Queen Dairy
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  • 4

    At night.. Vincent is awoken by low, reverberating thumps - as if someone is beating a drum in the deep.

    He faintly recalls the coziness of resting in her bedsheets, wrapped in by her arms in a reassuring embrace, but perhaps that's just his mind thinking funny. For he's alone again in the ward – not in that dank padded cell, but with his familiar collectibles. Lil has been kind enough to put in a word for him.

    His head aches with a mixture of drowsiness. It's what happens when you're awoken abruptly from dreaming. What he needs is a glass of water..

    /

    The walls almost seem to throb in time to the invisible beat, as Vincent navigates the ward halls, feeling the dread of everyone's absence. Despite the sterile chill, there's an uncomfortable layer of humidity which pervades the wards, leaving his gown clinging to his goosebump-riddled skin.

    The kitchen is by the communal foyer. Usually a hotspot for the gossipers and housewife-types, the stovetop is left with residue of dried-up porridge, and the faintest scent of almonds (for they love messing around with the dough and other spare ingredients).

    Vincent grabs a cup from the lower cabinet, and tries getting water from the tap.

    The faucet lurches, as if struggling to belch up its payload from deep plumbing, and finally the water jets out – it is muddy rusty. Vincent tosses the water out – in disgust over its gross, metallic stench.

    He tries opening the fridge, in hopes of finding some milk or juice instead, and much of the sandwiches inside are spoilt, to the point where he decides against it.

    What do I have to do to get something nice to drink?

    A door shuts closed, and Vincent sees the nightly nurse, making her rounds as she patrols the halls – her nightstick scratching the walls. He sees her come, and he crouches down under a table, instinctively knowing that a beating would follow if she catches him out..

    As he hears her footsteps fade, an idea occurs to him; whether or not the staff are intentionally negligant about their patients' hygiene, there's no way they'd stoop to drinking the same disgusting water! And with Vincent's parched gut driving his movements in the night, he peeks out, and stalks the nurse out into the staff area.

    Vincent catches the door right when it's about to slam shut, and surprisingly enough, the nurse doesn't notice. It's just that the halls are blindingly bright, and he stumbles back into the first office whose door is ajar.

    Inside.. the fish tank softly bubbles, and casts the office in blue and violet hues.

    He feels his chest begin to lurch from the thirst – as though his heart would threaten to implode on him, the blood sapping away from his head as his ears ring, and every other noise is just a blur. Vincent hastily pops off the tank top, and he plunges his head into the waters.

    The water tastes off-kilter, but this doesn't stop him from almost lapping up the goldfish – Vincent spits the poor fish back out. It seems to flop uncannily on top of the water surface, as if carried afloat by a force unknown, then the fish sputters beneath, where it lays still, before its body dissolves in a fury of bloody mist.. enveloping the tank in a state of terminal sunset.

    Vincent is taken aback by the little horror. The other fish hurriedly swim away from the bloody epicenter, but all the same, they sputter as their gills inhale the foreign yet familiar blood of their own – and die.

    And because it is so dark in the office room, with only a slit of hallway lighting through the door to contrast with the fish tank, Vincent does not make out his own true reflection upon the glass, the masked arbiter of death.

    At least though, his thirst is sated, and the buzzing of his body goes away.. and then the door creaks open.

    /

    Vincent awakens, huddled on the couch with blankets over his body. He wonders why it feels so cushiony, until he remembers that he's been taken to the home of his benefactor, Lil. He breathes in the crisp, conditioned air, which is a far cry from his danky apartment. The living room is so dim, still at night, that he only makes out the silhouettes of palm trees from the grandiose windows.

    Oh yes – she won't let him sleep in her bed; Lil was very touchy about it.

    Then he realises that the taste of muddled water in his mouth won't go away. On the tabletop is some jasmine tea, leftover from Lil, and though it's gone cold, he indulges in its sweetness and finds a relief from tasting that half-remembered dream. He still feels tired, and yet so restless.

    Then he hears something, coming from upstairs. It sounds like Lil – moaning.

    Vincent tip-toes over to her room. He passes by the aquarium embedded in the wall, where the goldfish swim under an eternal twilight, before he pulls the bedroom door open to find her writhing in bed. Her bedsheets slip off. As her body contorts, sweat billowing out through her pajamas, her hands grip her bedsheets.

    "Lil?" He feels a cold sweat on his brow, like he's witnessing an inexplicably uncanny event. The moans and eventual screams which escape her mouth carry a wild and frenzied quality, and Vincent rushes to her side – he grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her awake. "Lil, wake up! Lil!"

    Her eyes jolt open - Lil's eyelids flutter with such a release of tension, and it takes a while for her to simply breathe, as she turns to Vincent who's there with her, wordless as she recovers from her orgasm.

    "You were shaking, Lil," he says.

    "Oh – ohh," she goes, as she brushes off Vincent and fetches her glass of wine off the stand. "I feel.. weird." Her breasts – particularly her nipples feel especially tender, so she goes up to a mirror and checks them. They look fine, but that face that had vanished just now from her awareness still haunts her, his hands relishing in coveting her body.

    "Did you have weird dreams too?" she hears Vincent say, and it gets her out of her moody reverie.

    He sits down with her on the bed, and catches her musky scent. He doesn't have the gall to tell her about it though, and then she leans into him, resting her head upon his shoulder, and a jolt of panicked adrenaline enters his heart. But she's able to forget about her nightmare all the same, here with Vincent.

    "I do, actually.."

    ..

    A strange warmth envelops the two of them, as Lil finds comfort in feeling the steady rise and fall of Vincent's chest, his breathing. If she could take him to those lavender fields embedded deep within her soul, it'll be absolute bliss. But the best she can do is listen, as Vincent describes his dreams of being in an asylum, the goldfish he ate, and an alternate version of her who's been so cruel, yet so kind.

    Admittedly, her thoughts start to drift off – vividly remembering every little moment he's mentioned with her in it, down to seeing him as a poor, misunderstood thing.

    And then she recalls being hit in the face, by a spindly autoreiv, with a little girl (Pino-?) screaming and cowering down.

    "Pino!" Lil says, leaping up from the bed as if zapped by electric shock.

    Hearing Pino's name also has Vincent rummaging around in his mind, as if the name has tapped a corner that's all but forgotten.

    "Vincent, we were on a train," Lil goes, as her eyes rummage in thought. "We needed spare parts for the Rabbit.. but the woman attacked us."

    "I don't quite get it," Vincent goes.

    A car drives by outside, with headlights gleaming through the window, before fading away.

    "That feeling where we know each other, it isn't random." Lil starts pacing around the bedroom, flicking the lamp lights on so you could see her face – still a little pale, without makeup, and yet her eyes betray a fierce, hardened awareness. (The vulnerable girl in her is just a luxury she can seldom afford.) "Because we do. And Pino, she was with us!"

    Vincent imagines a girl, her hair wavering under her rabbit hood, smiling as she skips around his legs. "Vince!"

    "Where is she?" he asks. "Where are we, anyways?"

    "I don't know. Only that whoever's behind this, they wouldn't want us remembering our original selves. Aughh, I feel like I'm trying to recall different songs, when I've only heard them for the first time.. anyways, our best bet is if we act like we don't know. Keep it hush between us, until I can get to the bottom of it all-"

    "Or let's run away." Vincent gives a serene smile. "Maybe the answers don't lie in this town, but beyond – where we haven't ventured before."

    The idea has Lil's heart thumping with excitement, and though she doesn't yet recall Vincent's real nature as a proxy, she trusts him.

    "Oki."

    Then they hear another car driving by, and the headlights menacingly stare through the window, as if probing at Vincent and Lil in the room.

    Lil's instincts kick in.

    "GET DOWN!"

    He hops to the floor before a fusilade of bullets shatters the wallpaper, the dresser, throwing fits of feathers from the bed into the air – holes just where he's been sitting. The gunfire crackle is deafening, and so is the silence left after in its wake.

    Vincent coughs from the lingering debris, and before he can recover his bearings, Lil hauls him into the halls, where the home invasion alarms blare the loudest and the floor is wet from the punctured aquarium. The uncomfortable footing leaves Vincent almost slipping, and then he feels something mushy under his feet - it turns out he's stepped

    over one of her goldfish..

    The front door gets blasted open, and men in trenchcoats pour in, with flashlights attached to their shotguns. Lil and Vincent, descending the stairs, quickly get caught under their spotlight – and they freeze, only expecting the worst (being blown away).

    But luckily, it doesn't happen.

    Instead, the old mob boss Antonioni comes striding in, taking off his hat to reveal his wizened head. He smiles at them.

    "Vincenzo..!" his wispy voice goes. "And your lady friend! I hope we did not interrupt anything-" He eyeballs them, regards the fact that they're still clothed, and then continues: "Ahh, yes. Do bring them down, per favore."

    Lil struggles under the henchman's bear-tight hold on her arms, while Vincent goes down more placidly.

    "I must apologize for the mess-"

    "Mess?" She eyeballs them. "You tried to kill us!"

    "Believe me, my dear Lillian," Antonioni goes, "if I wanted you both dead, you'd have died in your sleep. We merely wanted your utmost attention – there's a matter of grave urgence to discuss. Take them into the car, and fast, before the rest of the neighbourhood awakens."

    /

    The Rolls-Royce Phantom II is like a limo, where there's room for middle seats which face sideways, while the henchmen occupy the rear and the front. Vincent's ears still ache from the earlier gunfire, but he's able to make out the distant sirens and all the dogs barking, as he's shoved head-first into the middle seat with Lil.

    As the car veers off, Vincent makes out Lil's house smouldering in the night, before his attention fixes on Antonioni at the back.

    "First things.. Vincenzo. I know you still worry about your debt to us; it will be forgiven. The money yielded from the card tournament is peanuts!"

    Vincent doesn't comprehend the sudden change of heart. "Peanuts – next to what?"

    "Next to – well, there lies the rub," Antonioni says, slowly inching them into his mindset; in his world, respect is garnered through favours people don't refuse. "Suppose you live in a house, with a nice family, and everyone is harmonious. Then, you have another family, who are left destitute out of misfortune, and are looking for someone's hand to help them up from their troubles. So you offer them that hand.

    "They move in with you, and you think it may be just a matter of days before they'll be on their merry way. But your generosity serves as a pretext, as they end up claiming rooms.. your food, your finances – until your family is an unwanted stranger in their own home. Every time you try to take back what is yours, it is one step forward and three steps back.

    "Now," Antonioni says, "we have the Luciano, Bonanno and Corleone families who thrive.. while we are reduced to taking scraps, petty gambling deals. Our men are losing faith in us, and some are starting to renounce their loyalty – but Lil, you feisty woman, your presence is a great boon for us-"

    "Shut your mouth, old man!" Lil goes. "I'll do nothing for you! You'll let me and Vincent go, and that's that!"

    Antonioni's mouth curls into a slight frown, as if he's expected this disappointment.

    "Yes, I think we will let Vincenzo go-"

    When the mob boss taps his window twice, the car hurdles to a stop, in the midst of a jazz city by the harbour. There, the burly henchmen in the car haul Vincent out into the streets, and Antonioni shuts the car door as Lil screams out Vincent's name.

    It is all so sudden, as their car veers into dense traffic, and Lil struggles against Antonioni's surprising show of strength within the passenger cockpit. He batters her head down against the leather seat, her face blushing red in a helpless fury under his arm, while her arms are awkwardly pinned under the entirety of his body.

    "Are you finished yet?" he goes, his calm voice betraying no exertion. "I would hate to talk to you about your upcoming ordeal, when you are like a wild animal whose leash I must regretfully pull."

    With the blood constricted in her neck, sending rhythmic pain that shoots her nerves, Lil ends up submitting to Antonioni, and a few tears escape her eyes.

    /

    The mob office is lit under a chiaroscuro incandescence, with a few capodecinas who are seated around the poker table – not covered in cards and playing chips, but with written diagrams of various families, a city map that's heavily annotated with their operations, and black & white photos of a grizzled man, caught in a multitude of various poses.

    "Come," Antonioni beckons to Lil, who is still in her pajamas, in trepidation, as if she's breathing an unfolding nightmare. The other capodecinas have their gazes turned on her, and behind their eyes, she feels them probing her nakedly – as they're ascertaining her looks, her demeanour, and more generally, her ability to perform compared with her liability to them. Antonioni gestures to each of the officers in his regime. "This is Salvatore, this is Leduc.."

    They nod in her direction as each of them is introduced, yet it doesn't make her feel any better. Not with her Vincent held in their hands, with them doing god-knows-what out of her sight.

    Antonioni goes: "Bonanno is a man known for his fine tastes," with his spindly finger taking a stroll over the photos of the man. "With wine, food, the artworks hanging in his compound.. it also includes women too. He indulges himself in them, and he is very particular about who he lets near him. With you Lillian-"

    "How do you know my name, anyway?"

    The capodecina named Leduc taps on the table, and there, much to Lil's surprise, are photos of her – the most provocative images as photographed. "Nothing escapes our gaze when it comes to someone we're interested in."

    She feels an intense inner revulsion over letting the likes of these guys pore over her body.

    "You are a renowned supermodel," Antonioni goes. "Someone who he'll least suspect, let alone be able to resist your charms by the time he lays his eyes on you." With a telling gaze, Antonioni perks an eyebrow up, and it hits Lil what lays in store. "Once he likes you, first thing is that he likes to watch for a while.."

    "No, no, I'm not doing this.." Lil backs away, with a flood of chills emerging out her stomach.

    "And once sufficiently aroused-" The mob boss grabs a cane that's leaning against the wall, whacks it onto the poker table, and slides it ever so slowly off so that the cane makes this tense, curling noise. "You will let yourself melt all over him, caress him with a lover's embrace until he climaxes, and then kill him. I trust.. that you will follow through?"

    Think of Vincent.. they'll kill him.. even though I can't do this, I must!

    "Y-yes," Lil goes. "I'll do it."

    "Swear to us," Leduc says. "Please say it out once again, with sincerest feeling. Even the slightest hint of hesitation will lead Bonnano to doubt, and doubt is the last thing we can ever afford."

    And Lil has to suppress a gulp to utter out: "I will do it."

    Already, she feels the dread of her unwilling decision, and more than ever, she'd like to tear her soul out of her own body if it means defying her fate.