Throwback Thursday |An AFTER THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER Excerpt: “A Sleeve of Feathers” by Claudia Quint

“Stephen, how do you feel about living together with all six of Geileis’s brothers?”

The well-intentioned doctor with her degrees framed and hanging on the wall, pulled down her glasses to stare at them, and Stephen leaned forward and fiddled with the cuffs of his shirt as though an animal were caught in his throat, fighting its way to his teeth and pushing out past his lips, recalcitrant, resentful.

“I want it to stop.”

The doctor nodded.

Geileis wore the white pleated chiffon shirt today. A diamond necklace Stephen bought her dangled at her throat. Back in those days, Geileis’s lips had been locked shut, she would not speak. Now with her tongue unloosed, she might speak of whatever she wished, but neither of them dared. Like veterans returned from war, they skirted around their past, making it impossible to talk with her six brothers always there in the periphery of their every movement, occupying arm chairs and reading books, eating out of the fridge and leaving the milk carton empty on the shelf, traipsing through their bedroom, by god, their bedroom for christ’s sake.

It all came crashing down when he found Geileis in bed, nestled between Dylan and Ailill, Oisin cuddling on the left and Ruari at her feet, with Emmet and Cian resorting to floor space when they ran out of room on the bed. Stephen dragged the brothers out one by one, pushing and pulling so they awoke with starts and cries, until she roused, confused and sleepy, to ask him what in the world he was doing.

“Like it’s the most normal thing in the world.” Stephen contented himself by folding his hands to stop fiddling with the cuffs. “To sleep with your brothers and shut out your husband.”

Geileis, mute again, held her chin high. Her silence once struck him as mysterious, lent her an irresistible mystique from the start of their courtship, but now, it maddened him. Why wouldn’t she speak her mind? Instead, she retreated into her self-possession, into places he could not follow.

Except for her brothers. All six of them, by god. They seemed to know and sense and feel everything she wanted or thought. If she were thirsty, they appeared beside her with a drink. If she needed the power drill, no sooner had she asked Stephen where he’d last seen it, when Ailill finished the job and hung the ceiling fan for her.

“What does she need a husband for when she’s got six men to take care of her?” Stephen sneered, heard the sneer in his voice but couldn’t stop it, hated himself for it. In the past, he never would have said such a thing, in such a way before; he had been all forward motion, all chivalry, all magnanimous heart until inside a wretched atherosclerosis slowly took hold, hardening his heart and breeding suspicion where before their life together had been honeymoon hours, blissful romance.

But before, six men did not occupy their marriage and their house.

“Geileis, Stephen has expressed himself regarding your living situation, did you want to talk about your feelings?”

“They’re my brothers.”

And she said nothing else. As though this statement and this statement alone were the extent of the world, and its very limits, limits which Stephen could not breach. He exploded and threw his hands up into the air before pressing his fingertips to his temples as though to pin the words there before they could race from his brain and through his mouth, finally retreating into the silence that used to be Geileis’s alone.

In that silence resided all the things they did not talk about. In that silence lurked all six of her brothers, the years they spent as test subjects in the Cygnus Pharmaceutical Company, Geileis’s own step-mother slowly turned them, one by one, into swans. By what alchemical drugs, what modifications, what redirection of cells and mutation wrought such a wicked transformation, Stephen did not know. And his sweet Geileis, working years through her medical degree, graduated with top honors and went straight to the lab where she advanced work on the cure that would reverse it.

He met her in that same lab. Then, he knew her as the rich and pampered daughter of a pharmaceutical magnate, and all around her clung a deep sadness of something lost, her lab tables piled with feathers and the strange presence of six swans, resting in their experiment cages in the room where she worked and slept and would not leave them.

Of course, the truth came out in the end. Quite the scandal. And in the end, none of them had ever recovered from the shock of it, all bound together by seven years of silence and medical torture.

And the silence never ended.

They didn’t talk about the brothers and their lost years. And most of all, they didn’t talk about Ailill with his one arm, which could not be saved. All that remained was his half-arm, fringed with white swan feathers and where there should be a hand, a wing tip he kept hidden up into a long sleeve. It stubbornly refused to respond to all of Geileis’s drug trials, as much as she tried to coax it back to human life. In the end, Ailill refused the skin grafts offered.

Ailill had done it on purpose. To always hold that reminder of the past before them all, insinuating it in every detail of their day-to-day life as though to make sure Geileis never forgot it. See? See what happened to me? I need you. I need you more than that wretched man you call a husband.

“They need to go,” Stephen said. “And that’s final.”

The doctor looked at Geileis, and oh, in her silence, she only nodded as though she agreed, but his betrayal must make her loathe him. He was not her knight anymore. Six swans had come along and toppled him from his pedestal.

 

 

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Claudia Quint writes fantasy, romance, and erotica when she isn’t brewing wine, taking care of her society finches, and messing about in her garden.

 

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