Gathered around an open grave and casket are nine characters: three suits, three dresses, a bodyguard, a groundsman, and a cleric.
At a short but private distance, partially concealed by the cemetery gardens, stands a tenth individual to observe them all in secret. They hold a Polaroid photograph up against their view of the grievers. A chunk has been torn out of it, just above the neck of its portraited person, and all that’s left is a red dress and necklace of pearls. They position the photograph so that the heads of those standing by the grave are put above its anonymous body. They pause, holding the photograph against a young lady nearest the grave.
The young lady is pressing a tissue to her eyes. The observer doesn’t notice her lack of tears. They only realise a rush of intoxicating feelings, a strange chemistry, a horrible twitching within their heart; they are falling in love.
Only once before had they seen this fair lady’s face, and in that past moment all honourable course and action had been altered. Now that they see her face a second time, they are being dissected into inconsolable pieces of a person: a pair of leather driving gloves, a snub-nosed pistol, a lighter, a tic-tac container containing two gold teeth, a bold idea – a bad story – a string of falsehoods folded within their own façade.
‘That’s alright. You can just step right over me.’
‘Why are you laying in the bushes?’
‘Were you spying on me?’
‘Not you specifically.’
‘Who are you? I don’t know you. Was that your black sedan parked up against the cemetery gate?’
‘You don’t look like a Manly.’
‘It’s a rental.’
‘That doesn’t excuse its poor placement.’
‘And who are you?’ asks Manly, keeping to the ground.
‘Yes. Spring. Like the season.’
‘Would you like me to call Drew over to help you out of the garden?’
‘Ichika’s bodyguard. He’s big and works out constantly, and runs like lightning when I scream.’
‘No, no,’ says Blake, giving up the garden and dusting themselves down. ‘There’ll be no need for Drew.’ Blake is just tall enough to look level with Julia. They are both dressed in black: Julia in her funeral attire; Blake in the attire of someone else entirely. ‘I wasn’t spying on you, Julia Spring, at least not after you miraculously disappeared and reappeared behind me.’
‘Then whom were you spying on?’
‘Tell me which, I have many.’
‘The beautiful one.’
‘Manly, I’ve hardly known you a minute and you’ve already insulted me.’
‘I apologise. I wasn’t intending to be known at all.’
‘I only keep beautiful friends.’
‘And you needn’t change practices on my part. I was a friend to Richard. I just couldn’t bring myself to join him.’
‘Oh, dear me. I’m sorry about Dicky.’
‘Don’t be. He’s fine.’
‘But he’s dead.’
Julia snorts and then smiles. ‘You really did know him then.’
‘I was once as near to him as family.’
‘Then join me. Come over and see dear Dicky put in the ground. We’re missing out on all the excitement standing over here.’
‘You are quick to be kind to me, Julia.’
‘You fit the bill.’
‘The friend bill. The beautiful bill.’
‘Do you think me beautiful?’
‘Oh, yes, but there’s something awful about you too. Something dark.’
‘Maybe it’s just the cemetery gardens, but you look soiled.’
‘I’m in love.’
Julia snaps her finger. ‘That’s what it is! You’re in love – and with me, I presume?’
‘With the lady dressed in black.’
‘We’re all dressed in black.’
‘The one that wears it best.’
‘You probably mean Ichika.’
‘Ichika…’ Blake takes up Julia’s arm and begins escorting her toward the funeral. ‘You should introduce me to her, Ms Julia, since I fit the bill.’
‘Blake Lively, was it?’
‘I think an introduction is only proper, given you know her fiancé.’
‘Well, he was the first; I’ll introduce you to the second.
‘There are two Dickys?’
Blake discreetly pockets the crumpled Polaroid photo they’d been keeping concealed in their palm. ‘A second fiancé, you say.’
Julia smirks and replies, ‘Lest one should die and leave her single.’
In the paled sun of his penthouse windows, Mr Takahashi stands and waits for a soldier to step out of the elevator and greet him. There’s fear in Takahashi’s heart, fear that this soldier will embrace him like a father, and near as much fear that they won’t. While Mr Takahashi waits, he removes a Polaroid from his pocket, looking down regretfully on the lady in red. The elevators open behind him. He turns and sees his soldier, and something else within their clothes.
‘Welcome home, my—’
‘I’ll do it,’ says the soldier.
Mr Takahashi swallows and asks, ‘Do what?’
‘I’ll find the fiancé. Find Richard. Sort it all out.’
Mr Takahashi looks back down at the face in his hand. He waves the soldier closer, and they approach, but they do not embrace him. He gives them the Polaroid and says, ‘You can’t let this get out of hand.’
‘What does out of hand look like?’
‘Ichika Aoki is in love with another.’
‘Love.’ The soldier speaks while looking down at her. ‘Is that what they call it?’
‘They have a secret engagement, soon to be followed by a secret wedding.’
‘I’ll act quickly.’
‘If you cannot stop it, then I will need you to delay it. The Aoki family are not as desperate to avoid paying tribute should the rules of arrangement be broken. They can survive it. We cannot.’
The elevator returns with a ring around the room. The doors open. But the soldier doesn’t yet enter; there’s an unimportant question they feel compelled to ask.
‘Who is the man secretly engaged to Ichika?’
‘The man?’ Takahashi looks to the soldier. ‘The only name we have is Spring.’
Author: James J. Devitt explores the romanticisms found in unremarkable people forced into extraordinary circumstances. Actively distancing himself from non-fiction, James enjoys working on his new fantasy series about a young, 20th century woman who is hired to work for a mysterious wizard. He lives day to day in a crumbling Caboolture cottage, with a strange grey stray called Marco who eats all of everything he owns.
Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year visual arts student minoring in film. Her art practice has an in depth focus on ideas of narrative and mythology, and tends to border on the obscure. She utilises illustration and sculpture to create vibrant worlds and creatures. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.