Issue 232, Spring 2020
There was a man, let’s call him Henry VIII. There was his wife, let’s call her Anne B. Let’s give them a castle and make it nice. Let’s give her many boy babies but make them dead. Let’s give him a fussy way of being. Let’s make her smart and sneaky, because it’s such a mean thing to do.
Let’s make it so she can’t escape.
Let’s seal the bottle, and shake it, and shake until our hands fall off.
It takes two swings to cut off her head. Everyone does their best to pretend that the first one didn’t happen. In the awkward silence afterward, the swordsman says something about mercy or justice, a strangely fervent soliloquy in French that might have made Anne herself emotional, but it’s a touch long-winded, and no one’s paying him any attention. And she’s dead, so it’s especially beside the point.
The ministers dither in the courtyard, chancing last looks, murmuring, Exquisite mouth, just exquisite. She is so beautiful, they agree, even beheaded.
Henry will return to the body later, when everyone is gone and what’s left of her has been moved to the chapel. He will stand on the threshold, halfway between one momentous decision and the next. He will kneel on the dais beside her severed head and lay one ornately rubied hand along her frigid cheekbone. Maybe he will stay five minutes. Maybe he will stay thirty-five. Maybe he will cry softly, but it doesn’t matter, because there isn’t a nosy patron around to commission an oil painting for the textbooks, and it doesn’t matter because she’s dead, she’s still very, very dead.
He will leave as furtively as he came, wiping his hand on his smock. Anne’s headless body and bodiless head will be left to their own devices, her blood blackening, thickening on the ground, the gristle of her neck tougher with every minute. The clock ticks. Night falls.
It is her head that speaks first. It says, “Is he gone?”
Her body spasms, maybe a shrug, or maybe just a reflex.
Her head opens its eyes and looks this way, that way. It says, “It’s over? It really worked?”