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 justice
XANDER
 Posted: Mar 14 2016, 12:21 AM
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written november 2015, edited march 2016

The Same »

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She stumbled into hating Ariel, in a way very different than she had fallen in love with him. She felt herself falling in love with him, perhaps even planned on it, and tumbled freely into that abyss. Hating him was very different: Iris felt like she was nudged, shoved, practically bullied into it, though she did not realize, and could not realize, that she was still carried by her own will, graceless though it was. When she arrived at hate, it felt inevitable, like gravity or death, and there was no use in fighting it. She hated him at the same time that she still loved him, but the hate was stronger.

When she left for Paris, she carried with her a sense of renewed dignity. She felt her heart lighten on the ship that ferried her across the Channel; it was as though all her burdens and misgivings had been left behind in England. Adding to that lofty feeling was a certain smugness, for Ariel had been terrifically disconsolate.

In their innumerable skirmishes against one another, Iris was dogged by the sense that Ariel always beat her in the end, even when he accepted blame. He embraced his sins and was reborn as a martyr; she was not his critic, but his conduit to greatness. For someone so riddled with faults, the world looked on him with warm forgiveness and smiling opportunities. It offered Iris no such warmth.

The future that awaited her would be different. She left Ariel, and that was victory. He would be sad, and he would miss her, and he would regret. He deserved to suffer the way she had been suffering, looking at him, listening to him, breathing in his air. That was justice.

*

But Paris did not welcome her hatred with open arms. It took a neutral stance on the waning and waxing of her love, and no grand affairs or romances leapt straightforth into her lap. Its generosity began and ended with Milly, formally the Viscountess de Declaire. In her doughy face and tiny ears, Iris found an eager listener ─ the eagerness, she discovered, of a vulture.

Millicent de Declaire loved heartbreak, wrath, covetousness, envy, jealousy, and acts of revenge; she was a very successful and cunning Parisian. She loved falling in love herself, and loved it so much that she fell out of it just as frequently, with the general aspiration to fall back in as quickly as possible. She came across Iris at the milliner’s (what a joke!), and, sensing a story behind the woebegone shine in the girl's eyes, invited Iris to dinner.

"No, Iris, no ─ you should never have to work so hard at loving someone. Never." Today they were having little almond meringues with tea and playing whist; Milly was trying to teach Iris how to play a little better, so she wouldn't lose all her money at the next informal dinner gathering. There were infinite gatherings, and thus infinite opportunities to lose money, as well as one’s heart and soul. Milly's maid sat playing with them, to provide a third player.

"I agree," Iris sighed. "I don't know why I held on for so long."

"Just the foolishness of youth," Milly concluded. "You think all that inelegant laboring is meaningful." Her glassy green eyes sharpened as the maid laid down her card. Milly collected another trick. "Practically speaking, you should aim to do as little work as possible. The best parts of love are the parts with no work at all."

Milly's confident declarations sang in harmony with the raw wounds in Iris's heart. She dreamed of an effortless romance, a communion of perfect understanding between two hearts, one that would make good on all her romantic ideals. When she thought of Ariel now, it was hard to remember if they had ever been that way. Was there a time when he had been transparent to her, like clear water beneath a blue sky? She could not think of anyone she had ever met that was like him.

"I thought loyalty was a virtue."

"Hmph!" Milly huffed through her nose. "Loyalty is a virtue ─ of the foolish. Fortune favors us one day, then casts us off the next ─ so too it is with men. They abandon even the most dedicated if the wind changes. Why shouldn't we do the same? Now, Iris, you're not even trying to remember how to play..."

"He hated my idealism."

"Men hate anything they can't shackle. If they could collar their wives and keep them in cages, they would."

It was true. Iris was not even trying to get better at playing cards. Cards offered her the opportunity to listen to Milly's endless chatter; while it grated on her nerves, it was still better than silence.

*

Silence held dominion over Iris's apartment, unless she opened her window to let in the sounds of the street below. Each night, she climbed to the second floor of the boarding house and looked out past the walkway, past the garden, over the garden wall and the iron gate, to watch the carriages pass. The silence seemed to have something to say. It seemed to be waiting.

The silence waited very patiently. It waited through weeks of Milly's tea parties and dinner parties, her society introductions and her balls, where Iris was introduced and fawned over and praised for her striking good looks ─ her dark hair, her glowing eyes. It waited through the heart-fluttering dances across patterned marble floors; it waited through endless whist games. Meanwhile, Paris was awake all through the days and the nights, and happy to provide Iris with a delightful cacophony.

But there came the day─ and it was abrupt, that day ─ when she was doing passably well at whist, and Milly's mood had taken a poor turn, used to winning as she was.

"I'm tired of Baron du Maurier," she complained. "He never says anything worth listening to anymore."

"Is that so?" Iris took a happy sip of her tea. Weeks of enduring Milly’s nattering and nagging were paying off. "Just last week you were madly in love with him, only, he was talking over you all the time."

Milly laid down her card with a tentative roll of her wrist, and frowned when her maid, Daphne, collected the trick. "Now he's always waiting for me to finish my sentences, and when he starts in, everything he says is a bore." She gave a long-winded sigh. "When people change because they're in love with you ─ it's impossible. They inevitably expect the same in return."

Iris felt a clear blue icicle pass into her heart. She kept her face still, to keep Milly from detecting how the words had moved her. "Isn't that fair?"

"Oh, darling ─ love isn't about changing! Or at least, one should never change in love on purpose. When you change for someone else, you will always hate yourself. And if someone else changes for you, why, they're ruining themselves! They always ruin the parts you love, always always. So you hate them. And you hate yourself. That's the end of love."

*

Iris could not remember any of the game after that. The silence did not have statements for Iris: it had questions. What were her ideals? And why did she hate Ariel, after all?

She remembered sitting in the park with him in spring, with the flowers in bloom. She had started to hate him then, and somehow, he had known it, and become obsessed with it. He picked apart her words, her poems, every bat of her lashes, secluding himself in his home and ignoring her for weeks. But when he returned to her ─ oh! ─ it filled her with such hope, that the hate would leave her. She could remember looking through the park at the winding paths, flanked with roses, pink and white. The smell of them was heavy on the lazy May wind. Ariel held her hand and told her he would always love her, forever.

But if he had loved her, why had he filled his life with so many things that were not her? He collected friends and acquaintances, property and promotions, polishing himself and his life with a single-minded dedication. She had loved him just fine before it all, when he was awkward and alone and without prospects. She had loved him when she was his only friend, the only person in his world. Even when he had hurt her terribly, she exulted in the faith of their eternal, untouchable love.

When a farmer has only one horse, he takes care of that horse as though it was an extension of himself, because it is his life, and he cannot simply happen upon another one. When he has a stable, every horse is compared to the next, for breeding, for racing, for riding, and each is always at risk for being found wanting. At least, that is how Iris felt about it. Fear weighed on her like heavy drops on fragile flower petals, before the storm rips them away entirely.

It was loathsome that he, Ariel, should have the leverage to only want her, and not to need her. He took all her ideals for faulty plans, and her romanticism for misguided optimism; he was always bringing reality into her dreams, dimming them. He was ready to pardon her mistakes at every turn, holding on to her beyond any reasonable level of human dignity, and she despised him. In short, he was hideous, he was cruel, he was beyond forgiveness.

But he had changed for her. He had made himself more beautiful so that she, Iris, could be in possession of something more beautiful. Still she hated him.

What if he did not love her, if she came back to London? Thinking of it alone in her room, she had to get up from her chair and lie down on the bed. What if he did not love her anymore? It was hard to imagine what that would look like, but she had spurned him so deeply this time, it might truly occur to him to cease loving. Ariel was so good at accomplishing the things he decided to do.

She sat up and went to her desk, and drew out a paper to write a letter. When she lifted her pen, her mind became as blank as the page. She wanted to tell him to wait, to not fall in love with anyone else. She would come back to London. Wait for her.

Only, Iris hated him still. The thought of being in the same room with him, and his friends, and his admirers, made her nauseous. The thought of writing him anything at all was humiliating and infuriating. Acknowledging him would only further convince him of his unfaltering predictive powers. She dropped the pen. There was nothing she could say.

It was all she could do to try not to think of him, until he was in front of her again, and he could tell her whether or not he loved her. She would know what to do then. She folded her hands and tilted her face against her knuckles, and prayed, when that moment, that Ariel would grant her kindness, not justice.

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