An Orange in the Morning

If she stared out at the ocean long enough, she knew that God would drop more ink in; that the colour would flower out to a deep, lapis blue, gathering its darkness in the distant shadows, the lay of the horizon which was, to her at least, the end of the world.

It was easy to forget that she was being held prisoner, with the ocean so close, its ebb and sigh mingling with the sad, weeping birds, sounding like the croon of an oboe across the bay. Lyra had spent many days on the turret, crawling out from her tiny room in the fortress tower to stare out at the vastness of water, whatever the weather. In glittering sunshine, she felt immortal. In storms, she held her arms up to the crackling sky. The rain and wind sometimes buffeted her, soaked her hair, her face, her tunic. The guard warned her, but she would not heed him. He sneaked in oranges from the Eastern cargo ships, and she ate them greedily, kneeling on the high walls, oblivious to the drop into the ocean below.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard once said, watching her as she watched the ocean. He even leaned forward, touching her arm.

“Don’t,” Lyra said. She knew the gulls were watching; that they had their master to report back to, swooping back and forth with their beady eyes. The guard’s hand fell away, dropped like a bird shot from the sky.

He was her friend, in a sort of way. While he slept, she hid out in her room, biding the hours. In the darkness she clawed at the brick walls, feeling for their texture in the way that a child feels the skin of a leaf for the first time. She stopped going outside, hoping that the world would stop turning without her in it. Maybe she could stay in this limbo forever.

One day, an Admiral arrived at the fortress, wearing his royal blue and white suit. Lyra was reminded of her days at sea, the men she used to kiss like rough cut diamonds and the sweet dark mouthfuls of rum. The Admiral conversed with the guard and she heard war and betrayal and whore escape the snatching hiss of their whispers.

“Your time will come soon,” the guard said again that night, closing the door of her chamber. This time, it sounded like a warning. He slipped something into her cold hands.

Two strangers came for her, early that morning. She offered her wrists to them as they bound and dragged her down the spiral staircase, through dimly-lit corridors and out into the pale and waiting dawn. A crowd had assembled, swinging their banners and screaming. Torches were lit on either side of the gallows.

Lyra stood before them, tall and angelic in her white nightgown, soon to be spattered with crimson blood. A fragile shaft of milky light gleamed off the silver blade. Lyra felt for the orange in her pocket. She was glad that she had saved it.

In front of everyone, she bit into her orange, savouring the sour bright taste in her teeth. She imagined she was biting into the sun, feeling its heat spread through her as it sunk down into her mouth, down into the strong blue ocean, softly dissolving as she swallowed, feeling the juice go down like the world going down to the darkest depths of the sea, sinking, sinking…

She saw the light beyond the horizon, the glimpse of white, of starry light – and as the blade sunk deep she knew she was free.

–Maria Sledmere

(Flash Fiction February prompts: arm, prisoner, img_0019.jpg)

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