In her dream
the fingers are her father's fingers, rising from the white surface of
the bed where he lies, the hand that anchors them palm up, as if cupping
an invisible object, or the essence of a question his raspy voice is no
longer capable of forming. 'Mija'
is the only word that slips from his dry lips in these final days: my
daughter. It is followed by a pause.
Eventually he sighs and shakes his head, resigned to his
inability to go on.
the fingertips, tinting them a pale, indefinable color in the dark.
They seem oddly distant now, cold and unmoving.
Gradually Marita realizes that her eyes are open.
She stirs, props herself up on one elbow, then slips carefully
toward the edge of the bed and sits up in the close darkness.
A long, irregular puddle of moonlight stains the carpet and
crawls up the front of the dresser, softly lighting the objects on top: the side of a folded sweater, a small glass bottle shaped
like a bird, the curved fingers of Alex's prosthesis.
Behind it, in shadow, sits the jumble of harness he wears with
stands, intending to approach the window, but drifts past it and finds
herself in front of the artificial arm.
Smooth and spare, the forearm section isn't much wider than the
area that would take up essential bone on a living limb.
The hand is covered with a pseudo-skin glove that mimics reality
down to the occasional hair. It's
nothing like the first hand, of too-smooth plastic that resembled a lab
glove, with a surface that stained and fingertips that eventually
cracked with wear.
So much has
snort comes from the shadows on the bed, Alex missing a
breath--undoubtedly in a dream--then pulling in air. After a moment he
groans, rolls onto his side and falls into soft snoring.
ruefully. They aren't
lovers in the normal sense. They're
refugees, invisible survivors of a disaster that has yet to occur.
Fate and circumstance have been their Cupid.
her arms and hugs herself against the chill of cool satin.
After a moment she reaches for a shawl spread over the back of
the room's only chair and pulls it around her.
It was her grandmother's, one of the few personal mementos she's
placeholder for the life that evaporated when she was fifteen and her
father was unexpectedly sucked into the work of the consortium.
This is the
a predictable pattern: Alex flies in after weeks or months out of the
country and they go through a wary dance, like dogs with their ears
pressed back, testing each other's trustworthiness.
If the concerns of the moment weigh particularly heavily--if
there's been a glitch in the production of the secret vaccine; if a
threat of exposure has come from some unexpected quarter; if he arrives
bearing news of yet another puzzling abduction in Kazakhstan--then Alex
retires to his hotel and she to her apartment.
But by the
end of the second day the need to let down--to drink, to laugh in spite
of the madness, to loosen burdens and clothing--gets the better of them
and they end up in this secluded attic apartment.
forgettable, ordinary garret, it seems to whisper insistently to her of
scenarios that can never be: a world where the planet is not an upturned
hourglass counting down its last few minutes worth of sand; a place where life
could be looked upon as a ripening fruit to be tended and anticipated.
A life where relationships are nothing more complicated than two
people who meet and find themselves drawn to each other.
away from the dresser, gathers the shawl more closely around her and
forces a grim smile into the darkness.
There are people who live by those simple dreams, but she knows
what their fate will be.
at the window, considers for a moment her colorless, almost gaunt
reflection--a ghost of herself, just as she has become a ghost of Martin
Covarrubias' daughter, flitting behind the scenes, slipping in and out
of board rooms, of alliances, trading personas and truths in the pursuit
of a fragile plan for survival. She
shivers suddenly from the chill coming through the glass and returns to
the bed where Alex is sprawled almost diagonally.
After a moment she sits down on the edge.
The bed sags
beneath her and warm fingers creep out to touch the shawl's fringe, then
tangle in it, exploring. She
sits up straighter, instinctively on alert.
In spite of their growing intimacy, their interaction is complex,
sometimes a dance of scorpions whose stingers cannot safely be ignored.
he mumbles thickly. One eye
opens, fixes on her and immediately closes again.
But this is
night. He's half-asleep,
maybe more, and still jet-lagged.
clears her throat.
her head, knowing full well he can't see the gesture.
She gazes at him in the shadows: on his stomach now, a fine line
of stubble accentuating cheek and jawbone, the stump of his missing arm
lost in a jumble of blankets and darkness, giving the illusion of a man
perfectly whole. She
glances up at the close, sloping roof and back again, imagining him an
ordinary man: a Felipe to her Paloma, Mikhail to her Katya, a man with a
commonplace job delivering packages or selling stock or climbing power
poles for a utility company. And herself a girl working in an office, or arranging flowers
at a florist's.
you like her?"
startles her. She feels her
face flush and turns away.
The words sound maudlin, even in her mind.
Or perhaps they simply reveal too much.
When she ventures a look in his direction, she finds his eyes
open and makes herself nod.
"She was an exceptional woman.
A strong woman."
A good woman.
Years ago, before this madness overtook her family, it would have
seemed only right to say so.
Now the sentiment seems naive and irrelevant.
back, rolls onto his side and lifts the covers.
"You're shivering, milaya," he says
stands and goes to the window, stops close and watches her breath make
delicate fog on the small panes of glass.
It's pointless--potentially disastrous--to think about what can't
be, to dream of a soft, illusory world when strength and toughness are
critical to your survival. To the potential survival of countless human
the shawl closer around her shoulders.
Its soft, almost weightless fibers settle near her neck and
throat, spreading welcome, gentle warmth, and she finds herself lured
into childhood memories: her grandmother greeting her, a festive table
set for a family dinner, a roomful of people clapping in time to the
music of her uncle's lively guitar.
She starts involuntarily when a hand closes over her shoulder.
is it, Mare?"
at his unexpected touch and stares at the darkened city shapes beyond
the glass. Finally she
notices the eyes of Alex's grayish image peering at her from behind her
own pale reflection. She
looks away. "Silly things."
Childish things. Her
lips part, then pause. "Ordinary
softly. The hand leaves her
shoulder and she listens to him cross to the small bathroom, hears the
sounds of splashing in the toilet followed by a flush.
The squeaking of the door moments later announces his return.
know, it's the same for them," he says, coming up behind her. His voice is gritty, she can't tell if from grogginess or
some emotion. "You
don't have one crisis, you have another."
there's no escape."
never was, milaya." His
arm comes around her shoulders from behind; his body is warm at her
back. "You need your
rest," he says. His breath on the back of her neck sends a shiver down her
arms. "Fatigue leads
to slip-ups. You know we can't afford that."
know, she thinks as he moves
away, leaving her cold with his absence.
She listens as he returns to the bed and crawls in between the
covers, then reluctantly loosens her grip on the shawl and lets it slip
from her shoulders.
She returns it to the chair, spreading it carefully across the
bed, she plumps up the pillow and settles on her back, pulling the
blankets high around her neck.
closes her eyes, listens to the room's silence, to the sound of Alex's
soft breathing. In her
mind's eye she pictures her rigid position as if looking down on herself
from above. Two allies in bed--for now.
Someday they could find themselves working at cross-purposes.
There's no certainty, not in life nor in the links and
relationships that form its fragile, patchwork surface.
Though he could have used her opening just now to score a point
in the ongoing thrust-and-parry that often characterizes them.
That he didn't leaves her immensely grateful.
beside her, his chin coming to rest against her shoulder.
A moment later he moves again, reaches out and she finds herself
being turned and gathered in against him, enveloped in the simple
comfort of skin on skin. She
slips an arm around his waist, wraps her legs around one of his.
He grunts in satisfaction.
krasavitsa," he murmurs into her hair.
she relaxes, lulled by the muffled thump-thump of his heart beneath her
ear. In the morning they
will once again be their daytime selves--sharp, wary strategists beset
by the nagging tension of their shadow campaign.
But night seems to bring with it a necessary, unspoken truce.
thieves and scoundrels need shelter from the rain, hija, her father used to say when she'd notice some ragged stranger being fed
in the family's back kitchen.
The words come to her now in her father's own inimitable voice,
strange but comforting after his years of absence.
Her arm tightens around Alex and she breathes in the close heat
and soap scent of his body.
conscious world begins to dissolve around her, she feels light fingers
trail through the hair above her temple, stroking the softness there.
He's saying something in Russian, though she's too far gone to
grasp the words. His voice,
low and mellow, seems to carry the cadence of poetry.
© bardsmaid 2005 |