The house was so small, you might have missed it.
A Golgotha perched on the edge of the town. It clung to the reeds and rotting grasses, as if at any moment it might slip beneath the dark water and be reclaimed by the bayou that had coughed it up many years ago.
I didn't want to be here, but what I did and did not want was not pertinent.
I was a flower eater.
I had a role to play, and if I played it well, I got to live. If I didn’t, the gators would always pleased to make my acquaintance.
I stretched out on the bed, my slender arms and legs more a result of malnutrition than anything fashionable or health-conscious. I would have eaten more had she let me, but Mother wasn't one for spending her take on food, or on anything that didn't bring in guests.
Lately it had been Daffel Dandies. All dressed up in their puffy shirts and fancy leathers, they were the delta’s nuevo rich. They grew the flowers we wanted; we needed.
I turned my head to the vase of buds on the little table. Mother had left me enough for another guest.
That meant they would be coming soon.
I tried to clear my head and bleed the jumble of thoughts inside like you'd empty the water from a washbasin. Damning images swirled around each other in a whirlpool of pain and regret, before dropping out of my head like the rain falls from the night sky.
I am Sierva de la Muerte.
I am death's handmaiden.
I had a name, long before I ended up here, but I’d since lost the memory of it, along with all the things that tied me to my old life.
Here I was a machine, a cog in the great wheel of life that turned so the wealthy stayed happy and the rest of us enjoyed the scraps from their great table.
I left my comfortable spot on the bed and went to the dressing mirror.
The clothes hung from wooden hooks beside the mirror. Tonight I was to wear red.
It didn't matter to me.
It only mattered to them.
I took a seat in front of the polished glass and reached for the canister of white make-up, my fingers moving with a mind of their own.
My eyes looked older now, darker than I'd remembered them.
The guests were taking a toll. They always did. I'd seen the other girls, Shelly, and Little Chim. I knew what happened to them would eventually happen to me, but did it have to come so soon?
Daffel flowers reflected in the mirror. All but one remained un-opened, each waiting patiently to be consumed.
I hated the name, but the words fit. Shortly someone would walk through those doors and I would eat the Daffel again.
The taste of mint and ash tickled my tongue, even though I had yet to place a single bud to my lips.
My body knew what was coming. It hungered for it, just like the gators outside this prison hungered for the flesh of broken handmaidens. There were no lost things here. The ones that could no longer eat the Daffel, that could no longer bring peace, they were cast out to keep the reptiles fed.
I opened the canister and set to work. I would not be food for a hungry gator tonight. My eyes might be tired, but I could still eat the Daffel.
I could bring peace.
The white foundation went on smoothly until I had built up a solid color. It would form the base for everything else. None of it really mattered, but this was that they wanted, so this was what I did.
I set the blank paint down and retrieved the thin stick of black. Mother would have to obtain more, as this stick was getting low. She would. She always did. If not her, one of the house boys would see to it.
I didn't know who was left. It had been so long since I'd been outside this room. Little Jeffery must be big Jeffery by now, if he was still with us.
I turned the black stick over in my fingers. One day my eyes would turn this color, and that would be the end.
Were the Daffel buds that would do it growing the in the fields somewhere right now? Or were they still in the seeds, waiting patiently to be planted, grown, and harvested before they blossomed.
Never after the petals unfold.
Mother’s words were sharp and jagged in my mind, but they were also prudent.
Daffel buds were poison to others, but the petals were toxic to me, to each of death's handmaidens.
Never the petals.
I repeated those words as I looped the black around my eyes. It took time, and patience, but the guest would approve, and if they approved, then Mother would approve as well.
My tired eyes still shined with a hint of blue in that old mirror. It was enough. It had to be enough.
With whites now ringed in black, it was time to sculpt the lips and darken the nose. I was a living skull.
The old ones had other names for them, but we knew what they really were.
You couldn't understand peace without coming to grips with death.
That was what they needed. They needed to see the end, and to know the peace that awaited them.
They needed something else, too.
My finger shook just enough to smear the thin black lines along my lips.
It took longer than I wanted to fix that mistake. By the time I'd attached the little costume jewels and looked the part of a proper Sierva, the chime rang out.
The guest was coming.
I slipped the tight-fitting dress over my bare shoulders and pulled the zipper taut. The final step was my hair. Already done up, I pinned the silk flowers in and adjusted them until they swelled with the facsimile of life.
I took a seat at the tiny table that dominated the center of my world. It faced the door and held the Daffel flowers, still unopened.
My fingers shook, but I forced them to quiet by setting my hands together in my lap. It would all be over soon.
The door opened slowly. Mother's wrinkled fingers sliding the heavy oak, having unlocked it from the outside.
I waited for the guest to shuffle in. They were always old.
The old need peace more than ever.
I was ready to hold wrinkled fingers and look into the aged and soulless eyes, but that wasn't what entered my room.
He was young, not much older than me, and with an air of fear and confusion.
I did my best to hide my surprise, but it must have bubbled to the surface even beneath all that paint.
Mother positioned herself behind him and placed that withered hand on his shoulder. She’d lost it to the Daffel and used it as a warning to the rest of us exactly what we danced with when we ate the flowers.
"Please take a seat."
I could tell he wanted to speak, but the old woman swept up the heavy folds of her dress and used them to brush his words aside.
"There you go. She is the best. A jewel of the night. This one can bring the mountains low and turn the river to dust. She is a flower eater, and she brings peace."
"I'm not sure... Maybe I should—"
Mother plucked a Daffel from the vase and turned it over in her good hand. She twisted the bud until it popped off.
It was an act I'd seen before. I knew what to do.
My fingers snapped the unopened flower out of the air like a water moccasin jabs at her prey.
"Very good. See? You are in good company. Soon the things that trouble you will feel the full power of the Daffel, and the woman who wields it."
I placed the bud on my tongue, slowly and with purpose. It was all part of the act, but Mother believed the ritual had purpose.
I didn't know what I believed anymore.
I held out my hands across the table, palms up, and ready to receive him.
Mother nodded, apparently pleased at my display.
The guest hesitated, like the soft fingers across from him were dark things ready to rip his hands from their wrists.
"Please. Let me help you find peace."
The old woman backed out slowly, her black eyes never leaving me.
In the end, as they always did, he placed in ruddy fingers in mine and I bit down on the Daffel bud.
He was so young. How many could he have murdered?
The mint and ash tickled my tongue and raced down my throat. The flower brought with it pain, sadness, and death.
I was the handmaiden of death.
I would fight his battles for him.
I would bring him peace.
The room bled away as the toxic plant did what it was grown to do.
Daffel was the Lazarus Flower. It would bring us to the edge of the end.
We would walk that line together, and I would bring him peace, or lose myself in the process.