by Genevieve Valentine
“To a Dear Friend, on Her Departure”
My dear Imogen,
Though I know how it hurt you to lose Charles, I find myself baffled and wounded by your insistence on traveling to the Silver City.
I am flattered you saw fit to inform me of your going, of course. Take this letter as my talisman, then, and memorize it before the ship sets down; you should not be seen reading this language in the Silver City.
Customs there are complicated, but this is paramount: never refuse. (I know how you take pleasure in refusing, but it is impolitic there.)
It will take place at a table (all negotiations do), and you must gain the advantage. Eat all you can of the bird. Begin with the feet; it is a sign of good breeding.
All the innards are well-cooked, and so it is only a matter of managing the bones. If you suck the marrow first, they are easier to chew.
The feathers will stick in your teeth. Pay no mind.
Imogen—think about what waits for you if you are foolish enough do this. Charles is gone. I wish you would believe me. From the chair in which I am now confined I have the leisure of revisiting dark memories. Do not go. A stout heart and a pair of trousers profit a dead woman nothing. If you would only accept my proposal
No, rest easy; of all the pains I have suffered, that is the one I have the least desire to revisit. You know your own mind, as you have often reminded me. So be it.
The skull is sugared, the brains warmed in syrup. Tip the brains into the throat all at once, and then take the beak in two fingers to give an anchor for biting the skull. Don’t fear; the skull has been properly baked and will crumble to dust in your mouth.
I wish you luck, Imogen; you have sore need of it. May you be as successful as you hope, though I suspect a woman’s childish optimism is at play here, and it will fail you.
Your humble friend,
I pray this reaches you before the ship takes off—please God—
I lied—you must not touch the head—it is a sign of war to drink the brains or bite the skull—they will kill Charles the moment you touch it—they will kill you too—I was so angry at your deafness—
I am sorry—