The woman with the suitcase full of stars arrived at the walled city on a night so cold the clouds refused to surrender snow.
The gates, for many centuries merely ornamental, swung open at the press of her fingertips. Even so, her flesh stuck to their delicate embossing. She wiped the blood on the underside of her hem and went to find a broker.
“Look up — we have plenty of what you’re offering,” the first said through serrated gills, and the broker was right, in a way: The stars coated the sky like thrush on a newborn’s tongue.
But she had learned patience as well as disguise. She rented night rooms from a sly ghost, and took up the trades of her ancestors: While the plazas and streets and needle-narrow salt rivers bustled, she harvested bouquets of moon jellies, delivering them to the city’s greatly favored gulls.
In the dull day time, when she wished she could devour the encrusting sun, crush it against her palate, she swept the streets, alone except for the most jaded revelers, blurred and burning. Inside the very old paced through their rooms, unable to sleep.
She waited. Her suitcase became a dance floor for spiders spinning their milk circles, a hundred eyes in the dust.
Aureliate hours proved scarce, but when they came she unburied the seeds and love notes and scraps of overheard music she’d recovered from her sweeping. These she pressed into geodes smaller than a leveret’s eye, and fed them to the stray drones congregated by the hospital, just to watch their missile-empty bellies glow.
It was the ghost who turned her in. For flesh.
She was convicted on the evidence of her fingertips. In the morning, shivering oracles with eyes of iridescent mesh noted the cessation of meteors, and made their reports to the moonflowers.
This short fiction will appear in Carolyn Oliver’s next collection of poems, The Alcestis Machine, forthcoming from Acre Books in fall 2024.
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