Celia stirred and muttered, “What…?” Louise touched her shoulder.
“The cuts. They’ve gone. Jesus…it’s healed itself.”
“What?” Celia said again.
“The fucking word on your back; Seeker – it’s gone…”
Celia turned in the bed and stared at her. “Hope that’s a good thing.”
“It’s incredible…” Her eyes were dark and searching, flitting about the room as if looking for answers there. Celia rubbed at her face and breathed deeply.
“I told you, Lou. I don’t think I have a say in this anymore. It’s kind of a relief.”
“Yeah. It’s all fate. I had a dream…it’s all fate.” Louise swallowed and stared at nothing. “It’s nice that you’ve seen for yourself. You have to believe me now. It’s a relief, you know?”
Louise nodded very slowly. “I guess it must be.”
Celia lay her head on her lover’s thigh. “You okay?”
“No.” There was fear in her voice now. Celia turned away, returning her head to the pillow. She was too tired to fear it, but eager enough to get it done. Louise had pressed something against her back; soft and slightly sticky. She was drawing something.
“What’re you doing?”
“A little counter-curse,” said Louise, “Something to protect you.” She drew an upright pentacle on Celia’s back in lipstick; the five-pointed star, encircled.
“Maybe it’s working.”
Celia laughed and nodded. “Maybe.” They weren’t white witches. They would never lay naked together in a rose bed, at least not without getting cut by thorns. “Thanks for that,” muttered Celia, “It helps, you know.”
Louise smiled and kissed her shoulder. “I can’t believe the cuts are gone. That’s like…like real magic. I can’t believe it.”
“Yeah, I suppose it is. Magic.”
“What do you think it means?”
Celia closed her eyes. “Nothing good, I’m sure.”
“Don’t rub it off, okay?” Celia didn’t say anything. “Okay, Cee? It’s a counter-curse. Don’t rub it off.”
Louise left the bed and disappeared into the bathroom.
Celia heard the shower. She pulled on Louise’s jeans and shirt and went to the kitchen, pouring a glass of orange juice. She stared through the window as she sipped it. So the cuts on her back had healed? She could feel the lipstick there beneath her shirt. Louise deserved more than this.
Celia stared at the trees beyond the window. She hadn’t wished a stabbing on Louise, surely? She hadn’t wished a punctured lung. No, it seemed wrong. She couldn’t imagine the metaphysics of it, even the most scholarly aspect of her. She wanted to be responsible. It would be beautiful if Lou really meant that much to her. Did she?
“This isn’t my world…Fuck if I created this…”
Fuck trying to understand. Understanding was fighting and she wouldn’t fight. If she suffered gladly, then perhaps they were not really hurting her. Perhaps they were only giving her something she could no longer refuse.
On the balcony, she lit a cigarette, staring out across the tops of houses. She tried to blow smoke rings but the breeze was too strong. A pare of hands slid around her waist. She smiled, glancing down. They were brown-skinned hands. Celia’s blood went like ice-water.
The hands were holding her, gently.
The cigarette fell from her fingers, a replenished fear rising through her body, near paralysing her. “Don’t scream,” said the female voice, “I needed to see you…I needed to understand. I’ve forgotten, you see.”
Celia couldn’t move, couldn’t think; realising what was holding her. She shivered suddenly. “Why…are you doing this to me?” She could only stare, too numb to turn and face the woman that was behind her.
The voice whispered in her ear, almost tender. “You’re Angel Wine, the vessel that will return us to our forefathers.”
Tears welled in her eyes. She couldn’t speak. The presence of the thing was all consuming. She stood transfixed. The hands left her waist and grasped her shoulders. Why? What are you…? What gives you…What gives you the right?
The woman laughed gently in her ear. “We are the progeny of serpents. We are the descendants of the true Sons of God. Ours is the divine right of kings.” Like shards of glass inside her head, shards of ice, freezing her ability to think. “Names, names, names. Pathlight. Nephilim. Rakshassar. Nosferatu. Golem. Dollman. Many, many more besides. Only words, Miss Gray. Simple fictions.”
The hands left her shoulders and slipped around her waist again. Celia winced at it, her eyes closing. Your real name.
She heard the cold reply in her ear. “I have no ‘real’ name. I call myself Lillibeth Renn. Do you like it? A Wren is a bird, you know.”
What do you want from me, Lillibeth?
Celia felt lips kiss at her neck and she flinched. “I want to remember you. You see, I’ve forgotten and I wish to remember. Also, I want to know if you really love your whore. The one taking a shower as we speak. Do you love her? I really want to know.”
If you hurt her I swear I’ll…
“You’ll what, Celia Gray? What will you do?” The woman lowered her tone and whispered again in Celia’s ear. “Namahey wrote it so you would know him through words, made you a writer, like himself. I don’t pretend to understand why.”
Tears spilled from Celia’s eyes like clear-bleeding wounds. I don’t care…what you are. You’re both cowards.
“Cowards?” the woman retorted, almost hissing. “You say this when your strawberry-blonde whore offers you her precious love; when she is brave enough to open arms to you against her fears and you refuse? You call us cowards? We don’t deny our hearts desire, neither one of us. We don’t cage our tears and our hatred. We don’t make light of our lust or our joy. I shall tell you.”
A hand left Celia’s waist and snatched at her throat, squeezing gently. “Sometimes I fear that you’re all he sees. He holds the key of my memories. Only that could sate him for the way I broke his bones. But you…and then the jealousy comes, is remembered, but only fragments of my native dream…yet always you. When he touches me, I smell your cunt on his fingers. I’d destroy you if I could.
“But not yet, you’re our ticket to ride the returning. I don’t understand but Namahey does…he’s seen entire worlds eat themselves alive. He says each time we destroy what we were; black flame, black star. When the End comes, you’ll recognise enlightenment. Do you love her? That thing between her legs; the way you sup at it, is that your definition of love?”
The woman squeezed tightly at Celia’s throat and whispered in her ear, “The whore would die for you, princess, and in death…still she’d ache for you. But you refuse her in your vanity. Is that mortal love?”
Ice cold and trembling, Celia opened her eyes, and said, “I do love her…so fuck yourself, bitch.”
The woman responded with thoughts, not words.
You only love yourself, Celia Gray. I know…yes, I know now who you are. It fills me with disgust. I realise I never wanted my memories. Could you give her the key to your heart and your mind, give her your very selfhood? You couldn’t even understand the concept. You would rather break her bones and search for your mother to put her fingers inside you instead.
But if I killed your whore, your mistress, then mightn’t I understand your love for her? Is this not a valid line of reasoning, Celia? Do you know that mother weeps for you, seeing you so afraid of heartbreak?
The voice in her head was silent. The presence seemed to withdraw.
Celia trembled on the balcony, eyes wide and sore. She didn’t dare to move, to turn around. Her whole body was rigid with fear. She closed her eyes and took a shaking breath. Hands slipped around her waist and she flinched, letting loose a ragged gasp.
“Cee, what’s wrong? Jesus…you’re freezing. What happened?”
Celia could smell the rose-scented shower gel on Louise. “Oh Christ…”
Louise embraced her from behind, “What happened?” You’re freezing…how the hell did you get so cold?” Celia closed her eyes as Louise held her, feeling the warmth from the hot shower eventually seeping into her trembling flesh.
He could feel the jealousy in her. The sense of inadequacy turned to quiet rage. She feared that he loved another, that the princess enchanted him with images of things past. She feared that Celia made him lustful, in a way that perhaps she could never duplicate. There was truth in her fears, of a kind, but it was not as she believed. Lillibeth fooled herself, gazing into the reflecting pool. She couldn’t die, but if she convinced herself that he loved the princess her heart might be burned away – and that was perhaps a kind of death, certainly a kind of passion. She had slipped away from him in the early morning hours.
He wanted much for Celia but he knew that his wanting was not a key. She was the key, and his hopes for her to turn in the lock like a dancer were too romantic. Lillibeth hated her; the delicacy, the utter patience. But most of all she hated the vanity. It was a truer image than Lillibeth could ever allow herself to know, such was her fear of recollection. In her thoughts he saw she felt cheated somehow, as though he didn’t touch her the way he touched Celia, like a sacred text. This of course was a lie, but lies could be powerful things…he still remembered.
Far too little sleep, yet too much dreaming. Shape and form. Seeking release from such shape and form. Aching. Tasting and being denied. False light, before the black flame. So much false light, burning with pain. Blood and flesh; fire and dust. So much fire and dust. He remembered that he wept.
It terrified his beloved, seeing in Celia the finite of her own infinity. Such things, beyond contradiction, always found a way to return. Many called them circles. Lillibeth was kissing a ghost through silver water, like the dead moon. Tasting in him all of Celia’s genius, she feared, thus she also feared the depth of her love. The depth of all love. Love lay beyond entropy.
Once, during a massacre, she’d whispered to him: Only when all this comes to pass, beyond the War, beyond the destruction of all false light; only then will I allow myself to prove how I yearn and hunger for you. You will be devoured. Do you understand? I will devour you. Such is my love, my love. Beyond words, beyond any tale that may be told. I will devour you, Namahey. And behold, you will be made void before my lust.
It touched him, more than she would ever know. It made him see a place for them in forever…the returning. Without the fire and dust there was nothing of them to be dreamt. Let Lillibeth swim briefly in the reflecting pool, touching native images. All of that would pale once she drank from Angel Wine. Then both women would remember. Then it could begin again. And she would love him. He would love them both.
Celia thought she was going to die. She would not die. Lillibeth feared she would be discarded. He would not discard her. There were parts of him of which his beloved knew nothing, older than Pathlight, softer than the butterflies, darker than the blinding black.