~~Moments in Freefall~~~
There is a certain smile that she has always been drawn to and he has mastered. It is the whim of temptation incarnate, and in that face she can live everything. She can't forget, no- for who could ever forget?- but she can imagine a life, the kind that makes you think of stories that never end, a story like the one that Scheherazade once told. She wishes, sometimes, that she could do that. Tell a story with words, not through her quivering body, and hold sway. She wishes she could tell stories the way that his smiles can make her dream.
So it surprises her, maybe strikes her as even shocking, that he has never been a happy man. (His arms swoop in arcs with a grace that he does not know but she can feel. It makes her ache.) It casts her speechless, when all of him is what she has wanted for so long. Life grasps his entire frame in a way that can only remind her of how delicate she must look, how frail. She envies how he can look good in bright hues and strong, sharp corners while she must sit, hands folded primly, docile and doe-eyed, wrapped lightly in pale shades that look like they are only vague ideas of color. It is her sickness, after all.
They told her she was attracted to him because she was weak. And perhaps it was true, but not in the way they thought. She needs his life, his eyes, his broad chest, corded arms, confident stance, the same way she needs to eat - and unlike food, her body does not reject it. They were wrong, saying she was in love with him. She loved him for being alive. For being strong. For being brave enough to risk.
It makes her wonder how he can make his mouth fold into those kinds of corners, have the hardness of his eyes crumble and melt into such convincing warmth, and still be so full of discontent.
"I'm not happy at all, Charlotte. What in the world makes you think that?"
It didn't matter that he called her Charlotte - did she look like a Charlotte? - and that he would smile when he called her by that name, smile the smile that made her hurt in the most exquisite way. She didn't really care that there was sometimes a blond woman in the background, and even further in the shadows, a young boy with skin as pale as hers and eyes twice as scared as the woman's were angry. He must be terrified of losing everything, she had mused. She would wonder, drifting, if all of this (sometimes, disasters were more beautiful than one could resist) was worth it. After all, "Charlotte" does not suit her. She is not "Charlotte" for a reason.
It is their unhappiness - his anhedonia, her dysphoria - that always brings them to each other, no matter how many times they promise to stop. It becomes the reason he stays with her well into the dawn; the reason she begs him (not with words, of course; since when has she ever been good with words?) to do so. It is why she tries not to ask questions, and why he never tells her anything about his waking life. Some things, she decides in the mumble of before-sleep, were better unanswered, and it wasn't as if she didn't know already, anyway. She wasn't stupid - that wasn't her sin. Her sin was weakness, everyone knew that.
She looks out the window, her eyes hollowed out by exhaustion, a fatigue she cannot sate, while he dozes on the edge of her bed. When he eventually wakes, there are birds and the sun and clouds, and she is still lucid (however barely so) and knows that she will not be able to rest despite her tiredness because he always leaves with the sunrise. The truth is, she is only able to sleep when he is present, but when he's present she hardly wants to slumber. He makes her wish, even more than ever, that she was an eloquent speaker, for she wants nothing more than to captivate him with words, make him stay for as long as she could bear (id est, forever, or at least as long as forever is in her case) with perhaps some errant edge of love in his (not-)choice.
She pretends that he loves her weakness as much as she loves his strength. So when he moves to get up and leave, she does not let go of his hand. He simply looks at her and she does not look back, instead gazes out the window with half-empty eyes that are tinged with a sense of faraway longing.
"I've always wanted to know what it feels like to fall," she says. Her voice is lost and wistful and lonely, and she lets go of his hand. He leaves so quietly she can imagine he is still there, silently standing over her. If Mortality were like him, she would have been happy to be so weak. If Death could smile like he did, she would have left this world long ago.
They do not talk much, but when they do it is always about future plans. He tells her that he will take her to the shore one day, to a little white house on a cliff overseeing the ocean. She drowsily supplies the details, does not ask questions, and though it is difficult and taxing, keeps her eyes open so that should he smile, she will see it. She so wants his life.
It is how they eventually come to talk of death. He reveals in passing that he once tried to hang himself, and twice tried poison. It seems to her that life does not want to let him go, clutches him with an iron grip. She covets him of this, covets him of the ability to not appreciate his vivacity. She has always been on the brink, as if Nature could not decide whether or not to relinquish her to the afterlife. And she is tired of trying to tip the balance in her favor. He has become the only thing that compels her to keep living. It'd be so easy to give up, to close her eyes and let herself drift indefinitely, until she lay in permanent repose.
Their conversations shift from mere death to suicide.
"I've always wanted to know what it feels like to fall."
The shore, the little white house on a cliff overseeing the ocean.
Their plans take an entirely different turn, and this time over, everything is real.
He takes her to a little white house on the shore, on a cliff that hangs over the ocean, and there is a story there that remains unspoken - beautiful blond hair and small, laughing footprints - that is more tangible than everything aside from how his arms guide her, help her to the precipice (for her sin is weakness, and she cannot walk alone.) The sky is gray, the air is sharp, and both of them are barefoot. Neither of them makes any movement to step off the ridge; neither retreats. As they stare out at the horizon and the waters, she begins to shake, from fear or anticipation she cannot tell. His arm is strong around her shoulders, but she doesn't want to lean into them. Here, she wants to be able to stand on her own.
"I lied, you know," she tells him, the thrill making her giddy, reckless. "My name isn't really Charlotte."
"I figured." He turns to her and grins, and it takes all of her adrenaline-drunk will to not imagine the possibilities of life. "You never really answered to it."
They stand there for several moments, silent. The wind whips her sheer dress around her ankles, thrashes her thin hair about her face in a way that is not familiar to her. She feels the grit of sand and pebbles against her delicate feet, the sting of salty air chapping her lips and cheeks, and the contrast of his heat and the cold of the wind makes her feel more alive than ever. Her heart beats hard within her fragile body, and there is pain there. In the candor of the impending End, she falls from her pretenses:
She loves him.
Sobs eddy at her throat, filled with a sudden rise of desperation that sickens her. She gazes up at him, her eyes wet with more than the seaside air. The agitation within her chest slows to a distant spinning, for he is smiling. He is smiling with an honesty she has never seen before, and she finally understands why he claimed he was so unhappy: because it was true. The liberation now in his eyes, his mouth, is nearly enough to let her forget the sudden futures that so swiftly and beautifully and terribly had unfolded before her.
Then he looks down at her, and all is at peace, for his face is that of a man who loves. There is enough serenity in that that she smiles back.
Their hands intertwine, hers cold and dry, his warm and slightly damp.
They step forward.
Her heart rushes with the flood of a million stories, and for the first time she believes that life was worth living, if only for this moment: the moment she knew what it felt like to fall.
A/N: This is for The Review Game's WCC October 2010.
Yes, they just committed suicide together. I intended it to be more along the lines of double entendre than ambiguous, but I guess that didn't work out since a number of people seem to believe this piece ended with a kiss.