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 Dreams
XANDER
 Posted: Apr 26 2016, 10:43 AM
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She had a terrible dream that spring night. She dreamed of Ariel's anger, and her own.

They were in her apartment in London, the afternoon sun shining straight into the almost-empty parlor. She kept the central space wide and open, mostly undecorated, reserving the furniture for her private quarters. The wooden floor was strewn with cushions of varying sizes, ages, and colors. One purple pillow flaunted gold embroidery and fraying tassels, at least a year or two old. Ariel had grown fond of a new addition, a turquoise cylinder that he propped under his lower back. The pillows gathered themselves into piles, the occasional adventurer wandering into a corner for a while, to be later retrieved and brought back to the herd.

The parlor also featured two desks against two adjoining walls; many days were spent sprawling across the floors, in the window nooks, at the desks, writing. Iris could sit in silence with Ariel for hours, composing line after line of poetry. Sometimes they would break for supper or for walks in the park. Sometimes they wandered over to one another out of curiosity, or for editing. Most minutes and hours were wiled away simply being with one another, in that room. Ariel always came to that room when she called for him.

This day was not so pleasant, summer waning to fall, the explosive heat and bloom of the world withering away life as the season approached winter. Through the room, an oppressive warmth wafted in waves. Ariel was there, curled up in the window seat, humming softly to himself, scribbling away, while Iris sat at one desk, her pen stood poised over a blank sheet.

They had been arguing. Iris wanted her poems to be more than passing faffery with Ariel, more than pretty or clever things they read to their small group of friends several times a month. They were recognized there, even admired - for Ariel, that was plenty. Once, it had been enough for Iris too, but his contentment - her contentment, her settling - came to border on insult. She wanted to be known.

Ariel considered her ambitions high-strung and overwrought. He saw no reason to disrupt their pleasant time together with what he termed 'vain struggle'. Smugly, he did not clarify on whether he thought Iris was flattering herself, or her aims were pointless, or both.

What of fame and fortune? Was her name destined to be uttered only in the company of a scattered few, her beauty and wit given away for a handful of applause?

Iris asked herself, Was Ariel at all necessary to this endeavor?

She wished to know the answer to these questions, though the latter she could not dare to voice. It did not matter whether she did: Ariel sensed the current beneath the shimmering surface of her moods, and struck at it. Who made time to be with her, to admire her, but him? Her family was scattered through the country, entangled in their own ruin, romantic or financial. Her friends were Ariel's friends, and the ones that were not saw her rarely. Once, the brightness of his single-minded love drove out these shadows, made him more glorious in comparison to their failings. Had his love dimmed? Or was she merely no longer happy that his was the only light?

"Who are you trying to fool?" In her dream, he looked up from his notebook, his blond hair glowing white with the light of the setting sun behind him. It hurt to look at him. "We both know how poorly this lonesome endeavor will end."

Iris leaned further over her pen at her desk. Her cheeks burned. She bit her lip.

"You decline risk in favor of familiar comfort. You adhere compulsively to the past. Thus," he concluded, "You are ever where you begin."

He had said something similar to her before she left for Paris. Iris had borne such stabbings with mute tears, hating Ariel more with each passing day. Ariel never seemed to hear what he was saying, never gave more than a passing thought to each anvil-heavy syllable he dropped upon her. She had said nothing then.

But in her dream, she turned in her chair and faced him.

"What if I let go of you?" The flush in her face deepened, joyful rage layered over humiliation. "What if you are the past?" She knew it was the worst thing she could say to him. Cruel, selfish, pompous - Ariel was all these things, but he coveted her with the madness of men who believe in angels and saints.

Ariel became very still. Motes of dust, illuminated by blocky rays of sun, swirled around him. "I am your present." The room was quiet enough to carry his whisper. "I am your future." His voice shook. His fingers tightened around his pen, until he laid it down entirely.

"And what kind of future do we have?" She was crying now, tears as hot as her anger. Few things were as loathsome as crying in front of Ariel. They never cried at the same time. "A future where I am never good enough in your eyes?" No one was good enough for Ariel, especially not himself. But why should she be likewise subjected to his masochism?

"I can lower my expectations." Judging by his wary tone, Ariel did not recognize that his words were as a spear to her heart. He was on guard now, retreating. When he saw that he had pushed her to the edge of the cliff, he insisted on dragging her back again.

"So what? I can be just another peasant to you?" Iris laughed bitterly. She threw down her own pen, and leaned back in her chair. "I know you, Ariel. I know what you think of other people - what you really think. I know how you feel when they..."

Her throat closed over the words like two crushing hands over a caught sparrow. The end of the thought could not take wing. Was she a failure to him? To herself? Why was it so wrong to want to be loved by old friends, her family? Why did he click his tongue at her and shake his head, every time she told of a canceled meeting, or one gone poorly? Even if she could never tell them the things she had told Ariel, they were a part of her, her history. Without them, she was alone with Ariel. She was trapped.

She exhaled. A sob broke from her lips. "There is no winning with you. I cannot win."

"Of course not." Dream Ariel said what the waking Ariel never did. His expression lost some of its fear, and took on irritation. "You do not even try to win."

"I do!" she shouted. "I am!"

"Doing the same senseless things, over and over, is not trying," he lectured. His tone was more confident with these words. It was clearly something he'd told himself many times. "If you loved me, you would try."

"I can't!" The legs of her chair squealed against the wooden floor as she stood. Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it would burst. "I can't love you! It's... It's too hard."

You think all that inelegant laboring is meaningful.

Were dreams prophetic, or given to them by the gods? Was the look on Ariel's face, in that moment, the look she had never seen, or never looked to see? He stared into her eyes as if she had shot him, as if all his life's blood was leaving him. It left his face first. His expression lost its liveliness, and froze over in a portrait of despair. At last, he wept, in silence.

She woke with that look fixed in her mind's eye. Her eyes were wet.

Just tell him you'll never love him again.

Before she left for Paris, she sold off all the pillows in that room, one by one. There has been a little under fifty. Then she sold the desks. Who owned them now? Had Ariel gone behind her and collected them all again, rebuilding that room as a memorial to all that was lost and dead?

Iris wiped her tears away on the backs of her hands. It took a minute to catch her breath, and to shake away the dirty, clinging veil of dreaming. She had done right to leave him, had she not? And was it not still right to be away from him, when he had broken her heart so? The moonlight spilling over her coverlet did not bless her with answers. No final recommendations were spelled out in tonight's constellations.

"It was just a dream." Saying it out loud helped to smudge the final vision of Ariel's mournful face. "It was just a dream."

He would never trouble you after that.

Ariel's visit to Paris had frustrated her from every angle, an inscrutable puzzle. The key of her dreaming solved it now; the solution to that riddle came to her with the violence of a collision, a train rushing into her as she stood weeping on the tracks.

He did not expect her to come back anymore. He had dreamed the same dream, and came to said goodbye. This time -- there had been other times they had quarreled and separated -- he would let her go.

She began to cry again, harder, pulling her pillow against her legs and burying her face in her knees. She was free of him. She was free forever. She felt something inside of her crack under the weight of that knowledge, and her hatred scrambled to save itself from capsizing and sinking in the flood of emotion. He would not force her to face him. That was his final gesture of love.

There was a life she could have her, a life all her own. There would be other Ariels... No, that wasn't true. The price of all these lives she could lead was that Ariel was absent in them. She could be loved by others. Maybe she could love them in return. They would not know who she had been; they would not try so hard to change her.

Iris pulled the covers tighter around her, and shivered. If Ariel still loved her now, he was more frightening than she had ever imagined. Maybe she had thought to expose to him his own weaknesses, though her leaving: see, too, you are human! You will know loss, and your love will fade. This is what it means to be human. Ariel declined that humanity. Once, he told Iris that he believed she was a gift to him from God.

I am your present. I am your future.

She laid back down in bed, and closed her eyes. She forced herself to steady her breathing, until it imitated the breathing of sleep she knew would not come. It was up to her to decide if that was true. Her dreams would not decide for her.

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