Short Fiction: The Unicorn’s Girl

A Writer’s Book of Days Prompt for June 25th

The Unicorn’s Girl

by Shannon Fox

In the Italian quarter, she drove her car past old Italian men seated outside of cafes, drinking their morning coffees. The stereo was playing a Radiohead song as she turned the heat up higher, blowing hot gusts across her eyes and nose.

Tentatively, Emily parked her car in the lot next to the art store. The clock read five to nine. She glanced across the street and felt her stomach drop as she recognized the Italian restaurant they’d ate at, the afternoon he’d picked her up from the airport. They’d eaten a late lunch of lasagna and minestrone soup, rivers of red on china-white plates. Afterwards, they’d gone into the market next door. She picked a red wine, entranced by its Romanesque label. He picked up a baguette and a six-pack of Aranciata. That was the first, last, and only time she’d been to the Italian quarter.

And here she was again, on a December morning, alone in her car, exactly one month to the day. She turned off the radio. The clock ticked over to nine and she got out, carefully locking her car behind her. As she walked around to the front of the building, she sniffled and pulled her coat tighter. Sadness welled up behind her eyes, pressing into the small spaces of her sinuses, threatened to flood out and down her face. She sniffled again.

Emily walked up to the door as she man flipped the sign from CLOSED to OPEN. She stepped inside, grateful that they’d rearranged the floor displays since she’d last been in. This was the only store in the city that carried what she wanted.

She cut through the aisle stocked with tubes of paint and went up the iron stairs to the second floor. Wandering the aisles, she located what she wanted without much difficulty. She selected a generously-sized wooden awl, the nub about the size of her palm. Emily thumbed through packets of waxed thread, extracting the cheapest one. She consulted her Sticky-Note list of items and perused the ingredients of the glue bottles lined up on the shelf. She turned them over in her hands, noting their heft and color. This she did not know how to pick. But rather than ask, she chose one and added it to her basket. Her eyes ran over the shelf tags, looking for the book board. There were different sizes, in black, white, and brown. She chose a packet of black, briefly debating whether she would need one or two. Emily took one.

Hoisting the basket higher on her forearm, she turned back to the front of the store and headed back down the stairs. Chilly winter light filtered through the front windows, dappling the tile floors with squares and stripes, dust moats illuminated in the air.

Near the cash register, she found an assortment of cheap trinkets, perfect Stocking-Stuffers for Christmas. She selected a packet of brightly colored erasers in the shape of Matryoshka dolls. Emily sorted through a bucket of fridge magnets and pulled out a set for writers: a pen, a pencil, a paperclip, and a typewriter. To this she added a small pouch of paper clips carefully molded into the shape of horses.

Taking a deep breath, she approached the racks of paper. They were all beautiful. So soft that they might tear beneath your fingertips, yet sturdy enough to be cut into artwork, origami, cards, and whatever else you might desire to use it for. As she gazed on the rows of blues and greens and reds, a rainbow organized in ombre, she felt a twist in her chest as she recalled him, standing just behind the first display. In her memory, he was holding a paintbrush and a tube of paint, the specifics lost to the haze of distance. She remembered him laughing, in the plain white t-shirt with the hole in the sleeve, the one she always begged him to throw out. His warm skin was bronzed from the summer sun. He told her they’d go to the beach and he’d paint her, sitting on her favorite rock, the enormous one with the miniature tide pool in the center. He’d paint her in front of the setting sun, her hair and face luminous in the fading rose light, her toes just tucked into the briny water. He’d paint her as he’d seen her that first day, when they’d hiked down to the shore and stared at the sunset. They’d hiked back in the dark without a light to guide them. He fell in love with her then.

She didn’t know the moment when she’d fallen in love with him. It had come on slow until one day he’d been standing in her bedroom, flipping through one of the books on her desk, and she looked up from vacuuming the carpet and realized, This is love.

The boy at the cash register came up to her, in his bright blue apron and obnoxious buttons. His nametag read “Dave”.

“Let me know if I can help you,” he said. His eyes lingered on her face a moment longer than necessary. He blushed a little and his face folded into a nervous smile as he disappeared down one of the long aisles.

She returned to the paper, trying to visualize what kind of book she wanted to make. So many patterns and shapes, regular and irregular. Finally, Emily chose a sheet of black paper with copper swirls on it. It made her think of the old tapestries in European castles, the kind that depicted bearded white unicorns with feathered feet. Besides them, always, knelt a young girl, virginal and pure, the unicorn’s girl, her life untarnished by things as tawdry as lost love.

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