WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?


CHAPTER 11

AT THE PALACE OF SEDUCTIONS, the gentlemen of the orchestra play songs from the old country. They play with arthritic fingers, worn out hands and lips, with tired hearts enriched only by distant nights of love, now barely remembered.

At the tables, widows hide behind their decorative fans, whilst gigolos stumble across the room slowly and with trepidation, like aged leopards. Dandies check themselves in handheld mirrors. Such desires, such breaths hardly taken, not for so many years now. The old men direct the women out onto the polished floor, to move them tenderly through the ritualised code of the tango; the various steps, calibrations, the holds, the perfect theatre of the kiss.

One final surrendering. There are such longings, there are such callings in the blood that long to be delivered.

In a small private alcove, the retired colonel sits in his wheelchair, his designated servant standing by his side. The music seems far away, cold, and slightly out of time with the creaking mechanism of an ornamental clock whose fingers move in the shadows. The colonel sighs and thinks back on his dancing days, when the body seemed in thrall to some fierce instruction. The young girls, the married women, the prostitutes…

The scorpion creaks across the table, its velvet body sparkling with cheap jewels. The servant places a gentle finger upon its back, holding it in place. The colonel looks on, nervously. His eyes are so bad these days, he sees everything covered with a fine mist, wet with tears. Finally, he gives a slight nod. The servant rolls the sleeve of his master, exposing a thin-boned arm. The old man trembles at the touch, and he remembers the advice given him by the dealer.

'Be careful of your passion.'

The creature moves closer. The tail hovers above the bared arm, and then stabs forward suddenly, with a hidden, coiled power. The jewelled sting pierces the soft skin of the old man, finding a vein. The ticking of the clock fills the air like a heart stuttering. There is a sweet sticky smell in the small confined space and the old man cries out in pain, and in fear. His eyes widen. Blood fills his vision.

The music swirls from the dancefloor.

The colonel spasms in his chair, his arms flailing. The scorpion is knocked from the table. It lands on the floor beside the old man, who has fallen with it. The creature lies on its back, legs waving frantically, its tail spurting. A purple arc of fluid sprays across the man's terrified face.

Such desires, such longings…

The wheel of the chair spins slowly to a standstill.

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WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?