“They strung up a man, they say who murdered three.”
‘Hello,’ he said.
She smiled; rolling onto her back in the soft bed of lush grass and squinting up at him. His voice was as perfect as it was yesterday and the day before, but each time she hears him speak it feels like the very first time. Fresh as the summer wind and as soft and fluid as water.
‘I missed you,’ she complained, only half joking. In truth, every hour away from him was another knife stab to her heart. Every moment away from him was another moment consumed by the thought of him: counting down the minutes, the seconds until she could be with him again. He was the only one she really needed, the only one who could keep her going through the dead world of their district, past the dead eyes of their neighbours.
She wanted more, she’d always wanted more, and he promised her the world.
He slid down next to her and she rested her head on his lap. He peered up into the emerald canopy of leaves above, running his fingers, nimble and slender, through her hair. They teased out the tangles and the dust from her day spent slaving outside the mines, gathering up coal chunks to carry to the Capitol’s trucks.
He smiled at her words, eyes crinkling up at the corners like old paper; the azure of his irises sparkled like the gemstone of which the colour was named. ‘Of course you did,’ he whispered, and he leant down and kissed her.
They weren’t meant to be together. It was like the story that he had once showed to her- one about a girl and boy from warring families who fell in love. Romeo and Juliet, she thinks that it was called. The pair had kept their love a secret- or at least, they had tried, so, so hard- but the families found out eventually. And it all went wrong.
She smiles to herself now.
Perhaps their story is even more terrible than Romeo and Juliet’s. Those two were still together, at peace forever.
She isn’t dead, she isn’t alive. She isn’t happy, she isn’t sad. Above all, she isn’t at peace. No, not at all.
She wasn’t then, either, however hard she had tried to disguise the discomfort with smiles.
‘What are you thinking?’ he asked her, fingers still playing with her hair.
She bit her lip nervously. There was a voice inside her head, one which fed her the words that she should have let flow from her lips, but she couldn’t. He was everything to her, and her family was her world, so why shouldn’t she let the two meet?
Collide, more like, she thought bitterly.
His family and her family were bitter enemies: the parents cast snide glances and sharp words whenever they happened to cross paths in the market place, they refused to let their children sit on the same tables at school, and, worst of all, they forbade her from ever, ever speaking to him. Ever.
She could have told him what she was thinking, she was almost tempted too, if it wasn’t for the brutal fact that she knew exactly what he would do. He would scowl; eyebrows scrunching together and his eyes would glitter like ice. His lips would peel back in disgust and she would become the unwilling subject of his sudden anger.
If she had told him, then he would have snapped; a growl reverberating up his throat from his stomach and into the summer air, which would suddenly feel so much cooler. The welcoming summer silence would implode, fragments of moments ago pricking her bare arms like needles.
‘Why?’ he would snarl. ‘Why should we?’ he would free himself from her arms, scrambling up and towering above her. She would shrink back from him like a cowed puppy.
‘I’m sorry., she would whisper. ‘I didn’t mean it like that,’ she would repeat those words again and again to him, to herself, as if to douse and smother his angry fire. ‘You’re right,’ she would have said. ‘You’re always right.’
And he would agree and kiss her softly, and she would hide her head in his lap to conceal the tears.
He was a funny one, she decides. She loved-loves- him, but during every secret meeting, shrouded in every spoken word, was a certain element of fear. It followed her like a shadow, whenever, wherever, and the shadow warned her of his anger, the animalistic fury that crawled beneath his skin, lurked in his flesh like the worms and the maggots do now.
The liquor hurts her head. It is cheap stuff; sourced from the Hob, the residue that is probably scraped from the very bottom of the barrel along with the dirt and splinters. Not particularly important- it blurs out the world, and everyone and everything in it.
She wobbles gracelessly over to her bed. She’s drunk- very- but something isn’t right. She peers out of her window again and she sees him dancing in the wind. She prefers seeing him from a distance- there’s no… no…
She giggles. Hiccups. She can’t remember the words.
What was she thinking about…? Oh, yes, him. She likes seeing him far away now- she can’t see his face- well, that’s just rude- with the skin parting his flesh as if it can’t bear to wait a moment longer. As if the dead body hates itself for its crimes.
Oh, don’t be so silly. He’ll be proud of his work, if anything. That’s what he told her, anyway, as they dragged him away: ‘I don’t regret a thing!’, wasn’t it?
As she smiles at him, the rope twists in the wind. Even from such a distance, she can see his face… or what’s left of it. The flesh almost completely gone- a source of food for hungry scavengers- and the white of his teeth are exposed.
He’s smiling at her.
He and the wind sing in a haunting, ghostly, monstrous duet. He sings for her, and she listens.