Volume 2 Number 4
I met her outside a coffee shop, looking at a fountain, standing in the rain. Even wet, she was luminous; even in the gray half-light of the storm, her eyes were so green they almost glowed and the irises so large I was lost in them. Rolling green fields I found in her eyes, and I haven't yet been able to find my way out of them.
I still don't know her name. But it doesn't matter, because she is my lady now, every time the sun hides behind lowering thunderheads.
I worked from home, you see. And the days grew ever longer, sitting in the still calm of an empty house staring at a blank screen. In the afternoon I gathered everything together and trundled off downtown to lights and people and the smell of grounds brewing. It was warm as a welcome at Christmas every time I opened the door to the smell and the sounds of my favorite busy place on the edge of the park.
And one day full of bluster and menace she was there in the park by the fountain. And now I only come down on the rainy days, because my house, my soul, is no longer empty but filled to the top with her.
Today started out like summer, warm and slow and bright. I could smell the lilacs and the sage outside the open windows. I watched the news in the morning, always waiting for the weather report. Always waiting for the rain.
Fair, the anchorwoman said, fair and beautiful, and get outside and enjoy it. I snarled at the television, and at the cloudless sky, and started my day's work.
At nine, the sun went in behind the thick gray clouds piling up above, and that hour wore on gloomier and grayer.
At ten, the air smelled like rain. Soon the individual drops started, coloring my concrete patio centimeter by centimeter.
By eleven, it was coming down in sheets, and I had to close my windows against the lashing wind. My heart vibrated with warmth against the cold elements outside, and I turned on the noon news. The meteorologist was there with her digital maps and charts of pressure and wind, and they all said fair, fair, fair.
I left all my things, left the lights on, and grabbed a coat as I ran from the house, ran to the subway, ran to her side.
It was half an hour later that I stood in front of the fountain, as wet as the pool before me. No one was there. I stood against the beating rain and was hypnotized by the play of the fountain water mixing with the rain, becoming together the arch of the fountain's trajectory, and so something more than each. Something wild and random yet still infused with human meaning. Or was it the other way around?
She slid under my arm with the dexterity of a hedonistic cat looking for a pet.
"You would stand in the rain," she said in her monotone voice. Her speech never changed inflection, but it would change in quality, and now it sounded like the rustle of rain on tree leaves, intermingling with the storm so perfectly that I was unsure at first that she had even spoken at all.
"I love this sort of rain," I replied, and felt her press closer, under my coat, and felt her wrap it around herself. I started to look down-
"Don't!" She said with field-gun precision. "Not yet." And so I watched the transcendental flow of the fountain against the rain, content to wait. I tightened my arm around her, and was poked roughly by the sharp bones of her shoulders.
"Nothing so beautiful as a fountain in a downpour," I commented.
"Nothing?" she asked, and her voice sounded like lambs tripping down Irish hills in the spring.
"Nothing made by man," said I, and she squeezed me about the waist. And so I knew it was safe to look down upon her. I did so, and was lost for moments, consumed by the deep green of her eyes.
"Why do you always try to look for something you know is not there?" she asked. Now her voice sounded like echoes in a misty fog at sunrise. Months before she had been uncomfortable with the intensity of my gaze, had quailed before it. I could not tell her the truth of the effect she had on me, on every man, for it would scare her more. So instead I told her that I was searching for her pupils. Either she had no such anatomy, or they were lost only to me as I was entranced by the brilliant green irises.
"Because I can't find it," I replied. "You captivate me. I can't help it." She never smiled, or made any other extraneous facial gestures, but I could tell she was pleased. "Shall we go in?"
She nodded. We walked to the other side of the square, and I kept her close to my side. Her shoulders were smooth now, and slight. She fit perfectly under my arm, just the right height. When we reached our cafe, turned cozy and sullen by the weather, I held open the door for her as I breathed in that delicious, comforting scent. She slipped inside and from one step to the next as she crossed the threshold she changed utterly from a wild, ethereal nature sprite to a woman, solid and warm and precocious and perfectly comfortable in her preferred element. I wondered if we all changed in that way. Then I wondered if she had changed, or had I?
I caught up with her at the bakery counter, where she was examining the pastries. I had never seen her eat anything but cakes, cookies, and dessert breads, and she did not drink anything but caffeine in its myriad forms of hot beverages. She was craning her neck a bit to see all the treats, to give each equal opportunity to appeal to her whim. The choosing of pastries was a serious business, and I knew better than to interrupt; instead, I watched the drape of her hair as it rippled in response to her movements.
At length, she straightened. "Can I help you, miss?" The youth behind the counter (his nametag proclaimed that his name was Ty) met her eyes and was caught like an animal in a snare. His eyes widened, and I smiled. Another male taken by her presence. She was mine, however; she wanted me. She had summoned me with rain. Ty's eyes were widening, and my lady finally took pity on him and looked away. He focused his attention on his notepad, and I chuckled to myself at the thought of my lady as a "miss."
"I'd like a double espresso," my lady said to Ty. "And one of the white pastries."
"The meringue?" he asked.
I stepped up behind my lady, close enough to reach my arms around her. "Yes," I said. Ty lifted his head from studying the notepad long enough to glare at me. I glared right back.
"Yes," my lady said, and her voice was the crunch of dew turned to frost on the grass in early spring and stepped on by careless feet. Cowed, the boy simply wrote down the order in silence.
"I'll have a plain coffee," I said, and paid. Ty did not look at either of us once during the exchange, and turned so fast to fix our drinks he nearly fell. I wondered if the smile would ever leave my lips in her presence.
She pulled me over to a table by the huge front window. I hung my coat, soaked through, on a hook nearby and sat across from her. We sat together, neither moving. She looked out the window at the rain, and by the restless shifting of her eyes I fancied I could tell she was missing the feel of the rain. I kept my eyes on her the whole time, until Ty came over with our drinks and her meringue. She turned from the window and looked down at it for a long moment before picking it up and biting a tiny piece off. I watched her chew the pastry slowly, sucking it a little to soften it.
"Such interesting things I keep finding to eat," she said.
"Do you like it?" I sipped my coffee, and watched the steam rising from the cup obscure my vision of her, blurred and perfect as a movie star shot through gauze. Her eyes pierced the haze and forced me to put the cup down.
"What's in this?" she asked suddenly. Her expression, usually so flat and distant, bore into me with an unexpected cutting edge, and I leaned back away from the sharp weight of her regard.
"Eggs and sugar, I think."
"Anything else?" Her voice was the slow dark sucking sound of blind things crawling through a marsh. I had never heard it before, and it made me feel like I was drowning, sinking into mud.
"I don't think so." I fought to make myself heard through the dank earth swallowing me up. I shook my head, and looked at her, and she was distant again, looking out at the rain. I listened to it pound on the roof of the café for a few minutes.
"Are you all right, lady?" I asked. "You're not acting like yourself."
She turned, but did not look at me; instead, she looked behind me and stared at some foreign point for a time. I examined how her cheek curved into her chin while I waited.
She put her hand on the table, a sudden movement without premonition. I slid mine under hers, and was, as always, gripped by the sudden doubt of her humanity. For one fleeting instant, and only at first touch, her delicate, bony hand felt like a razor-sharp hooked claw above my own, poised to maul. But the feeling was familiar, and I shook it away as I always have. I carefully folded my hand around hers.
"And who am I?" she asked. Her voice was the wind screaming through a mountain pass, and it lashed at me, warning me to truth.
"You are my lady," I replied.
"But who am I?"
I narrowed my eyes at her and frowned. I had never heard her say such nonsensical things! Who else could she be? I shook my head, caught between unutterable words.
She caught my eyes in hers then, and there was nothing to be found in their sinking depths but flashes of humor. She cast me out of her spell and pulled her hand from mine to ring both hands around her espresso cup and raise it for a sip.
She spat it out a few seconds later.
"What's wrong?" I was already halfway out of my seat.
"Someone has a strange sense of humor," she said. I took her cup from her hands and drank from it: it had been spiked with garlic. I looked at the counter, and Ty was watching me, face blank as my lady's, yet full of hidden purpose. I went to take the coffee back and demand an explanation when my lady appeared in front of me like an apparition, halting me mid-stride. She had my coat in one arm and took my arm in the other.
"Don't bother," she said. "Let's just go." I nodded, and we headed for the door. But I turned as I threw the espresso in the trash, and made sure Ty saw my snarl. He grinned viciously and without humor in response. I blinked in surprise, and when I opened my eyes, we were standing in front of the fountain, and the rain had stopped, and my lady was pressing hard against my side, under my coat.
"Go for a walk?" she asked me. We often walked through the park surrounding the fountain, and so I started us out on that slow and stately pace that we enjoyed. She slid out from under my coat and took my hand. She looked behind us at the café a number of times before I stopped.
"Something wrong, lady?" I asked.
"Things are happening," she said in a voice that sounded like the scratch of autumn leaves blown against a sidewalk. "Come on." She pulled me away from our usual path, deeper into the lush heart of the park that extended into the city. Her huge green eyes were so wide I could not see past them beyond noting that her pale skin was gaining olive undertones.
I was captivated by the swing of her hair as we moved through the trees, and nearly tripped on an exposed root. I looked away then, and saw that the park we often walked through was not this park, and that we had entered a park with midnight blue trees. The bark felt like velvet when I touched it.
"Don't touch anything," she said and pulled me along behind her faster and faster. Though I am over a foot taller than my lady, I was having trouble pacing her. I started to ask her about the midnight trees when lightning crashed across the sky, a sky that was turbulent with deep red-purple swirls. It was reflected in the slick mirror-ground we were running over. I watched my reflection run for a few strides, then I watched hers. Both were slashed through with the midnight-blue tree roots.
She stopped, and I nearly ran her over as my brain was sluggish in its confusion. She raised herself up on her toes and peered in every direction.
"They surround us," she said, and pressed against me, protecting. I could feel the sharpness of her bones against my soft skin. The trees arched above us, locking limbs high above our heads, and the sky deepened until we stood on reflected crimson.
She looked up at me, upside down like a cat. Her skin was nearly translucent now, and I could see an olive layer lying underneath the smooth line of her cheek. Her eyes were so green, so intense in that dark, menacing place, that the whites were nearly gone and they glowed. They caught me in their usual lure, and I did not let her break the spell.
"Transgressor!" A voice rang out across the unearthly wood, and it was flat and harsh and without meaning or pity.
"Do you love me?" she asked, and her voice sounded like a dying breeze through a garden on a muggy afternoon, and she smelled like the runny spot of rot in a flower.
"Of course I love you." She was so silly, my lady. There was no one else. There never would be.
The empty voice spoke out again. "You will corrupt him no further."
"Believe in me," she said. A pit was yawning beneath us, a dark patch in the mirror-ground that was pulling us in. She gave me a shove, such a powerful, impossible shove that her body should not have been able to countenance, but I soared from her side and away from the sinking pit on safe ground. Men moved out from behind the trees to stand by me, and one put his hand on my shoulder.
"Watch," he said, which was ridiculous, because I had never been able to take my eyes off her. Never.
Her translucent skin glowed like her eyes, and her body scintillated against the air, as if trying to shed that skin. Her bones pushed sharply against her skin, and her eyes were no longer round, but slanted and narrow, and her face was no longer soft, but sharp like a snout. The talon that I had always felt but always doubted was forcing its way through the empty shell of what used to be her hands. The glow raised in intensity and then exploded into brilliant points of light falling away from her reptilian shape, her slanted dragon head. Half her body was already sinking into the pit, and I looked away.
She screamed at my rejection, though to this day I do not know if I turned from the sight of her transformation or from her descent into darkness that I was helpless to stop. The scream cut off as the pit ate her whole.
The man by my side helped me to stand. It was Ty, and he was still in an apron from the café. I decked him. It made my hand hurt, and didn't make me feel better at all. Other men came up to restrain me, but he waved them off.
"It's okay. He earned that one." Ty shook his head and touched his hand to his bleeding lip. One of the other men helped him stand.
"I'm sorry," Ty said. "She couldn't stay with you. She wasn't real."
I looked back at the pit. I looked at Ty. "You saw her."
"Yes," he said. "That was the problem. She was nothing but a harmless sprite, a creature that barely exists. You gave her true life. You believed in her so much that she became real."
"And you," I said, "could not let a miracle be."
"She doesn't belong with people," Ty said. "She is not a person. She is a wish made flesh. And you cannot hold onto wishes."
"Maybe you can't," I said, "but I can."
"This is the way that the world is," Ty said. "There's nothing more I can say." He gestured. The strange landscape faded. It was night, the fountain flowed, the café smelled delectable, the park smelled damp, and I was alone.