At the Warehouse of Madness.

Sarah, the new IKEA catalog is waiting for you.

The new IKEA catalog is waiting, just beyond your line of sight — hovering beyond the pleasures and pursuits of this world, somewhere else, somewhere bathed in Stygian darkness, somewhere beyond. Sarah, the new IKEA catalog is waiting. It is waiting for you to speak the forbidden words within its glossy pages, those unholy words, indecipherable except in their cosmic, Scandanavian horror. The new IKEA catalog is waiting for you to unleash the chthonic beasts hidden within the cheerful depths of its Småland ball pit. Give your children to the pit. Give them willingly, and perhaps you will be spared. The new IKEA catalog makes no promises.

The new IKEA catalog is waiting — and watching. You must traverse the ceremonial maze, you must gaze into the empty, haggard eyes of your fellow travelers and the acolytes who assist them, robed in the colors of cosmic rays and acidic, poisoned waters. Their rictus smiles and jittery digits serve as signposts along the path. You must trudge along at the pace of the slowest, the ones surely to be culled first, and you must not allow the decadent temptations glimmering beyond the safety of the twisting path to dazzle you with the effulgence of their clean lines and minimal padding.

You will not reach the center of the maze, for its non-Euclidean confines have no true center, but you may reach a place of respite where you will find malign offerings to tempt the weary pilgrim. Alongside gelatinous mounds of unknown and unknowable berries, balls of ground and roasted flesh sit and wait for consumption. Turn aside, traveler. These unwholesome delights are not what you seek. You must go on, for the new IKEA catalog is waiting.

Down now, down the treacherous stairs that twist in the middle and spill you into the next phase of the labyrinth. More goods gleam and seduce and dazzle in your peripheral vision. Fluorescent tubes cast a sickly glow along the path, their collective hum a rasping prayer to gods you can never know. You continue. Your new catalog is waiting.

Abruptly, the path ends. You pass from the ghastly iridescence of noisome candles and sickly plants into a darker place. The odor of unstable mock-planks of shredded wood assaults you and a mechanical whine startles you into motion. It is within these depths that the new IKEA catalog awaits.

Despite the fatigue and distress, you must push on.

Loathsome and hideous, stacked boxes reach into the heights where once you saw blue skies. It is possible that they still exist out there, somewhere within the cosmos, but you despair at ever seeing them again. The new IKEA catalog waits for you, and time grows short.

Near the last hurdle is an unspeakable room where the dregs collect, the broken and soiled cast-offs which dwell in bins and stacks and sometimes overflow into each other, the larger pieces leaning against one another as though in a drunken stupor, the smaller shivering together at the bottoms of fetid heaps. Some pilgrims dare to enter this place, but upon exit, one can see that they have altered in some fundamental way and only gibbering madness remains where once there was equilibrium.

Now the pilgrims who wandered from the path pay. They queue for the pleasure of but a few chosen acolytes, those trusted to count the signed chits and rare coins the pilgrims leave in exchange for the eldritch objects that will now grace their dank and accursed homes.

But where is the new IKEA catalog, that tome for which you have sweated and persevered amongst conditions beyond comprehension? It was to divulge all of its most hideous secrets, all of the forbidden decor-based knowledge you craved.

In desperation, you accost an acolyte. “Where are the catalogs?” you cry.

“They are no more, shunned mortal,” the acolyte intones gravely. “We expect additional volumes in a week or so.”

Empty-handed and bereft, sanity departed, you fall to your knees, keening.

Sarah, the new IKEA catalog is waiting — as are you.

Short Story: “Breakfast for One.”

Serena studied the early morning light caressing the patterned silk adorning the breakfast room of her little house in St. John’s Wood. She rarely saw such soft, comforting illumination, as her late nights often kept her late abed.

She reluctantly turned her attention to the man sharing her table, her supposed new protector. His table manners were every bit as repulsive as she had imagined, and disgusting to observe in the flesh.

“Compliments to the cook,” he grunted, following up this inane statement with a prolonged belch. “I’ve no doubt you’re impatient to get started, but a man does deserve a meal after the morning I’ve had.”

Serena pasted on her best smile. “As you’re gracing my table, I assumed the event was settled in your favor, my lord.”

Lord Glennair, belted earl and blackened scoundrel, grinned slyly. He stopped shoveling coddled eggs into his foul maw long enough to say, “The duel went in my favor, true. But it took no effort on my part. The idiot fainted dead away. All over sweat, Sir Robert was, terrified at meeting me on the field of honor.” He took another forkful of egg and added with his mouth full, “Not that you’ve much honor to defend.”

Serena kept her eyes from narrowing at his insult, but could not keep the muscle in her cheek from twitching. “Did the surgeon revive him, my lord?”

Glennair shrugged and tore at the ham on his plate. “I’ve no idea. I left while the man was attending him. I assumed a faint was as good as a forfeit and hurried on my way here.”

Serena suppressed a smile. Events were unfolding precisely as she had planned. “More tea?” she prompted, pot in hand.

He grunted an affirmative, so Serena daintily filled his cup.

“None for you?” He pointed his fork at her own cup.

“I prefer coffee, my lord.” She was lying, although her cup did contain coffee this morning.

“Filthy stuff, that. Far too popular in the colonies,” Glennair said with a grimace. He eyed Serena with vague hostility. “A proper cup of tea should be good enough for you.”

Serena merely smiled. She wouldn’t touch the tea this morning, and if he tried to pour it down her throat, she would take the silver knife sitting unused by her plate of dry toast and shove it directly in milord’s throat. She contemplated whether such action might be more satisfying than the fate already in store for him, but glanced at the carpet and decided she would rather have less mess.

“How long have you been at this business? About ten years?” Glennair interrupted her thoughts. He had moved back to the eggs, following every few bites with a gulp of tea.

Serena refilled his lordship’s cup again. “About that.”

“Well, you must’ve started young. I’ve no complaints, as long as you’re tight enough to satisfy. But you’ve not welped, as far as anyone knows, so that’s not likely to be a problem.”

She did her best not to sneer. “I do like to give satisfaction, my lord.”

“Just so,” he leered. “And I expect to be well satisfied before I leave here this morning.”

“One of us will be,” Serena murmured.

“I didn’t quite catch that,” Glennair said. Serena noted with relish that his forehead was beginning to sweat.

“No matter, my lord,” she said soothingly. “I’m sure all will go exactly as it ought this morning.”

Glennair settled back in his chair, blinking. He seemed to have lost his train of thought.

“Did you send the contract to my man of business?” Serena asked as she poured herself more coffee.

“What? No, no. Not yet.” He waved an unsteady hand in dismissal. “I never send the contract until I’ve had a taste of the goods.” He shook his head and smacked his lips together.

“Yet you know that I never let a man into my bed without a signed contract, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, Lord Glennair.”

He ran his tongue over his lips, and said muzzily, “Look here, girl. You don’t dictate terms with me. You’re little better than a whore.”

“I’m far better than a whore, my lord.” She tilted her head in thought. “Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m something other than a whore. Something far more criminal, I’m afraid.”

“What?” Glennair attempted to rise from his chair in outrage but found his legs too wobbly to support him. He glared at Serena, but there was more than a hint of fear in his eyes. “What did you do to me?”

“I’ve killed you, my lord,” Serena said cheerfully. “Do you want to know why?” she added with a seductive smirk.

“I’ll see you hang for this,” his lordship wheezed. He scrabbled against the edge of the table, seeking support, but his hands would not cooperate.

“You won’t be seeing much of anything, my lord. Save perhaps the fires of hell.” Serena finally bit into her toast. She munched it thoughtfully as she watched Lord Glennair slide slightly further down in his chair. “You haven’t much time left. Ten minutes, perhaps?”

Glennair let out a groan, and Serena nodded. “Most courtesans have similar tales of woe. Many were servants who surrendered their virtue — willingly or unwillingly, it matters not — to some man of the house and were dismissed without reference. One must work or starve, so many turn to the sole means of support available to young, uneducated women. Some of these unfortunate girls end up trading favors for coins in the alleyways, but the prettiest ones end up working the houses — at least until some man offers an exclusive arrangement. All of that when they only meant to dust a parlor!”

Serena paused to take a sip of coffee and observe that Glennair, although dazed and fading, remained conscious. “My tale is nothing like the ordinary, my lord. I was born into the gentry, although not into any prestigious or wealthy family. My father was a gentleman; my elder brother inherited the lot. He announced one evening that he had arranged my elder sister’s marriage to a cruel neighbor. She said she would rather die than be sold to such a man, and held true to her word. I’d never seen so much blood in my life. A few years later, my brother, having learned his lesson, told me we were going to visit neighbors but delivered me instead to a church where I was married to a man I’d never seen before in my life.”

Lord Glennair made a horrible gurgling sound.

Serena was so lost in her memories that she barely heard. “I will refrain from boring you with the details of my marriage, but suffice to say that I bashed my husband’s head in one night while he was sleeping. I stole as much of the silver as I could easily carry and made my way to London, where I recuperated. It took some time to learn not to flinch when someone touched me.” Serena tapped her coffee cup. “When there was no more silver left to pawn, I set about finding a gentleman I could tolerate.”

Glennair’s eyes were starting to glaze over, and his breath rattled in his chest.

“It’s not really a happy story, is it?” Serena took a bite of toast and carefully chewed. “My last gentleman was my final protector. I never intended to take on another, but I played a pretty game, pitting you against Sir Robert for my favors, inciting you to duel. I told you both that whoever won would have me, but I’m afraid I lied. I met Sir Robert last night and gave him a good luck charm — an engraved flask. As he had never dueled before, I took the risk that he would find himself thirsty before the event. I assume, from what you said earlier, that he couldn’t resist taking a nip or two for courage. I expect he’s already awaiting you in hell, my lord.”

Serena dabbed at the corners of her mouth daintily. “We courtesans talk amongst ourselves. It’s rather laughable that you and Sir Robert thought your crimes unknown to us. You were both notorious for broken promises and blackened eyes. When I heard about what you’d done to poor Elsie Greenchurch–” Serena broke off with a shudder. “I decided to end you both, my lord, as a going away present for my fellow soiled doves. No more broken ribs or unpaid contracts — or bastards dropped at the orphanage. I’ll never regret this day’s work.”

Lord Glennair huffed out one last tortured breath and became utterly still. Serena rose and pulled the tasseled bell cord beside the mantel. Her majordomo promptly entered and awaited instruction without so much as a glance toward the cooling corpse sitting at the table.

“I’ve a bit of refuse here,” Serena said, motioning to his lordship. “I suggest you drop it in the river.”

“Very good, madame,” the servant said with a bow. He and a burly footman efficiently removed the corpse, and when the majordomo returned, both his person and his composure were completely unruffled.

“Is all in readiness for our journey?” Serena asked, her attention focused once again on the morning light against the wall covering. It was stronger now, less a glow and more of a bright luminescence.

“Mrs. Hopkins has a task or two to finish, madame, but we will be ready to accompany you when the tide turns.”

“Excellent,” Serena said, smiling with a newfound lightheartedness. “I think we will find the new world very agreeable.”

Her servant bowed deeply, a smile tugging at the edges of his mouth. “I must oversee the trunks, madame.”

“Of course.” Serena watched him go and resumed her place at the breakfast table. She placed the rim of her coffee cup against her lips and murmured, “Pistols for two, breakfast for one.”

She laughed aloud. “And what a delightful breakfast it was.”

Photo credit: Heather Cowper.

An excerpt from the novel-in-progress.

One moment Millie was knocking on a large wooden door and the next she found herself sitting in the middle of a vast conservatory, with no memory of any event between the two instances. In fact, she had only the haziest recollection of anything before the door, save her name and a few other particulars. She decided it was too great a risk to stand in her dazed state and continued to sit quietly on the bench. She pondered for a moment whether she had been drugged, but that disquieting thought proved far too elusive to hold in her mind for more than the tiniest, most alarming second.

Millie studied her surroundings woozily. The arched roof of the conservatory was comprised of hundreds of small panes of glass, some rectangular and others rounded or diamond-shaped. The ceiling stretched far above her head, with a few strangely twisted trees reaching towards those impossible heights. A walkway ran along the edges of glass walls, an entire story up, though she could see it was as deserted as the area surrounding her bench. It reminded her of a great temperate house she’d visited as a child, but both its location and anything distinct about the occasion were swiftly dashed away in the current of her muddled thoughts.

There was an unearthly quality to the light filtering through those beautiful glass panes, and the shadows cast by the highly-ornamented wrought metal struts stretched like curling tentacles on the walkway before her. Millie had a vague notion of caution, that she should be wary in this place, but felt too fuzzy to respond appropriately to this idea. The humid air pressed against her, so she yielded to it — to the entire situation. She was finding it far too difficult to do otherwise.

Millie was no horticulturalist, but even she could see that most of the plants filling the overheated space were quite out of the ordinary. She was surrounded by riotous color and buffeted by a hundred intoxicating scents, yet she could pick out nothing familiar. No frond or blossom resembled anything she’d known before; no perfume stirred a single recollection. She could not be sure, however, whether this absence of acquaintance was truly due to the exotic nature of the lush greenery encircling her, or her own absent memory.

Millie closed her eyes and thought. Hadn’t it been night time only a moment before? She shook her head as if to clear it, but her understanding remained as foggy as a wretched London evening. She turned a slightly unfocused gaze toward a tall gentleman watching her with barely concealed amusement from beside the tinkling fountain. He wasn’t a young man, but he was handsome in an aristocratic, pale way, with wavy blond hair and clear green eyes. He had an air of command about him, as though he often took charge. But how long, Millie asked herself, had he been there?

The stranger blinked and smiled in a mildly predatory manner. “Who might you be?”

Millie longed to place herself in the gentleman’s surely capable hands but mistrusted a smile of such wolfishness. Her thoughts were perhaps a mite sluggish, but a few of her instincts were still functioning. “A friend. I think.”

The man’s smile widened. “One can never have too many friends. Does my new friend have a name?”

Millie, feeling ridiculously coy, shook her head.

Something dangerous flitted through the man’s eyes, but it passed so quickly that Millie could not identify it.

“I think I shall call you Amie,” the man said. “For ma belle petite amie.”

Millie appalled herself by giggling. “No one ever calls me beautiful.” The man was much closer than Millie thought. Had he crossed the room? Or had he been so close all along? She couldn’t be sure.

“They should,” the man purred.

“But what do I call you?” Millie asked, allowing the man to draw her to her feet. She felt a little bereft to leave the bench behind; it felt as though it had been an ally in her time of need.

“A good question,” the handsome gentleman said, tucking Millie’s hand in the crook of his arm. “A very good, very necessary question.”

Millie looked up at him, craning her neck. He was so particularly tall and distinguished looking, especially for a man who had to be at least two decades older than she. He was oddly familiar, but when she attempted to recall who he reminded her of, the memory slipped away as easily as the hair ribbon she’d lost at the seaside as a child. The wind had whipped it out of her fingers, and she’d found herself clutching only air as it spun towards the oncoming waves. It had hovered above the surf for a moment, a tiny red streak against the cold, grey sea.

“Call me Bettgenossen,” the man said fondly. “Though it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?”

Millie nodded, strangely shy. The name sounded German, but apart from her native tongue, she grasped nothing but schoolgirl French and a smattering of Italian.

“Just call me Bett, then,” the man said with a confiding chuckle.

“Bett,” Millie repeated. She felt as though she floated in the bright, luminous green of his gaze.

He leaned down and kissed her on the tip of her pert nose. “Ah, Amie. You are the best present my children have ever sent me.”

“I am?” Millie breathed.

“Oh, yes,” Bett said as he ushered her down a dark corridor. “The very best indeed.”

An excerpt from my current novel-in-progress, Wolfden Cross.

(Photo credit: Sarah Ross.)

Fuck Hemingway.

Fuck Hemingway.

Hemingway. You savage ruiner of glorious, complicated prose — you misogynistic, literature-killing inebriate — fuck you and the iceberg theory you rode in on. Your terse, manly prose deserves to be relegated to the literary dustbin. You committed word crimes in the name of clarity, but you took that name in vain and destroyed nearly a century of American writing.

I shall gather ignored, dessicated adverbs to my old-fashioned bosom. I shall write swathes of parenthetical complication and use semicolons to my heart’s content. I shall recover the beauty of the English language from your cruel, dead hands like a delicate and ladylike Conan the Barbarian stealing a dusty sword from a forgotten tomb.

And I will wield that sword in the service of colorful misandry and for the love of words themselves.

I will exorcise Hemingway and his ilk from the boring modern novel. Get thee behind me, Ernest! The power of poetry compels you. The power of sublime prose compels you. It is writing itself compels you.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy: The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

I’m wearing a Comino Cap top for Me Made May today. The fabric is a tentacle patterned knit from Spoonflower.

This is my second year participating in Me Made May, and I want to do something a little different this time. I will spend this month not only wearing my own handmade clothing, but also examining my relationship to clothing in general, and why it’s so important to me, in a series of essays.

A Month of Clothing Philosophy — Part One
The Metaphorical Elephant in the Room

Long ago, in the halcyon days when my beloved E.K. lived right down the street instead of across the country, she once called early on a Saturday morning with some spontaneous plan for the day. She said she would be right over to pick me up and I said, “Give me 30 minutes — I have to get dressed.”

E.K. laughed and said, “You actually do that, don’t you? You ‘get dressed,’ but I just put on clothes!”

It was true then and it’s true now: I get dressed. I dress with thought and purpose, and spend more time thinking about, making, altering, and spending time with clothes than many do. (You’ll notice I don’t spend much time shopping for clothes, but we’ll get into that later.) And yet I’m not a fashionista. I don’t usually post OOTD snaps on social media, and although I often receive compliments on my outfits in real life, I’m not especially flamboyant or colorful. It’s likely I’ll never sport the candy colored hair and exquisitely chosen accessories necessary for social media success amongst the clothing elite.

I do get derisive looks from strangers, however, and have been on the receiving end of unpleasant stares far more often than I would like.

You want to know why? It’s simple enough: I’m fat.

I’m what I think of as “medium fat” — mammoth by Hollywood standards, of course, but completely functional in the real world. I’ve never needed a seat belt extender on an airplane, for instance — and being spared that particular indignity may be what brought home the concept of relative privilege for me. I may get less abuse than many fat people, but I still get some — you know? I “read” as thinner than I am, which also gets me better treatment. I have a strong jaw and prominent chin, so my double chin is less apparent. I’m not very busty (and am in fact three dress sizes smaller at the bust than at the hip), so I seem smaller than I might otherwise. I’m pear-shaped with a definite, smaller waist. I have a lot of relative privilege. I know that.

But I am definitely, demonstrably fat. I am plus sized, if you want a coy term. I am not euphemistically curvy, “overweight” (over what weight, exactly?), or — god forbid — fluffy, a term I despise more than almost any other. I’m simply fat, and when I use that word to describe myself I mean it just as a physical descriptor — like short, or pale. I don’t mean it as an insult.

It took me years to find this level of self acceptance, but fat is finally a neutral term for me, and it’s what I call myself.

So, now that we have that out of the way, we can begin to examine why I come to clothing with a different perspective than many, and why dressing well is both a creative and a political act for me. I’m not only here to shock the bourgeoisie (as fun as that can be), but I’m here to be visible, to represent an unfairly vilified segment of society.

Clothes can be a serious business, and they’re serious to me. Representation is important.

Clothing is important.