Now, as our time together draws to a close, she sits staring at me, saying nothing; telling me everything. Stitches ensure that no words can pass her lips, neither can she hear my words for the charred flesh which seals her ears. She can only look at my eyes – through them to my soul, I hope – and hold my hand tight.
They’re coming, you see. Our captors.
Her fingers are restless in mine, coiled together one moment like sea anenomies in love, now as loose as wilting flower stems. But always incessant, urgent now our time has come.
A tear wells in my eye, spurred on by pain and the knowledge of our impending loss. She watches it form and – involuntary – reciprocates. This very sight is enough to break my tear free, sending it trickling down my cheek. On reaching my chin, the droplet plunges down to my chest where it crosses the raised, puckered ridges of the wordSINNER – etched in my flesh by calloused young hands. It moves onward to even greater mutilations below.
I should wipe it away, spare myself the small agony of its salt stinging the cuts – electricity through my shredded nerves – but my panic and sadness are the equal of hers; I too needing the touch of another’s hand, feeling the desire for comfort, no matter how small.
We are a sight I suppose, sitting at this table, dressed only in our blood-covered nudity.
It was but a small time before that I carressed her as tenderly as I had thought myself able, as tenderly as I had ever managed. How I wanted to satisfy her, break the barriers of my insecure gender and reach a point where my shortcomings would be important to neither of us. No previous caress could hope to match that which I would give her now. Oh God, if I could only hold her!
We wanted to be made one.
No longer a couple. No longer a pair. Nor lovers. We wanted none of this society’s values, none of what we should be, what others expected of us.
When we were together, we could forget those elsewhere in our lives, dispelling them to a distant place – a realm of long stagnant thought – and bask in the freedom their exile had given us.
And, oh, when we were together!
That was when the world truly turned; when time actually meant something more than a passing second, ticking hands.
When we first made love, we were animals, nothing more. Sheer physical force would lend us an energy we could never place elsewhere in our lives.
But animals can aspire.
And so did we.
Towards the end of our time – ours, not anyone else’s – we had crossed someway into the region to which we had looked with such longing. The animal fought down but not banished. We had become spiritual lovers. We sensed moods, desires, fears in a split-second blink of an eye; knowing how to please each other like never before.
And yet still the fear was with us. That gnawing, angry dread that we would be disturbed, discovered, our transgression found out. At times, we would be struck almost impotent by terror, tears flowing along with our apologies.
“I’m sorry, I can’t. It’s them, don’t you see? They’re everywhere. Oh God, I love you so much… Hold me… Please, will you just hold me?”
They waited, biding their time, knowing and yet not certain, that we were together in their petty description of a couple.
There was so much more that they would never see; beyond the scope of their feeble minds. They knew only their black and white values, nothing between the lines of their existence.
And because we were different, because we sought to discover what lay beyond our expectations, beyond the limits they imposed on us – theirs, always theirs – we were destined to this, our pain-filled final hour. We only have each other now, all we have ever had, and in the extremes of our agony we are the only comfort either can gain.
I hold her hand tight and listen to the footfalls beyond the door of this room.
I don’t know how many times I wish they’ll pass by the door. This time, however, I know they’ll be entering our cell.
They are close now and I straighten in my chair. Her hand tight in mine. The hairs on the rear of my thighs pull tackily at the congealing blood; previous fuel for the flame of passion.
Now, I look at her eyes and, incredibly, there is a humour in them. My realisation slow in its daybreak, I am blind to the message her eyes send.
Does she not know we are doomed?
Her eyes smile.
They are coming to kill us. She cannot hear them, the black and burned flesh ensures she is as completely deaf as the tight loops of thread make her mute.
Her eyes laugh.
We have shared so much. If they had not discovered us now, would we have reached our unspoken goal of total, perfect union? Would this have been the time when all of both our beings would merge into unity, where we would exist only as each other’s belief, only a notion we had both once dreamt of?
And I know why she is smiling.
It is a spiritual ideal to which we aspired; sufficient to lift us above their animal necessity.
They could not accept this because they knew only the grunting, gasping bodies in which they dwelled. They would never know release, flight to the levels we had long previously attained.
For us only the top of the pyramid remained.
And I know why her eyes smile.
We are to reach that point of unison finally, death freeing us for the journey to where our desire will find its end; our spirits finally a single entity.
I smile back and nod my understanding.
A key turns in the lock and, after the door swings open, they troop in one after the other, taking their place at the top of the stairs that lead down to us. I look at their faces, her mimicking my actions in the corner of my eye.
Their adult faces so full of knowledge, so fulfilled. That was what had convinced us to come here, breaking the many-stranded webs of our lives to be with them. Their fervour had been so great, their gospel seeming to be everything we had desired.
But they had lied.
Theirs had been a doctrine of physicality, not the depth of searching we both needed. Their only teachings had been those of pure animal nature.
Christopher – sanctimonious leader – heads down the steps, the rest following; impudent page-boys hitching a ride on the bride’s ivory-silk train.
Finally, Christopher stands at the table, staring at our clasped hands. His falsely enigmatic face, everything about him now a lie.
He holds out his hand to the man at his right shoulder.
There is a note of superiority in his voice when he speaks, a sense of having been right all along.
“You still need the touch then?” Christopher asks and I hate him for making a mockery of our search, our desire for so much more than they could offer or ever hope to know.
Her hand grasps mine more tightly as she sees; my eyes locked onto Christopher’s, blind to what has been passed to him.
Calmly, he slits her throat.
The blood begins to pour and I think quickly, harshly: me too! Now me! We can’t be together if I am too far behind!
It might register on my face, my urgent wish. I think not, however, as all the muscles there seem to have shut down as I stare, transfixed by her life running in a sheet from her gaping neck.
Quickly! Me too!
Christopher reaches out and turns my face to his by placing his grubby fingers gently about my chin.
Pitying chuckle in his voice; the sound devoid of any true humour.
“No,” he says quietly, in that harsh, chuckling voice, “you’re staying right here.”
And, as one, they laugh, turning and following him as he leaves the room. I remain with the recently emptied host of her spirit. I alone; she already on her journey.
We will never reach that unity of being to which we had headed with a desire that knew no limits. I will be forever alone, forever…
She taps me on the shoulder and walks around to a position in front of me, where she kneels. Her smiling face.
Our wedding is three days away, on Saturday, and whoever it was who said the bride has all the nerves is wrong.
I fear our marriage.
Strange as that may seem with only days to go, I am terrified of marrying the girl kneeling before me, arms crossed on my lap, staring into my eyes. But it is not the commitment or loss of single life that I dread. It is knowing that, no matter how far it may be in the future, a day will come where I shall wake and find her gone, find it over, our time having run its course.
She stands, kissing me lightly on my forehead, her fingers patting and stroking my hair as if I were her favourite puppy and I cannot help the feeling that leaps into my head.
I love you so, so much.