She told me to stay away from you. You know what could happen to him. And I nodded resignedly. Yes.
Your eyes reflected liquid chocolate. Your soul, a kindred spirit, held the warmest laughter. Ashen hair and ghost-pale skin. I had never met someone like you before.
The night I told you, I thought you’d leave. My heart would crumble to ashes in the ground, and I’d hear nothing but the sound of your footfalls clattering against the Parisian rain as you disappeared into the endless city.
The night I told you, you smiled. A deep smile, radiating heat and light. And my heart melted into stardust. I was no longer mine. I was yours.
I met you in the midst of winter. It was a chilly evening. Storm clouds gathered in the sky, like tears waiting to fall.
Your figure flickered in the rain, walking briskly into the mist, when I crashed into you.
I’m so sorry, you mumbled. Voice thick and deep, slurred with fatigue. Are you all right?
And I looked into your flickering face, at your slightly upturned nose and rosé lips curved into a half-smile. Yes, I whispered. I’m perfectly fine.
Your half-smile turned into a full-smile. Feeling bold, I entwined my fingers in yours. We walked into the depths of Paris, our forms reflecting shadows under the lull of the ivory moon.
You took me back to your apartment, a quaint flat nestled on a quiet corner of the 6th Arrondisement, overlooking the emerald waters of the Seine. The air smelled of light cream and cigarette smoke, a scent that I would later identify with you.
That night, we made love to the rhythm of the city pulse. There was nothing but the heartbeat of our intertwined breaths and laced bodies, pulsating and alive in the dark.
Books in hand, you crossed the cobblestone streets to the University of Paris. You spent most of your days in its gothic library, consumed by literature and philosophy.
Poetry and music, you murmured, are voices of the soul. You looked exquisite as golden sunbeams fluttered through the open windows.
And you, Mademoiselle Moreau, you whispered, are the pulse to my soul.
It was that afternoon that I decided to tell my mother about you.
I’ve met a guy, I said, barely above a whisper. I whispered something else in her ear, something that would haunt not only her, but us. Mother gazed coldly, and her body stiffened.
My baby, you know what that means. Why are you doing this? Why are you still with him?
But I don’t know if I’ll ever meet someone like him again. Someone who actually likes me.
Don’t say that, baby. She pushed back a lock of hair from my face. I don’t want you to get hurt.
Promise me you’ll stay away from him?
I looked at Mother, at her shrinking gray eyes and sagging skin. My eyes flitted to her finger, where a silver ring once lay.
Yes, I whispered. I promise.
A descendant of Voltaire, your eyes burned perpetually with a wild lust for knowledge. You ravaged books as if you hadn’t eaten in days.
Sometimes you liked to do math.
If I am one eon from finishing this novel, and you are five decades of procrastination from writing your book, how long will it take before we learn to love?
Even though what I said wasn’t funny, you laughed.
I started sneaking out late at night, when moonlight faded into twilight, and the alleyways looked imposing with darkness.
I crossed the river Seine, the gentle night breeze sleeping on my skin, until I reached your flat. Pulling me into your arms, you kissed me, and we made love to the glow of dawn.
It was a forbidden tryst, a thrilling escapade I had never experienced before, only saw in movies.
Sunrise gave way to storm clouds, but the infinity of our content kept us warm.
Last night you weren’t at home. Mother’s suspicious eyes snaked into my brain, searching for a lie. I inhaled slowly.
I was at the University, studying.
Be careful, Caroline, she warned. You know what could happen to him.
I nodded. We both knew what she really meant.
In the fifth week of our contentment, it happened.
Be careful, Caroline. You know what could happen to him.
You began to relapse. Your skin twitched uncontrollably. I saw your face, stone cold, eyes stretched wide in horror, as you writhed and trembled on the floor of your flat.
You had your first seizure.
The monster we had locked away for weeks, that you mentioned to me once and never spoke of again, spilled out into its true form.
Our first real conversation, after we made love, breathless and lingering on the balcony, is crystallized in my memory.
Mademoiselle Moreau. You spoke my name slowly, as if savoring each syllable.
Yes? My heart inhaled light.
I have to tell you something important. The air whistled as you paused and composed yourself.
I have a brain tumor. Your voice quivered as you spoke.
Silence lingered in the atmosphere.
Your eyes looked away. It’s too late.
My heart exhaled darkness.
Hospital walls were whiter than bone. For hours, I heard nothing but my trembling breaths and the high-pitched beeping of the monitor screen.
I was about to leave the room when the first sign of waking spurred to life.
Mademoiselle Moreau, you wheezed, spitting the word as if it pained you to speak.
Sunlight tumbled onto the staircase you were leaning against. Your hand, all bone and no flesh and twitching with nerves, gripped the banister. Slowly, with small steps, you hobbled to the door.
I feel dizzy. Your forehead was white with sweat, pupils shifting across the room, your senses disoriented.
It’s okay. I wore my most convincing smile. I’m right here.
Looking into your ghostly face and dilated eyes, I hardly recognized you.
You were born again. Step by step, you were learning how to walk again.
Like the flightless, your wings were wounded. Broken, but not lost.
Outside, dew trickled onto grass, and the morning air smelled of fresh rain and mist. The scent of freshly brewed coffee wafted through Parisian windows and onto the cobblestone streets.
Inside, quiet settled through the house.
With each passing day, you grew more and more sleepy. The bed and its linen sheets became your new home.
After the twelfth hour of your fifth consecutive slumber, you rubbed your eyes and limped out of bed.
Do you want a pill? The doctor prescribed it.
I’ll be fine, you said, as if to convince yourself.
We both knew it was a lie.
Time seeped through our flesh and bone, into our veins, slow and teasing.
The doctor didn’t say it, but we both knew your time on earth was finite.
Honey leaked onto toast. I carried breakfast upstairs to where you slept.
You looked so peaceful sleeping, yet a war waged inside your brain.
We both knew which side would lose.
I’m so sorry, baby.
Don’t apologize, Mother. It’s not your fault. We’ll get through it.
I’m so, so, so sorry.
I woke up to an aching pain pounding in my head. The bed sheets were damp with sweat.
I ran to the bathroom, overcome with waves of nausea, and vomited into the toilet.
Honey, you whispered weakly. Are you all right?
Yes, I’m fine. Just felt a little nauseous from last night’s dinner.
I said this instead of the word that dominated my mind, the word that would mean I’m no longer just my mother’s daughter.
I held the test in my hand.
My fingers shook, and the test slipped out of my hand twice.
Breathe in, breathe out.
After a few minutes, my eyes flitted back to the test.
Paris’ rain descended into the streets and clouded my tear-streaked face.
The door creaked shut. Lights flickered on and off in the storm. I ascended the flight of stairs to where you lay, tranquil in your slumber.
My hands, pale with fear, shook your shoulder.
Wake up, I whispered with a hint of urgency.
Your eyelids fluttered and slowly blurred into focus.
I sighed nervously.
I just found out a few minutes ago… tears began to fall from my face. You wiped them away gently with your weakening fingers.
I’m… I’m…I choked out. pregnant. The last word was barely a whisper.
I whimpered softly, waited for the sound of your departing footsteps to ensue. Instead, your lips tugged into a radiant smile. It was the first smile I saw from you in a long time.
I’m going to be a dad, you whispered slowly, tasting the beauty of each word.
Our eyes connected, and we made our own kind of light.
More often than not, I go to the University alone.
Sometimes, when you’re feeling well enough to walk, you’ll limp on my shoulder, and we’ll stroll together, step by step, to the library that holds our golden moments.
A darkness stirs inside your carpals, but outside, inhaling the natural light and exhaling warmth, the harmony of songbirds crystallizing the air, we are more liberated than we’ve ever been.
Someday, as the brain tumor grows, you’ll fade into the clouds and depart with the sky, a slow and painful evanescence.
Today is not that day.
Your hunger for knowledge, for poetry and music and all the things that make the world beautiful, wanes as fatigue overwhelms you each day.
And yet, your smile shines more brilliant and bright than mine will ever be.
Someday, our child will be born. Ours.
I promised our child that I will teach them what love means, that light exists even in the coldest hours of this vast and terrifying universe.
One rainy morning, you joked half-heartedly, I’d imagine if my brain was a person, it’d probably be very ugly right now. Your skin, translucent against the clouds dense with grayscale, paled like water. A ghost of what you once were.
I forced a smile and squeezed your bone-tired hand, trying to convince myself more than you.
Our minds are all beautiful, no matter how scarred they may be.