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The Golden Cupid of Pickled Lily Circus

Karen Zipslicer woke, and sat bolt upright in her bed. She gasped. The room was black and cold. Then Karen quickly huddled back under the duvet, pulling it over her head. Strange dreams had taken over her nights; Karen could describe them as blessing or curse. Uncle Karl had encouraged her to write down her nightly fancies before they faded in the sunlight. A notepad and pencil sat on her bedside table. They could both wait until tomorrow. Karen tunneled her face into her pillow and wrapped the duvet tight around herself.

As usual, Uncle Karl had made croissants and coffee for breakfast. Karen sat at the kitchen table in her jim jams. Uncle Karl was no longer there; he had left early for some important meeting. The coffee in the pot was still piping hot. Karen poured another cup and dipped her croissant in it. As she chewed, she picked up the pencil and began to write…

To the North End of Lundern lies the major thoroughfare of Pickled Lily. Its name stems from the flower preservers who work in the upper stories overlooking the street. At its Southern end is the open space of Pickled Lily Circus. At the heart of Pickled Lily Circus stands the Golden Cupid, surveying all who walk by. Its rusted joints turn slowly. But they still turn.

In the morning rush, thousands spill out and across the circus. The thronging crowd hustles and bustles, noisy and intense to the point of fervour. But they hush if they near the Golden Cupid, becoming watchful, careful, even stealthy. There is a line almost all fear to cross. That line is painted a golden hue of yellow on the cobbles, encircling the Golden Cupid. The brave, the desperate, the foolhardy may sometimes cross into Cupid’s territory. Those that do generally do so behind Cupid’s back, and then hurry back to the safety that lies outside of Cupid’s range. Occasionally, later in the day, a youth will try to impress a friend or prospective partner by dancing into the danger zone. They taunt Cupid to fire his arrow, then scurry away before met by Cupid’s gaze. The daemon Cupid scans his horizon with icy blue laser beams emanating from his eyes. Cupid’s head pivots, his neck twists, his torso turns, his base rotates. His swings and hinges are now languid, but Cupid does so ceaselessly, day and night, year after decade. When a target crosses his line of sight, Cupid fixes upon it. His shoulder opens and his right arm pulls back with a dreadful ratchet sound. Fortunately for the target, accumulated corrosion has dulled the pace of this once rapid motion. If anyone dared maintain him, a few spots of oil might have restored Cupid’s once fearsome speed and the deathly silence of his action. Instead, the victim and many a passerby are alerted by the sound of Cupid drawing his bowstring. Ratatatatatat-tat-tat-tat…tat…tat! At the moment of greatest extension, Cupid shudders, then steadies himself. And SNAP! Cupid’s fingers release the bow. The string whips through the air and the arrow is hurled forward, toward its target.

Gilbert the Grievous, 123rd King of Great Lundernia, commissioned the Golden Cupid for no reason other than to discourage his subjects from lingering in public places. There were to be many cupids in many public places, but the ingenious mechanisms of the Golden Cupid could not be mass produced and Grievous Gilbert abandoned his plans for the sake of saving money. For around a hundred years Cupid kept the crowds away from Pickled Lily Circus. Then Gilbert the Grievous’ great grandson, who soon after acquired the fitting title of Gilbert the Gubernatorial, rose to the throne. Gubernatorial Gilbert did not see the point of the statue, and hence removed its point, in order to give it a new one. Cupid’s arrow was shorn of its head and an inky rubber stamp was put in its place. Furthermore, his range was constrained by attaching a tether to the arrow’s tail. This was done for the highest moral reasons. Gilbert the Gubernatorial largely agreed with the religious leaders of his time, and held that the divorce of a married couple should be difficult and discouraged, though he did not desire to make divorce as difficult as the clergy wanted, for the clergy felt it should be impossible, except on those occasions that suited the King. Gilbert’s solution was to decree that anyone wanting a divorce should have their papers stamped by an inhuman authority; the Golden Cupid. To impress upon all the seriousness of marriage, Gilbert reasoned that divorce proceedings must leave a similar impression. They should be painful enough to bring tears to the eyes of even the hard-hearted, and a lengthy period of discomfort whenever the divorcee sat down. Whilst the requisite stamp tipped Cupid’s arrow, the necessary forms were only provided printed on the backside of bloomers (for women) or boxer shorts (for men).

From the date of Gilbert’s decree to this, the citizens of Lundern have enjoyed and endured the equitable yet uncomfortable and humiliating divorce procedure administered by Cupid. On a typical day, a few unfortunate souls will cross the yellow line, turn their backs to the Golden Cupid, drop their trousers or raise their skirts, and grasp their ankles with their hands. In this position they will wait patiently, looking backwards and upside-down between their legs, staring back at the automation with the authority to end their marital strife. For some, the anticipation is too great, and they flee back to safety and reconsider their marriage vows before Cupid can leave his mark. Others grit their teeth and await Cupid’s laser blue scrutiny. When the butt is found, most yelp and jump in the air. They run back to safety and away from the hoots of derision from onlookers. Moreover, they must resist the temptation to rub their bottom in instinctive relief of their pain, else they risk smudging the stamp they so sorely attained, before it can be returned to a notary for validation.

The social scientists of modern-day Lundern sometimes ponder the wisdom of Gilbert the Gubernatorial. However, none has been able to sustain an argument to reform the divorce laws and the Golden Cupid’s role in administering it. Some say the process is too arbitrary. They argue it is too disconnected from the real rights and wrongs to be a worthy way to end marriage’s bond. Others observe that in Lundern, divorces are few in number and remain so, and that married couples vow to love, honour, and protect each other’s backsides.

Karen’s last croissant was cold, and her coffee was tepid. She topped up her cup from the pot and reviewed her story. Karen concluded it to be satisfactory, and wondered at what other Lundern wonders and terrors she would dream up next.

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