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 A Letter Opener
 Posted: Aug 13 2017, 04:05 PM

local advice god
Group: Admin
Posts: 1158
Joined: 21-February 11

Status: Offline


« A Letter Not Today & Not Tomorrow »

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"It rains so much here," she said, staring out the window. "Tell me why I'm here again." Iris felt like she had known, once - or she had led herself to believe that she knew, or she had turned her thoughts away from the 'why' with such willfulness that it had not managed to impose upon her conscious mind. Now she was here, and Ariel was gone, and she had come all this way for no reason at all. It had been weeks since they had gone to the flat to find men moving the furniture away, and still, Margaret said they could not go to Paris. "Tell me."

She asked this often enough, waiting for the answer to change. Sometimes she asked with no one else in the apartment, just to hear her own voice. Maybe there would be an answer in the silence. More often, though, she asked when she knew that Margaret was there. Standing in her bedroom, looking into the tiny garden behind the building, she could feel Margaret's shadow across the cold room, a shady heat. Sometimes, she asked when the room was empty, and suddenly it was not empty, though she had not heard the door open, or heard Margaret's footsteps.

"We are waiting." Margaret was embroidering something, sitting in a dark corner of the room. The gray light of the afternoon rain flickered across her face.


"For him to come back."

Iris looked away from the window, to watch Margaret's hands. They moved so quickly, so sharply, so decisively. Iris wondered how she could move so quickly without pricking her finger or breaking the needle. "Because?"

"Because everything depends on it."

The days were passing differently now. It was hard to explain. In Paris, she had been so convinced that she was getting away from Ariel - that she had gotten away from him, and punished him. She had made friends; she had been celebrated and cherished; she had lived her own life. Then she left it, and come back to London. Now she did the same things - she made friends, she was celebrated, she was cherished - and it was not the same. Paris had required the reference point of London, of knowing that Ariel was here, being miserable. Now he was not here, and apparently, increasingly less miserable - happy enough that he could abandon his post, his past, no longer content to wait for her.

She had believed he would wait for her.

"What are you thinking about?" Margaret's voice moved behind her. Without looking over her shoulder, Iris guessed she had gone from sitting in the corner chair to sitting on the bed. Her embroidery was still across her lap. Iris was curled up in the window seat. She could see the pattern that Margaret was working at now - a bouquet of blue roses.

"About how I feel." When Iris did not want to feel, she was inexorably drawn to obsessing over it, and when she did want to feel, she searched wildly and found emptiness.

"How do you feel today?"

"Why?" Iris asked. "Why does none of it matter?"

"Nothing matters?" Margaret looked up. She smiled.

"Nothing matters," Iris echoed. "I take what I want. I live as I wish. I thought it mattered, in Paris. Now I know that nothing matters. There is no end to the nothingness." In so many of her trials and sufferings, Ariel had been the common thread - ever present, always returning, waxing and waning. She thought that by ripping him out, she would find a new way in the world. But getting rid of him had been more like ripping the spine away from a book, and the pages of her life were scattered. Iris bowed her head and shook it. Her voice broke. "Why did I ever believe otherwise?"

"Revenge makes us believe things that we know aren't really true."

Iris's mouth twisted in grief. She felt the muscles in her throat tightened, and the sweet-salty taste of tears behind her tongue. "Did I hate him so much?"

"You still hate him that much," Margaret corrected. Iris turned in the window seat, to see that Margaret had paused in her embroidery. It seemed, however, that her hands were virbating with the efforts of stillness. Though Iris was in her nightgown, Margaret was still fully dressed, as if she was minutes away from being summoned for tea. She looked thoughtful. "You hate him in lieu of hating yourself."

"I hate myself this much?" The question resonated within her.

"It's easier, isn't it?" Margaret said rhetorically, as if the question hadn't been asked. "You can get away from him. You can write about him. You can think of ways to punish him. You can think of how to be different from him. You can talk about him, and get people to agree with you about him. There is so, so much you can do, to hate him."

"What is the point of all this?!" Iris didn't mean to shout, and she didn't mean to ask. She clenched her fists in her lap, and bared her teeth. Often the question lingered on the edges of her mind, but it never got any closer. Sometimes, when Margaret was away for a few days, the question - why? - would cross over from the frontier and send Iris's head spinning. What was this woman, and what did she want? Why Iris? Why Ariel? Tonight was the first time she had been able to put it into words.

Today, Margaret turned her head and looked at Iris. She looked thoughtful again, and got up off the bed. Her embroidery vanished from her hands as if it had never been there; it simply blinked out of existence. She went over to Iris's writing desk, and picked up the letter opener that was laying there. Then she came over to Iris, and sat at the window seat.

"Look," Margaret said. She laid her hand flat against the window. Iris noted the paleness of her hand, the curves of her long nails. When she looked to Margaret's other hand, she saw that Margaret was drawing the letter opener back. Iris opened her mouth, and Margaret brought the letter opener against her hand on the window with great force, piercing the flesh. Behind her hand, the window cracked.

Iris felt her heart stop. Her stomach turned over. Blood spread slowly around the letter opener, and rolled down the glass. The sound of the rain grew louder through the crack. Iris could not take her eyes away as Margaret drew the letter opener out and took her hand away, leaving a smear of blood in its wake. Iris wanted to scream, but she had no voice. She wanted to faint, but she could not. Margaret held her hand out, palm down. Iris stared at it.

She couldn't say how long it took, but she looked for a long time, until the ugly gash in Margaret's hand slowly closed. It closed, then scabbed, and then the scab flaked away, and there was nothing. There was only the crack in the glass and the blood on the window, and the sound of the rain, and the beating of her own heart.

Without fanfare, Margaret took the letter opener and smeared the blood across the skirt of Iris's nightgown. Iris found it within her to scream, stand up, and stumble back towards the bed. Tears leapt to her eyes.

"You're insane!" She was crying. All at once, she was afraid, and angry, and fascinated, and miserable. She wanted nothing more than a life of simple happiness, or so she told herself, and she was offered instead this complex horror. "What do you want?!"

"What would you give," Margaret asked, her voice and gaze level, "to never hurt again?"

"You're insane," Iris repeated, her voice in a low whisper. Then she was swallowed by silence, as she sat down on the bed. The door was not so far. She could turn and run downstairs, lock herself in another room, and scream until someone found her. She could wait until this monster ran away, and she would go back to Paris, and she would start over again, this time for good. "You're insane." Iris said it again, because Margaret's question loomed large in her mind - the temptation of it, the impossibility of it. To never hurt again? It was all she had ever wanted.

She could not run. Iris wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at the streak of blood, and the blood on the window. She could not bring herself to leave. There was a feeling here that defied the emptiness, and a promise for that which no city, no person, no food or drink could offer her. It was a promise for the end of pain. If there was no pain, perhaps there would be only pleasure. At the very least, she would not look out the window into the city and feel her heart breaking, over and over and over.

"Is he like you?" she found herself asking. "Your friend? The one that is with Ariel?" Iris remembered him as a shadow in Ariel's shadow, a stranger who never smiled up at her.

"We are the same."

It made Iris sick, to imagine this kind of creature at Ariel's side. She tried to think back of when she had first become aware of Regus, first in jest, a purported imaginary friend, to a handful of times she saw Ariel parting ways with him to join Iris someplace else, a museum or a garden or a cafe, until he was almost always there, just around the corner, just out of sight, though Iris was never alone with him herself. She could not remember ever having spoken to him.

"And what was he promised?" Envy stabbed her heart. She hated the blood on her nightgown, she hated this offer, this temptation, and yet, why had Margaret come to her so late?

"I do not know what Regus's plan is." At this, Margaret turned to look out the window herself. She patted the empty seat beside her. "Come sit down again."

Iris hesitated. Margaret said nothing, and waited. After a few minutes, Iris took her old seat. The blood was fading from the window.

"Hate him," Margaret sighed, "Hate him as much as you like. It doesn't matter. He's winning."

"This isn't a game," Iris said acidly, sniffling and rubbing the tears from her face. "This is not a sport to be won or lost. Are we even playing the same game?"

Margaret sighed again, as if Iris had not spoken. "We've already lost so much time. Regus took him out of London." Margaret wrinkled her nose. She looked down at her own hands, palms up, and opened and closed them. "I don't know how we're going to catch up."

"What does this have to do with what you said? The end of pain?" Ariel came second to what Margaret had mentioned. Iris decided she would tolerate whatever Margaret was rambling about, if she could have this question answered.

"You don't get it," Margaret folded her hands in her lap. "Ariel was the answer to all your pain. He was the question, and the answer. But you got rid of him before you figured it out, and now he's the question without the answer."

Iris wrinkled her eyebrows together in frustration. Margaret was speaking total nonsense. "I don't understand what you mean."

"He was a perfect mirror. And at the same time, he was the perfect vessel for all the things you wish you weren't, or didn't want to do. He was the key you threw away before you applied it to the lock. And you spent so long making that key. You spent years making that key. And you threw it away!"

Margaret spoke as if she had been observing Iris for much longer than Iris had realized. Again, she felt a surge of annoyance. "I can make a new one," Iris argued. "I can start over with someone else."

"Do you think you will be so lucky, to find another such mirror?"

Iris was silent. She had never come so close to admitting her influence over Ariel, and her hand in his nature. Certainly Margaret was right in that they had been very similar people, people whose inclinations and sorrows shared common, fertile ground, and Iris would allow her that much - but to admit that she had preferred Ariel a certain way, that she had cultivated some of his less than admirable habits, was too much a reflection on herself. Then again, if Ariel had been hers to make, who was he to unmake himself?

"Precisely." Margaret looked at her healed hand, turning it over, left and right. "You can go wherever you want, Iris. You can do whatever you want. You're clever. You're beautiful. You will not lack for material things for very long. But nothing you ever do will change how you threw away the key to your troubles. You will always be the person who did that."

Iris reached over and shoved Margaret, trying to push her off the windowseat.

Margaret caught herself, one hand against the wall, and laughed. "Unfortunate, isn't it?"

"You talk," Iris said furiously, "Like there aren't a hundred thousand different people to replace him. Like people don't turn away from other people every day. Like lovers don't separate and remarry new lovers. Like authors don't write new stories. Like people don't change."

"Do they change?" Margaret ask. "Or do they change their clothes? Their backdrops? The music playing behind it? Do people change?"

"Some of them do," Iris said. She was almost shouting again, with her tears barely dried on her face. She had forgotten her promise of forbearance to herself. "I can change. I don't need Ariel."

"Then go to him," Margaret taunted. "Make your amends. Show how much you don't need to hate him."

"I have no amends to make," Iris hissed.

Margaret pointed a finger at her. "That," she said, "is why he is winning."

"And what is that?"

"He took everything, and you gave it all away. You gave him all the blame, all the responsibility - and he took it. He bore it all. He carried it all with him. You thought you had given him hay, and now he has spun it into gold, and you are left with nothing. How do you intend to make something from nothing?"

Arguing with Margaret made her head and her chest hurt. Iris turned away to look out the window again. She pulled her knees to her chest, trying to make herself small. "What am I supposed to do?"

"We are waiting."

"For when he comes back."

"Yes. Or for when you are ready to go out and find him."

"And what would I do when I found him?"

Margaret shrugged, then looked to the letter opener. "We shall see."

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