by Nicola Belte

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“Jacques Froste, artiste consacre, excentrique extraordinaire,” he says as he leads me in. 
“Whatever,” I reply. 
I just want this over with.

I can’t speak French.  He doesn’t speak English. It doesn’t matter.  I already know that he’s the man for the job.

I take off my coat, my jumper, and my bra.  He eyes me dispassionately, rolling a cigarette, nodding towards a rusty trolley in the middle of the room.

I climb onto it, and lie flat on my back, staring at the snowflakes on the ceiling.  I shiver as he stands above me, securely tying my wrists to the sides of the trolley with thick, silver cord.  He’s done this before. 

“Will I still be able to feel my toes?” I ask, bizarrely, feeling the panic rise as he knots the cord around my ankles.  I wiggle them.
He nods, but he doesn’t understand. 
“Will it thaw, ever?” I ask, straining up, writhing in my bounds.  Then I remember.  I don’t want it to.  I settle back down, exhale, and I close my eyes.

I feel the tip of his brush glide between my breasts, and over my ribs.  He hums as he paints, swirling circles on my chest, and I feel the cold seep through my skin, inching down, towards its target.  My heart jolts, squirms, speeds up, fluttering like a lame baby bird caught in the crushing fist of winter.  It chirps weakly, defiantly, and I think of love. 

Kisses by a frozen lake.  Slush on the stairs.  His cold fingers in my mouth, to warm them up, his breath on my hips.  Snow falling silently as we move.  The world outside our room, unrecognisable, a fairytale.

But it doesn’t work anymore.  I know the ending. I open the window and the icicles shatter, and crack.

“Ok?” he asks, pausing. 
“Yes, si, oui, ok, whatever,” I say, nodding, “Go on.”

He smiles, and bends over me, blue-tipped tongue poking out in concentration.

I think of black ice on the steps of a church.  Tiny igloos of icing on a rich, rotten cake. A bridal choker; a web rimed with crystals of frost, on eBay: 99p. Worn once.

My heart slows, yields to the strokes of his brush, until finally; I can’t feel it at all.  Nothing.  Numb. Mercifully.
I’m done.

I put on my bra, my jumper, my coat, and he hands me a scarf.  Essential to keep warm, after the procedure.
I pay him with euros, not caring if I’ve worked it out right or not, and make my way out into the Parisian streets.  I smile.  The city of romance, and I feel not a thing.

I see couples around me, hugging and kissing, crying, and shouting, all handing over their emotions cheaply, clumsily, unaware of the cost, of the damage.

I tighten my scarf. I think of my heart, an exquisite winter diamond, encased in glass, glittering so brightly that it hurts the eyes. Untouchable. Now. Invaluable. Now.  Mine.

Nicola Belte lives in Birmingham, England, and scribbles stories inbetween pulling pints.  She is working on a collection of short stories and plotting out her first novel.

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