It was Lola and Etienne’s twelfth date, but the first time they were dining at the Corps Céleste. This was significant, Lola knew. Her ring finger tingled.

“I’ve heard the singer has the voice of an angel,” Etienne said with a smirk on his handsome granite-cut face. His hand applied firm pressure against Lola’s ermine-clad back as he helped her out of their steam-powered automobile, and she melted into his touch.

“Etienne, you can’t mean…”

“Oh, yes. The owner was a general in the war - one of the few people to have captured a real angel before the feathered battalions retreated back to their realm.”

In the Corps’ wainscoted antechamber, surrounded by flickering candlelight, Lola staggered. The burgundy-carpeted floor seemed to cave under her kitten heels as the first notes of singing accompanied by a pianist and a string quartet wound its sinuous way around her. It was in a language she didn’t recognize. Each ethereal quaver sounded like molten silver or bottled moonlight.

A tuxedo-clad waiter led them to a round table for two right in front of the stage. Up close, Lola could see the angel in all her wretched glory. She - or was it a he? Oh, Lola could never tell with these creatures - wore a white tunic that would have complemented her wings, were they not so grayed and wilted. Under the crystal chandeliers’ soft ambient light, manacles glinted around the angel’s delicate wrists and ankles. She clutched the microphone - a delicate, golden thing - in knobby-fingered urgency and sang with eyes the color of milk-glass, glazed over and sunken deep in her gaunt face.

“Oh,” Lola said and looked away. It was much better to listen to the angel’s warbling aria than watch those vacant eyes, she decided.

Etienne ordered champagne with practiced ease. The sugary effervescence burned Lola’s throat. She studied her gilt-edged menu as Etienne asked for the filet mignon, stuffed portobello mushrooms, and the duck and poached pear ballotine. Hunger gurgled through her stomach, but she only ordered a small green salad. She would need to slim down if she wanted to fit in her mother’s old wedding dress. It was an ivory shade, with a tight bodice, flowing skirt, and some truly exquisite pearl beadwork. All her older sisters--slender, swan-like, beautiful--had worn it before her down the aisle.

“So, dearest, was there something you wanted to talk about?” Lola said after Etienne had oscillated between idle chatter and staring off into the distance for the better part of their meal.

“Right.” Etienne’s eyes dimmed under their fans of white-blond lashes. “I know you’d been expecting a ring, Lola, but I’m afraid I can’t give it to you just yet.”

“Oh.” Lola suddenly felt small on the inside, but big and lumbering on the outside, the only place that mattered. Some instinct told her to curl in on herself. The angel’s mellifluous melody reached her through a thick, opaque veil. Not a bridal one, no, she thought to herself and bit back a sharp laugh.

“My father asked me to help him lead our family’s commercial fleet. I’ll be setting sail in a week - he didn’t give me much of a choice.”

“H-how long?” Lola whispered.

Etienne heaved a sigh deep enough to make the flower arrangement in the middle of their table flutter. “Six months. If you can wait for me.”

Lola thought of her mother’s and sisters’ disappointment. Of all the snide remarks she would have to endure at social gatherings - out of all of her friends, Lola was the only one who had yet to receive a marriage proposal after the end of the war.

Her lace corset felt tight enough to choke the breath from her lungs. The leafy salad inside her stomach weighed her down, down into a dizzying eddy. Nobody, Lola thought. Nobody in this entire restaurant has it worse than me.

Etienne cast guilty eyes downward as he fiddled with his linen handkerchief. Lola propped her chin on her palm and blinked against the pinpricks of self-pitying tears. The crooning angel took an unsteady bow. The rattle of her chains was lost in the patrons’ resounding applause.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, Three Crows Magazine, Mithila Review, and other venues.Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.