Size / / /

She picked up a pomegranate, squeezed
it hard, sighed. She'd always preferred golden
delicious apples, but they were all
mushy today. Someone called out
from the direction of the cabbages,
not her name, just pleading. She pushed
her clattering cart toward the greenest
part of the produce department.

A man's head rested among the cabbages.
He had black hair, and the kind of olive skin that
some women find exotic when they don't know
better. "I am Orpheus," he said, "cursed to live
forever, bereft of love, and now left
among these living green things
that by their fecundity mock my living
death. My woe is legend. . . ."

She resisted the urge to thump
his forehead like a melon. She called
to a beefy old man wearing a
supermarket smock. "What's this head
doing in among the cabbages?" she asked.

He walked toward her, looked at Orpheus,
grunted. "I just unload the crates," he
said. "The quality of the vegetables
is none of my business."

"Did these cabbages come from Greece?"
she asked.

"Olives are what come from Greece," he
said. "Cabbages come from places like
Ohio." He wandered away.

"Long I sought my love," Orpheus said.
"Long I wandered singing in
the lands below the earth."

She looked at the sign. "Cabbages, 89 cents
a head." She picked up Orpheus by his
hair. He didn't seem to mind. If his neck
had been bloody she might have left
him there, but his wound was smooth
as cut cucumber. She dropped him
in her basket, paid for him at the register,
thinking "Of all the places to find
true love."

In the car, on the way home, Orpheus went
on and on about his dead wife from inside
the grocery bag.

She wished he would stop; a girl could
start to feel like an afterthought. She decided
he would never love her after all.

A mile from her house he started singing.
She wept. So did a dog in the street, a mailman
passing by, and a stop sign. She decided to keep
him after all.

When she got home she put the rest
of the groceries away, but took Orpheus
into her dusty bedroom, swinging him
gently by his hair. "Long I sought my love,
and an end to loneliness," Orpheus said.
"Long I searched to find the gates
of my paradise denied."

She undressed, surprised to find
herself trembling. She stretched out
on the bed and bent her knees, then
tucked the murmuring head of Orpheus
between her thighs.

"Sing out," she said, and he did.

A bit later, so did she.


Copyright © 2001 Tim Pratt

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Tim Pratt is a misplaced Southerner currently living in the California Bay Area. He is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and poetry editor for the online magazine Speculon. Tim's previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. Visit his Web site to learn more about him.

Tim Pratt won a Hugo Award for his short fiction (and lost a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award), and his stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Heather Shaw and son River. For more information about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at
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How did we end up so far east, on the flanks of a cold beach? You told me you always wanted to see the Pelagio, ever since you were a child. But your skin was never made for water. You shouldn’t have ever learned to swim.
look through the soap, the suds, the sopping wet clothes
as she leaves mortality behind / She always returns to me
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