Susan May James opened the February Femmes Fatales showcase with Shadows. Her second generous offering, Rubies is equally well-written, and just as strange.
There's a poetic magic to the story of Jasmine and her rubies; the conversations she has with them twinkle as much as the fairy-lights in her London apartment.
But I will say no more, except that life is not all roses, even if they are ruby-red...
Rubies by Susan May James
Pulling on her stiletto boots Jasmine sits on the bench near the door and casts a final glance around the studio flat. Everything is perfect; the dark burgundy curtains are drawn, fairy lights twinkle in strands from the ceiling to the walls and unlit candles dot tabletops and shelves. The sofa bed has been made up with satin sheets and topped with a crushed velvet throw and three plump pillows. ‘Sumptuous,’ she coos as she stands up and crosses the room. Her steps are heavy, causing her heels to echo against the laminate floor. Pausing in front of a small table in the corner of the room she closes her eyes for a moment, breathing deeply and calming her nerves. Incense wafts up, drenching her in a cloud of sandalwood as she opens her eyes to look down at her collection of crystals and gemstones. Amber, rose quartz and amethyst catch her eye but her hand reaches out to wrap around a large polished piece of aventurine. Holding the pale turquoise coloured sphere tight to her chest, absorbing its properties, she reaches with her other hand for a small velvet bag. After a few moments, she replaces the sphere, slips the velvet bag into her coat pocket and leaves the flat.
Sirens blare as she makes her way along Camden High Street. The street is wet and the air damp and thick with the smell of fast-food. She darts down a small alleyway and into a bar. Music pulses and her eyes take time to adjust while she buys a drink and sits down, her long skirt brushing the floor. She takes out the velvet pouch and shakes three raw rubies into her palm. Each the size of the tip of her baby finger, they are dull and flecked with impurities. Nonetheless she smiles as she holds them, knowing the process won’t take long.
She sheds her leather coat and is just leaning back to sip her drink when a man at the next table smiles and tries to catch her eye. She grips the rubies but nothing happens and so she ignores him and checks her watch. The man turns away and she sighs, looking round the room as she strokes one of the rubies between her thumb and forefinger. The second one is more self-assured as he approaches, greeting her with a cocky grin. He sits down and introduces himself but his voice is lost in the dull roar that washes over her. The experience is similar to holding a seashell to her ear, only much more intense. As the rush fades, the rubies grow cool in her palm and when she glances down she sees that they’ve grown darker in colour. The rubies work more quickly now. Looking up at the man she meets his gaze and smiles. He is the one, the rubies whisper.
‘What are those?’ he asks as she puts them back into their velvet pouch.
‘Oh, just my lucky charms,’ she replies before taking a sip of her drink.
His name is Thomas and he works for a small PR firm in Kentish Town. “I don’t normally come in here,” he says. “But it’s been a long day so I thought I’d stop in for a swift half.”
Jasmine nods, he’s not really her type, but that doesn’t matter, it’s not her decision. She notes the faint line on his finger; slightly indented and pale in contrast to the rest of his tanned skin.
“Are you married?” she asks.
“No,” he is quick to reply and changes the subject. “What do you do?”
Looking away so he doesn’t see the flash of resentment in her eyes, Jasmine finishes her drink. “I’m a pharmacist.”
Thomas stands up, “So, what are you drinking?” he asks but she hesitates, explaining that she prefers to get her own drinks.
“It’s just that I don’t know you,” she says as he sits back down. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you but I like to be careful.” He accepts this and passes her a banknote before she heads to the bar.
As she waits for their drinks she turns her back to him and slips her hand into her skirt pocket, discreetly working a small tablet into her palm. Then, as the bartender turns away, she deftly drops it into the drink and reaches for a swizzle stick. Smiling, Jasmine returns to the table.
It doesn’t take long for the alcohol and drug to take effect and they stagger towards her flat. Although Jasmine is sober, she stumbles under his weight as she guides him up the stairs. Once inside, she just manages to get him onto the bed as he passes out. With a sigh of relief and anticipation, she quickly rolls him over and cuffs his hands behind his back. She then lights the candles and a fresh stick of incense, taking a moment to switch on the stereo and lava lamp. The sound of pan flutes fills the room as she spreads a large tarpaulin onto the floor and drags her tools out from under the sofa bed. Fairy lights twinkle and she pauses to admire the atmosphere.
After awhile she heaves Thomas onto the floor and strips off his clothes. Folding them into a bundle she places them into a carrier bag; tomorrow she will donate them to a charity shop.
Hours later she sits with her head on the kitchen table, exhausted. Her task is near completion; the cutting had been arduous but now all the pieces are individually wrapped in plastic and packed into two large suitcases. It had taken her longer this time and daylight now creeps in round the edges of the curtains. Disposal must wait.
Nonetheless she is satisfied; she always listens to her rubies and follows their bidding.
SUSAN MAY JAMES is a Canadian born writer living in London. She writes flash fiction, short stories and is currently working on a novel. Her other passions include travel, photography and history and she can be found scribbling and scattering on her blog; Scribble & Scatter.