By Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch
The card postmarked Paris is blank, but I know it’s from Viola. Her absence claws deep into my gut. I miss her smell. Roses, not violets. I miss the smudge of matt carmine lipstick on her lips and the silver strands in her ebony bob.
The press claimed Viola sported her Cleopatra-style hairstyle for the premiere of our animated film, “Nefertiti on the Nile”.
“Nonsense,” she said. “I’ve had the same hairdo since I was six years old.”
Despite our collaboration, the media focused solely on Viola. Maybe my hair was too ordinary to mention.
The last time we met, she had painted her nails green.
“Jade,” she corrected me. She sat opposite, leaning towards the window. Sunlight swept over the tabletop, a sudden sea between us.
“You sold out Coco.” I didn’t respond. Maybe she was right.
I pick up the postcard. A photograph of the bust of Akhenaten stands before a salmon-pink wall in the Louvre. On a long stone face sits a chiseled cupid’s bow and a pair of full lips.
Plum-stained clouds curdle the dark sky as I dial her number. The phone rings for a long time before she answers.
“How’s Paris?” I ask, trying to keep my voice light. Viola inhales. I wait for her to hang up.
“Paris is Paris,” she replies. The hum of traffic replaces the sound of her breathing.
“Thanks for Akhenaten,” I say. “So refreshing to see a stone Egyptian and not a plastic one.” The silence of the room presses against my chest.
“We should have stopped at the Pharaonic eye make-up collection,” she says.
“The marketing team insisted,” I reply, desperate not to hear ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ in my head.
“We make art, not cheap crap. I mean, Barbie? I thought you were a feminist.”
Nefertiti Barbies appear before my eyes, gyrating their hips and waggling their plastic breasts, fluttering thick eyelashes around kohl-lined eyes.
After a long pause, she says, “I could have tried harder to stop you.”
My shoulders relax. My voice quivers. “Are you enjoying the oysters and champagne?”
“I’m drinking a canned cocktail on my balcony. Sometimes it’s fun to be trashy.” Viola laughs, a purr that travels the length of my spine. “Do you see the moon?” she asks. “It’s magnificent tonight.”
From my top-floor window, a fuzzy orange halo crowns the rooftops and dissolves into darkness.
“Can you see it?” Viola asks again. “I’m certain it looks the same in Zürich.”
When I tell her the sky is overcast, I hear the crunch of crushed metal and the click of a ring pull before she speaks again.
“Go into the street and look for the moon. Go now!”
“Viola,” I laugh. “Only you could send a postcard of the sun king and then tell me to look for the moon.”
“Call me back when you’ve found it.”
She hangs up. The dial tone reverberates in my ear. An image of Viola replaces her voice. She lies naked on the deck of a yacht, ropes clang against the mast, the wood is sticky with brine. I recall Viola’s tales of moon bathing on her parent’s schooner. Stories I only imagine because I’ve never seen her undressed.
The balmy summer evening tugs at me while a single thought pushes me forward. If I spot her moon, maybe she will forgive me. I follow the steps that stream through the building and out into the night.
On the cobbled lanes, partygoers bustle in the shadows. A web of telephone lines divides the sky. In a fountain, a silver trickle of water shatters the hazy reflection of a street lamp. Cobbles merge into paving stones and then gravel, which shifts and crunches as I stride towards the lake.
At the pedestrian crossing, a globe flashes, casting a shimmer of mother-of-pearl across the zebra stripes. The city is glowing. On this orange night, how will I ever find the moon? Even at the lakeside, where no buildings provide cover, the sky is bare. Water slaps against the concrete walls.
I chase false moons until my feet ache, desperate to call Viola and tell her I’ve seen it, too. Finally, I give up and turn to go home. I’m rewarded. A balloon appears, caught in flight, tangled between the branches of a tree, swollen and luminous against the night. I hold my breath. Clouds pass over the surface swirling like albumen.
In the moonlight, I pull out the postcard and trace Akhenaten’s profile with my finger. The elegant nose hints at snobbishness. The plump lips cry out to be kissed. My thoughts surge and scatter as I think of her perfume, her warm laugh, her magnificent moon. It is Viola’s mouth I want to kiss.
* * *
Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch is a UK dancer who lives in Zürich, Switzerland. Her work has been published in El Pais, Across The Margin, The Bluebird Word and is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine. In between running her dance studio and writing, she enjoys lifting heavy weights and wild swimming.