Sunrise over Sapphire City. The City of Love.
Women come here from all over the world. They come alone in search of love. Couples come to celebrate their love. During the summer, the gardens and cafés are crowded with them – hundreds of women all speaking a common language. Fingers entwining, lips locking, tongues tangling.
The language of love.
The language of limerence – of jealousy and obsession, of extremes of joy and misery, of wild, illogical madness.
I know what it is to be lonely. I know what it is to feel incomplete. I know what it is to lose my sister to a foreign bride, and to lose my friends to teenage passions. I know what it is to be feared and pitied for my inability to feel what they feel.
I was one of ‘those girls’. Girls who cannot love. ‘Cold hearted,’ they whispered. ‘Ice queen,’ they hissed. ‘Broken,’ they sneered.
I made new friends. Friends by necessity. United by our difference. Proud of our asexuality. Enlightened in our aromantic superiority. A vocal minority that seems to win victories while inexorably losing a war that only we are fighting.
Sapphire City. The City of Love.
I know what love is. I love my sister. I loved my mothers. They died together in an accident nearly two years ago now. I barely had the will to live afterwards. My work suffered to the point that I was eventually sacked, joblessness compounding my grief.
But romantic desire for a woman? Sexual desire? These things baffle me. I understand them better now than before, but still as an outsider looking in.
Sapphire City. The City of Love.
My city, but I did not belong. I do not belong.
Sapphire City is beautiful, vibrant with colour, parks and gardens surrounding apartment blocks, both sides of the valley, overlooking the River Phire. On a good day like this, windless, the water a mirror, the sun birthing red in the eastern sky, the river lives up to its suggestive name.
Beautiful, but cold, a little damp. It’s early March and Spring has only a tentative hold. Here and there, bursts of white and pink, resplendent cherry trees herald the returning season.
Sitting here on the wall, my legs dangling over the water, my heart is at peace. Take away all the people, and I could be happy. I could sit here forever.
Around me the city is stirring. Wheels whispering, feet falling, rattling of shop fronts and table legs, shouts of greeting and laughter, the faint chatter of a radio. I have missed this.
I was stolen away from here. I have lived for half a year, more even, in a place far from civilisation, surrounded by mountains and forests and wilderness, with only a few fellow captive souls for company. To be here again is unexpected. A wonder.
It is the smell of fresh bread that seduces me, waking a sudden hunger within. That and the promise of coffee. I have been awake all night and haven’t eaten in hours, and as well I’m eating for two now. Five months pregnant. An unmistakeable bump.
The source of the wonderful aroma is a café nearby with its own bakery in the back. The young woman behind the glass display of breads and cakes serves quickly and efficiently while also being friendly and familiar with the women queuing in front of me. The two bakers who emerge from the back from time to time with trays of freshly baked delicacies are, I’d guess, her mothers.
It makes me a little envious, a little sad, remembering my own mothers laughing and arguing in the kitchen. Mama Jan would spend hours creating exotic dishes from around the world whenever she threw a dinner party. Eloise, on the other hand, had an extensive repertoire of five-minute meals, but loved helping Mama Jan in the kitchen. We all did.
‘I love your collar,’ the young woman says as she hands me my coffee and croissants on a tray. She holds onto the tray for a moment too long, and her eyes meet mine questioningly.
‘My Mistress makes me wear it,’ I say.
Her eyes widen with surprise. ‘Oh,’ is all she says.
My Mistress is asleep, and I am free until sunset. She trusts me to come back to her.
She trusts me.
Is she right to? I could run away. I could go to the authorities, reveal all about her, expose her. I could free my fellow slave-girls, save who-knows-how-many-other girls from a similar fate in the future. I could rid the world of my Mistress the vampire, and of the monster she keeps in her basement.
And yet I don’t. I should, but I don’t. Does that make me a monster too? Complicit in my Mistress’s cruelties?
In a few months’ time, I’ll be bent over her balcony screaming my lungs out, giving her pleasure from my pain, her lips pressing hungrily against my tender, abused skin, her tongue licking the blood that runs from the wounds she has opened in my flesh with her crop.
The memory of that pain is crisp. The thought of reliving it is terrifying. I am a fool.
I am a free woman. I wear a collar.
I made a choice. I chose, of my own free will, to serve her. To be loyal. Perhaps there was no real choice, but it’s not one that I have regretted, except those nights when she has taken my blood, fed on me – though, much as I fear the crop and hate the indignity of it, there is a perverse bliss in the aftermath, heat and helplessness, a pride in having endured the ordeal, having served my Mistress well.
I know what love is. This is not love. I don’t know what this is. Belonging, perhaps.
Sapphire City. City of Love. City of my childhood, my home for twenty-four years. But no longer. My home is far away now, an ancient mansion full of cold draughts and dark secrets.
I have no wife, nor wish for one, but I have friends, I have a Mistress, and soon, very soon, I will have a child.
Continued in Sunset in Sapphire City.