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Brambles- A Parable
Long ago, in a kingdom in a deep forest, a man lived in solitude and happiness. He picked up rocks, washed his hands, read his book, cut brambles, caught his chicken, and went to sleep, each day passing in wonderful mimicry of the day before. He was satisfied and content in his tiny cottage.
Every morning, he would wake up and pick up the rocks that had fallen over from the altar he had built the day before. It was a calming task and he often whistled as he worked, keeping in tune with the heavy thud, scrape, thud, scrape sound of the rocks being put in place. The tune reminded him of miners, deep underground, hacking away at the skin of the earth. Once done with his task, he would light a cigarette and sit on the altar, thinking about his daily problem. Some days it was simple things like what he might have for dinner that night. Other days it was more complicated things like how he might fix the hole a bramble had torn in his wall, unnoticed, while he had slept. When the man tapped the last bit of ash off the cigarette, he tossed the butt on the altar and walked back inside to wash his hands.
It was a hard bit of work, washing his hands. The rocks were dirty and often muddy from the early morning dew or light rain that had silently fallen overnight and he commonly had to scrub for more than a few minutes to get the first layers of soil off. But he enjoyed the monotony of it and often whistled as he worked, changing pitch and tempo as he went through the motions. This tune reminded him of a hundred tiny waterfalls, and he especially liked it. He whistled high and fast when he washed his palms which abruptly changed to a slow, sad tune as he scraped the dirt off each of his fingers. The pace would pick up again when he scrubbed under his fingernails but never quite reached the height it had had at the beginning.
After this job was done, he walked over to the window and stared out at the rising sun, now midway between noon and the horizon. Often, he contemplated why the sun would try so hard to get up to the top, to only slide back down that afternoon. He shrugged and frequently thought, "What good does it do me to wonder at the sky, when there's nothing I can do about it?" as he lit another cigarette and walked over to his bookshelf. This bookshelf was of immense size and took up the entire one side of the cottage. All of the books were neatly organized from A-Z and he read each one in sequence, starting with Aristotle's, Poetics, and ending with Zeno's, The Art Of Love. Once the man read through them all, he would start over again, with a childish pleasure that resembled much like a toddler receiving a piece of candy.
There's only one thing which worried him, and that was the brambles that slowly crept up around his house if he wasn't too careful. They were big, black, thorny things that grew closer each day. Every evening, when they had stopped growing, he would walk out of his little cottage, with a knife in one hand and a torch in the other, and begin to hack away at the brambles, slowly pushing back what had grown since the day before. He liked the monotony of the work and often whistled as he cut away at the dark vines that surrounded his home, a deep, melodic song that made him grit his teeth. Once the task was done, he would gather up all the brambles, and burn them in a pit outside, scattering the ashes in a circle around his home, hoping the soil that was fertilized with their dead brethren would make the brambles stop their advance.
It would be easier that way. The brambles were a necessity to his lifestyle but he did not enjoy having them around. The only reason he did not burn all of them was because they housed a special kind of chicken. It was his favorite chicken and the man would often whistle as he waited for one to draw near. It was a slow tune that one might sing to a child before it slept. The whistle seemed to calm their nerves, even sedating them to the point of sleeping, and it was easy for him to grab one by the neck and rip its head off before it so much as let out a squawk. He triumphed over his kill, cigarette dangling loosely from his grin, and he marched inside with a whoop of joy and set about feathering the chicken and stuffing it full of vegetables. The feathers he placed in a jar on his bookshelf and would use them to stuff pillows once one or two jars were full. The innards he left on the porch as thanks to whoever might be watching. It was a tradition and they were always gone by morning, the slab licked clean and not even a wisp of blood that might tickle the nose, so, “what was the harm?” he often thought.
Happily, he prepared his meal, setting out first his napkin then his fork and then his plate. Knives had no place for him at the dinner table because the meat of the chicken was often tender enough that it could be pulled right from the bones. It was not a hard job and he often whistled as he worked, happy that this job, at least, required little effort from him. A strange tune, it reminded him of owls in the night, watching and chirping a song that might have been happy if their throats could form it right. As it was, the tune often raised the hair on the back of his neck and made him smile at the strange sensation. Right on time, the stove dinged and the man pulled the chicken out, set it on the table, and lit a cigarette while he watched it cool. He often contemplated why the chicken had been where it was in the first place and tried to map out events that might have put the animal where it had been when he caught it.
Once cooled, and he pulled the chicken off in great pinches, stuffing his mouth with the greasy thing and belching when the bones were licked clean. He laughed and picked up the wishbone, picking his teeth with a splinter of wood. He put the wishbone on the back of his chair, so that the Y fit over where the head rests, wished for a day exactly like today, and pulled with all his might. He often pulled too hard and was sent sprawling among the remains of his meal, but he always won and grinned idiotically among the refuse, holding a broken wishbone in his hand.
The nightly ceremony complete, he cleaned the table, the plates, and himself as he would often be very dirty from the day's work and then laid out in bed. Soon, he slept, the soporific powers of chicken quickly overcoming his already tired body. He dreamed of brambles that held secrets and of chickens ripe with eggs. Smiling in his sleep, night wrapped itself around his mind and pulled him away from the world.
The man was content. He did the same thing everyday, in the same fashion, knowing exactly what would happen every time he opened his eyes in the morning. It was a good life. Nothing was misplaced, nothing was an unknown to him, and he whistled constantly, his merry tune often ringing through the woods in such a way that it could be heard for miles around.
Simply, he enjoyed life and soon stopped counting the days. They melted together, memories only marred by the occasional dream the man had while sleeping, and nothing made him happier. His favorite time of day, by far, was dinner. It was a satisfying end to a long day and he looked forward to it as soon as the previous day's had finished. He would eat his fill, store the leftovers in an icebox, and wish upon the wishbone, the same request upon his lips each night. He always opened his eyes to see the bigger half in his hand and the little half on the floor beneath his chair. That night, he would sleep soundly, knowing a day exactly like the one that just went down the hourglass, would follow once he opened his eyes.
The day before yesterday, he went through his chores as usual. He picked up rocks, washed his hands, read his book, cut the brambles and caught his chicken. While preparing the animal, he looked out the window above his sink, only to see a pair of yellowish eyes staring at him through the brambles. They mesmerized him and completely captured his attention for a few seconds but he shook his head and looked back down at his preparation of dinner. An old wolf, nothing more, he thought and returned to stuffing the chicken with carrots and potatoes. Placing it in the oven, the man sat down and lit his cigarette, puffing thoughtfully. As he was waiting for the stove to ding, and thought about what the chicken had been thinking about before he had broken its neck. He was torn between worms and wishing to fly when a whistle came from outside. It shocked him and he sat up from his relaxed position. First one note and then it paused. The man listened in astonishment, the hair on the back of his neck standing straight up. A second note came soon after, a bit higher than the first, that grated against his ears and made him wince. This was quickly followed by a stream of broken sounds that ended abruptly with a heavy cough. The man moved to the door, frightened by the sudden twist in his day. He put his ear to the door and waited, frozen in position, straining his ears for the tiniest sound. He yelped when a high-pitched noise came from behind him and pulled out his knife, waving it in panic at his defense. He looked around frantically, his eyes coming to rest on the stove, the little box on the front reading, "Done," in tiny red letters. He sagged against the door, smiling with relief. He was about to move from his position to get the chicken out when a loud whistle came right from the other side of the door. He jumped back, terrified, and listened as the whistle continued. A perfect harmony of notes, the man stopped and scrunched up his face in confusion. The whistle was his whistle, whistling his songs that he sang while he worked, all in a row. Flawlessly, it passed down the scale of notes and then continued back up it without missing a beat.
Slowly, the man began to shake. A horrible feeling of dread overcame him and almost forced him to his knees. He stumbled to the door and leaned against, listening to the grotesque song that played from the opposite side. Oh god, he thought, what could this be? With a rush of courage, he threw open the door and fell backwards, pushed by some unseen hand. There was nothing on his doorstep. Nothing and yet the whistle could be coming from nowhere else. He listened in stupefaction as the source of the sound moved from his doorstep to the middle of the cottage. It's song became more frantic, the tempo rising, until it ended with a scream so horrendous it sounded as if the very demons of he** were whirling around inside the little house. The man hunched on the floor, covering his bleeding ears and crying as a wind tore through the doorway. It ripped at him, the torrent cutting his clothes off like knives exposing the bare skin. The scream stopped, replaced with a constant, one-note whistle, and the wind with it. Low rumbling echoed throughout the tiny cottage, a chuckle that grew into a laugh of a thousand witnessed murders. It poked at the man, prodding his skin and rubbing its fingers down his spine. When the man just balled up into a tighter sphere, the laugh increased in ferocity. The prods changed to stabs and the rubs to long cuts that made the man scream. In pain, his face streaming with tears and blood, he looked up into the face of his tormentor and gaped.
It was a man, of sorts. It had legs, arms, a body and a head but no face. No eyes, no nose, and no mouth from which a laugh or scream or whistle might have been produced. Inscribed on the demon's forehead was the word, "Agapi," and it laughed all the harder to see the man's confused expression. It stepped forward and hit him in the face, drawing blood from his lip. The man cried out and the Demon hit him again, breaking his nose with a spurt of blood that covered the stove and sizzled where it touched. Furiously laughing, the demon pushed the man to the ground and kicked him. The thing called Agapi viciously tore at the man with teeth and claw, becoming more bestial and ferocious by the second. The man cried out with every touch and finally the Demon hoisted him up and slammed him against the wall, breaking his spine. Up close, he could see that two yellow lights danced behind where the man's mouth should be. They fluttered back in forth in mock imitation of butterflies. The thing raked a claw down the man's cheek, drawing a thin line of blood. The muscles in its head where the eyebrows would have been bunched up in sorrow and sympathy, a change of mood that scared the man more than originally seeing the Demon. It set him on the chair and put the shreds of his clothes in his lap. The thing patted the man on his head, like a child that had just been forgiven, wiped the blood streaming down his face with a handkerchief, and walked out, closing the door with a tiny snick. As the man fainted, a broken whistle could be heard receding into the distance.
The man woke up with a start. He felt his hands, his face, his back, and looked at the crushed cigarette and the pool of saliva that slowly spread through it. He glanced outside and was shocked to see that the sun had not gone down. It had been a dream! He was safe! He lit another cigarette and thought about his nightmare. No sooner had the first breath been drawn, that the stove dinged making him jump. He uneasily crossed the room and took the chicken out, setting it on the table and casting wary glances outside. Nothing was amiss though and he went back to his question of what the chicken had been thinking. He decided that the worm was the most probable choice and stuck his fork into the flesh, savoring the flavor and letting it comfort him. Once done, he belched and reached inside the carcass, picking out the wishbone.
He closed his eyes, found the back of the chair, mouthed his request and pulled. Opening his eyes, he was shocked. The room's shadows closed in on him for a second and darkened a hundredfold. Lying beneath his chair was the bigger piece and, glancing at his hand, the fragment was held there. His surprise faded to horror as the implications of what had just happened sunk down on him. He locked the door, closed the blinds, and picked out a book. If a traveler had stumbled upon his house that night they would have found him asleep at his chair, book in lap, surrounded by candles of varying lengths, and whimpering silently in his sleep
The man woke up at the crack of dawn, the light creeping through the window like a caterpillar yawning. He cast wary glances around and stood up from his chair. For a minute or two, he watched the sunrise while he smoked a cigarette in shaking hands. His thoughts were a whirlwind. He debated even going through his normal routine, and instead just going back to sleep. But as he tossed the cigarette butt down the drain, he came to the conclusion that if things were about to go wrong he might as well do what he enjoyed. And so, he went about his routine with an air of resigned satisfaction.
In the evening, when he was stuffing his chicken with turnips and onions, he heard it. A low whistle, that echoed through his tiny cottage and then faded away silently. He froze, terror overwhelming him. The whistle came again, the same note, the same length, and he stared out into the darkness, his face carved of stone. There was a long pause and the man started to chuckle and doubt his sanity, but his voice caught in his throat when the whistle came again, closer to the house. This time it was a tune. A low, jolly tune that reminded him of a fish swimming slowly across a riverbed.
The man was in shock. It had been a dream, right? There's no way it actually happened, he thought. But even these hopes dissipated into dread as the whistle moved through his front yard onto his porch. It stopped on an awkward note, only adding to his dread, and paused. He heard a shuffling of feet and then an embarrassed knock. His mind raced. What was he going to do? Face it? Run? Kill it?
He moved to the door and, knife in hand, opened it a crack. The man prepared himself, physically as well as mentally, and cast his eyes out into the night.
The knife dropped with a clatter. On his doorstep stood an angel, a goddess. Her hair, a light blonde, took the light that cascaded from the doorway and magnified it, mirroring it through the forest. She smiled, her lips puckering slightly, and cast her ocean-green eyes down, shyly. She turned her head and mumbled something but he didn't hear. He stared, amazed, as his eyes beheld a profile that sent shivers down his spine and made him melt. The nose was small, and slightly turned up at the end, complemented by a chin that was angelic in all ways. She wore a modest sweater of purplish-blue with three snow white buttons at the neck. A golden necklace hung around her neck, meeting in the middle in the shape of a flower. A rose, blood-red and ringed with thorns that were made out of the same material as the chain. On her legs, a peculiar combination of a white skirt and blue jeans could be seen, ending with a pair of black sneakers. He stood in dumb stupefaction as she brushed her bangs behind her ear and turned her eyes upon him again. Her mouth moved lightly, a mosquito probing his mind for a reaction. It was music to the poor man's ears and he was lost in himself, swimming in fountains of purple and flying on clouds of yellow and red. She looked at him in confusion and the world exploded into focus.
"What?" he asked dumbly.
"I'm lost. Can I stay here? Just for tonight?" she asked. He couldn't believe it. An angel! In his house!
"Of course," he said. His mind wanted to say more, wanted to scream, as she brushed by him, smelling of blackberries and freedom. Something such as, why not forever? or, I think I just fell for you, but he couldn't say it. He was speechless in the face of her beauty. "I'm just fixing dinner, uh, you can take the bed and I'll sleep on the chair," he told her, picking up a few clothes off the floor.
"No, it's fine," she replied, "I don't want to be a burden." Then, she caught sight of his bookshelf, her eyes widening in awe. "You read a lot?"
"Everyday," he responded, and went back to stuffing his chicken, leaving a silence that pervaded awkwardly throughout his head. He hoped she wouldn't leave because of his lack of social skills. The man imagined turning around and never seeing her again, shuddered at the thought, and started stuffing his chicken again with renewed fervor. She seemed to take no offense, though, and picked a book at random, sitting down and burying herself in it. He glanced in wonder and amazement at the girl that was sitting on his chair, reading his book. He felt more than happy, more than content, and whistled a happy tune that reminded him of birds celebrating a new day.
Soon, he was putting his dinner in the oven and he lit a cigarette, leaning against the counter. The girl looked up and spotted the cigarette. The look on her face was enough to make him throw it down the drain and himself after it. He stopped with it halfway to his mouth and then flicked it away. "I'm sorry," he said. The woman nodded with satisfaction and returned to her book. God, he thought, what was I thinking? Smoking is horrible.
And then, he too, picked a book and sat across from her, reading silently.
The stove dinged. He set his book down and pulled the chicken out, setting it on the table to cool.
"Ooooh," she said, "That looks amazing."
"Thank you," he replied, glowing with the praise. He set the table and sat across from her. She grabbed his hand, and his heart skipped a beat. He was breathless.
"Lord, our God, thank you for this dinner. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies so we may continue to serve you in the best way possible. Amen," she prayed. He sat in amazement. Praying before a meal? Unheard of, but since she did it, he instantly liked the idea. He carved the chicken and gave her a piece. She didn't eat daintily, like a proper woman, nor like a dog but somewhere in the middle. He ate too, and glanced up frequently to look at her. The man was lost in the girl. He had never experienced anything like this feeling before and quite honestly felt was speechless. She talked animatedly and he responded with a simple, "Yes," or "No," on occasion but other than that said nothing. When he was done, he suppressed a belch, and reached inside for the wishbone. His heart pumped with excitement. The man had never shared a wishbone with another person before. He gave her half and mouthed his request, breathless as she did the same. He closed his eyes and pulled.
And could honestly care less. "I wished for someone that would make me happy," she said excitedly. The man smiled and nodded. The smile stuck and he grinned all the wider while she talked. They conversed for hours, well into the night. They spoke of trees and music, of clouds and the stars, of the deer and the lion, and it was the best night of his life. Finally, and to his great disappointment, she yawned and announced she would like to go to sleep. The man nodded sympathetically and made the bed for her. He wished her sweet dreams and she did the same, already half-asleep. The morning found him dozing quietly, his mind unable to comprehend the beautiful girl that had just slipped into his life.
The man woke up with a ticklish feeling in his stomach. The butterflies that had birthed the night before still fluttering weakly. It took him a second to realize where he was and what had transpired, and then it hit him with the force of a tidal wave. He bolted up right from his slump in the chair and looked at the bed. It was empty. He ran to the door and jerked it open, looking desperately out into the damp morning. And there she was, her blonde hair receding into the distance.
"Wait!" he called out, and broke into a full sprint, pouring every ounce of energy he had into his legs. He ran but the girl didn't seem to get any closer. With every step he took, she only seemed to get farther away. He picked up the pace, his breaths shattering his lungs with every touch of forest floor to his bare feet. He called out again, and she turned, her face a mask of confusion. She stopped walking and the man collapsed near her, chest heaving. "Wait," he said, "At least, stay for breakfast."
She smiled and consented. They walked back to the house at a relaxed pace with her laughing and trying to poke the fat around his belly. Jokes about him being out of shape would have angered him coming from anyone else, but he only chuckled along and promised himself he would find time to work out every day.
They had a light breakfast of muffins and jam and talked about whether frogs remembered what their mothers looked like. When it was over and she got up to leave, he asked her where she was going.
"Oh, nowhere. I'm just a bit young and restless. I feel like I need to keep moving," she responded, glancing out the window hurriedly.
"You could stay here with me," the man said, "It'd be nice to have some company." He stood up and started clearing away the table, leaving the offer to hang in the air like cigarette smoke. The girl looked at him, astounded that he would make such an offer. In her stomach, butterflies began to form but she suppressed them, scared of how she suddenly felt. Again, she looked at the man cleaning dishes at the sink and thought to herself, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to stay for awhile. Just to see what it's like to settle down, at least. The young woman picked up the rest of the dishes and carried them to the sink, and started scrubbing them down with warm water and soap.
The man was overjoyed, but he kept his composure and instead, fueled his happiness through whistling a happy tune that reminded him of running through fields of flowers. He looked over at her, and thought to himself, How? It was a simple question that he could not find the answer to. Happily, he pushed it to the back of his mind, put the dishes on the drying rack and turned toward her.
"C'mon," he said, "The day has only just begun!" He smiled, overcome by a sudden burst of euphoria, and grabbed her hands, pulling her outside to his rocks. She sat on the grass while he showed her how he fixed them every morning. When he was done, the woman looked at it in confusion.
"Is that an altar?" she asked, standing up slowly.
"Yes," he said, stepping back to admire his handiwork, "It is."
"To what?" she said, looking at him worriedly.
He gestured at it, confused. "It's just-- an altar," he said, flabbergasted that it could mean so much.
She looked at it thoughtfully, and then ran inside, returning with the leftover chicken from last night's dinner. Placing it carefully on the newly built altar, she stacked leaves on it and lit it with some matches she had mysteriously pulled from her pocket. She smiled, and knelt, mumbling under her breath.
The man stood, dumbstruck. He couldn't comprehend what had just happened. An altar? Used for sacrifices? The idea was uncomfortably foreign to him but he allowed himself to be pulled down on his knees. He even said a tiny prayer under his breath in hopes that she would hear and be proud of him.
When the woman got up, she felt suddenly complete. It was something she hadn't experienced very often in her and she was scared of it. She quickly fought it back down, but not before allowing herself to give the man a spontaneous hug.
His heart soared as she wrapped her arms around him. The man was so uplifted that he felt as if he was floating as he led her back inside to wash his hands. The man laughed with her as he scrubbed under his nails, and then started whistling his usual tune. She giggled and whistled as well, hers a bit higher but flowing harmoniously with his, much like two snakes writhing happily through the air. They stopped and looked at each other, speechless; the only sound to be heard was the water running. The man laughed uncertainly and she joined in, smoothing over the awkward moment by asking about his favorite pop-tart flavor. He laughed and responded happily, listing his top three and then leading her to the bookshelf. He picked out where he had left off, Karl Marx's, Capital and invited her to pick out her own.
The woman felt free. She elatedly picked out Plato's, Crito, and sat across from him, each lost in a world all their own. Occasionally, he would glance up at her and wish that he could be closer to her. Often, she would look up and think the same. Finally, in one quick moment, their eyes met and each turned away at the same time, blushing. And then, the man looked back at her, and she looked at him. Each one thought at the exact same moment how beautiful the rich complexion of the others eyes were, and then they looked nervously away. The man rubbed the back of his neck, his face turning red, and the woman twirled her hair and absentmindedly tried to return to her book. It was useless trying to focus, for both of them, and each stood up and returned their books to the shelf. His train of thought suddenly lost, the man turned, only to find the woman already looking at him. He was stunned, as always, as his eyes first beheld her beauty.
The woman stepped closer to him and breathed him in. He smelled of woodsmoke and also faintly of aged books. When he put his arms around her, her heart skipped a beat, and she looked up, deep into his eyes. Ever so slowly, each one spurred on by the others slight movements, their lips came closer together until, with sparks flying, they met in the middle.
It was a tiny kiss but the man felt stupefied. His entire insides liquified like they had just turned to water and he breathed out. "Wow," he said, looking at her, and then, glanced out the window, embarrassed that he had let his true feelings show so quickly. He hid his burning cheeks by grabbing the shears and matches and rushing outside to cut the brambles.
The man thought long and hard about what had just occurred and whistled a deep tune as he worked, a song that reminded him of rocks sitting for millenia. In his mind, he tried to dissect these unknown feelings he had for this woman that had so quickly stumbled into his life, but soon gave up and his whistle changed to a happier song.
Inside the cottage, the woman felt much the same, except she fought what she felt, scared to let the feelings overcome her. She supplanted them with a natural womanly composure that betrayed nothing of what was felt inside, and instead made the bed she had slept in the night before. After this, she decided to just clean the whole house and started picking up clothes and dusting furniture. Cleaning gave her peace of mind and she enjoyed it, whistling as she worked.
The man came in, chicken slung over his shoulder, to find his entire house sparkling. This woman continued to astound him, continually changing his life for the better. She grinned at him and, taking the chicken from him, started cooking dinner while he washed the soot off his body. They talked while it cooked, this time about how many birthday candles it would take to melt the paint off the walls and what leaves feel when they fall of the trees. When the chicken was done and he took a bite, he was stunned. The woman had added several spices to the recipe that made it taste infinitely better. He laughed at the pure joy of a new thing, something he would not have done three days ago, and had two helpings of dinner that night.
That night, each lay in their respective places of slumber thinking about the other.
For the woman, she wondered how she could keep her feelings under control. And yet, she just couldn't suppress what she felt fully and often felt the happiness in short bursts.
For the man, he was simply awestruck at this angel that had stumbled into his life and was content just to think of her face. Each drifted off promising themselves that they would make the other as happy as possible.
And so, the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months. The woman brought a certain something to the man's life that he hadn't realized he'd been lacking before. She made the sky bluer, the grass greener, and his food taste better. He was more than content, he was happy for the first time in his life. She helped him with all his chores, helping him build the altar, washing her hands with him, reading by his side, and she cooked for him. She never showed him the secret spices to making the chicken taste as good as it did and, likewise, never let her true feelings fully show. The one chore that the woman never did with the man was cutting the brambles which he reluctantly told her he must do alone. The man had been worried that she would be upset that she couldn't do this one task with him but he was rather surprised to see that she seemed relieved to be left out. He thought it a bit strange but dismissed it as tiredness after a long day and put it to the back of his mind. Nevertheless, the feelings inside him were somewhere between rushing around and around in little circles until they were out of breath and sitting calmly listening to a lecture from a higher authority. He was overjoyed in his life.
The woman was happy as well. Never before had anyone made her feel the way that he did and she enjoyed it, deep down inside. But on the outside, she showed nothing of the sense of completeness or the elation she felt in her whole body. The feelings made her feel vulnerable and she had been in too many situations before where men had taken advantage of her because she'd opened up to them too early. She felt she was like a flower, beautiful and fragile. And the men were the bees that fluttered close by. Unfortunately for them, this flower remains closed, she thought. It would take more than a few simple feelings of happiness to make her show her pretty petals.
Despite this, she allowed the man to advance upon her and court her. Their romance grew in leaps and bounds, never faltering and never failing, and it was on a warm humid night that she decided she would like to go for a walk.
"Would you like to come with me?" she asked the man. He looked up from his book and nodded, putting his reading glasses aside. She teased the man about them all the time but he simply couldn't see the small letters without the small semi-circles. He had to wear them every time he picked up a book. The woman slid her hand into his and they walked out into the night.
It was a late fall evening and the trees were just beginning to lose their leaves, giving them a half-eaten look. The sky was a deep shade of violet, almost black except around the stars where it was tinted blue. The clouds, which were far and few between, were tall and fluffy, yet ominous at the same time. Foreboding, as if looking down on the couple and knowing what came next, yet not wanting to tell what was waiting for them.
Oblivious, they walked closely down the country lane, chatting away about worms and whether or not they grew out of tree roots or were birthed from eggs that fell with the raindrops. The man had almost totally convinced her that they fell with the rain when they spotted it. It was a pasture, vacanted recently by a farmer and his horses. Although it had been just a few weeks ago, the grass was already waist-high in some places. They both looked at each other and grinned, their breath icing in the air. With whoops they hopped the fence in an unexplained jolt of happiness. They ran through the tall grass like children, each just happy to be with their counterpart, and popped out to scare each other when the time was right. It was one of those nights where anything goes and, besides, not acting their age was a favorite hobby of theirs.
It was when the man jumped out and tackled the woman to the ground that they suddenly weren't children anymore. She looked up at him and chuckled on cold ground, clasping her hands behind his neck. He smiled and kissed her. It wasn't a tiny kiss. It was the kind of kiss that said, "I love you, and there's no one I'd rather be with right now." She returned it slowly, with increasing ferocity and desperation. There, on the late night dew, the solemn moon watched them make love to each other, and our night-time sun glowed all the brighter for it. Later, bathing in the afterglow, with their breath warming the space between them, they each thought and eventually decided that no matter what, this was where they belonged, right next to each other. It gave them both a strong feeling of belonging. A feeling that wherever the other was, it was home. This was closely followed by a sense of contentment that made them both sigh happily. With their dignity and their egos still relatively intact, they picked up their clothes and returned to the tiny cottage, the brambles leaving tiny pricks in their bare legs.
The next morning, everything went smoother in a new understanding of each other. The man was ecstatic, going through his chores with an unusual feeling of concentration and unrelenting happiness. Nothing could dampen his mood; not even the chicken that evaded his grasp and the brambles that grew extra far that day brought him down. He was the embodiment of joy and he made sure the woman knew it. He did her many small favors and treated her as close as he could to a queen. This feeling, it was a high that had no side effects for him and his mind had trouble wrapping itself around it. It was a completely unknown feeling but even so he welcomed it. For the first time in his life, he felt complete.
The woman was not so sure. She too had felt the happiness that the man felt but it had quickly faded, replaced by suspicion and fear. She didn't want this new feeling to overcome her, control her actions. She was often lost deep in thought and the man had to call her back into focus. His unfailing smile made her grin and she would push the fear to the back of her head, embracing him and telling him it was nothing. And yet, even as she held him, there was a small piece of doubt at the back of her head, niggling at her skull.
The woman put extra sacrifice on the altar, washed her hands harder, and cleaned the house until it was sparkling and still it wasn't enough. The thoughts tumbling around in her head were driving her mad and she could have screamed with frustration, but she didn't let the man know this. On the outside, she was as jolly as ever and did small favors for the man that brought smiles to his face.
The days continued like this and the woman grew more and more uncertain, finding things that she thought were wrong and over-analyzing them to the point of insanity. She became reclusive and the man worried about her, sitting in her chair all day and staring out the window. More than once, he tried to coax her away with hot cocoa or the promise of a walk but she shook her head and shrugged him off. Twice she yelled at him, making him jump back like a whipped dog, about how she needed her personal space and how he was too nosy and should just back off. The man would go sit outside after episodes like this, and look at the stars which once shined so bright, silent tears coming to his eyes and wondering where the girl he had loved had disappeared to so quickly. One day, as he walked inside from cutting the brambles, he found her drinking, something she had never done before. In fact, they had talked before on how alcohol was a disgusting drug that only the immoral used to make themselves feel better. It seemed that she had crossed this line, he thought, and she often drank from the moment she woke up to the point in which she fell asleep. The woman was in a constant stupor, her eyes glazed over and unfeeling. The man could do nothing to help her. None of the things that once brought a smile to her lips affected her now. The man feared for her life, feeling completely helpless to her depression. He would fall asleep watching her stare out the window, her bright eyes now so dull, and when he woke up she'd be in the same position, unmoved from the night before. She was a living statue, only moving to bring the cup to her lips.
One morning, he opened his eyes and the chair was vacant. The house was clean, as if preparing for relatives to visit, and realization came to the man's eyes as he jumped out of bed, frantically looking around behind the bookshelves and under his bed. Finding nothing, not even a note, he ran outside peering through the brambles and between the trees, hoping and swearing that if she was there and if he could find her, he'd never do another wrong.
Nothing that would reveal where she had gone came to his eyes and he fell to his knees, tears streaming down his face. He collapsed to the ground, his heart beating faster, and he started swearing oaths, asking-- no, begging that if she was there when he opened his eyes, he would do all sorts of things. Things that he figured his parents would appreciate, or his preacher, or her, especially her. But she never appeared before him and the man lay there all day, the brambles creeping closer.
When night broke, he picked himself up, brushing his pants off with a choked sob. Stumbling inside, he pulled out the leftovers from the night before and heated them up. They were bland, not even comparing to what the woman had made. The man pushed the plate away, and with shaking hands pulled out his carton of cigarettes, lighting one and breathing deeply. The smoke calmed him, but only reminded him of how much she had hated smoking and he flicked it away in distaste. Then, the anxiety returning, he lit another only to throw it away with the same thoughts of disgust. The man was alone, the thought hitting him like a brick. He hadn't been alone in his own house in over a year and the sudden understanding terrified him. What had gone wrong? Was it his fault? Why had she left and not told him what was bothering? Burying his head in his hands, he beat himself up with a thousand different scenarios that could have made her leave and, above all, asking the simple question of, "Why?" Exhausted, he slipped into bed but couldn't fall asleep. The cottage was too quiet. There was no content breathing beside him and no soft snuffle as the woman changed position in his bed. The only thing that was on his mind was her, and when sleep finally came, it came reluctantly. His dreams were a confusing jumble of memories and of imagined futures, all of her. He awoke to the sun streaming through his window, but the man didn't move to get up, his motivation for anything sapped. The altar mossed over outside, the books grew dusty on his shelves, and the chickens were rampant in his yard.
The man lived in his bed, now strewn with empty bottles and tear stains. Nothing made the pain go away for him, his memories his only lifeline to the real world. He stopped eating, stopped doing anything, his life suddenly joyless now that she was no longer in it. The man had been content but now that he had tasted better, he couldn't settle for just average. His world, once so bright with her, was now gray compared to what it had been. The poor boy drank the benevolent drug more, the bottle his only comfort and his only friend. Agapi soon bared his unfeeling face and visited nightly, and the man welcomed it, daring and hoping that the pain the Demon brought was more than what he felt inside his chest.
That man wasted away in the tiny cottage, and the brambles grew closer each day.