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 Not Today & Not Tomorrow
XANDER
 Posted: Nov 20 2017, 11:07 AM
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local advice god
Group: Admin
Posts: 1142
Joined: 21-February 11

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« A Letter Opener

- - - - - - - - - - - -


She meant to wait.

She waited for as long as she could stand to, the days rolling into nights rolling into days. Iris still did not particularly understand what she was waiting for, knowing only that she was told that she had to wait. She knew that she was being punished - punished for leaving, punished for not coming back fast enough, and now her days were cursed to pass in an ugly blur, a smudge of charcoal and gray watercolor. She wished she remembered what she did with that time, but the memories did not come to her the way they did in Paris. In Paris, there had been a reason for living, a structure to life, a goal. In Paris, she could easily tell herself what she had done on Monday, what she intended to do Wednesday; everything was in sharp, colorful relief, forced to be that way through a combination of novelty and sheer will. Now - now she had been robbed. She was a hostage to her own dream, to Margaret's promise - a life without pain. To have that life, she burned the hours to ash.

But the life did not come. Ariel did not come. Even his poetry, which made its way over the oceans to occasionally appear in this or that publication, or was read by one of his friends at a salon, tapered off. He faded from the world they had inhabited together, present only in her sudden, random recollections when faced with particular tableaus. One evening she was standing alone under the trees along the boulevard, walking to her apartment, and it began to rain, and she could hear his laughter so clearly that Iris thought she was going to be sick, right there on the street.

Numbness overtook her again. She welcomed it, that numbness, because anything was better than that grinding agony that boiled up from her bones, seeping into her blood. She reminded herself that she had been in pain in Ariel's company, that she had suffered under the sway of his influence and his blind cruelty - and yet she had been able to tolerate it all, because he loved her, because she knew that he loved her in a way that no one else could. In better times they had joked about such a thing, but near the end, she had threatened him. 'Don't ever tell me you're the only one who can love me!' He had quickly surrendered the point.

First his love had been the prize, won at a price; then it had been a curse which she fled. She thought that he was the source of her pain. But the pain was unending, coming from somewhere deeper inside of her, and she had not even the solace of accusation. Numbness would do.

She waited, and she waited, and she waited. Winter melted into spring.

She had a dream.

They were standing in a field covered in wildflowers, on the top of one hill amidst others. Towards the west, at the bottom of their hill, across a meadow, a forest of oaks began. They were dressed all in white, standing across from one another. Ariel was holding her gloved hands in his. "Promise me," he said to her, "That you'll go and be happy. Promise me that."

Iris heard her own voice speak, but did not think the words. She was trapped in her body as something else spoke through her, some want or memory she could not feel. "You think I won't be happy without you?" Her tone was mocking.

"Just promise me that if you're leaving, that it's to go and be happy."

The mocking voice laughed. Iris pulled her hands from Ariel's, clasping them in front of her. "Alright, alright, I promise."

Over Ariel's shoulder, dark clouds were flowing from the forest beyond, over the horizon. As the clouds came forward, casting its shadows over the meadow, the flowers went gray and withered to ash. The clouds were unfurling towards them like ominous banners, devouring the color and the light, coming closer to them, towards their hill. Ariel stepped back, away from her, towards the darkness. "Alright then. Remember that you promised."

The clouds were coming faster and faster. He was going the wrong way. A scream rose in her throat, but she could not open her mouth. Instead, her face was fixed in a cool smile. Ariel stepped back, and back, and back, still facing her, his own smile fading to contained misery, until at once the darkness came up to his place on the hill, and he turned away from her. All his clothes turned gray; his blue eyes became gray; the skin of his face took on a gray tint. The only brightness left to him was his halo of blonde hair. The clouds halted their advance. She stood in the light and the color of the world, her hands folded in front of her, as Ariel turned away and walked down the hill. As he brushed through the flowers of ash, they dissolved. The wind blew through the meadow and caught the ash, blowing it back to her.

She wanted to go after him. She wanted to shout. It was wrong, she knew, for her to stand here in the better half of the world, whole and untouched. She did not know why it was wrong - only that she had been made to promise something she could not keep. She remembered it now, how Ariel had been most impossible to control in these moments, because she could never predict his fearless sincerity. Sometimes he was cowardly, dismissive, afraid, just as other people were; in those moments she understood how to press on the cracks in the glass of his spirit, to bring him to heel. But there were moments, as now, when he blinded her with vulnerability, and she could not see that he had exposed her in turn until it was too late.

She stood on the hill as he walked away from her, flattening a path through the ash. When he reached the forest, the clouds rolled back to him, withdrawing. Then, he turned to look at her. Somehow, she could suddenly see his face so close, as if she was standing right in front of him. She heard him whisper. "Iris. Don't forget." From him, from the line of the forest, light flowed again; flowers came alive again in a wave. All that was left was the flattened path he trod, a dirt path empty of flowers. Her eyes felt wet; her gaze dropped. When she looked up, away from her feet, he was gone.

When she woke up in her room, she could hear birds singing. The numbness had rolled back again, to show her the dull ache in her heart. She pressed her face into her pillow. She willed herself not to cry.

I have to leave this place. I have to.



When Regus found her, she was in Prague. Though the spring proved to be tough and cold, she gave herself over to it with as much zeal as she could muster. Sometimes Iris reflected that Prague was significantly more joyless than Paris, but she reminded herself that Paris has been a kind of dream, a fantasy. If she had returned to Paris as she was now, she risked finding that her memories of it were another invention of her whims; she preferred to leave those memories intact. So Prague it was.

She had only seen him a handful of times, drifting in Ariel's shadow, vanishing around corners and through doorways just as she arrived. When she tried to summon a memory of his face, she could only project the most generic features onto a flat facade. And yet she knew him when he came to the studio. She knew him as he came in, her back to the door, felt the long shadow of his presence and realized, with a deep sigh, that he intended to speak to her whether she wanted to speak to him or not. She could walk away, leave the room, ignore him, but it would only lead to further aggravation, if he proved to Iris that she could not escape him. It was better to feel as if she somehow accepted this, as opposed to it being willed upon her.

She did not turn to say hello. She continued to sit on her stool, facing her easel and her sketch. She heard his footsteps cross the empty room, where the easels of other artists sat half-finished and unattended. Then, when he was very close, within arm's reach, she heard him say, "Prague?"

"It's no Paris." At last, she turned. Her grip on her pencil tightened. When she saw his face, it was impossible to believe she had never seen him before, that they had never met. Regus had that same cool, detached expression that Margaret always wore - Margaret who had not come after Iris, when she left London. She must have been considered a lost cause.

"Why not Paris again?" Unlike Ariel, who had made attempts to conceal when he was mocking her, there was no varnish to Regus's tone. He clasped his hands behind him and rocked back slightly on his heels. He looked away, surveying the room, its high ceilings, its emptiness.

"Surely you know," she said. She curled her hands into her lap. "He would find me again there."

"What's it matter to you if he finds you? Aren't you in the business of finding yourself?" He looked down from the ceiling, to her face. He was smiling.

She laughed, loud and clear, and in the sound she felt something lift from her, some heavy deception she'd draped over her heart. She tore it off and threw it away. "I thought I was. But I didn't like what I was finding."

"Do you intend to never see him again?"

"I can't imagine it." It was the truth. She was breathing heavily now, forcing it, great deep breaths to try and steady herself. "I can't imagine facing him."

"He'd forgive you."

"I know. I hate it."

"Why?"

"Because I remember the way we used to look at other people. The way we used to talk about them. When I think about his forgiving me for being one of those people - I am so sick I can't stand upright." Other people - those people - no one outside of their world had been safe from their cruel analysis. The walls they built between themselves and the world had been works of art; they were beautiful, articulate, reassuring, the horrors of the outside world rendered comprehensible and cast out. She had left the safety of their sanctuary when she left Ariel; of course he had torn the walls down, to pursue her. She hadn't thought about it then, how frightening the world beyond the walls was. She hadn't thought about how she could never confess to missing those walls, because they would reveal - to herself as well as others - that it had been their shared nature to be ungenerous towards others, to love each other better.

"He is very different now."

"I'm sure he is, and that's even worse - because I'm different, but I'm not so different that I could--" The words caught in her throat. She took a breath, and exhaled them. "--feel equal."

Regus tilted his chin down, and smiled as he arched his eyebrows. "You mean, feel superior."

"No." She felt her face heat with shame.

"Yes. In all the ways he could measure you, he would favor your strengths, diminish your weaknesses... and only ever find you equal, if not the better. But that generosity would not be good enough, if you could not make him feel afraid."

"The conclusion is not real, if it's been decided before the start."

"You insist on not knowing any conclusion."

She smiled bitterly. She thought of Ariel, far away in his hidden world, dogged by this plague of a man. How did he stand it? "If I stay in Prague - if I stay away from him, forever and ever - then..." She half-turned back to the easel. In profile, she looked starved, weak. "Then maybe he will grow small, and the person I'll be won't include him anymore. He'll shrivel up, and die inside me."

"Is being forgiven so awful to you?"

"I don't want to be forgiven!" she shouted. Iris did not intend to lose her temper, but she did. The blush in her face spread through her body. Her empty hand curled into a fist. "I want to have been right!" She turned her back to Regus and threw her pencil down. "I didn't want him to change! I wanted him to be what I said he was, and now he's what I said he wasn't. There's no way around that, no matter how hard I try." She felt pressure building in her chest, compressing her lungs, quickening her heart rate. Other people - people who weren't Ariel - pretended they had forgotten that they were right, if it meant sparing their friends or family the humiliation of confession. Other people did not require their loved ones to admit that they had been wrong all along, and that they had been warned, and that they had chosen to be fools. Ariel would only expose her shame. "I'll die," she said, her voice shaking, "Before I face him. I'll die."

The room was quiet. She stared at the pencil on the floor, focusing on the shape of it, its black lacquer, the pale, dirty tile it rested on. The silence floated around her like a sheet tossed over a piece of furniture, and slowly, the quiet settled upon them, on the contours. She prayed he would speak no more.

"Life is very long, to feel that way forever."

"I won't feel this way forever. I'll forget."

"You'll always be at risk for remembering. A throwaway line in a book, a piece of music, the smell of fresh flowers - anything could make you remember, and your feelings will be new again." His voice sounded faraway now, like they were trapped inside a dream.

"I'm not going to him." She was insistent on this point. She had nothing else to hold to.

"I know."

"Then why did you come?"

"So I may try to convince him that you will never go to him."

Iris felt another stab of hate in her heart. She did not want Ariel to be allowed the release of not waiting; she wanted him trapped at that imaginary train station, hostage to a train that ran late forever. "That's none of your business."

"It is my only business."

"How do you know I won't go? How do you know I won't change my mind?"

"The only moments that matter are today and tomorrow. Today you will not go to him, and tomorrow you will not go to him either. It is simply a matter of convincing him that you are one of the people he cannot save, and not one of those that he can."

"No one can save everyone - if anyone can save anyone else at all."

"Yes, but everyone can save someone."

The pressure in her chest dissipated, and became hysteria. She slid from her stool and crouched to pick up her pencil. "Well, you still don't know that--" As she picked the pencil up, she turned to face Regus again. The room was empty.

He was gone.

Today you will not go to him. Tomorrow you will not go to him either. The whole future stretched out before her in a series of todays and tomorrows, of endless broken promises, of dates and appointments put off indefinitely. She saw her entire life delayed by minutes and hours, until there was no time left at all, and all her hopes had expired. She sat down on the stool quickly, to keep from collapsing.

"You don't know that I won't go back." She said it aloud to the empty room, practically shouting it. The words bounced off the easels and the walls, and rebounded upon her. She said it again, whispering. "You don't know."

But he did.

She pressed her hands to her face and wept.

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