This is the story of Henriette, born a princess of England, daughter of the executed Charles I. Wife of Philippe, duc d’Orléans. Sister-in-law of Louis XIV, her forbidden love.
The poison works quickly, soaking into your mouth with the first sip of wine. Beneath your tongue and behind your throat, it begins: a slow burn, as if you’ve eaten horseradish or bitten a pepper kernel. You can ignore it at first. In this, the Italian chemists have done well.
Before the first course is cleared away, the poison will scorch a cannonball-shaped hole in your stomach. You reach for your water goblet and pour all the contents down your throat, but it will not help. There is nowhere for the water or your food to go. The poison has destroyed your entrails.
I know what you are thinking. You want to know how it ends. Do the convulsions of your dying body rob you of breath before they break your back? Do you bite off your tongue before the cloud of bilious foam pours from your mouth?
I can tell you all these things. The answer is yes.
They pulled me from my chair and laid me on the floor, the valets squatting on my arms like crows on a withered branch. I knew what they were waiting for, but I could not oblige. The living imagine that our last words flee the body through the mouth, but they have left us long before anyone puts an ear to a dying person’s lips. They are not words at all, really. They are the shimmering tissue of memory to which your body clings, one precious vision so pure the soul commanded the body to retain it. If I had known that death would bring me back to that place, back to him, I would not have fought it so hard.
Appeared in: The Copperfield Review
Published in: 2011
Awarded: Third Prize, Soul-Making Keats Literary Contest
Awarded in: 2015