The Whip and the Beads: Juliette & Justine

Illustration by Gianluca FarrugiaIllustration by Gianluca Farrugia

Juliette felt her sister’s wet cunt. Ah. Dreaming of spaniels again.

She wondered how long it would be before Justine lost her indefatigable innocence – 200 years on, and double that number in hymen replacements and tightness-restoration surgery (a little more sophisticated than needle-and-thread now, but based on the same principle) – and still Justine had no idea of the birds and the bees.

Well, she did – but to her, birds were chirping feather bundles that alighted on her shoulder, praising her graces with their exuberant song; and bees were fat yellow buzzing things, that dripped their gift of honey onto her ruby lips.

Yet Justine often had to keep her sunglasses on and her skin well-covered – else her eyes could well be targets for ravens’ beaks, and her milk-white skin more apt to receive wasps’ stings than bee-honey.

Pretty little Justine was a magnet. She had her uses.

In fact, Juliette was forced to admit – Justine was the Super Detective on the case – Juliette was only the admiring Watson. She begrudgingly admired her sister – she did not respect her, but she admired her classically demure features and black silken locks; Juliette transferred some of her sister’s wetness to her own lips. Justine stirred. The taste of innocence made everyone fall.

In fact, that was the root of the problem. Justine had created as many villains as she had ensnared. Few escaped her sublime tresses.

If truth be told, Justine was more of a Super-Crime-Detector than detective in the newer, Holmesian mould – she was a lightning rod; Juliette was only there to mop up the mess that inevitably dogged her sister’s steps, and administer the punishment.

Justine walked through the world dreaming on spaniels, and trying to help the unfortunate. Mischance however, stalked her steps – and she had only to spend an hour in a place to lure out all its criminals – no matter how wily, no matter how hard-hearted, they all scuttled out of their warrens when she was around, in thrall to her charms. Some wanted to rape her, some to kill her, some to eat her flesh; there was one artist who wanted to paint her hanging upside down in chains hooked into her skin, with a pastoral scene in her pubic hair. Another suggested a variation on the Simeon Stylites theme.

Artists or criminals – it was all one to Juliette, she paid no attention to moral niceties. Juliette would be there, with her black bag, rounding them up. Juliette understood vice. Her style of vigilante crime-fighting, however, bore no strict relation to justice. She enjoyed it –and Justine couldn’t help it; and aligning themselves with society’s virtue (as she told Justine), or society-sanctioned vice (as she told herself) simply made the regular law-enforcement teams less likely to go on the offensive; indeed, Justine rather thought they were thankful to have an available alternative that made up for their lack of efficacy. Juliette however had seen the way the Chief Inspector eyed Justine, and could tell that was going to be a problem. Justine’s tendency to drag vice to the surface always ran the risk of uncovering corrupt elements in authority. This was a less desirable result – though it didn’t affect Juliette’s enjoyment.

The next morning, Juliette kept one eye constantly trained on Justine, as the latter skipped out prettily to look at the flowers.

Juliette took note of the ogling gardener’s approach.

‘Do you know why the flowers grow so strong and beautiful here?’

‘No,’ Justine looked up at him in wonder.

‘Cos here, in this very patch, lies Susie. At least, I call her Susie. I buried her myself, and now I watch the flowers grow. They remind me of her.’

‘That’s a very moving story,’ said Justine, tears in her eyes. ‘Did you bury your friend yourself, and now tend the flowers on her grave everyday?’

‘Indeed, I do.’

‘That’s such a sad and lovely story.’

‘A rotting corpse is the best nourishment for a thriving garden. Do you know, this garden won “best-kept garden” in Yorkshire two years running now? That’s how long she’s been here.’

‘I’m sure she’d appreciate the love with which you still tend her grave.’

‘You’re a wise ’un. She wasn’t like you – she didn’t like the flowers. She put up a fight, till I gave her peace. Unresisting, peaceful, in the end. A beauty. I thought she’d be good for rhododendrons; what do you think?’

‘They’re certainly beautiful.’

‘Lilies. That’s what you’re good for.’

‘Really? I suppose a lily in my hair would make a striking contrast,’ she patted her jet-black hair thoughtfully.

The gardener’s hands clenched the shovel, as he brought it up for a full swing.

‘Lilies. I must tell Juliette to get some…’

The shovel met Juliette’s sparklingly sharp scythe in mid-air, and the shovel’s rusted metal blade fell into the low shrubbery with a dull thud.

‘Leave us, Justine,’ Juliette said in commanding tones. But for the purple owlish spectacles, Juliette could have been mistaken for some sort of beautiful avenging angel – fiery auburn hair messily pinned up, startling cat-like green eyes that demanded obedience. The old blood-stained apron added a touch of Clytemnestra.

‘Oh, Julie, is this necessary? He’ll never give me lilies now.’

‘Justine, how can you be so blind?’

Justine broke out into sobs. The gardener watched rapt as her bosom heaved, picturing roses bursting into bloom.

‘Justine, see to the cupcakes?’ Justine hung her head, and went back in.

As soon as the door had closed behind her, Juliette turned a sweet smile onto the gardener. ‘Right, what now?’

* * *

Amidst the incoherent screams and cries that followed her through the dungeon, Juliette could hear the words take shape: ‘Nettles! That’s what you’d be! Nettles!’ She smiled. She’d soon tire of the refrain, though for now it amused her – she much preferred inarticulate groans and screams. Never mind – nothing a little amateur surgery couldn’t fix. She’d be happy with a little muddying of the distinctness of syllables. Then the chorus that would greet her arrival every morning would be a pleasing chaos.

She paused and took note of her surroundings – the iron maiden was a bit rusty. She’d have to get Justine to see to it. Then she remembered what had happened last time Justine took a mere duster to the device – it had hungrily opened its maw and swallowed her up whole. Juliette was scraping skin and linen from the spikes for weeks. Never before had it pierced flesh with such gusto.

There was the sound of a door banging, and a scream from upstairs. Juliette sighed. ‘Didn’t I tell you not to open the door to strangers??,’ she half-yelled, half-muttered. ‘Don’t do anything!’ she yelled louder this time. But Justine doing nothing could be equally fatal. Juliette grabbed the cat o’ nine tails, and ran upstairs.

Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone