I did not flinch when I saw her, though I knew she expected it. My face did not mirror hers, eyes pulled wide, lips forced apart by the sharp intake of breath she could not control, brow clenched upwards by a mind which could not believe.
A small breath of air made its way from my lungs, but my lips could not form her name.
Her eyes moved away from mine to the ground. She did not want me to see her this way, I knew, and she would rather have never seen me at all than to meet me like this.
Her hair, which I had never seen down in all our years together, even through sleep and childbirth, fell in front of her face, intentionally hiding it. In the darkness, it was hard to tell the two apart, now that the night of her straight hair had spread down the length of her body. It was the blackness of her face from which I could not take my eyes. Not the decay of her skin, crawling into strange formations as it fell from her flesh, nor the worms escaping from within her and being more eager to return to her to feast, but the pure tar of her face. It had been one of her more powerful features, lighting the sky with its whiteness, its power making men run for cover.
“Do not look on me,” her words were loud, quick. I wondered if she knew I had been chasing the young nymph which had just passed her, giggling melodically, curls and young breasts bouncing teasingly around the corner. I wondered if it had been long enough since her death, or if it ever would be.
“I miss looking on you,” I offered.
She scoffed under her breath. I could hear the tightening of her hard face through the darkness. It was a sound I had not forgotten.
She crossed her arms, jagged elbows sending small bolts of lightning at the ground. In the light, I could see a cockroach on the ground, near her dirty, bare feet. It was the first time I understood her shame in being seen in the underworld. Her usually tidy, glowing dress looked like what a peasant mortal would wear. Instead of her usual shining shoes, her small, sharp feet, were caked in dirt, and being eaten. I wondered if it was difficult for her to walk with the same poise that she had always carried.
“Please,” I said, knowing she would notice that my voice was not that of a god, but of a mole. It did not happen often, but I knew she always noticed when I lost my composure. “We will never see each other again. We are lucky for just this moment. Please, just look at me.”
“I-” It was not often that she stuttered. Her uneasiness grew to fill the small confines of the underground cave in which we stood.
Maybe she also feels as if it were my fault.
Perhaps she did not recall her last days, after the birth of the fire. The way she screamed as the flames came forth from her womb burned my insides also. The tears that sparked her electric face for days afterwards as she whimpered in pain each stung me as well. And I could no longer live forever when her immortality was taken away.
“I am not the same,” she said, her voice beginning to crack. I knew she would not cry. I struggled in the darkness to see better the prickly lines of her long body and face, the points of her nose, chin, and hips.
“I know,” I said. I still missed looking on her.
He did not know.
I could see his misty face, churning with emotions — for me! If he knew, he would not be taking the time to steal a few moments with me before his return home.
He moved towards me and I was within his arm’s reach. I moved away.
“I know,” he repeated, taking a small, determined step forward.
That was the moment when the memories flew past me and I was forced to turn and look at the decaying wall. This gave my unruly mind free reign in recalling my memories, but at least I did not look at his face.
The tree came back to me first, but I knew that did not mean I loved him more. The nights I had stolen away with the tree in a forced, hushed passion were just easiest to remember — there had been so few. Always after dark. Embracing without kissing. A dainty removal of his own splinters. All so the clouds could detect no signs when I returned home. The splinters were my favorite part, even then.
But there were more nights — since the beginning of time, in fact — with the clouds. After all, what is lightning without clouds, or clouds without lightning? The best nights were always the ones spent over tropical islands — hurricanes and our children, the thunder, the rain, and the tornado, were all conceived from the swirls of our passion on nights like those.
So, when I first realized that I was having the fire child, I stopped seeing the tree. I had no doubts about who fathered it. But, then again, neither did the clouds. Perhaps that was the most painful part of the ordeal: the clouds trusted me so much that he was sure the child was his.
“I am sorry,” he tried. I knew he was fumbling for words, and it made me want him to hold me.
“I am as well.” But I stayed cold. Who would want to hold a sack of maggots?
“If I had known what would happen –“
“You should not apologize.”
“It was my fault,” he said.
“It was not your fault,” I insisted, my voice rising with tension.
“I should not have–” he stopped.
I could hear him turn, his arm brushing chunks of dirt off the crumbling wall, and return the way he had come.
Creative Commons Love to Liamfm on flickr. Thank you!