BALDUR: I fall in love every year.
It happens in the summer, when all across the States heat strips clothes away from skin so the bright sun soaks inside, staining darker and darker, burning pink, and pulling out freckles. You know they call those Baldur kisses.
I fall for the beautiful girls, and I don’t particularly care what’s on the inside. Our affairs are destined to be so brief I hardy have time to discover any real depth, if it happens to exists. Which I suspect is rare, because any woman with depth is going to know who I am and exactly how it will end.
You were different.
SUSAN: “Baldur the Beautiful,” I said, thunking a sweating glass of iced tea in front of him. “What brings you here? The forecast calls for clouds all week.” I slid my hands into my apron pockets, fingering my notepad. Does a god eat? I didn’t want him to take up my table and then not order enough for a decent tip. Even those pretty eyes wouldn’t feed me tonight.
He flashed a smile hotter than the sun. “I believe I came here for you, beautiful.”
I laughed despite myself. “Does that line ever work?”
“I usually don’t need a line.” He winked. “What’s best to eat?”
Baldur’s eyes mirrored the sky, roiling and gray today from all the clouds. When he widened them it was like seeing two spinning cyclones. I did not want to fall inside. I’d heard what happens to his girls, the ones who take him home, try to introduce him to their parents, want to pick out cradles. They burn up. All of them. It’s Baldur’s body in the pyre at the autumnal equinox, but the real death comes to women’s hearts.
BALDUR: My father sent me here three days after I was reborn. “You spent last summer in Florida, and the summer before that down in Buenos Aires,” he said, scratching under the giant raven Munin’s beak. “The Pacific Northwest should be ready for you again. Besides, you can help your uncle clear the svartalfar from Rainer again. Just don’t tell him that’s why you’ve come. You know how Thor likes to think he doesn’t need anything but his hammer.”
Dark elves are not my idea of a fun way to spend my time. They dig down into caves so far below the rock I can’t feel the pressure of sunlight. That is how I end up in your café, in a quaint tourist trap across the sound from Seattle. I’m avoiding Thor Thunderer and the shadow of the volcano.
Gray clouds soften the air, and it makes your smooth tan skin seem out of place. I order five sandwiches and sit there at the round table on the veranda for three hours, until your shift ends. I leave a seventy-five percent tip, and you say, “This doesn’t mean you can come home with me.”
I know it, and I don’t try. It’s enough to watch you. You move like a storm cloud: roiling and angry.
SUSAN: Last year, or any year before that, I would have believed it was fate bringing me to the beach at dawn. I would have believed that it had happened before, would happen again, was always happening in one of the parallel times the Wyrd Sisters natter on about.
But it wasn’t fate. It was just me waking up from a nightmare and throwing on my sandals to scour the insides of my eyelids in the rough, salty ocean.
I sat in the freezing water, letting it crash up into my shoulders and splash my eyes until the stinging made me cry, but I couldn’t tell the difference between tears and ocean on my cheeks. I heard him coming, his footsteps shifting the sand. I didn’t want to turn around, but he slowed and stopped. “Susan.”
His voice was different at dawn, with the wicked orange sun rising over the pine forest behind us, casting long, skeletal shadows onto the sea. I twisted my neck to look at him as he crouched next to me. Does he know he’s so beautiful it’s not interesting to look at him?
BALDUR: “You’re freezing.” I don’t try to touch you. My skin will burn yours, and the water will evaporate until there is only a crust of salt left. You wince as the sun rises over my shoulder, glaring in your red-rimmed eyes.
“What are you doing here?” When you scowl your small nose scrunches up and I want to laugh. It’s adorable, but you don’t want to hear that, pretty girl.
“I’m running.” I spread my arms to indicate my tee-shirt and spandex shorts. My thighs look amazing, but you haven’t noticed and I’m vaguely annoyed.
“It looks like your sitting here like a barnacle.”
Laughing now, I stand up and bow. “Lady, you are plain enough. I’ll try not to ruin your pity party again.”
As I jog off, you yell after me, “It’s a free country!”
SUSAN: I saw him across from the café, mobbed by a school bus of adolescent girls. Word had gotten out that Baldur the Beautiful chose our little town for this year’s living, and I’d seen more TV cameras than fishing poles in the past week.
Dashing through slow moving traffic, I swam though the girls. They smelled of bubble-gum and tequila, which I decided not to think about, and when I finally reached his side I inadvertently leaned into his warmth, breathing deeply. He smelled like summertime, and I didn’t know how else to describe it. “Hey, there, sweetheart. Your tea’s melting.” I found his hand and wove my fingers with his.
Baldur grinned. “There you are! Thanks. Sorry, sweet things,” he said to the girls. “Maybe you’ll catch me later.”
I dragged him around them, despite their sad sighs, and the traffic stopped for us. We vanished into the back of the café, where we had our employee lockers.
“Thanks,” he said quietly.
“Well.” I pulled my hand from his, and instantly felt cold to the bone. “It’s just a reprieve.”
“Yeah, I have to go back outside sometime.”
I only stood there, waiting. I knew what I wanted to ask, but I didn’t know if I deserved the answer.
But he was patient. He leaned his shoulder against the lockers, head tilted so all this sunshine hair spilled around his neck, and watched me. His eyes brightened as I stared back, going from overcast gray to a shining blue. The sun must’ve be coming out. A glance at the tiny window proved me right.
Still he said nothing. I studied his face, hunting for imperfections. But there was nothing. What would a girl have to stare at for the rest of her life? Why would you stay awake in bed watching him sleep?
My dad and mom used to take me hiking up the mountains when I was a kid. We’d be under cover of pine leaves and damp-smelling leaves. Everywhere a shadowy chill in the air, bird-called echoing wetly, our footsteps muffled against old growth. And then, we’d come around a hairpin curve in the path. The cliff would fall away and we’d stand there in open sunlight, skin welcoming the change in temperature. We could see for miles: the valley spreading in a verdant carpet, chunks of gray rock peeking out, eagles circling high overhead. The sun gilded white fluffy clouds, making everything clear as glass, bold and perfect. I remember my breath freezing in my chest, my hands making little fists. I’d never seen something so beautiful as that sunlit valley.
And all I wanted to do was fall back into the shadows. Where I could peek out at the beauty like the boulders, see glimpses of it and keep breathing. A wink of bright blue between tall trees, a grasping finger of light pushing through leaves. Glimpses were all I could handle. Anything more shut down my heart. That isn’t the kind of beauty you want to snuggle up with at night. Or grow old with.
“You have to breath, Susan,” Baldur whispered.
I gasped and turn away.
BALDUR: I want to touch your hair, skim my fingers through it. I want to wrap my arms around you and burn away all the fear I see in your eyes when you look at me. I’ve never terrified anyone before.
Your back is to me, shoulders shaking. “Baldur,” you say.
I don’t respond, worried that one word will send you darting off.
But you turn around, jaw set and hands gripping each other determinedly. “What is it like to die?”
For the first time all summer, I don’t know what to say.
“Tell me,” you insist, stepping forward. You put your hands flat on my chest. “I need to know.”
I want to lie, to tell you that it is peaceful and that I always look forward to that moment when my spirit sinks into feather-filled blackness. But it hurts to die. I scream in the fire; I scream and yell myself hoarse because no one can hear me through the roar of the pyre. And it hurts until I can’t remember anything else. There is no transition, there is no comfort that in six months it will be Spring and I will be reborn with the sun to laugh and fight and love.
So I cover your hands with my own. Gently. And I whisper, “It hurts.”
You raise your chin until I see the thanks spreading across your face. You smile fiercely. “Good,” you say, and lean your forehead against me.
SUSAN: He never asked me why I cared. He never asked my to explain why I suddenly wanted to be near him, to press my ear against his palm and hear the seasons changing in rhythm with his heartbeat.
BALDUR: You say to me one day, when I’ve come down off Rainer and there is black gore splashed over my face, “You look beautiful.”
I am startled, because my back aches and my fingers are stiff from gripping my sword. My head pounds from being in caves, from so much darkness, from the hard clang of Thor’s hammer as it splits heads and sprays their blood over my mailshirt. I am filthy.
I fall to my knees and you are there, hands smearing against my face, and I think you will kiss me – I’ve been hoping you would for weeks now. But instead you just stare, eyes scanning over me. Your breath hitches once, then continues in a gentle pace.
“Did you find something interesting?” I ask, recalling one of the first things you said to me.
“More interesting than I would ever have believed,” you say, a smile curving slyly over your mouth. “But it isn’t your face.”
“I love you,” I say. I always say it, and it is always true.
You brush hair back from my forehead. “I know.”
SUSAN: We walked on the beach every morning, washing ourselves in the salt water. I laughed when he first stepped in and the water hissed with steam. It cooled him down enough to make it easy to hold his hand, to pretend he was not a god when I wasn’t looking at him. It was an impossible thing to forget when his eyes were reflecting the sky and all the perfect lines of his face gave me a heart attack.
I asked him once how the women he loved in the past could stand looking at him. He was offended, and said, “Because they appreciated beauty, Susan.”
“The sunrise gets boring after a while,” I replied.
“You don’t,” he whispered against my neck.
image by losh.i.ous