She's hard, thin, sharp: all short words with pointed ends. She wields them against herself, against her red hair, her flat body, her thin hands in which the veins show like mold. She knows other words too, equally harsh: fool, cat, brat, bitch. They rattle in her head, becoming a meaningless noise, like her breath.

Florian has other words for her. Russet, he says, in a voice that makes her awful hair sound like silk; and auburn, warm as velvet. Tigress, he says laughing, as though her claws, her snarls, her spite, were something grand and wild.

Indomitable, he says, and indispensable.



She knows it's nonsense; it's all words, most of them meaning nothing. But she wants, all the same, to be as beautiful as he makes her sound.