noa covo

content warning for cannibalism

The birds tell her that her blood will bring forth flowers. She is to pick the brightest of them and weave them through her hair. When the prince passes by, the color will catch his eye, and he will dismount from his horse to embrace her. His kiss, the birds say, will break her curse.

The birds do not understand curses like hers. They know loneliness, sorrow, and heartbreak, but not never-ending hunger. Nevertheless, she follows their advice. All anyone else has suggested is that she fill her stomach with straw and stitch the space between her lips, and she is not interested in doing either.

The flowers grow. They are brighter than anything she has ever seen, but then again, she has led a dull life. They bloom, one for each drop, red and yellow and fiery orange. A rabbit comes for them, one night, and she finds its corpse the next morning, a single petal in its mouth. She skins and cooks the rabbit, and the pain leaves her stomach for a spell.

She does not know if it is her fault the flowers are poison, her cursed body inflicting itself on the soil, but the birds refuse to say anything more on the matter. When she harvests them under the full moon, she wears gloves. She does not weave them in her hair but rather smashes them into a careful powder. Then she brews some tea.

When the hunting party rides by, the prince stops. She does not think it because of the plain white flowers picked from the meadow and tucked in her braid but rather because the prince, like all men, cannot resist the look of a maiden standing innocently alongside the road. She wonders if the birds knew this. The prince tells his fellow huntsmen that he will make the rest of the way alone. A few of them eye her suspiciously, but she has never inspired fear.

The prince follows her home, his eyes taking her in greedily. He is not wed, this prince, and he is not an eldest son, either. He does as he likes, or at least, that is what she has heard. She offers him a cup of the tea. He drinks it, out of politeness, and takes a step towards her. He stops. He topples to the floor, prone like the rabbit.

The horse she lets go. The prince she drags out to the yard and chops up with an axe. She puts the good parts in a stew and buries the rest. His blood stains the earth, intermingles with hers. She eats well that night. She can still feel the curse, but it has dulled, sated, for now, settled in the pit of her stomach. In the yard, the blood flowers bloom, and they are by far the most beautiful things in the world.

Noa Covo's work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Passages North, and Waxwing. Her microchapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.