THIS IS JUST TO SAY

EMMA LEE

The round-bellied sun lulls at the top of its arc, flecks of creamy white lazily sprawled in a halo about it. The plum branches bow down to the ground, buckling under the weight of bursting fruit. A dog lies supine across the patch of grass under the awning, heat rolling off of it in waves, batting a heavy paw at a passing butterfly.  

 

Across the street, the quietude shivers and bends around a parasol, carrying with it a whitedraped girl. Canvas shoes stifle the left-right-left-right of pigeon-toed feet. Quiet, she exists quietly.

 

Except, she doesn’t. She’s a plain kind of pretty, dreadfully ordinary features shrouded by rosy cheeks and meticulous curls on either side— a horribly ordinary voice that rings like golden wedding bells when she laughs. Her real name is lost to time, let slip through dimpled pink fingers until all that remains is “Dolly”, the girl with the ruddy cheeks and ringlets and golden bell laughs. 

 

Coffeeshop boys have always been Dolly’s favorite. The one at the counter stutters over his words and gives her far too much change, promising “right away ma’am”’s and “extra carmel just for you”’s. The parasol, shut closed for good luck, tucks into the crook of her elbow as she drops a smattering of coins into the tip jar. Two fat half-dollars, tinkling against the rest of the loose change. On the far wall, papered in shades of cappuccino and espresso and foamy latte, a wooden sign hangs between frames of inky Paris artwork.  

 

IT TASTES GOOD TO HER

IT TASTES GOOD

TO HER.  IT TASTES

G O O D

T O

H E R

 

The to-go cup slides out on the other side barely a minute later, slathered with caramel and teeming with cloudy foam.  

 

Dolly huffs a sigh and stretches out both arms, smiling at the ceramic pot of flowers by the doorway. As a little favor, she plucks the shriveled daisies into a little pile in her palm and lets them scatter with the strangled, shuddering breeze, floating as they fall. The iced coffee bursts on her parched tongue, tinges of bitter overpowered by an all-encompassing sweet. Humming in delight, Dolly wipes the corners of her mouth and the drizzle of perspiration rolling down the sides of the plastic with the back of her hand, careful not to get any on her skirt.  

 

Above a collection of wooden tables and woven chairs outside the cafe, a single umbrella collects the light. The beige looks like it could have once been white. A man sits in the blue oasis, cobalt spilling from his chair over the pale ground, newspaper in hand and groomed dog stalwart in its spot by his leg, only occasionally leaning in to sniff the half-eaten sandwich lying across a brown napkin. She offers a secret smile to it, and the German Shepherd twitches its ear in her direction.  

 

The antiques through tinted glass windows gawk at her; china dolls and Matryoshkas and cuckoo birds sat in the hollows of their grandfather clocks. The pocketwatches dangle in a neat row from their chains, hands clicking in tandem behind careful metalwork and stained glass.  The third one from the right wills Dolly to stop and look again. The clock sits in the engorged pupil of a metal eye, the slim petals orbiting it bent into a cage. Upon closer inspection, it’s frozen still.  

 

❀ 



 

The bookstore door swings open with a pleasant ding, air musky and hot. Windchimes dangling outside from the awning hang still in stifling silence. The singular beanbag by the farthest bookshelf, added at Dolly’s behest, waits patiently for her atop a splotched Persian rug, its dye wringed out from one too many trips to the laundromat.  

 

Cherrywood rows of books look on, beckoning. Cracked golden spines and leather shells peek out from their spots and a heap of abandoned books stack on an end table, one or two toppled over and lying innocuously on the floor. There’s a singular rose on one of the covers, and Dolly runs a finger appreciatively along its outline. 

 

“If you spill your drink on that, you’re going to have to pay for it.”

 

Oh, Dolly likes the sound of that voice. It’s tart, lip-puckeringly tart, but the sugar sweet aftertastes send shivers down her spine. This one, she hasn’t met yet. Exhilaration whirls through the pits of her stomach and she’s craving more.  

 

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” She hides her smile in the shadows, thrumming heartbeat strangled in a lacy bosom. Quiet, then louder.  

 

“No problem. Not mine, anyway,” and she feels a soundless laugh bubble on the back of her neck. “What’re you looking for?”

 

“Find me a pretty book, will you?” Still, Dolly does not turn around.  

 

A scoff, disbelieving. “You choose books by how pretty they are?”

 

“What can I say,” and finally, finally, she reels in the line. Large, dark pupils hidden under lids and lashes turn to face the boy standing behind her, and Dolly feels her smile widen. “I like pretty things.”

 

“Alright, I’ll find you a pretty book.” Honey hands sweep through dyed nutmeg hair, the dark roots poking carelessly out. When he brushes by, Dolly just manages to catch the unmistakable scent of black pepper and vanilla, and something else entirely underneath.

 

And when he reaches over and hands her a deep green book, a branch of etched blossoms wreathed around a well-loved moleskine cover, Dolly feels the sugar rush pushing through her veins. It’s a lovely book of poems, short and sweet and just the way she likes it. But it’s not the words dancing across the page, it’s the chocolate eyes melting into her back that ultimately convince her to buy it. When she waltzes over, there’s no flustered stuttering at the counter, just a confident half-smirk flickering over his mouth that conjures a matching one on Dolly’s. His nametag glints, beaming in the strips of blonde light, but Dolly wills her wandering eyes away, waiting.

 

“What’s your name?” he asks, at last, in that wonderful tart, sweet voice.

 

The childishness in Dolly roars in satisfaction, an ugly sound quashed in her throat under a golden bell laugh.  

 

“Call me Dolly. What’s yours?”  

 

His eyes fall from her face to his nametag clad chest, incredulous smile blooming across his face, but plays along. The cross in his left ear laughs too, an ineffable yet effable little silver bell laugh.  

 

“Felix. Nice to meet you.”

 

The grandfather clock watches the afternoon light dim, hour and minute hands frozen in their dance with time.

 

 

“Do you just sit in here every day, reading books you don’t buy?” Felix asks one day, glancing down at the beanbag.

 

“Only when the bookstore worker is cute,” Dolly raises her attention from the page a clipped nail is roaming across to strong cheekbones and crossed arms. It’s quite a nice one, a little illustration of a girl in green petticoats traipsing around a villa. The  strokes are free and vague but a lipsticked mouth and cold, sparkling eyes glance up at her, vivid.  It’s not a lie, per se. In fact, Dolly would say it’s the complete truth; books are long and complicated, and words aren’t pretty enough to grab onto her attention and drag it along by the nose. Bookstore workers, however, are, especially ones with a bite to their words and a barb to their smiles.

 

On the next page, she’s confronted by a rugged gentleman, all sharp smiles and rough moustaches and danger flitting through the marrow in his bones.  The vase connects with a dark-haired head with the ferocity of a scorned woman. Pride itself bends at his knees, eyes glinting with want; the emerald fitted in the queen’s crown need not chase for anyone or anything but the past.  

 

“You’re actually not much of a reader, are you?” 

 

“Hmm.” Dolly flicks the ribbon out of the book from where it had been meandering along inked paper.  

 

“I don’t suppose you are,” Felix answers in her stead, laughing quietly when he leans over to inspect the book. Dolly has been on the same page for an awfully long time. “Given the rate at which you’re reading, you’ll be lucky if you finish this chapter by tomorrow.”

 

“Why don’t you read to me, then?”

 

“You’re in a bookstore, not a literature circle, you know. I’m sure you can find someone else.” Acerbic, but not acidic— the crinkles under Felix’s eyes betray the cracks in his resolve. One “pretty please” later, and he’s scooting closer and plucking the book out of her hands, inky words dripping from chapped lips.

 

A glass of water sits on the counter on the end table, washed in the olive-green reflection of the lamp beside it. An impression of la fée verte darts in the corner of Dolly’s eye, whispering promises of utopia and madness and freedom against the shell of her left ear. The smell of danger has always been intoxicating, swirls of smoke from cubes of burning sugar. The end of Felix’s bookmark is slotted with tangled silver leaves.

 

❀ 

 

Hours in the bookstore vanish into shivering air, fingers threading through silken curls under the shadow of the motionless clock. An ordinary voice stumbles haltingly through languid poetry, upturned at the ends with the hints of a giggle. A sour-sweet one smooths over broken syllables and tongue twists, honey skin just barely close enough for Dolly to feel the heat radiating off it.The daisies tucked into her plaits are in full bloom, yellow suns bursting in a halo about the crown of her head.  

 

Sa chanson murmurée, elle me supplia de recevoir son anneau à mon doigt, pour être l'époux d'une Ondine, et de visiter avec elle son palais, pour être le roi des lacs.

 

All at once, the ivory tinged pages flip shut and time cracks open, just enough for glossy lips to lean up and meet honey ones, black pepper and vanilla and caramel and that mystery flavor pushing and pulling against eager tongues. Eyelashes tickle warm cheeks as they flutter shut, stars pulsing bright behind beige eyelids. Sticky sweet melts between soft pink fingers, daisy petals slipping from loosening braids and drifting unceremoniously to the ground. The cotton that brushes against bare legs begins to feel unbearably hot, the green fairy burning want into flushed skin. An orchestra swells beneath Dolly's eardrums, all stringendo hearts and cantabile breaths and dolce, dolce, dolce. Outside, the windchimes clang a haunting melody.

 

 

Felix looks askance at the boy at the counter, all sunshine words and cherub eyes. The chains on his only slightly decorative old-man spectacles jerk disapprovingly as he turns, resolute, to the chalky menu above their heads. Dolly giggles a little at the pinch in his brow and waves him off to find them a table, turning back with a smile to the barista. The crooked beret nods with him as he punches in her order, sliding over a receipt with a cute little kitty face doodled in the corner. The half dollars clink in the glass jar, and Dolly slips the folded-over paper into the back pocket of flowy, green pants. Felix is sat by the table by the window, half obscured by succulents clumped in a basket. A playful pout obscures the hesitance in molten brown eyes.  

 

"Cute, isn't he?"

 

"You're cuter," Dolly hums, grabbing onto a wrist and pressing a golden dollar coin into Felix's open palm. "Besides, you should be thanking him for the discount on your drink.". 

 

“Of course, which is why you’re staying with me,” Felix grins, one canine poking out at his bottom lip. Dolly offers a close-mouthed smile back. A non-answer to a non-question.

 

The shadow of a kiss lines the rim of a tall glass, coffee forgotten under fruity summer smiles and linked pinkies beneath the succulent basket.

 

 

Tucked away pockets of shadow ripple beneath feeble branches, leaves fluttering about in chains to the mossy ground. The wildflowers brush across canvas covered toes and brown trodden laces. The passerby murmur quietly, an artist perched on a faraway bench serenely scratching a charcoal impression of a beautiful couple onto a greenwashed canvas.

 

Écoute ! – Écoute ! – Mon père bat l'eau coassante d'une branche d'aulne verte, et mes sœurs caressent de leurs bras d'écume les fraîches îles d'herbes, de nénuphars et de glaïeuls, ou se moquent du saule caduc et barbu qui pêche à la ligne.

 

   Legs dangling off the arm of the bench, he nibbles on the end of a paintbrush, one bushy eyebrow furrowed. Ringlets bounce across the figure on the left, the angel white girl. And on the right, soft cotton across broad shoulders of the caramel colored boy. Cobalt violet and alizarin crimson scumbled on a woodblock palette laid carelessly to the side blend to a plum purple. 

 

Dolly squats at the edge of the little pond, drawing swan shaped ripples into green water. The white of her blouse flutters with a passing dragonfly, shying away from the smattering of grass. The morning dew still slides along each blade, not yet vanquished by the eager running of barefoot children and cajoling heat. Felix jokingly moves to push her in, earring twinkling in time with a hint of a dimple on one side of his mouth. A koi fish pokes its head curiously at the pair before flitting back into murky obscurity. Water striders dash across the surface, darting in and around clusters of jade lily pads.

 

In revenge for the stunt, Dolly pushes Felix’s back into the ground, purple shirt wrinkling in the dirt. Hands roam over his stomach, tickling until the both of them are breathless with laughter, one slipper dislodging itself and tumbling into a bed of dandelion flowers. 

 

Dieu fluvial riant de l'eau qui le chatouille...

 

❀ 

 

The stone path to Felix’s house meanders through islands of shrubbery, wildflowers tickling their feet through the cracks. Dusk floats down the horizon as inky blue blossoms from the east, powder blue almost deceivingly white between it and the scarlet sun.  

 

Curious glow worms flit out from between branches of darkening trees, regarding the pair traipsing up short steps. The door is high, enough to fit Dolly’s coat hanger and then some comfortably below the frame. The sitting room is absolutely stunning, a twelve-armed chandelier hanging heavy over glassy coffee tables and glossy sofas. 

 

Dinner is an informal affair, noodles Felix cooks and pizza he orders, served on shining bowls and plates resting haphazardly on spots of uncarpeted floor and empty table, as they scroll through mindless channels. Soft brown quilts shield the red sauces from dripping over their clothes, and quiet laughter echoes in the empty room, bells clanging from the lofty ceiling. Small hands bathe in the clear water of the kitchen sink and the remnants of grease sting the barely visible pinpricks on the cushions of her fingers.

 

Even in the darkness, Dolly can see the expanses of green rolling over the backyard. Carefully trimmed grass coats the dirt and grabs at the edges of the patio. Fruit sways in the stoic trees along the fence that duck behind palm-like leaves. Underneath black pepper and vanilla, the scent of ripe plums drifts faintly from beneath honey skin.  

 

The dessert that Dolly has been craving for so long rests right at the tip of her tongue, plum kisses against shiny leather simply the prelude. A silver cross earring sends shocking cold sensations through a pair of lips nibbling on an earlobe. Green polished nails scratch at white skin until it turns red; honeyed whispers dripping along the stars and sky mapped into the crooks of necks. The angel sheds its wings and plummets to earth.

 

Except it doesn’t. Because underneath ruddy cheeks and golden bell laughs and princess ringlets, the angel’s mouth rips at the edges for the thrills, for the fairy flitting closer and closer out of reach. Because no matter how much lace dances across pink arms and swirls in ribbons around curled hair, the ugly heart that pulses for danger leaps at throats and swoops in stomachs. Because Dolly knows the steps to this dance. She lets those gorgeous chocolate eyes and nutmeg hair and honey skin wash over her, sweet, sweet, sweet.  

 

White linen sheets caress her like a doll in a box, or perhaps a corpse in crushed velvet. Addiction tugs at the insides of Dolly’s veins, thrumming and pulsing as the deformed angel pulls at its restraints, swelling to new highs. Green tinged fingers valiantly pull at the honey skin Felix wears, letting the scent of peppercorns and vanilla beans waft through the air. Ripened plums invade her nose, so sweet and so cold and so, so overwhelming. Dolly closes her eyes and forgets to think.  

 

❀ 

author's corner

EMMA LEE

is a hobbyist writer, artist and musician who has dabbled in the creative fields her whole life. She hopes that her journey as an artist will inspire others as well. In addition to the arts, she also enjoys the STEM fields and relaxing with friends and family.

"This work is inspired by its namesake, the poem 'This Is Just To Say' by William Carlos Williams, along with many other literary and musical pieces. It offers a new, layered perspective on the world of desire, lust and love, told through the coming and going of a summer romance. (Although unnecessary, I would recommend to listen to Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess, Ondine, and Jeux d'eau before or while reading.)"

©2020 by Binsey Poplar Press