Isabella – David Hay

(inspired and dedicated to Keats)


In images deep, Isabella laid upon softest sheets of satin gold, picturing her lover, headless, blood pooling at the base of a tree, below leaves summer-hued. His hands clutching his heart, his mouth agape, the moon swallowing the last mist-streams of his last breaths. Intrusive thoughts and horror ignite. She sits in the quiet midnight hour, hoping her dreams are far from reality’s sight.


In a courtyard stricken with silver streams of light, she walks unconsciously, barefoot into the grass coated white by the moon. Eating a golden pear, her hair tied back, comfortable, her strides in tune with the night’s lonely melodies. If a goddess full with the essence of poesy, had with twilight dripping fingers painted beauty’s Ideal form, she could not have captured with knife-precision Nature’s thoughtless perfection more. Not that she was composed without fault or imperfections blooming. But to her lover, no teenage dream, full of rose-crusted eyes and blond hair dripping like rain from the eaves of a tree, could compare to her, who walked as if sin had not once touched her tongue, or if syllables had never been ignited by shame.

Even here in her singular twilight, were her movements watched and monitored, by brothers scheming in shadows, cast still by eternity’s flood; heaven’s breath departed her liquid lungs collecting like mist on the glass of each Nightingale’s note, hung aloft for all to hear.

Her form, lit as it was by simple moonlight, brought neither devotion nor tears to two cloaked figures, who waited for proof of their most selfish fears. From beneath the bows of a tree inscribed by lovers too easily eclipsed by death, before Isabella knew the tears of love’s first dynasty, came Lorenzo, as pure in heart as a man can be, when born in a world blunted by the bloodied hammering of male dreams.

Here was one who with sincerity believed in heart’s holy kingdom; each sinew moved with its grace, as if his atoms, neurons, tissue, blood, hair were enshrined by tenets growing from the mouth of Christ’s corpse, floodlit by heaven, and moths more numerous than the stars, bursting into soft white flame, down the sides of sky– liquid-latex rippling.

With the imprecations of man fully-rounded, Lorenzo open-chested strode across the moon-shot floor towards Isabella, who noticing him, ran with full abandonment into his arms. Then did brothers’ eyes meet and there were plans like hatching maggots rising from pregnant dark thoughts softly muttered, into a plan, packed with crows’ eyes and babies’ tears.

When lovers departed, brothers no longer buried by the heat of a summer’s night, let their tongues weave with occultic delight; symbols dripped in blood, spluttered forth in unholy ecstasy. The birds fell silent, their words though quiet rose above the trees, crouched in god’s deaf ears for stars to hear and ignore, as moths caress the streams of light, falling like hot rain through leaves, upon men not animated by beauty or light. The night sealed Lorenzo’s fate. Love was defeated by avarice’s brutish desires, as hope’s wrists were slit clean and open.

Into the woods they lured him– only dreams walking straight from the tomb walked there and men were just a passing echo in a clean sky. Just ahead Lorenzo said the older of the brothers. This is where fate meets desire. The silence that binds the stars shall bleed through your skull until there is no separation between you and voiceless infinity. Come, your tears are encrypted messages that even the birds will ignore. Be brave for all your fear is useless. Solidify and be true to the centre of your most authentic self. Your love poisons the veins of our sister’s future; common eyes should never imprison her frame, never mind own the sacredness of her nature. Save your speech, we left long ago the shores of pity and this gag will never be unplugged. 

Look at the sky through the mass of leaves drowning out the sun, leave your body behind and let your eyes push your brain through the tight spaces, and with your heart desperately beating, let your love be it true, untie your atoms into a fathomless image. Farewell Lorenzo and with blade encrusted with his family’s privileged history plunged it deep into his neck; blood drooled out like marmite down his chin, until his white shirt was drenched in the primal memories of his years. They buried Lorenzo, headless in a clearing, worshipped by the splattering of moonlight and moths circling currents invisible to the human eye.

That night, bereft of even a sign of Lorenzo’s affections Isabella fell restless asleep; her window open, her mind reeling in the dead of slumber. A visage made of dirty rags, and horror-sunk eyes intruded into her dreams mundane and forgetful. He did not speak, as silence was the only language he now knew. There he stood and with inhuman movements pointed into the black distance. From the slit-veined night a tree, moon-sliced by white-light appeared. A crow, whose eyes swallowed the landscapes of the dead, was perched near the top, screaming like a broken-legged child, alone in its first sufferings.

Isabella eyes in deep junky-terror focused on the upturned soil beneath the tree: worms, fat, juicy, coated in darkest loam writhe in memoryless pain, as if what dwelt beneath was so vile, that birds’ beaks that could rupture slime-skin, would be preferable to that horror that made an insomniac’s nightmare seem tame. Then with tear-plucked sorrow, the hidden tomb became translucent and a headless corpse, clothed in Lorenzo’s unmistakable attire lay in the dirt.  A bag containing a round object rolled from side to side, and so, with alabaster fingers, she plunged deep into her own fears. The skies of her future irrevocably changed, and as cloth was separated from flesh, she saw with her eyes what her heart already knew. She touched his face, tracing the landscape of his features, knowing the contours of his youthful visage would not alter as the seasons devoured each other. This was a departure. The future would only be inhabited by his memory. 

She picked up his head and with determination strode into the night, knowing her trauma would define her life. Two figures on horseback rode away, both turned as if startled by her presence. Her brothers’ faces were unmistakable.


She woke in a fevered sweat, knowing the truth of her vision. She dressed and headed down the road tread in her dream. The tree, ancient as Adam’s first shame, clawed back the daylight, dripping down the leaves. With thin fingers untampered by hard toil, she  dug at the still soft earth, until his pale skin was dappled by sunlight. Death crawled into her iris and made its home there, tainting every thought and image with its shadow– resting like a crescent moon in its hammock, swallowing every fragment of light.

She picked up his head, removed the cloth and gazed deep into his lifeless eyes, trying to bridge eternity, but finding only silence. In that suffocating emptiness, the tears on the brink of forming were wiped away, and a plan like cold lead formed in her mind’s centre.

In the solidifying light, Isabella sneaked home to her room, with fruitive fingers she shut the curtains and surveyed her room long ruled by the angst of her teenage desires. In the corner stood a terracotta pot, filled with basil. She kissed his forehead and buried the remnants of Lorenzo beneath the plant.

That afternoon when the blue sky washed over the land, blanketing her sorrow in an ethereal beauty, she went to the kitchen and in her mother’s shawl, wrapped up her mother’s favourite knife, tempered to slice through carcasses of the most primordial beasts. Doubts that crawled across her skin were banished by the weight of promised death in her hands. Her brothers cruel as avarice’s might in lands beaten down by nostalgia, though brutish were as brain-dead as corpses reanimated. Come she muttered, let us begin the end. Let Justice guide my hand in forests dim, where leaves know no human hand and moss-covered floor remains virginal from the tread of male boots spreading war.


She would start with the eldest. He hunted as if each kill oxygenated his blood. It would be easy to lure him into the quiet places unseen. 

Teach me to hunt oh heroic brother. His grin nearly split the seams of his face; grotesque and mildly pathetic. Come sister, the boars are fat and docile in the woods beyond the church that holds Saints as old as the Catholic Church’s first sins. Come dear sister, let us make a man out of you.

In the shady sadness, under archways of held light, where birds piloted the skies, delirious in summer heat, Isabella knew the destiny of her heart. 

Hush, he pointed with fat sausage fingers, made for the trauma of women, not their pleasure; a boar, slathering in leaves and moss, ensnared in a world of quiet contemplation, Innocent as a baby’s first dream. With rifle firmly in hand, he stood, holding deep a breath that Isabella had authored as his last. As finger yearned to pull the trigger, she took out her blade, hidden beneath her dress, and as sun javelined through the canopy, she thrust the knife into the side of his gluttonous neck. Flesh yielded– his rifle fell soundless into the grass long and thick. The boar in slumberous solitude looked up to see a hulking human form and watched not the man fall into the grass but Isabella who had finally broken the contract of morality. Gasping, his soul caught halfway up his throat, on the brink of evaporating into the atmosphere, he lay in his immutable silence.

She walked up to him, though dwarfed by his stature, looked in his eyes, remembering the boy he was; the time he climbed to the top of the apple tree to bring her the fruit she most desired. Or when crying, as her father beat his mother behind their bedroom door, where the insanity of adulthood leaked through the gaps in the frame, he put his arm around her, held her tight, forming a shell protecting her from her father’s fruitless anger and her mother’s terror-stricken screams. But that time had passed. Brutality had nestled into the corners of his eyes and made a puppet of him. The simple kindness of the boy was lashed, beaten by their father throughout his teenage years until bloodied, weeping, oozing puss out of every scar, the man was birthed from his father’s tortuous womb. Her older brother whose eyes were now buried with the stars, was lost to time. Every fragility, every soft-hearted thought and dream had been consumed by their father, who even in death still authored his actions. Her brother was a man past redemption. And his death was all the more tragic for it. She left him there under the canopies of trees, to be found no doubt by some other hunter as accustomed to death as he.

The day collapsed in on itself and darkness dripped down from space, filling his voiceless throat, lost now without form.

She walked home, her form erased by the soft darkness of such a thick sorrow. There was no return. She was stained by deeds that broke her childhood heart. She was detached and no action or thought would bring her back to the shores she’d trodden so thoroughly– where every tree’s hidden history was hers to write. But now even her body didn’t feel like her own. She was in a state of disquiet. One more and it’s done– all this will be done.


Her younger brother had never walked in a world where others truly existed. He was a moon trapped in the reflection of a well. His pleasures set roses aflame and he would smile, adrift in his own dreams. Only women held his mind to port. Women’s hopes died after taking in his dick. His death would be no loss but the heart brings up memories, long anchored, dripping like blood down the skull until they leak out the eyes. The boy crying beneath the oak, bloodied from father’s beatings, holding hands with his little sister telling her everything is ok. Even he was human once. But that was no excuse, the days of innocence had passed into oblivion. Seeds of cynicism now poured from his eyes, birthing only sorrow. There was no purifying the world, no deed would undo what man had done and would continue to do. Evil was woven into the tapestry of man’s heart; crusted black with maggots and worms, black as god’s first visionless stare into the grave.

Whatever. Everyone was lost, but without the comfort of heaven, choice was all that mattered and her brother would die by his. Isabella crouched under stars heavy with lost hope, waited for her brother near the abandoned barn, where he entertained the prostitutes not carved up by lines of age. One last pitiful cum, meaning nothing, symbolising nothing– squirting grey into the void.

After the woman had pulled up her knickers and left, he would sleep. She waited. An owl unseen in darkness made itself heard above the silence that drummed against her brain. The door opened. The woman sighed out her life into the night. She walked down the lightly trodden path and disappeared. Isabella walked without fear, into the quiet. Into the cavernous regions of her heart. She could hear him snoring, like a pig drunk on truffles. She stood above him, ashen as an undead king. No words will taste your lips brother; let your last dream be eternal. And without hesitation she took the blade tempered by her older brother’s blood and thrust it into his neck. His eyes opened, swallowing in an infinity of horror. She pulled the blade and blood spurted out, covering her dress.

It was done and no priest could absolve her flesh forged in sin. She could not be made new nor did she wish to be clean again. Her soul damned as it had been formed by Lorenzo. Only your love made sense, without it I am a monster; one born from mundane cruelty. 

In her last dream before her crimes dominated her biography, she saw Lorenzo headless, his eyes flat, colourless marbles set ablaze by a crow’s cry, born in a sky leaden with god’s silence. She reached for him but each footstep took her further away, receding into a fog swallowing the moon’s tender light. No more, no more would their hands meet or lips touch. Alone, alone, infinitely alone.

Her future was sealed. By morning she would be in chains, heralded as a monster, born not of womb but devil’s spit, who broke the female form– derided, hunted, brutalised; a walking embodiment of male fears. Her heart was empty, and time held no promise. She took out Lorenzo’s head from the pot of basil – dirt speckled, decomposing like all meat separated from the organ of life. A worm slipped out his mouth and fell upon the wooden floor, dancing pathetically to the beat of death. With grief’s eyes she pitied all who had been born to be so fragile in a world so cruel. No fears flocked around her head. There was a majesty in her autumn regard, as if all her sins enlarged her soul rather than diminished it. She was a myth in the making, born again and again through ignorance.

She made her last decision. No authority would bind her wrists, no judge condemn to death and ridicule the murderess who spoke with devils in dreams, languid with sin. Without hatred she would live between and beneath the trees; the architect of her own story. Death would come in a matter of minutes, hours or days, but the final breath would be her own, its execution would be her last will. Farewell mankind, my life is no longer yours to define. Farewell Isabella, the future is not made in your image.