violet in the flames

She’s been reading about her name.

She knows Brigit is a fire keeper, radiating light from her auburn hair, catching flickers in her open palms. She likes this, and smiles. She reads out to the girls the Irish belief that Brigit’s sacred flame at Kildare was surrounded by a hedge and if men crossed it, their ‘lower leg’ would wither. They all cackle so loudly that Martin comes in to hush them, frowning about the client in the waiting room.

Men who tried to steal her flame were also cursed to go insane. This, she doesn’t smile at.

Lucy brings her a book on Haitian voodoo, with earmarked pages and lurid drawings. Cavorting around a raging fire is a woman dressed in violet, holding her skirt high on the curve of her thighs as she grinds her hips and points her bare toes; the banda of Maman Brigitte, danced on the dark moon. Brigit feels her gaze burn from the page, can smell her offerings of spiced rum and grilled peanuts, and feels her own feet stretch and point under the table.

Lucy takes the next client. Brigit doesn’t even look up when the bell rings.

The girls laugh at her books, at her wall of parchment and ink. Brigit between clients, dipping into the well of words, coming up for air with her mind in another world and her teeth in her lower lip. Some of the other girls have darker rituals, wearing their pin prick bruises with stares thrown from tiny pupils, but Brigit turns her head and lets silence fill the air. It’s her way, after all.

Sometimes, when rain keeps the clients from their door and Martin won’t let anyone knock off early, she reads to the girls. Anaïs Nin makes them lean forward, lips parted and hands stroking necklaces as the delicate eroticism weaves around the darkened room. They’re witches all, in this place of gentle touches and knowing looks, and the right words can spellbind even them.

Once, she read Milan Kundera, tales of footsteps in strange lands and languages with sharp spikes, and as her eyes widened she didn’t see theirs narrow. She still thinks her feet will take her out of this alleyway with its damp spicy air, away from oil slicked palms and the scratch of rough towels, away from the girls who bring her black coffee and know their feet belong there. She still thinks she’s not like them.

They know better, but they don’t tell her. It’s their way, after all.

Brigit’s new skin is stretching, it’s unfurling at the tail and shedding scales as she glides down the corridors. No-one told her about the quickening of the pulse, of intimate murmuring in a musk scented room, of the rushing of blood in her ears as they smile, as their heads fall, as their hands close into towel-filled fists. No-one tells her, I swear, some will make your throat ache with their beauty, with inky hair stretching a delicate line down their stomach. And you’ll slide your tongue along the back of your teeth and try not to place your lips against taut muscles and open, as your belly burns and your breath catches and you think you’ve found your way.

No-one tells her that.

She thinks this as she pulls the shutters closed and flicks the light switch. The parlour splutters into darkness and for a brief shuddering moment she always thinks of the one who held her face against the door of her room, how he twisted her arm behind her back and the sour panic on her tongue and white hot pain in her wrist and how Martin didn’t come running, even though he said he would, he always would, and her fear of the dark is a shame no-one can be burdened with.

But Brigit is a fire goddess, and pretends her voice is calm, a flame cupped within both hands. The air in the alleyway tastes of star anise and her feet find their rhythm in the weak streetlight. She thinks of Maman Brigitte with the violet dress and spiced rum, dancing with her hands stretched high into the heat and the ache and the burn.

Brigit knows better than to look through the cracking of flames to the shadows beyond. She tells herself she knows the step of the dance, with her clean skin and head held high and toes pointed.

But if she’d known to look, she would’ve noticed the singe along the curl of her skirt.

If she’d paid attention, she would’ve tasted the ash in the air.

violet in the flames


Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

She still keeps me warm

A Bhrigid, scar os mo chionn
Do bhrat fionn dom anacal

Oh Brigit spread above my head
Your mantle bright to guard me.

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