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Posted: Apr 13 2016, 07:30 PM
Joined: 21-February 11
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Numbness was setting in, though winter was melting away. Only some mornings did frost splinter across the windows of her room in the boarding house; the feeling came from within, not without. The tingling started in her fingers, spread to the tip of her nose, then crept into her chest, her throat, her legs. Numbness begat heaviness. Iris wanted to lie in bed all day, and wake up somewhere else, as someone else. Then, when closing her eyes did not project her out of time and space, there was anger, and she wanted to get up and run so fast, so far, that she was hundreds of miles away, months, years away, in the future. She wanted to turn around and run back, through time, the winds of memory howling in her ears, to keep herself from ever meeting Ariel, to spare herself all this pain.
Word had reached her that Ariel had visited Paris. She put the bits and pieces together from shallow friends and acquaintances, their inquiries about if she had an English friend, if she knew any blond poets, if she knew someone was looking for her. He had been to Paris, and that meant he'd been spying on her. He would not go anywhere she was without deliberation and admitted interest. How long had he been here? What did he know? By word of the gossips, not very long, only a few days -- too short a time for him to know much of anything about her life at all. Still, he had been here, observing, evaluating. There were moments when she missed the weight of his watchful eye, and yet, knowing it had come and gone without her knowing...
Iris did not have faith in any particular gods. She struggled to believe in anything beyond the immediate suffering of the world, in spite of the queerness that skirted the shadows of her life with Ariel. Yet there was something mystic element to Ariel, some supernatural force. He was persistent beyond what most human hearts could withstand, as if he had been broken by suffering in lives before this one, and could not be broken now. Knowing he had seen her from afar, and appraised her, made Iris feel as if a demon had weighed her on a scale of bones.
She did not know why she had asked to speak to Moira. The telegram was penned in an anxious fit and sent before her better judgment could catch up with her. It was a fool's errand, requested in a terrible moment of panic. In the wake of the telegram foamed shame, but she needed someone - anyone - to talk to. Moira was a resident of London, and had grown up in the same city as Ariel. They had known one another as children. And -- there was a time when she and Moira had been friends. Leaving Ariel behind necessitated dissolving contact with anything he'd ever touched; Moira was one such sacrifice. She would know of Ariel's movements, what he thought.
Did she want to know what Ariel thought?
Iris stood at the small window of her room, and looked out across the city. She would need to go downstairs, to boil water for tea. She needed to steel her nerves, to greet Moira. "You don't need to do this," she murmured to herself. "It can stop any time you want it to stop. You could go somewhere he could never find you."
If Ariel was a demon, he would need his love returned by such a creature. Was it her fate to become such a thing? Or was she like him already?
"What do you want to know?"
Moira's unfriendliness was unexpected. Throughout tea, she had offered abbreviated answers to most of Iris's questions, declining to prolong the conversation on friendly terms. They had left the boarding house for a walk in the park, to talk further; Moira could not be interested in a tour of the more artistic neighborhoods. Her mind was obviously elsewhere, and her eyes were cooler than Iris remembered them. She'd cropped her brown hair close to her head again. Her dandyish clothes seemed duller somehow.
"Just - how you are, how things have been in your life. You've been... vague." Despite the numbness, and the heaviness, and the fear, Iris felt another familiar emotion: annoyance. It was frustrating that people could not pull themselves together to behave with social grace. She was always holding herself together, and it seemed like no one else ever was.
"Oh, just peachy," Moira answered flatly. She lifted her gaze from the path to Iris, stared deliberately, and went on. Around them, the first buds of new leaves were sprouting on the trees. "Sylvia is traveling again. Have you heard word of her?"
"I- No." Iris winced. Sylvia had been Moira's love, a flightier sort than Ariel. Traveling was nothing if not a euphemism for being abandoned. Her eyes dropped in pity before she could stop herself, and she directed her gaze to a nearby bench to mask the feeling."Would you like to sit?"
Moira sat, clumsily and heavily depositing her thin body. She stared out into the park, at the other people walking. Then, suddenly, sharply, she said, "Ariel is doing well."
Iris froze. Her talks with Milly had trained her to maintain her composure in such trying moments, and her expression was unaltered. She instinctively detected some sort of savagery was involved in the statement. "Oh?"
"Oh, yes. He's with that friend of his all the time. All the time. Regus."
"Regus." Yes, Iris had met Regus on a handful of occasions. Ariel was terrifically flip about the details of their acquaintance - at times it seemed friendly; at others, violent and adversarial. When she had first met Ariel, the man was scarcely about, but she had caught more frequent glimpses of them together around the time she felt the seed of hate sprouting in her heart.
"Mmmm, yes." Moira started tapping her fingers rapidly on her thigh. She did not look at Iris as she continued to speak. "And you know what else? He won't shut up about you. He can't!"
The numbness flared, then evaporated all at once. Iris felt the compulsion to run. But she could not react. She could not let Moira see. She made a non-committal humming sound.
"You know," Moira said, "It's really quite insufferable." She started to smile, then broadened her lips to a grin. Her brown eyes lit up with an inner fire. Turning to face Iris, she continued. "He doesn't talk about you as much anymore, certainly, but we all know he's thinking of you. While all the rest of us are trying to figure out if─" Her voice softened, and the octave lifted. "─if love really exists, if it can survive in this world. There he is, not a shred less obsessed. And not the least bit ashamed about it either, terrifically content with being seen as hopeless or stupid. Immovable."
"He has always been very melodramatic," Iris breathed. She tightened one hand over the other in her lap. "He thinks he lives in a storybook."
"Yes, Iris, that's what we tell him -- except he is very good at turning the world into his storybook. He convinces everyone to play along. Your character is an angel." There it was, that savagery again. Would Moira be happier if Ariel had hated her? Iris thought so.
"Moira." Iris's ears were ringing. "You have to stop him. You can't let him go on like that. I -- I can't imagine speaking with him. Tell him -- tell him I can't."
"He would never listen to me. He listens to that friend of his sometimes, but that's all. He'd listen to you..." Moira trailed off. Her grin melted back down into a smile, and she turned away once more. At some point, she had detected the thread of panic beneath Iris's cool exterior, and it gratified her. "He'd listen to his... soulmate."
Iris stood abruptly. "There comes a time when we put childish words like that away, Moira." Milly would be so disappointed in her, letting romantic nonsense get under her skin.
"Oh, I know, I know." Moira chuckled under her breath, dusting herself off as she stood. "And it is childish to not simply make it clear that you want to be rid of him. Ariel isn't so strong that you couldn't destroy him, Iris." She met the other woman's eyes. "Just tell him you'll never love him again. He would never trouble you after that."
A breeze picked up in the park, tinged with faint spring warmth. Paris would be that much more beautiful in the spring, bursting with color and inspiration. There were many other Parises of the world, many other places that could fill her with warmth, and joy, and light. Numbness could be conquered with newness. How cheap a fare on the vessel of change and time: a handful of words, 'I will never love you again.' It would transport Iris into a brand new universe. Her heart would never again ache at a provocation like Moira's.
"Never again," Iris exhaled. The numbness began to creep back. "We'll see."
"We will," Moira murmured. "Yes, we will."