mouth then? It’s too red. And his teeth are so crooked; besides which, they need cleaning. If you’re so determined to go through with this at least have them whitened before the wedding. He looks ready to eat you up.”
Scarlet just laughed.
On his wedding day his thick hair was trimmed and styled; his nails were cut and smoothed; his teeth were whitened (again). Neat and tidied, he stood where they put him and did as they bid him. He had a red rose in his buttonhole and licked his lips as he waited for his bride.
The difficult thing about money was, he soon discovered, that when you are poor and haven’t any, just a little would be enough. But when you are rich, and have so much, there could always be more.
He looked at his wife, lying asleep beside him, her skin so white and her lips so red. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. She looked pretty enough to eat.
Written by A. Pohl
Edited by P.Thorpe