STAIRWAYS AND NIGHTINGALES • by Magen Toole

I swallowed the key to the door of your bedroom. It was the one you had given me years ago, slender and toothy and that rattled in the creaking brass lock whenever I slipped it in. When I looked in your eyes I no longer saw my face written there, your profile painted orange by the lick of candlelight dying quietly on the corner table. It was then that I knew your heart now belonged to another.

Your mouth no longer fell open in wine-red whispers when I curled my fingers around your throat and kissed your brow.

Your breath had already been stolen as I peeked through the keyhole to your bedroom, to see you sleeping and found you awake instead. You were sitting at your vanity, humming another nightingale’s song as you brushed your hair by the light of your bedside lamp, readying for bed in silk stockings. So I took your key and hid it; first in my pocket, then the drawer of my bedside table where you could give it away to no other man.

Soon I could hear them at night as I slept. The memories of kisses stolen from your accepting breast and the coy play of lashes like weeping willow branches or Siamese twins. They are the whispers of your deceit, like the seeds your bitter fruit settling in the ridges of my anxious brain, in roots and gnarled knots. They are the confessions of your infidelities spreading broad boughs above my bed as I dreamt of burning houses and your white silk stockings. They fan out in fingers limp with ripe foliage as though at summer’s height, to poison my mind as I slept.

You say nothing of it, in this old creaking house of keyholes and corridors. You dance with well manicured fingers and your pristine white party dress, skirt spinning, rising and falling above your stockings in quiet promise. But I know this promise is empty as your eyes of your love for me.

Your hair is like smoke, tumbling in ringlets like endlessly spiraling staircases. They are the coiled black pathways that I climb to touch the crown upon your head and kiss your brow before you sleep. As have the other suitors whenever they call for your embrace outside your bedroom door, of which I am now certain. You do not speak of it now and if you did I would not hear, save these poison whispers. I swallow your key and its seed with it.

I will have my revenge. I will wait for you to cry, black mascara running down your face in trails like ink, leaving only my love letters behind on the apples of your cheeks. Instead the key takes seed within my belly. It sprouts twisted limbs that grow amid my bones, my sinew, ligaments and joints. They jut in the spaces between my ribs and spine and creeping upwards inside my throat. The branches thicken and age with every breath of my lungs now punctured by burrowing roots. I do not scream.

I wait for you to speak or to shout, but you say nothing. Your tree is poison. It bursts from my mouth, peeling my flesh apart with its broad trunk and outstretched arms. There is nothing left of me now but the tree and the silence of the empty house.

Only then do you smile.


Magen Toole is an art student, writer and odd-jobber from Fort Worth, Texas.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Hard to follow the main protagonist’s train of thought, and I only realised he was a ‘he’ in the third paragraph.

    Definitely not my cuppa, this one!

  • Tanya

    This is beyond beautiful; the ache of longing and melancholy is palpable. And the imagery – hair like smoke, lashes like weeping willow branches – left me breathless. Kudos, Magen. A wonderful piece.

  • Jen

    Wonderfully written. I loved the way you describe the heroes feelings toward the woman and the fantastical elements at the end.

  • Sorry, this one made little or no sense to me.

  • This is filled with incredibly beautiful language and descriptions. The author has a wonderful vocabulary and knows how to correctly use it. But, with regard to the story? My only comment is WHAT? What’s going on? Who are these people and what, if anything, is happening? I don’t get it.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    There is no explanation of the story’s voice being trapped into such a despairing situation. Possibly a woman in polygamy might suffer such in silence, but usually there is only one male. Is this Mormanism which I have heard permits multiple husbands? I know about zero regarding mormanism. Perhaps after they together shrugged-off and neglected the formalism of a marriage she became a whore, and he now has no law of appeal to authority or law, but suffers love for her or at least difficulty in finding another. Not being married, he doesn’t need a divorce. He could walk out. He’s caught in his own emotion. Is this story a plea for automatic marriage after an act of coitus, protecting the marriage of both parties? It certainly would cause forethought before careless sexual action provided all were forewarned of such a ruling.

  • J.C. Towler

    Facinating.

    But back to the story. I try to read each story in EDF in the spirit in which it was written. If it is horror, did it scare me? If it is humor, did it make me laugh? If it enigmatic, did it open my thoughts? What is the writer going for and did they succeed? My tastes have to play a part, but to be fair I try to read it in an objective frame of mind.

    I’m not sure what to make of this one. I sense strong symbolism at work, feel some of the emotions, but I’m unable to penetrate the meaning. It is my loss, I’m sure.

    –John

  • Read like prose poetry to me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Great imagery and symbolism, if a bit self indulgent at times.

  • Bob

    Lovely imagery, but eventually there must be meaning if a story is to succeed. You spent so much time being artistic, it’s as if you forgot to ensure something happens.

  • J. C. Towler says, “I try to read each story in EDF in the spirit in which it was written.”

    I don’t, I read each story according to **MY** vision of what a **STORY** should be. Sort of as if **I** were the editor of my own magazine, deciding whether to accept or reject each piece. And editors choose based on the spirit of their magazine, **NOT** on the spirit in which the writer worked.

    So when something comes along which has beautiful writing and imagery, but goes nowhere, or is just incomprehensible (to me), I am going to “reject” it.

    Like this piece.

  • Sharon

    This is the loveliest Nothing I’ve read in a long time.

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  • Staci

    This was absolutely beautiful….and the “story”….well, it wasn’t lost on me. How awful for the protagonist! And, yes, I felt equally thrilled for the girl….What an amazing story. Keep writing, ’cause I want more!

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  • That opening line grabbed my attention, Magen. The story was ripe with the MC’s thwarted passion and jealousy. Scary in its intensity, and very effective.

  • Half-way through the first para I caught on to the character’s voice, and held on to the end.

    I see that readers either loved or hated it. Put me in the loved column.