The dress – of a crepeish material and the green of slow light slipped, puddle-soft, to the bottom of a pond – had fallen from her shoulder. James could see the mark.
He had been looking eight years and a dozen worlds. Through deserts and oceans; under incense-clouded canvas and starry skies. In crowded basement bars beneath the playgrounds of the mega-rich: sky-tall palaces with penthouses in which oxygen masks (or hybrid lungs) were necessary accessories. And here she was, at last, with the nine dark dots across her pale skin and, flaring around the fifth, a star to guide her home.
They had stopped by the side of the road, half in scrub, half on the track. The car was old, and unconditioned in every sense, air included; when still, the sun scalded their scalps through the roof. But it was a hard thing to drive past.
How long had she been here, selling recognitions of an unfamiliar festival? But their words did not translate. The cards were the most beautiful things they would see in their lives. They bought every one, but she pulled more and more from her petticoats until the car was full of paper and strange designs.
It wasn’t a question of taste. Indeed, for Magda there was no question of taste at all. Savoury and sweet were indiscrete. Umami was a strange term, its purpose a wholly unknowable flavour.
Everybody looked sad when Margot told them, except ladies on diets, who envied her openly. Margot looked sad on their behalf. But there was truth in it – she had always been trim, untempted – she ate only when she was hungry. Unfussy, she was welcome at dinner parties, and a cheap date, because who would pay for fancy food to fail to impress the girl with no tastebuds?
The princess sat in her tower churning out coin after coin. She had recklessly heeded the advert – Make £££ In Your Spare Time – and now here she was, knee-deep in pennies and none the richer for it.
As the stories had it, her hair was blonde, and very fine, and very long. Although less long now than it had been, she scowled, taking the shears to another handful and weaving the strands into small dense discs, to be trundled away in a wheelbarrow by that curmudgeonly dwarf and buried deep in fruit and suet for the most fortunate to unearth.