Of lone women and distinct men (freewrite fiction #16)
He didn’t look back, didn’t wish to see what the car thought of his leaving, but in his heart, now stilled forever, he felt it might encourage it, might even approve. A few more souls, saved or lost, mattered so little, as long as they didn’t know what happened to them once they stepped out of the light. He made sure to keep a good distance away, so as not to let her guess he was there, though he wasn’t quite sure if she cared or not. They walked, it seemed for a long time, and there were moments where he felt certain that she’d seen him, that any second now, she would stop and turn and catch him out. Scream at him perhaps or cry.
But Eve didn’t cry and if she knew of his presence, she didn’t stop to acknowledge it, because she would have much preferred to forget about him, about the lone street and the car inside the fog. Would’ve liked for her life to go on as it had before, with her father always at the back of her mind and her soul perennially restless.
And the man of lights, he came after her, like an old ghost, like the past refusing to let go. He didn’t know what he was going for, what it was he thought he might see. Her life, the apartment she went back to, cold because she hadn’t had the money to keep it warm enough, but right now, it didn’t matter, for her mind was swimming with the memories of the night before, of the warmth and the life coursing through her veins and then this morning, the visions that had been put in her head, unbidden and unwanted.
Inside her cold morning house, she sat down and stared out the window, looked from the birds to the ground, to the people, and thought about nothing much in particular. No thought of reverence, of grace or peace entered her mind. She found no resolutions for a better life. In earnest, she’d learned nothing from her encounter with the man of lights. And that was just the way things had to be, sometimes.
The man of lights watched her from the threshold, tip-toeing around her delicate life, marveling at this new and strange territory. He was used to their souls becoming his, but for a brief moment, he’d grown accustomed to the gnawing wish that dominates, that he could save and perhaps live their life for them. But this was completely foreign to him and it felt much like trespassing, like he had no right to their lives once they left the beaming of the tail-lights.
And yet, he was here, and yet, he must watch. Must see if Noah Mermont had been right, if something awful truly happened to them or if his sister had been a fluke, a one-time only mistake, because if she had, they could all go back to their lives, as much as folk like them truly lived. There would be no need for a council, no need for him to face the Others and tell them that he’d failed, no need for anything to change. Right now, for all his weariness, the man of lights longed to go on his way once more, alone in his car, with nothing but the sins of mortals for company.
‘If you’re going to stay, you might as well come in,’ the girl said, not turning to look at him. She was folding laundry and thinking about one spring day in her childhood when she’d been mean. She was thinking she’d been a bad little girl for far too long and there was nothing fun about it, nothing sexual. It just felt… cold and dirty and wrong. Just then, Eve truly felt like the biggest sinner of all. And then, she moved on to the next dress in her basket, because life goes on, regardless how much of a bastard you might be.
The man of lights hesitated in the doorway for only a second. He’d been frozen there ever since she’d slammed the door behind her. Or rather no, she hadn’t slammed it, she’d just let it fall, like she couldn’t really be bothered to care for it anymore. Like she couldn’t care for anything just then. The man of lights lifted the shadow he’d wrapped around himself like a warm cloak and covered the distance between them, until he was hovering on the edge of the living room, fixing Eve with his glare.
‘I saw you when you started following me,’ she said. She sounded tired.
‘And you said nothing.’
The girl shook her head. ‘Why would I? I figured you couldn’t do much worse than you’ve already done and if you wanted to follow me, then so be it.’
Fair enough, he couldn’t argue with that.
‘So why are you following me?’ she asked, gesturing for him to sit down. Ever the good host, the man of lights thought and had Eve been able to hear that, she would’ve undoubtedly laughed. She’d never been a good host, she’d never been a good anything.
The man of lights took a moment, thought, as was his habit, before he spoke. Should his theory be correct, then she’d remember everything in the morning anyway, so he might as well tell her the truth. Should he be wrong, then she wouldn’t really remember in the morning, so either way, he was safe. In this mess, it seemed he was the only one who was safe. So he told her.
‘I’m curious. I need to see if you remember this tomorrow.’
To his surprise, the girl laughed, and it suited her. She looked like a goddess when she laughed, ready to snare mortals in her greedy grasp. And yet, somehow, it was always her got snared.
‘I thought you said I wouldn’t,’ she said, watching him intently. She wasn’t scared and it delighted him. Furthermore, she was curious, she wanted to see what he saw, somehow knew what he saw was more interesting than the rest. It was a fascination the man of lights knew well, this neediness for adventure, for reality. Be a pity to tell her all he saw was smoke and mirrors.
‘I did, but I don’t know that to be true. I thought I did, but…’
But then a girl died, who wasn’t supposed to and whose face he could not, for the life of him, remember. And he found himself telling Eve about Cami Mermont and about her brother and about the House of Shadows and the King of the Old World. And there she sat, listening without so much as a blink, beckoning the story further.
‘You’re good at this,’ he said, once he’d finished his tale. ‘You have a gift for listening.’
The girl shrugged, looked younger and the man of lights realized that all this while, she hadn’t once thought about her father. Or about the man with the sinner’s eyes, whom she kept buried so deep inside her heart, forever an open wound that she did not wish to let heal.
‘I’ve heard many stories,’ said she, and in her mind, he glimpsed all of those, briefly, the lies caught in a dance with the truth, making for a surreal tapestry in her head. ‘I like yours, it’s a good story,’ she said, eventually, running her hand over a shirt, smoothing the creases in her path.
‘And how do you think it ends?’ he asked, unable to help himself. Her guess was as good at his, and perhaps she’d see some truth he hadn’t before.
‘I think there are countless ways it can end, though I don’t think you being here will provide much of an answer.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I mean, if I go the same way as this girl, then you wouldn’t be able to stop me. I don’t think anyone would, if anything you would have made it worse by your story.’
There was a hint of disbelief in the man of lights’ voice. All this time, it had never occurred to him that he might be utterly helpless, should push come to shove.
‘Because it’s full of sadness. If anything, it attests to the horrible in people and why would anyone want to keep living for something like that?’
‘Perhaps, but at least I would have something to tell the Others, I would have learned something new.’
‘Yes, but that won’t help you find out why this is happening, if it truly is something. Besides, I don’t think you’re here to see if I remember or not. I think you’re here for yourself. You want to see what happens once people walk away from you, because you never get to hear the end. You always hear bits of stories. Fractures, but never the whole.’
‘There’s no whole,’ the man of lights said quickly. ‘Because stories never end.’
‘No, but you’ve come to expect one anyway. Like a child left on a cliffhanger – did she forget or didn’t she? Did the monster gobble the princess up in the end? Perhaps you’ve grown tired of stories.’
She looked so calm and wise, he wondered what hope he could have, if she couldn’t solve his mystery, then the Others had little chance.
‘I met a friend of yours, not too long ago.’
The man of lights couldn’t be sure why he’d said it. He hadn’t meant to, in fact, when it had briefly passed through his mind, he’d dismissed it as an absurd notion. But then again, him sitting here discussing the problems of the universe with a sinner was an absurd notion in itself, and yet, here he was.
Her eyes shone at once, almost as if she knew without another word whom me referred to.
‘What friend?’ she asked, her voice small in her throat, her heart thudding against her rib-cage, as it always did when she thought of him.
‘I didn’t catch his name,’ he said, realizing too late that what he was doing was cruel and unnecessary. ‘But he was a man of distinct eyes and knew you well.’
The girl nodded, aging a good ten years in the time it took for him to speak.
‘How is he?’ she asked, after a time of silence.
‘Well, he’d thought about you a lot in the past.’
‘But not anymore.’
The man of lights shook his head. ‘He should have forgotten you by now.’
She was nodding, but her eyes had ran away, her whole being had, as it always did when she felt herself cornered. Eve was never the sort of woman to stay in a place for long.
‘But maybe he didn’t, right?’
From across the room, he could feel her anger boiling, turning her blood all sour. And for a second, he thought she was angry with him for bringing up someone she would have rather thought dead. No, not dead, she would’ve never been able to think of him deep in the ground, just someone she’d rather not think about.
Except she wasn’t. She was angry with herself, furious at that faint trace of hope rising inside her voice. That perhaps he hadn’t forgotten her, that perhaps he missed her just as hard as she missed him.
‘You know I don’t have that answer,’ the man of lights tried to mollify her.
‘And yet, he thought of me, but I didn’t think of him.’ She turned her gaze once more on him and her eyes, he saw, had turned to ice.
‘That’s because you don’t regret anything that happened between you, while he does. Or did, at least.’
She nodded and, without another word, stood up, carried her laundry and her mind to the privacy of his own room, but not before the man on lights could steal away a few snippets of her thoughts, and all she could think of was, why should he then get to forget when she never would?
He could’ve answered her, just as he’d done before, and he knew she would have believed him. Perhaps that’s why he chose not to say anything, in the end. Telling her that this man of hers had wanted to forget her, in truth, while Eve could have never lived with herself without his memory to keep her warm at nights, that would have brought nothing but misery.
As the day went on, they talked of other things, the world and the universe, then again, of nothing much. She told him her secrets and he, in turn, told her some of his. She ordered a pizza, which he declared horrible and then, he let her go to bed, for she was tired and no one can learn the mysteries of the world all in one day.
The man of lights watched her sleep. In another life, he might have loved her and in yet another, she might have loved him, with her soft hair and her big, deer’s eyes, with her soul broken, wrapped inside an old, tattered piece of cloth, carrying it around, hoping someone would see it in them to save her. But he knew no one would.
‘You’re not as dirty as you think, Eve,’ the man of lights whispered in the darkness, and then he let her be. He tried not to make a noise as he walked through the soundless, sleeping house, looking at the photographs from when Eve had been a little girl in a misaligned Garden of Eden. Once more, he saw the old man he had seen in the morning, staring out at the camera with a large grin on his face. For him, that stubborn little girl had been all the family he would ever need, and for that little girl, the old man had been the whole wide world. She would never forgive herself for how she’d treated him and perhaps she didn’t have to. In the still, quiet house, he understood what Eve had said that morning. He understood that without this guilt she carried inside her, she wouldn’t be the same person.
He sat on the couch, thinking to close his eyes, even though he wouldn’t sleep. Wait for the morning, but the couch was cold. The man of lights dug in his pockets and placed a bundle on the coffee table, one he hoped she wouldn’t see until after he was gone. Perhaps he couldn’t do anything to make her forget her monsters, but he could try and make her warm again.
When he opened his eyes, it was morning, and Eve hovered above him uncertainly. He could tell from one single look at her face that she didn’t remember why he was here, only vaguely had an idea who he was, although not a real one. Wondered if maybe she’d slept with him, and if so, what was he doing out here.
‘I’m a friend,’ he said simply, standing up and brushing off his coat. She would’ve liked to fight him, he saw it in her, but still, she stood still. Quiet let him lean in above her and brush his lips against her forehead. It was the first time he’d shown tenderness to someone in… he couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that and a small part of him would have liked to stay here with her, forget, or rather embrace his demons, like she had.
But the man of lights had never been one to embrace his demons. It was not in his nature, and so, he walked on.
to be continued