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You Are Cordially Invited to an Ancient Party

April 2, 2020

breath cocktail party

Place: Your Imagination

Time: Thousands of Years Ago

Since parties are out of the question for the time being, I thought I’d offer you a bit of a virtual gathering. This one is ancient. It’s a short excerpt from my forthcoming novel, “Breath” and details a sumptuous party held in celebration of my heroine’s betrothal.


by Yours Truly

(Coming May, 2020)

It’s a cool night, and our hearth is blazing, sparks whirring up into the black, and vanishing like magic. Part of me wishes I could vanish into the night sky. My palms are damp and cold and my fingers tingle unpleasantly. I place them on my lap and force a cheerful smile for our guests, which they return along with a nod of respect. I must look alright, then.

The train of my mother’s tunic, all rosy, ripples behind her as she makes her way across our roof garden. She takes a goblet from Yina’s hands and shares it with an elegant, long-necked woman who I will one day be calling auntie. This woman tells my mother how excited her nephew is about the prospect of taking a wife, assuming all goes well tonight. My mother laughs and waves her hand with an impressive aura of confidence.

Breath inspiration book 2 fashion

The night is overflowing with garments made of bold desert hues. Jugs and platters are arranged on our finest eating cloths; ones embroidered with pretty images of grapevines outlined in delicate gold thread. The musicians play from our central courtyard three stories below, stomping their feet to a beat on a patio of mud brick built by my father’s hands. The sounds of harps and reed flutes waft up along with the strong perfume of the royal purple lulas I’ve been growing for the occasion. Those are just beginning to blossom, and haven’t yet unfolded into the decadent flowers they’ll become. When they do, their scent will be stronger than smoke and reach all the way to the ziggurat, I’m sure.

We lounge on pillows, as our guests pick from an array of barley cakes, mustard greens, goat, fowl, and mutton. Sauces that hint at sweetness, but are overcome by the taste of blood. I know them well. Pastes of organ meat and crushed nuts are smeared over flatbread. My favorite! Mulberries and pomegranates spill over clay bowls painted with symbols of fertility – horses, hunters, gardens, breasts the size of engorged udders. I look at my own bosom, and sniff. Can’t imagine they’ll ever be like those.

A chorus of women – lizard-skinny and full of gossip – are rolling cuts of roasted meat in finely chopped herbs that leave a green, furry ring around their lips. Splaying around our hearth fire, they point their toes as they stretch, cupping their breasts and giggling. My new clan. I wish I could like them a bit more, but every new bride feels that way at first. Or so I’m told.

“Godly, just godly,” one of the ladies says, chewing with her eyes closed in rapture. Her nostrils flare explosively as she speaks, and even more so when she takes a deep sniff of roasted flamingo.

The strum and pitter of good conversation conceals the growls from my stomach. So I lay back, like the ladies, pretending I’m accustomed to a life of leisure. Yina, taking pity on me, sneaks the odd bite of heaven into my mouth as she rushes by, filling cups, replenishing platters. She doesn’t trust the other slaves we borrowed for the occasion.

All along, my prospective husband’s uncle watches me. One of his eyes is larger than the other and he fixes it on the buds of my breasts, not at all taking care to be subtle. Dressed in fine linen, bone white, he seems safe and dangerous all at once, like a garden snake.

Sahjaloh, Uncle,” I say, nodding.

A bride never uses the names of her would-be husband or his family until the wedding. It’s considered very bad luck. But it’s so hard in this case since his name means “one-sided” and has a peculiar connection to his face. I say his actual name to myself only once – Arik –to keep it at bay.

“Mala, your father tells me you make linens as fine as your mother’s.”

A dare, a test. Every little thing is. I lick my lips and take a good swallow.

“Only because my mother is such a fine teacher, Uncle,” I say, but the name Arik keeps rising up like a ghoul.

I blink hard, trying to gauge how well I played it, and meet eyes with a young man on Arik’s – the uncle’s – right. His son, I think. Well-built and a full head bigger than most, with fresh skin, smooth like mine. It’s possible he’s only a couple of years older than me. With long, wavy hair that falls down his back and eyes the color of a golden ripe apricot, he seems out of place. Like he belongs to another world, another people. He smiles and I glance away before I’m tempted to smile back. That wouldn’t do.


“And you garden, I’m told. A wishful pursuit for one who lives on the edge of a desert,” the uncle mentions casually.

“A girl’s life is made of wishes.”

“That it is,” he says. “It’ll be a wish fulfilled if your womb makes life as readily as your hands.”

I realize I’ve been speaking with those hands and fold them into a tight ball at my waist.

“Is it also true you kick stones with the boys and run like a gazelle?”

The uncle crows and crams a soft lump of mutton into his mouth, its juices running the length of his forearm.

“If I’m being chased, Uncle,” I tell him.

He stills for a second and I can’t even breathe. I’d wanted to sound sure of myself, but with enough modesty and regard for my elders. No one wants to invite a diva into their house, then have to whip her into shape. Literally.

I’m tempted to apologize for being too offhanded, but Arik’s eye twinkles and he roars with amusement. Even the gossiping ladies start to hoot, shielding their mouths with a swathe of linen, like they’re so dainty. The young man looks at his lap, biting his lip. I try on a grin – not too pleased with myself, I hope.

The uncle unfolds, stretching and groaning. Sitting up tall, he slaps his hands on his ribs. It’s his job to set the tone of the evening, which he does with a wordy speech about the many virtues of my would-be husband. He begins – incredibly – with a flowery monologue about the qualities of the top of my husband’s head (round like a melon, with an abundance of hair).

He moves from there, as thorough as any man who loves to hear himself talk, and expounds on the merits of my husband’s face and neck (handsome and foxlike, aquiline nose, and so on) then his broad shoulders, chest, hard belly, and strong hips.

He doesn’t shy away from describing a remarkable set of genitals – in detail, his big eye boring straight into mine the whole time! No one dares to snicker, especially me, although when he describes the gem quality jewels pierced into my husband’s foreskin (at the very tip of a member the size of a calabash, he tells us, giving a big wink while stroking the neck of a jug of wine, no less!), the ladies struggle not to fall to pieces. I only survive the ordeal by imagining the uncle squatting over a chamber pot, just as Yina advised me. She’s been through this ritual three times, after all, and has suffered through all manner of innuendo – including a detailed description of her parents’ wedding night once! She knows how to fight fire with fire.

The uncle keeps his comportment, staying deadly serious, and I have to admire him for that. His son strums his fingers along his thighs and glances away. I pinch my thigh hard to keep it together – an eager, enthralled look upon my face, I hope. An expectant bride never wants to look like a prude.

After a long and hearty clearing of his throat, the uncle continues to describe a pair of sturdy legs – like the trunks of a tamarix – all the way to my future husband’s feet (stronger than the most well-made sandals, he says, and I think he could have done better than that) and finally, his toes. Seeming to grasp for something properly marvelous to say about those, he ends by assuring us they were the most beautiful and manly toes he’s ever seen.

“Nahoor,” he says, concluding the speech with his blessing.



Stay safe, stay distant, but remain close…

  1. Christine Lane permalink

    Would be fun to have a real virtual event. Don’t know how it would work or agenda or or or… but, for authors – well, we could all use a bit of imagination and virtual interaction right now. Especially new blood, lol. Those within the same walls, pretty sure we could use a change of view now and then.

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