The Book of Magic
He smoothed down her ebony hair, languorously, carefully twisting the loose wisp of black satin around his finger. Deliberately.
One finger moved against her ear, the tiny pearl earring glowing brightly. Like a Vermeer painting, picturesque, poignant.
She closed her eyes in anticipation.
She opened. "Like what?"
It rippled from his lips, a playful waterfall splashing over crystal rocks. He laughed, just a little. "Dangerous."
"Like a good book. A delicious book."
"Yes." He rested one finger on her rosebud lips. "An unopened book of magic."
"A garden!" He continued. "Roses and perfume lingering over cobbled stone. A symphony of colour. Statues of Eros. A walled garden, safe, opened only to her… lover."
"And in the end, always dangerous."
I was married to a husband that doted but did not love. I was nothing more than his pretty wife. And every day, every sunset I'd run to the ruined castle at the top of the highest hill to cry and pour out my soul.
The castle, I named Casa Lenora.
Casa Lenora, because she was sad; she was a white, forsaken castle, built in the Medieval Times, and she dominated the craggy moorland. Some walls had already fallen; they left nothing more than gaping columns. Her moat had dried up long ago; I entered the castle through a lowered, age-eaten wooden drawbridge. I would browse among her weedy garden, touch the gentle creepers fanning up ancient stone vaults, and listen to pit-pattering rain on heavy sky days.
I simply did not love Laurence, my husband. We had married because of our families. True lovers are transparent; they are happy, and they love. Their souls merge as one: words of poetry, two rosy lips, a key and a gate.
We were not true lovers.
As the years passed, I would become calloused; tuned to this life of broken clocks, no love-letters, and unanswered prayers. Head high, gracious manners, an inane smile, a polite fan. Yet I cried – I bled, angry tears, tears like blood that bruised the heart.
Until I met him.
"You say, dangerous."
He grinned. "I have a reason then to explore my little garden."
She laughed like a loose Bacchante, the sprigs of ivy and heather snowing down her hair, and moued petulantly. "The garden is walled."
"The book of magic?"
"It is locked."
He frowned, echoing her naïve sunbeams. "Where, oh where, do I find the key?"
"By solving the magic. The question of the ages."
"Ahhh!" He raised his chin, straight and proud, in mockery, like a great philosopher unveiling life's greatest and airiest mystery. "The question of love. How should I say it? Love is – Love is like wine."
"Wine, that makes men falter and stumble."
"And see stars, and extraordinary things."
"Dangerous." She laughed now, wickedly; hurried Desire around the crooks of her beating heart.
His name was Ray – I could not ask for more. He was a poet, he lived a solitary life in a little hamlet not too far from my manor. "Looking for inspiration. Communing myself with nature," he explained.
My brown-haired poet, with his precocious green eyes, that drank the day and the dew and the sun. One look between us, an electric blaze, and we realized we were inseparable.
I finally had a reason to live; he changed my life. I was sinful, but I could finally breathe, and that was all that mattered.
Casa Lenora was our haven, our fairytale. We frequented the castle grounds, admiring the gamey gardens, the ruined walls, the sick, liveried moss that clung to every stone and statue. We explored the gentle, wild moors around the castle. We knew where the sky larks sang sweet and sharp, where the heather clung and kissed like purple stars. We read poetry and seasoned our days with precious words. Swimming in clear waters, surfacing only to breathe in sunshine, and drink our golden love.
We explored each other. Clairvoyant minds, joined by an invisible yet tenacious bond; two trees, rocking in each other's arms, toes barely flicking the water's edge. We watched clouds, caught fireflies, and stood at the very edge of cliffs for the sheer fun of doing so. I would place my head against his chest and listen to the gentle thump-thump of his heart, while he ran his fingers through my hair.
Do you remember, Ray, the day we pledged our love? A sunny day; the air hummed with earthy scents and new life. We stood at the highest tower of Casa Lenora. The castle shivered with age, but we did not care.
You took a tiny needle and pricked your thumb. I did the same with mine. And we pressed them together, forging that pact, that ageless covenant:
"I love you, forever and always."
"Twilight," her last resort. She knew better than to give in – immediately. "Dangerous twilight."
"You speak of love's tragedies."
Combing at the air now; trailing fingers along the quiet lake, watching watercolour swirls and flowers. Leaves rustled, like golden flakes of fairy dust and angel shimmer.
She simpered. "Playing with the fire. Burning the lips and the heart. Why?"
"A reason to live and die."
"Illusions to keep, and warm the heart. A reason to die."
"That is Life's Philosophy. Not Love's."
"Love, life, what does it matter? The two are one." Laughing gaily, he rolled her backwards into the grass.
He always escorted me back to my house. Hand in hand, we would part at the white gates, where I kept my yellow orchids.
I told him to stay away from my manor, lest Laurence should sight him. But Ray never listened. Instead, he would pull me into his arms and kiss me farewell, even at the very gates to my house.
It was a fine morning when Laurence noticed me returning from my moorland excursion. "Where were you, miss?" he glanced up from his biscuits and tea.
I could hardly suppress my laughter. "Out. Riding, sir." I was a mess. My hair, disheveled, and my dress covered in grass stains. "I went riding, and fell off of my horse."
"No attendants to help you?"
I shook my head. "I rode alone, sir, so I could reflect in my privacy."
"Did you enjoy it?"
He looked at me long and hard, like a father regarding his disobedient child. Slowly, he reached up and tucked a loose wisp of hair behind my ears. "You are a lovely woman, my dear."
"Thank you, sir."
"Pray, do not defile your beauty by riding around the moors like some barefaced, savage gypsy."
And that afternoon, we drank earl grey tea in little white cups with heather-painted rims.
"Magic." Inside her head now; he was inside her head, inside every fiber of her being. Just the two, a wired heaven, a tremulous sublime. Sunshine licked at the dew-drenched trees.
He remembered to breathe. "A book."
"-Edged with gold and rainbow thread. Painted with jeweled colours and lovingly illuminated. A fragrance, musk, spilling from the cream-coloured pages."
"Reading it," he licked his lips, "Like reading a soul."
"What do you see?"
A misty wash of black: spicy, sublime and intangibly violet, as she loosened the rest of her hair and laughed, a tinkling, obstinate air. He shivered – perhaps in ecstasy. "Poetry."
"Desire?" she piped.
He laughed. "I cut myself on the pages of magic, and bleed, and that does not stop me. The more I read-"
"-The more I want," she finished.
Fairytales have happy endings. No matter how cruel the wicked witch is, or how long the princess waits for her first kiss, fairytales always have happy endings.
This is why I am running, the wind buffeting in my hair, my bare feet skidding over sharp rocks and creepers. Calling – "Ray! Ray!"
Casa Lenora looms in the distance like a white ghost. She may as well be the moon. Overhead, low, fuming clouds of rain and storm choke the sky. Something whips out of the grey and slashes my arm. I pull myself away, drops of blood beading on the wound. It is no good to curse the trees.
Wind sweeps and howls; it wails.
"Ray?" I whisper. "Where are you, Ray…?"
(Not so long ago, was it? When I locked fingers with his slender ones, dove into his eyes, and said: "Playing with the fire. Burning the lips and the heart. Why?"
My poet replied, "A reason to live and die."
"Illusion!" I retorted.
"Illusions to keep, and warm the heart. A reason to die.")
Boom! Lightning shatters the sky and jolts me back to reality. I shake my head and see two figures by the drawbridge: one kneeling, the other standing. The standing places something against the head of the kneeling.
A flash of electricity, a whiplash of wind, and I spill onto the craggy ground, palms screeching in the dirt. No! I pick myself up, but my ankle twists in pain and I fall back. (Are they jeering now, the black leaves, shivering like phantom fairies, like liquid tears? Are the trees whispering – goading me with their gnarled branches?)
"NO!" I cry.
The figures turn.
He, the standing one, smiles. Like a father grinning at his naughty child, at his little girl covered in mud.
"Please!" I whisper. A gust of wind whips my words, my despair, and flings them across the sea of emptiness – perhaps they hear. Perhaps they realize, too.
The kneeling figure – my poet – merely stares.
And Laurence pulls the trigger.
The trees are alive. They face me, jeering, chanting. Their arms slither and twist, like snakes around me, fermenting in my veins.
Shapes emerge; red-eyed nymphs, monstrous fairies, ghostly dryads. They point fingers, accusing me, hating me.
Night opens like a grave.
"I am innocent!" I scream. "I am-"
Orange everywhere, corrosive, eating into my skin, my ears, my eyes. I cry, my voice unheard, as evil arms jam and burn their way down my throat –
What did you see, Ray, when you fell? Did you die with a name on your lips?
Did you curse me?
Did you love me?
Like two trees by the river's edge, roots seeping into the moist ground. He in her head, she in his; the world bleeding white and red stars.
"In conclusion," she slurred, turning the words sweetly – tentatively around her dried tongue.
"To our most esteemed discussion?"
She looked to the castle. "Dangerous."
He pushed down his sun-kissed hair and drummed his fingers on the dewy grass.
"Insatiable, unquenchable. Cruel, if you think of it."
"Audacious. A brazen thing."
"And in the end-"