On that spit of sea-spying land Alexander the Great claimed and named as his own, war finally forced itself like a sick lover. My father would hurry my French stepmother and her blond twins to the bomb shelter. I liked to hide. I never knew why everyone in Alexandria called the Bougainvillea hellfire plants. When I peered out from under the hellfire plants realizing no one remained to seek, I cartwheeled pretending I was the wind that carried the bloody sirens, but I was wrong, because out there, like air clogged with souls of the dead, you lurked in the shadows of invisible dust.
Long ago, mother had expected a letter—an invitation—that never arrived, but I, my father’s first-born with the serpent curls and worn-out postcards of Zeppelins flying past the Giza Pyramids, knew my Pegasus was coming. I just needed to believe harder.
In that one time father dragged me to shelter, I saw you again, and thought about the mustache sprouting on your top lip. It looked like dirt, mold-green dirt. We exchanged a secret nod that everyone could see. Back then, you said you saw in me, the fairy dressed in foliage, the rose in her prickly garb of stalks, a specter, not a broom with a witch.
At seventeen, when the war was over, I scared away the seekers, but you still proposed. My father said yes, said that an unwed girl my age, was like cake that can go bad, even with cherries on top.
I said no, because when I last met you, in the secret hiding everyone knew about, you said my Pegasus was never ever coming, that they stopped making Pegasuses many millennia ago, that Pegasuses were deserters anyways.
I got all angry and blurted out a secret: one day, I was going to run away to my one true home, a big house with flapping walls that billowed in the wind but still kept its warmth inside.
You smiled, your algae mustache greener than ever. You said no one had to run. You promised the world and its seas. So I let you handcuff me to the finality of matrimony, putting me behind water-edged bars.
I died when I saw your real face, when I realized I had turned my own heart to stone.
Riham Adly is an Egyptian fiction writer and blogger. She currently works as first reader in Vestal Review. Her work has appeared in Connotation Press, Bending Genres, Volney Road Review, Spelk and The Cabinet of Heed among others, and has a translation piece forthcoming in Arab-Lit Quarterly magazine. In 2018 she’s been short-listed in the Arab-Lit translation Prize.
Artwork: Catrin Welz-Stein, A Green Heart