In which our heroine, her taste having been wrongly spoken for by another’s tailor, dreadfully awaits the arrival of the most loathsome of companions.
Imago could tell that Millie’s step and her tone – though not directed at his own body, at his face or at his occasional croak – gave off something different to those he had come to know. He did not always distinguish between a tender note expressed towards him and a less flattering exclamation regarding another. Voices were often shrill and unpredictable, as was an object slammed on a table with a heavy heart. It was however always that action or sound laden with emotion which disturbed his comfort beyond the mere interruption of an afternoon nap.
Today, the feeling was not the sadness whose sobs and heaving convulsions caused him to waddle over with slow intrigue. In such a case he knew already, that a strand of hair pulled gently, and a few clicks of the beak, would already relieve the strange heaviness which lay in the air between himself and his Millie. It was not even the same vibration of confusion which jabbed around a room whenever a flurry of events had set off a panic – and they had certainly met with that more than once since their first meeting.
His Millie now sat by the wash stand in her night clothes and brushed her hair quite sullenly, without the usual excitement that would accompany any trip demanding the picking of pretty fabrics and the sculpting of hair. The raven loomed about her and was undecided as to whether he should close in or fly far away atop the curtain rail. His final move saw him launching into a brief flap and settling onto the back of her chair. From here he hoped to catch a flash of her eye in the mirror – Millie’s wash stand mirror was quite old, and they both looked hazy like the reflection in a matte silver spoon.
But of course, she took the bird’s bait, and turned around. She spoke softly, as much to another as to herself.
– “My sweet Imago, why do I make you worry so, you sweet thing? ‘It is this way’, as my father would say, ‘When the end of the day is known to bring dread, so the sunny hours are spent in useless mourning; when the hour of late is bound to bring joy, so the tasks of the hum-drum seem to weigh the heart less’…and today I fear that it is the former which applies to our story…if only that oaf would forget about his silly soirée, then I could just tell you about the stars from our window.”
But alas, peace had left its port tonight and that familiar rapping came at once to Millie’s door. As an only child, Gunthar Hartsbinder had learned at least this much: that the path of a million demands and a hundred clumsy conquests to match them, teaches one to sniff out the child whose tendencies are antithetical to your own. Or, in other words, to seek out a very polite victim.
He forced the door open, a large pearly box in one hand and the fat fingers of the other over his eyes. Barging into the space in the fashion of a game of “blind man’s buff”, he giggled and shushed himself, pardoning his intrusion within the intimate chambers of a lady, and, before departing, left Millie with the fulfilment of a recent prophecy:
– “There it is as promised Frau Millie, freshly wrapped and sprinkled with the affection of your dear friend Gunthar. Now don’t be a naughty girl and keep your dear friend waiting – as women are wont to do with such things, ya. Eight o’clock sharp! And we shall, as a lovely lady’s lips might say: ‘go to the ball!’”
He exited with covered eyes, walked into the closed portion of the door, and giggled as he shuffled away.
Millie and Imago were quite aghast; despite her night clothes Millie’s arm covered her breasts, and while the bird’s body stood bolt upright, his head was tilted to the side in confusion. When the door had shut again, their mouths were still open and uncomprehending.
It was nightime now, and the moon had risen. In the silent aftermath of the intrusion, their gazes were simultaneously drawn down towards the pearly white box on the floor, in the middle of the room…