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Posted: Dec 14 2016, 07:12 PM
Joined: 21-February 11
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For so long, she had thought the worst thing that could ever happen to her would be to lose Ariel. Losing him - losing he who swore upon his own permanence - felt symbolic. What, if not the permanent, could be held onto? Sometimes to hold on was to hurt – but there was a blessing in that too. Where others ran, where others let go, she would be different. She would stand and weather the storms. Nothing would take him away from her. She would not allow it.
Iris never imagined it would happen the way it did. If they could transcend their anger, their sorrow, what else could there be that would tear them apart? They lived in the eye of a great storm, a peace at the center of their own personal violence, borne of the cruelties the world had inflicted. But it was not violence that ate at her, in the end. There was no final catastrophe that tipped the scales. She told herself there was – she told herself she had realized the there was no life to be lived in the storm – but it was not true.
Did she know what was true?
Had she ever?
"Did you know I was coming here?" When Iris spoke, she heard her voice too clearly, like it was coming from someone other than herself. She had come to this park before because it was beautiful, because she loved to walk through it and take in the flowers, the people, the trees, the serenity and birdsong and all the lovely things. Now she came here, and stood beside this bench, because she was looking for the woman sitting on it. The beauty did not touch her.
"No.” The woman’s answer was cordial. Her dark eyes continued to move across the park, never fixating on one object or person. She did not fidget or turn. Only her word acknowledged Iris.
Iris sat down on the bench next to Margaret. It had been many months since she had felt so small and weak – since she had been aware of her weakness. Everything that she had believed to be her strength, was her destruction. The dreams and the determination that had carried her here - they had abandoned her now. What were dreams, when she could never hold them in her hands?
"I don't know what to do anymore," Iris said numbly.
She could not remember much of the past few weeks. After tea at Milly's, she had tried to drown herself in any and every distraction available - and there were so many. She would wake up with strange people, in strange places, and not know how or why she got there. She would go home, sleeping the day away alone, until night descended with threatening whispers. Then Iris would go out and do it all again, to escape the hissing voices that lurked in the shadows of her own mind.
Now she was here, in the park, with this wretched bitch. This vile woman, Iris realized, was the only person that she could really talk to. When she thought too hard about the card game at Milly’s, her memories collapsed inward on their own weight, but Iris remembered the majority of the exchange. She remembered the accusations.
"That is to be expected,” Margaret said. “You have been acting on certain beliefs for quite some time." The other woman stared calmly ahead. Her face was set in a mask of gentle wonder, but her eyes were clear and cool. Iris thought again of how Margaret looked like a fox watching rabbits. She thought she had seen that look somewhere before.
"Why?" she wondered aloud. "Why did you tell me? Why have you hurt me so?”
Margaret shrugged. "To see what you would do."
"That's so mean,” Iris exclaimed. After another moment, she accused. “That's something that Ariel would do."
"Mean?" Margaret thought about it for a moment. "Perhaps. But it would have been just as mean to let you go on like that, believing whatever nonsense." She lifted one hand, clad in a maroon leather glove, and waved it idly through the air. “It would have been mean to let you waste your time.”
"Why?" Iris was pleading. Her head ached, her body ached, her heart ached. All she wanted was to stop experiencing so much pain. Pain - that was all there was! Pain with Ariel, pain without him. When would it stop?
"Imagine if you had built your whole new life around your own innocence,” Margaret went on. “Imagine if you behaved just the same, over and over, because you told yourself nothing of what you did was wrong. You would build other, much worse Ariels. They would have all of his madness, the worst parts of his love, and none of his transcendence.”
Iris's hands tightened in her lap. She had made new friends, and they had told her such kind things. Their praise and reassurances were intoxicating. It was never you, it was him! He tricked you, he fooled you! He took advantage of you! Take your gifts elsewhere!She had used their words to build a wall between herself and all the ideas Margaret articulated. How fragile that wall felt now, shaken by every sentence.
"You loved him because he was like you, Iris. He loved you because you were like him."
Iris shut her eyes. "I don't want to be like him,” she whispered.
"Don't you?” Margaret looked away from the park, and finally at Iris. She was smiling. She was beautiful too, Iris thought, though her skin was too pale and the purple shade to her black hair was too haunting. “Is he so terrible?"
Her heart throbbed in her chest. This has been so much easier when she focused on feelings of vengeance, on feelings of being hurt and wronged. If she thought about anything that was good about Ariel, doubt began to creep in, and she felt herself losing control - of her emotions, of the story, of how things were supposed to be. The things they had in common were stupid, and accidents. It was the differences that were important.
Tears welled at the corners of her closed eyes. "It can't be true. I can't have been so stupid."
Margaret shrugged. "It was a failure by design. He became obsessed with becoming perfect for you, and reflected that obsession back onto you. He was just as stupid." She clapped her hands in her lap, slow applause. “A pair of fools.”
"And I resented him for wanting me to be perfect."
"That is correct.”
"Even though we always talked about being perfect." Iris was crying now. She pressed her hands to her face, and took a shaking breath. She was not going to break down in public, where people could see her, and ask her if she was all right. She had never been all right. "God. It still doesn't mean we were meant to stay together. We should have died - a long time ago."
"Together, apart..." Margaret shrugged. Margaret clapped her hands together again, and slowly drew them apart. They hovered like that, separated from one another. "Right, wrong. Good, bad. Those things aren't the point."
"Then I don't need to see him ever again?"
Margaret laughed aloud, a clear, ringing sound like a bell. "Don't you see him everywhere? In the birds, in the sky, in the roses? When you don't have anything left to distract you, when you are alone with yourself - isn't he there?"
"That doesn't mean I need to meet him." It was not true that she saw Ariel everywhere. It was not true that he was embedded in her like a thousand tiny splinters.
"Do you think you can resolve this by running away forever?" The laughter lingered in Margaret’s voice like rot.
Iris sniffled. "So I must go back to him?”
Another laugh. "You think he would take you back?"
Iris was surprised enough to stop crying. She stopped all at once, taking a deep breath and dropping her hands. She blinked in wonder. "You don't think he'd take me back?"
Margaret smiled, and said nothing.
Iris blinked more rapidly. "Impossible."
"Is it impossible?"
It felt impossible. It felt even more impossible than how they had gone their separate ways. Ariel had sent her letters – he had come to Paris – he loved her, even now. But he would turn her away, if she came to him? He would shame her so?
“Is it like that?” she asked.
"It is a condensed explanation of a complex scenario. And really, even if he would, if you faced him - could you face all his friends?"
That was right, Ariel had friends. He assembled friends like he was assembling an army, only he didn't realize it at all. People loved him. He did not see that they loved him, or believe it, but Iris knew it to be true. They would dislike people who made him unhappy. They would dislike her. "Then what are you here for, if not to make me go back to him?"
Margaret turned to face Iris fully. "My dear, I am not here on Ariel's behalf in any way. He is Regus's little pet, and Regus will be sure to provide him with any comfort his heart desires. I came here to see what it was they were both so fussed over."
Iris made a scoffing sound. “As if I am some object in a museum.”
"Scoff all you like, my dear, but if you do not face the man you made, you will spend all your life fighting mock battles with him in every other man you meet. Cowardice sickens the heart, but never enough to kill you. That is too graceful for cowardice."
"So you want me to face him," Iris said, "Even knowing that he may reject me, that he will - tell me all the horrible things you told me."
"Wouldn't it be a lovely thing, if the two of you could sit down and be honest with one another?"
Iris sank back against the bench. "I've never imagined anything so awful in my life."
"You don't have to listen to me. You can keep going on exactly as you went on, before we ever met. You could write about it." Margaret stood up, and dusted off her skirt.
"Maybe I will,” Iris said defiantly.
"We shall see."
There was silence.
"What do you think he is doing, right now?" Iris wondered.
It was Iris's turn to laugh. "That pompous ass."
“As pompous as a god.” Margaret smiled. “Come find me again, when you’re ready. I think I can help you get what you want.”
“And what is it,” Iris asked, her voice full of exasperation, “that I want?”
“Telling you would spoil it. Good day to you, Iris.” Margaret lifted her skirts, and turned away, heading deeper into the park. Iris watched her go, wanting to follow her, but feeling as if a hand was holding her collar. She could not move. She could not speak. In time, the other woman vanished from view, and the weight lifted.
When the weight lifted, Iris found that she did not want to get up. There was nowhere to go. Or… she thought, There is nowhere to go… yet. But she would wait. There would be.