Ever Noir

by Mari Ness in Issue Sixteen, July 2024

They slink in, hats drawn
low against their faces.
                                        I hear
                    you find things out. I hear
                    you're willing to do things
                    for cold hard cash. I hear
                    you know something of poisons.
                    Of death.
You got cash?

Sometimes they spill a golden coin or two,
or seven tarnished silver coins. Or a shirt
woven from nettles. Can turn you from a bird,
they say. Or maybe the other way around. A
golden ring that never fits. Boots with
iron soles. A shard from a shattered slipper.
So, what's a royal like you
doing in a place like this.
                    I gotta problem.
Of course you do. I'd add sweetheart,
but there's nothing sweet about them.
Even if –
And is that a sword, or
you just happy to see me.
                    I can't be happy. Not until –
it ain't the usual case, and yet, it is
always the same. Every time. They want
the why. Why the tower. Why the apple.
Why the slipper always breaks.
Why hate spirals around their skin.
What they did to deserve this.
Me, I got no answers. It ain't my thing.
I'm no fairy godmother, no
youngest prince. I'll hunt around,
I tell them, maybe even
dust for fingerprints. Find out
who's behind this. Maybe. I don't
always get the right one. I take
the dresses brilliant as the sun and moon,
the sword that won't shut up.
Maybe I'll sell them somewhere. Meantime,
they should see the city. Top to bottom.
Mostly bottom. Let the streetlights
guard their skins. It ain't
happy ever after, no. It's fog.
It's rain. It's snow, soaking
through their skin. But
safer than some damn fairy tale. I stay
in my chair when they slink away.
My floor's already stained with blood.

© 2024 Mari Ness

Mari Ness

Mari Ness is the author of Through Immortal Shadows Singing, Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales, Dancing in Silver Lands, and, most recently, Let me tell you of that garden, a mini chapbook available from Sword and Kettle Press. Other work appears in Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Apex, Baffling, Reckoning, Strange Horizons, and multiple other zines and anthologies. More information can be found on an infrequently updated webpage, https://marikness.wordpress.com/, or on Bluesky https://bsky.app/profile/mariness.bsky.social. Mari lives in central Florida.

Poetry by Mari Ness
  • Ever Noir