He came to me out of the sea, carrying his heart in his hands.
I keep it in my thoughts, even now. Even when the fog comes skulking in and the gas lamps are like winter flames, guttering. When all is grey and dull and lifeless. Whatever else he was, he was carrying his heart.
Epochs later, the curtains grew dusty and brittle, the deep, vicious colour of a bruise. The floorboards creaked and we were civilized. We were no longer the wild, ravening voices of the world, howling our shame and indignation at the sky.
His hair was parted now, his collar stiff and white. He sat with his back to me, composing missives at his desk, still, so still. He sat like a man long-dead, utterly implacable.
“Do let’s stop pretending,” I said, pausing in the doorway. “Save for decorum, there is no point in going on like this. We are already undone.”
For one long, breathless moment, I thought he had not heard me. He made no move except to wet his pen. The nib scratched and went silent. When he turned, his expression was one of polite interest.
I stepped into the room, moving close to the coal grate. Once, his touch had been magical, igniting something in me. Now my skin did not feel made of nerves or tissue, but only cut from marble.
“Are we so shameful?” I said. “So astoundingly wicked that we must bear the world’s shame as well, emulate their manners and live their lives? Are we so bad that we must be repentant of their sins?”
His pen lay placid on the blotter and for millennia, he had railed against his exile, his second birth a baptism in flame.
I stood before the fire with my hands clasped, my back straight. “What keeps you with me? On what account do you stay?”
“Well, love, I suppose.” His smile was gentle and mild, not the blood-leer of a warrior. “I take my duty seriously, but that does not mean I don’t love you.”
Out in the street, carriages clattered past, rolling on toward hearth and home. The travellers were returning to their dear ones, and love takes many forms.
In my wild, unholy days by the white cliffs, I had taken my lovers with my teeth and with my claws. Now, when I went out into the chaos of the city, I wore kidskin gloves. They covered my cruel fingers, buttoned up the wrist with tiny pearls, and I have never been one to shun the sea. When men greeted me, I lowered my gaze modestly.
Before the grate, I looked into the palms of my hands. “When did we become so tame?”
“Have we become so? We are only living out the customs of the country, every century, every era, and this too will pass.”
But the words were empty ones. They fell as stones fall, heavy and without inflection. The world had never misused us so badly.
The new mythology of love was that it bent to the fashion of the day, obligated to take the shape of doves, lilies, jewels. This is a lie. Love is sometimes as passionate as war.
In his youth, he was electrified. The stars were moving in his bloodstream. He would not have been cowed by the customs of an earthly monarch. When he loved, it was with a heat and a desperation that he carried like a sword. He loved in the way that Greeks burned cities.
I had only to remember that centuries before, men fell in battle for the daughter of Troy, that passions carried greater weight than decorum. It took so little to prove that human life and property are devastatingly temporary. All she had to do was lie down for a prince. They burned the city to the ground.
He took out his sealing wax and softened it over a flame, an outmoded practice. “Do you doubt my devotion?”
I shook my head, imagining an ill-fated liaison, traitorous, inevitable. Helen, standing at the parapet, looking out over the blue Agean sea.
“Is it my loyalty then? My fidelity?” With great concentration, he folded his notes and sealed them.
“Do you think me a fool? What do I care for fidelity?”
He stood, reaching for his coat and hat, gathering the letters and placing them in his waistcoat pocket. “What can I say?”
I turned my back and examined his writing table, his gentlemanly effects. “Say nothing.”
The sealing wax still clung to the spoon, a vibrant red. The seal was ebony-handled, made in the shape of a heart. Not the point and curve of valentines, but a heart of uncommon muscle and density, bristling with a spray of veins and arteries.
The ocean where I met him was red as blood. Lucifer, the morning star, appearing to me out of the sunset. I had run from God and from the garden, run so far east that every direction I turned, the sun was sinking below the horizon.
He came to me out of the water, hand extended. The curve of his shield slung across his back was like the dawn.
Now we faced each other in a silent room, and the Turkish rug was the finest live wool and complemented the silk wallpaper.
“Wait,” I said, catching him by the sleeve, drawing him close.
In his eyes were worlds upon worlds, each with its own creed and customs, each distinct and separate, none meaning any limitation on his love.
“Say nothing.” With my arms around his neck, I pulled him close and sinned in the fashion of the day.