Eamon watched the slow journey of ice drift in the reflected calm of the lights from the city like a lullaby to the sea. A mirrored moon played among the low wave tops, finding and losing shape, as though taking uncertain measure of the icy water. The Hudson River flowed with a winter’s caress around the rocks beneath his feet, pressing slush and broken ice together like a puzzle finding its own form.
His gaze strayed away to the north, where a steady progression of lights were strung like brilliant diamonds and flashing rubies, moving in a timeless cycle across the graceful spans of the George Washington Bridge. A truck rumbled a low murmur along the parkway behind him, a sound that faded and then merged among the muffled noises of other distant vehicles.
He returned his attention to the water. Something gleamed within its hidden depths, an iridescence he sensed rather than saw, yet was no less unknown to him. It shimmered like the moon held captive beneath the restless surface. He shrugged out of his jacket, leaving it draped over a rock whose smooth face was adorned with a whitened beard of frost.
A light snowfall had begun, delicate flakes swirling in the darkness, captured in the lights like fireflies chasing after one another. His black hair rippled in the low wind that circled around him. He pulled off his shirt and stepped out of his shoes and pants, unmindful of the cold. As the first snowflakes settled with a sigh like feathers across his bare skin, he plunged into the darkened water.
With long strokes, he swept beneath the unformed ice to seek what lay within the depths below. A silvery and wavering glimmer grew before him as he drew his body deeper, a luminescence that held the dark at bay. He kicked harder, sensing the gradients in temperature change around his body as he slipped between them. And when he slowed at last, he paused for a moment, transfixed by the form he saw before him, suspended within the ether.
Dark hair flowed like a fan around her pale face, delicate eyelashes drawn shut as if enraptured by a dream. Her face held an expression of peace that had been found after a night grown too long for hope of respite. Her arms and legs hung relaxed around her body, while the hood of her coat moved slowly back and forth in the unseen current, like an oyster protecting the beauty of its craft from discovery.
Eamon reached out to touch her coat. Grasping it firmly, he kicked upward, drawing her up with him.
When he broke the surface, he folded her body against his in an embrace, and lay back in the water to stare up at the night sky. Stars patterned the darkness above like a field of early snowdrops. Her head lolled on his chest, the cold of her cheek pressing against his bare skin. The strands of her hair were already gathering ice where they lay feathered across him. He hugged her close, while his legs drew a steady rhythm in the water, bringing them to shore once more.
He lifted her up in his arms while his feet found their hold among the ice-covered slickness of the rocks. He carried her forward, and then knelt to lay her across an unmarked patch of snow that fit the length of her body like a bier. Her arms and legs settled with low thumps. Her dark hair clung in random swirls against the whiteness of her face and the snow.
His fingers traced her cheek now, the barest of touches as though reluctant to awaken her, following the path of water whose arrested flow against her icy skin lay like tears frozen in mid-fall. He sighed and closed his eyes, and then leaned forward to brush his lips against her forehead. The whitened and cold skin reflected back the warmth of his breath like the unyielding surface of smooth marble. Yet beneath lay the soft ripple of a slow beat, a subtle movement as each stretched out into time.
He drew his face down until his lips found hers, where they were parted as though still releasing her last breath. He paused, and then he kissed her. A light seemed to form between them, bringing translucence to the joined seal of their lips, his a warm and steady glow of coral, hers a pale topaz.
Her body shuddered with a spasm that worked its way from deep inside. He drew his head back. A gurgling sound was accompanied by a rush of cold water from her mouth, a flood whose dank smell retained the hint of salty essence belonging to the sea. She continued to retch, her chest drawing and pushing as water flowed relentlessly out once more, washing away the snow around her face.
Her eyelashes fluttered with the hesitancy of a butterfly before taking flight. And when her eyes opened, they were like brilliant emeralds captured in the moonlight, finding their focus on his face as he stared down at her.
A final brackish rivulet of water dribbled down one cheek as her pinkening lips sought to form words, her eyes never straying away from him.
“My curse,” she whispered.
“I could not leave you there, Alannah.”
He regarded her as she shuddered, her hands clenched tightly into the snow, the beat of her heart driving sluggish blood through her veins.
He rose. “It’s time to come home.”
Her head turned slowly to follow as he walked to where his clothes lay. She blinked as snowflakes settled onto her face, resisting an urge to brush them away, feeling them begin to melt as her skin regained some of its warmth. The cold press of stone lay undisguised by the thin pad of snow beneath her, as unyielding as the sky above. She turned her head again to where the river lapped calmly against the rocks, a refuge that would never ask of her any more than to lie within its embrace for as long as she wished.
She sensed Eamon’s approach and kept her head turned away. She closed her eyes, listening to the water’s lullaby as his arms slipped beneath her to lift her up.
“I can make you something warm.”
Eamon’s voice came to her from the kitchen area of the apartment. She gave a small shake of her head, and began removing her wet clothing. It fell with dank thumps that she barely heard. An inexplicable thirst was building dully inside her, but she acknowledged it little more than she did the light approach of his footsteps.
“I’m going to bed now.” She rolled her wet underwear to the floor and left it lying there.
“You’re beautiful, Alannah. You’ve always been.”
“What is always?” She turned to face him, searching his eyes. “When time has no memory?”
“Not what we believe it to be,” he said softly.
She looked unhappily away. Thin tendrils of heat from the radiator across the room tickled over her bare skin, beckoning her. Her wet hair clung against the nape of her neck, still retaining the chill of the river and eliciting a series of shivers that never seemed to end.
“How long?” she asked.
“Four days. Three nights.”
“I wish you hadn’t found me.”
“That would be impossible.” He slipped his arms around her and drew her into a tender embrace.
She felt some of her tremors go still at his light touch. She rested her cheek against him, nestled in the comforting pocket below his jaw. “Then show me some mercy next time. And leave me there.”
“You know I cannot do that, Alannah.”
“You don’t know how it feels.”
“No, I don’t.” He was silent for a long while. When he spoke again, there was curiosity carried in the softness of his voice. “What was it like?”
She stared past him at the wall, a blank and featureless slate that held no trace of the past or the future, and seemed waiting only to be filled. Her hand extended outward on its own, as though to touch it, and then fell away. “It was beautiful. Because there was nothing. Nothing at all.”
She felt his warm breath caress her skin. His fingers worked with slow deliberation, separating the wet strands of her hair where they lay clumped against her back.
“I know what I am,” she murmured, her eyes half-lidded. “I don’t know why I am. Or why you are.”
“I was chosen for you.”
“Chosen by whom?”
He gave a shake of his head, a small movement that was the only answer she would ever receive.
Her lips moved against his skin, feeling its warmth and the steady beat of his heart beneath. “The puzzles that divide us are no better than the knowledge of what we are, Eamon.”
“Some things can only be accepted, and the paths followed where they may lead. There is no other way.”
She sighed. She felt his arms slip away as she took a step backwards. She turned and walked to the bed, lifting the covers and crawling beneath with slow movements. As she lay shivering, she felt his warmth slide in behind her. His arms encircled her once more, and she snuggled back against him, seeking to dispel the lingering chill that seemed unwilling to abate.
“I hate you,” she whispered. She tested the words on her tongue, tasting them, wondering whether they meant what she thought.
There was no reply at first, and she was uncertain whether he had heard. Then he spoke.
“Not yet. But you will.”
Copyright © 2011 Matthew Lee Adams
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