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Two In One
The sweet, savory smell of coffee drifts through the air and into her welcoming nostrils. Yawning and stretching, she pushes back the white eyelet sheets and lays there, contemplating the universe, and him, for a second. She smiles as she listens to the merry whistling that can be heard in all parts of the house - that’s partially why she chose tile instead of carpet, so she can hear him wherever she goes. He’ll never know though, she giggles. The walls are papered with a faded floral print, reminiscent of the Victorian era. It looks just old enough to bring petticoats, maids, and washing bowls to mind, the kind of thing that denotes elegance. Sitting up, she drags her feet over the side of the bed, pushing her feet into the worn slippers. There’s something about worn, broken-in shoes: they provide a sense of familiarity, of knowingness, of routine. His are still sitting by the door, unused. He leaves them there so it looks as though he wears them, but she knows he doesn’t; he never did like slippers, or shoes of any kind, for that matter. He prefers to go free.
Pulling her kimono around her, she shivers as the cold air hits her, smiting the heated bubble that had surrounded her under the sheets. Glancing out the window through the dim fog, she notices several strange cars in the driveway. Funny that he wouldn’t have said something about guests, or she would have risen much earlier. Then again, he doesn’t need to, she trusts him. Traipsing down the stairs, she listens for a moment, hearing nothing, and then laughingly shouts his name down the hall in her most flirtatious tone. The cars must be the groomsmen’s, or perhaps his associates’. Normally, he would come running, and lift her up, carrying her into the kitchen, their laughter creating a perfect mix of intonation, like the milk he carefully stirs into her coffee. His always remains unstirred, strong, black, and straightforward. Yet, when the coffee is black, you can taste more of its originality.
A slight sense of foreboding creeps into her bones. She tries to shake it off, reassuring herself that he must have stepped out for a moment to speak to a friend or one of the staff. The pans are left on the stove, and the omelette he always cooks is waiting on a plate. The silverware is on the table and fresh flowers grace the centerpiece. Marigolds. She always loved those, had loved them since she was a child. She sits down, begins to eat, and then decides to wait for him. He always waits for her - how rude of her to begin eating!
The uneasiness creeps up behind her like the mean old cat that lives behind the stables, when he is crouching behind a mouse, waiting for one sign of weakness. Hurrying to the foyer, she looks out the windows, sees him. Every time she sees him, he has the same effect on her: she feels something of wonder, of happiness, of calmness, of love….and of so many more emotions. She half-smiles to herself. He is arguing with several men whom she doesn’t recognize. One turns to glance at the window, and she shrinks back behind the curtains, wondering at once why she did so, but not wanting to move forward. She can still see him, as one of the men grabs his arm, and another grabs his leg. He’s twisting, turning, and she’s screaming. What is going on? She sprints for the front door, turning the knob, rushing down the steps. In emergencies, everything seems to travel much too slow. She reaches the driveway just as the cars are pulling away, speeding like a churning black river down the road. But not before she hears the single gun shot fired, and sees his body drop to the floor, his clouded eyes fixed on hers.
It’s a strange feeling, watching someone you love suddenly fall to the ground, shot, like someone on Law & Order. You feel so far away, so unattached, as though you’re in a movie theater, watching one of those 3-D movies, and you’re reaching out to touch everything that’s popping off the screen, but your fingers lie suspended in the air, touching nothing. In the movies, you can steel yourself and wait for it to be over; you can hide your face in your jacket hood and attempt to block out the sounds; you can stare blankly at the screen, having become seemingly unaffected by this violence; but nothing you can do can erase the questions flitting through your mind. She can’t erase the questions.
She wants to rush outside, to try to save him before it’s too late, but he always told her to be careful of any enemies left behind in times of emergency. A wave of red is sweeping across the speckled cobblestones, and for a moment, she feels dizzy. Paralyzed with fear, she stands at the window, simply staring. All of a sudden, as though she has been hit by an electric bolt, she rushes to the door, opens it, and sprints for his body. It is a long ways from the front of the house, but she picks up her skirt and petticoat and runs as if her life depended on it; which is not always just an expression, because her life does indeed depend on it. As she reaches his body, skidding across the cobblestones and scratching up her pretty white knees, she notices the gold watch open on his breast pocket. It is cracked, portraying the time of death, she supposes. Wringing her hands, she bends down to listen for a faint wisp of breath issuing from his purple lips.
The most calm, sedate, reassuring people can become the most out of control, desperate, foolhardy individuals in times of emergency if one of their loved ones has been hurt. They are depended on, because in all other emergencies they have been practical, thoughtful, and helpful, but they lose all sense of direction when the victim is one near and dear to them. Someone that they always assumed would never get hurt.
She hears a loud popping noise and feels pain stab through her shoulder. Colored spots appear in front of her, making his face look like that of a leopard’s. She had not run fast enough, and one of them is still left. She feels her body giving out unconsciously, resisting her brain’s commands to stand up and run after the fleeing figure in black. Tears begin to stream down her face as she looks over at the prostate man lying next to her. Why did you leave me?
Fast-forward ten years. The wind whispers through the trees, whistling through the boughs and sending the carousel spinning. The movement is almost mesmerizing, dizzying, spinning faster and faster and faster, not unlike an optical illusion. The rusted bikes sit together in the rack, like worn old men, the red and blue paint slowly chipping off. The slide is full of sparkling, white webs, almost invisible to the human eye; the rounded tube was the perfect hideout, where secret messages echo off the walls. You could hear her anywhere on the playground…you could hear her anywhere in the world, even if she wasn’t there.
The swings sway back and forth in a slow waltz, snow coating the seats. The blue sky has turned into a desolate gray, mirroring his icy blue-gray eyes. She was the only one who could thaw them with her warmth, who could make them soften into gentle pools.
No sound comes from the surrounding trees; the wintertime creates an eery, yet calming, silence. A painful silence, where you cannot hide from the thoughts crashing around in your head. From the memories falling like snowflakes across your shoulders, hands, and head. The birds in the tall fir trees are gone, and a blanket of creamy whiteness covers everything that can be seen, but he still remembers the lush green grass and the birdcalls. He had never liked birds, had always been afraid of them; but somehow, she made them more likable. She made everything he hated or feared more likable, less scary.
His breath comes of in smoky puffs, not unlike the smoke curling out of his cigarette. She always cared about the smoking, saying his lungs would be as black as her hair, and he always insisted that he liked the blackness, thought it was beautiful, as he gently twisted his fingers through her hair; those were the light, fun times. In the serious times, she pleaded with him to stop killing himself. How ironic that seems now, he thinks to himself, as he is the one living.
Shoving his hands deeper into his coat pockets, he steps through the frozen pine needles and pine cones and onto the frozen lake, glazed over like a fresh donut. He begins to twirl, to dip, to glide across the surface. Slowly, his hands come out of hiding, his fingers loosening, and his stiff posture melts away as natural-born grace takes over. The lake becomes a ballroom, and soon he is flying through the air, flying across the deadly mirror his feet once danced on so gaily; but then, his were not the only pair of feet, and back then he had a partner. As he begins to move faster and faster, the deafening silence goes away, and the numbness of familiarity and rushing wind are the only things he is conscious of. The trees, the snow, the sky, the forest, the playground all rush past, swirling around him in a blur. He glances down at the patterns he has made, sees a tiny crack in the ice.
All of a sudden, the wondrous dance ends, the silence crashing down into his eardrums again. She is inescapable. Everywhere. And he hates her for falling, for freezing, for letting him shoot her, for loving someone else, for leaving him behind. Alone.
Shaking the frosty droplets off his white cheeks, he hurries away.