Somehow I’d missed that Laurie Penny writes short fiction. I won’t make that mistake again.
They tell you not to fall for human beings because they always die. For me that’s part of it. That’s their beauty and their tragedy—everything is always rotting, puckering and falling apart under your hands, and you claw at them with your kisses to slow the tug of time but you can’t. The panic in their eyes when they reach the age when they realize that, yes, it’s happening to them too.
The way they swallow their breath at the point of orgasm.
I can’t get enough.
Some of us are perfectly happy counting dust motes in sunlight, or recording the little lives of the luminous creatures at the bottom of the ocean trenches who live and die and drift to the sea floor and know nothing but darkness.
Loving humans is what got me demoted.
A long time ago, before the current system, when there were far fewer of them, it was our job to walk among men and women and all the other human creatures and teach them things they needed to know. Writing and calculus and basic food hygiene. We were allowed to give real advice, back then, and we taught them a lot. But they taught us things, too.
They taught us what it is to fear death and to nourish hope. They taught us about pleasure. And passion. And love. Love more than anything. I have always been drawn to the ones who burn with it, the ones who take their tiny lives in trembling hands and try to wring out all the juices before it’s too late.
I love fucking human men.
I love loving them, too, though if I’m honest, the fucking is quite a significant part of it. Nothing is ever just sex.
I loved a scientist, once, in Babylon, in the land between the two rivers. His beard was slight and his eyes were black and fronded with long, long lashes, and it was the eighth century after they killed the Nazarene, and he found me in a decorative jar in the market, where a witch whose son I had seduced kept me prisoner for a decade.
He took me home and broke the glass and out I blossomed, fully-formed and heavy-breasted, and he rushed for his notebooks.
He was tortured by the impulse to understand everything. A fatal condition in humans. He was full of rage at his own ignorance, and the more he eked out through his art and philosophy and mathematics—which in those days were all part of the same discipline—the more he discovered he did not know, and the more that knowledge consumed him.
I loved him for it, and he resented me. Even in our bed, he resented me. His fingertips would outline my contours as if I were drawn on a manuscript, searching for the secrets of my substance.
It hurt him to love me because I was a door to the wisdom of eons that he couldn’t unlock. I knew the names of all the stars, and I wouldn’t tell them to him. I couldn’t. It would have driven him mad, and he would have ended up wandering the streets with the beggars and the crazed soothsayers.
He told me that there were worse places to end.
He longed to know the names of the stars, the true names that they only tell each other, how they were born, the exact latitude of this or that red giant. I told him that I had walked on a star once and it was nothing special. After that he didn’t fuck me for weeks.
He liked me in feathers, though. One morning I found that he had plucked out all the filoplumes on my left side and was dissolving them in acid, trying to determine what I was made of.
So I took him walking on a star. He didn’t like it as much as he thought he would.