The young ladies tripped a dark fantastic, their parasols out in hope of sun, Easter bonnets tilted vampishly. Giggling laughter speaking volumes for subconscious sadness.
Their robes were pulled in at the waist by mock-virginal belts, long plaited tongues hanging from the strap's V-shape, each girl secretly yearning to be the Madonna whom the only truly handsome man in the city would pick from the crowd and take off somewhere in gondola or carriage ... towards a new life, a rear-of-park view from hidden manse or terraced palace. The pair of them would need merely one servant.
Mary's robe was long and hugging, the simple revelation of flickering ankles tantalising those turks who bobbed up and down in the water of the trellissed canal, their steely eyes just level with the paved promenade.
Most of the girls in the group pointedly ignored their half-concealed leers, but Mary allowed a flirting smile to fleet across her impassive face, more in the cheek muscles than the lips ... enough to reproduce those dimples her mother had once nurtured with her knitting-needle as soon as the nursery games had worn far too thin for the late afternoon.
"Oi! Oi! There's love afloat tonight..." came one voice.
"Beauty is never so bright ... than in my eyes' starlight," came another.
"Mary, that willow-clinging dress ... echoes the undules of thy flesh," came yet a third.
The girls, embarrassed by the turks' catcalls, placed hands upon their rose-button lips to staunch the flow of otherwise unbridled laughter from its unbearded den.
Mary loitered at the rear of the group, her tall neck coiling lissomly with the coy back glances of her swivelling eyes. She wished she owned a separate pair of hands which could fondle her body independently ... particularly when nights seemed longer than day. Her stiffened underbodice hid the knuckling of the nipples.
One turk had swung himself to the quay from his punt, sprung strength of limb compensating for the inefficiency of water as a lever.
He followed on in the wake of the girls, head bowed. He wanted so much to take that one who was the slowest walker, keep her as his own forever. He would teach her to laugh shamelessly, thus to pump out the liquid of death and prevent its grand tour of her heart's canals. The lavishly tooled bowl under his bed would be fitting for such emissions; then carelessly discarded at daybreak upon the unsuspecting head of a grizzled river pilot as he steered his craft between the shafting walls of dawn: each stave of yellow light broken and ever rejoined by the passage of him and others like him as they glided homeward upon the silky sheen for a day's sleep...
The turk's dream was abruptly snapped into a thousand scattering fireflies. He just saw the tail of the group disappearing into the Hotel de Filles, evidently, he surmised, eager to see whether their ugly chaperones were still fast asleep.
He stood, vowing to wait forever, if need be.
The sun was missing most of that day. It did however put in a late appearance just at the moment it was dipping in red splendour behind the baroque palisades, beyond the stone sculptures of the classic male, where the fountainous water churned and creamed amid chiselled loins. Mary, at her high hotel window, mindlessly released her ribbons, sashes, girdles and hooks. The body was thus unhugged, convoluted lacy materials shedding gossamer tinsel for the stars to wear.
She peered at one statue in particular, relieving itself by spouting blood upon the canal's dying sun from the stone carving of its manhood.
She heard a girl keening elsewhere in the hotel. Another comforted her, told her, with the acoustic clarity of twilight in the labyrinth of the building, that nipples could never ever turn into stone. Only the heart could do that, was Mary's annunciation to the silence of her room.
"Oi! Oi!" came the ghostly call of the gondoleers in the night.
(published 'Red Stains' Creation Press 1992)