After the poetry reading, after the hours of rum and cola and courtesy, the black widow stands before the mirror and takes her adornments off one by one. She unpins her hair. She had put it up during the party when it had gotten too hot. She remembers rising from an ottoman and coiling a length of jasmine around a freshly-twisted chignon, the evening swirling about her like a river weaving around a rock. She lifts the flower-strand, already wilting, to her nose and breathes it in. She makes audacious eye contact with her reflection. “Behold,” she whispers to herself, and watches the shape her painted mouth makes. “This is it: truth and all its consequence. This is who you have become”. She unravels the sari from around her hips. She unhooks the blouse. She only gets to the earrings before she has to call a friend, and then she’s standing there in her bra and petticoat looking at the kohl running down her own face, trying to remember why she had wanted to go home at all. She feels excoriated, prised open like a mangosteen, bared like the heart of Hanuman. As she talks she denudes her hands of their trinkets, her demeanor of its many masks. She sobs. What does any of this mean anyway, if in the end she has to go home only to herself? She looks at her navel sinking in her soft brown belly, the shape of her collarbones under her skin. “Do you know the recipe for the Madwoman’s Martini?” she sighs into the phone. “Intoxicant of choice: desire, regret or scent of petrichor. Then: seed from the tree of life. Basil from the garland of Āndāl. Monsoon, to taste. Simmer the first apportionment. Stir in the rest, singing slowly. Muddle the moon.”
“You and your voodoo,” the friend crows. “You and your goddamn opparis and operas.”
“Our Lady of Night Madness,” laughs the weeping widow.
“Our Lady of the Torchsong”.
“Our Lady of Beautiful Blasphemy”.
“And Saint Lucy, with her bawled-out eyes on a plate.”
A pause. “Along with the head of her last valentine.”
They cachinnate like wind chimes in a cyclone. It is one a.m. The friend has to go; it’s been a long day, and although (she says kindly) the black widow has been its star, it has been demanding on them all. The black widow switches off the phone, and then all the lights in the room. She can no longer see herself. She thinks of her body as a soft space to surrender into, her heart as a cavern with its entrance agape. She makes her way to the balcony with soft steps and adjusts the plastic chair so she can lean back and put her feet up into the arabesques of the grill. All alone on a night like this – quiet as confession and blackwidowblue. Oh what she would give, tonight or any night, for a lover’s mouth, for a lullaby, for a moon so low it could snag in the conspiracy of branches. And she sits there in the darkness and watches the silhouettes of trees against a city sky blanched with artificial effulgence, and admires the silver rings on her toes, and thinks of how a good reading can unbraid everything. She blows a smokey cloudkiss to the venus flytrap in the corner and even the venus flytrap doesn’t bite back.