Freak Like Me



Epilogue: Every Time It Rains

In the end, it was your beauty that saved you.

On the witness stand, before the judge and the jury and whatever god could be said to watch over us all, you told them what had happened. You told them of your despair, of your rage, of the madness in your soul you could not contain; you told them that I was your partner, not your captor. You promised me, once, that you would not blame me for anything if you were caught. You kept your word, and, though I know you did it for responsibility's sake and not for mine, I thank you.

But it was something I could not allow. Though they tried us separately, your testimony was read back to me; I promptly proceeded to contradict almost everything you had told them. I lied. I told them that I had brainwashed you, that I had coerced and blackmailed you, that your words were nothing more than the product of a mind I had wilfully and purposefully twisted into abject submission.

They believed me, of course. Why shouldn't they? I am, after all, a supervillain. It is hardly outside my nature to create and to act upon such an outlandish scheme; on the contrary, compared to some of my earlier ventures, this one must have seemed positively subdued.

Besides – and I do believe this may have been the deciding factor – you were, and are, beautiful. I am positive you took their breath away, these plain and dowdy people of the jury, as you stepped into the courtroom, dressed in sober black, or navy, or whatever drab color your counsel, the estimable Mr. Murdock, surely advised you to wear for the occasion. Though I was not there, I know you brought with you into that courtroom a taste of strange magic, of the same glamor I too was once drawn towards, that glamor I felt the need to destroy.

So it was that your beauty, and my lies, saved you. I awaited the news of your verdict, pacing the four tight corners of my cell in a state of awareness heightened by anxiety; when informed that you had been acquitted, I accepted the news with quiet relief. It was no more than I had expected, but I was grateful for it nevertheless. Ultimately, the only thing I could give you, Mary Jane, was your freedom.

One of the terms of your release was that you were never again to have contact with me, for the rest of your life. So you will never hear these words; you will never hear the last things I mean to say to you in this lifetime.

I sit, now, on the edge of a cold steel cot, shrouded by the kind of shadows you can only find in prison: thick and dull and heavy, almost as solid as the brick walls that surround me. Somewhere, far away, I hear the ceaseless drip of water. Someone, somewhere, cries out - perhaps in pain, or perhaps simply to be heard. The smell of dank and mildew, and the cool air of midnight, drifting through the iron bars of the small window beside my bed.

Already, the pain is fading, and with it the details. A memory is all that remains of what we once were; here in the dark prison night, it is as distant and dead as a star. And it is entirely possible, Mary Jane, that in time I will forget it, and you, entirely. Some day, the picture of you I hold in my mind, the living, breathing image, may harden, turn to stone, and crumble away completely. Some day, you may join all the other women to whom I gave a part of my life, lost and irretrievable, even to recollection.

But I don't think so.

Because, outside the prison walls, it is beginning to rain again. And every time it rains, I feel the weight of your arms, wrapped around my neck, and your heart beating its steady, unerring rhythm against my back. Every time it rains, I hear your laughter, somewhere beyond the relentless beating of the drops on the roof. Every time it rains, I see your shadow, dappled and wavering and elusive, flickering across the concrete ceiling.

I don't know where you are now. Chances are I will never know. Perhaps you are across the sea, across the world, wandering the sunlit streets of an exotic bazaar, a glittering sarong tied around your waist, seashells woven into your crimson hair. Perhaps you are sitting on a couch in New York, in an oversized T-shirt, one leg tucked underneath you, sipping tea as you idly watch a late film on television. Perhaps you are even in bed, asleep, beside your husband, his bandaged arms positioned around you awkwardly, your legs entangled with his, your hair flowing over his face.

I doubt it, though.

When I see you, Mary Jane, I see you alone. I see you seated on a cushion, in a dark living room, next to an open window. Below you, a sea of traffic snakes across the city, a vast neon reptile, growling and snarling; but up here, on high, all is silent. Nothing speaks but the wind, whispering soft storm-warnings in your ear.

You watch through eyes slightly narrowed, your knees pulled up to your chest, tilted head resting upon folded arms. You watch the sky as lightning jigsaws across the black clouds, throwing the stars into disarray, casting your face in pale relief. Occasionally, your hand strays behind your back; you slowly run your fingertips along your spine, over the rough ridges of scar tissue you know are there to stay. You shiver, as the rain begins to fall.

That is when I feel you near again. When I feel your head upon my shoulder and the light touch of your hair, tickling the curve of my neck. When the delicate scent of phantom flowers comes drifting down the darkened halls, filling my cell, trickling down my throat like honeysuckle.

I know, now, what Beauty is. I know, because, for such a brief time, it was in front of me, and I saw it for myself. It was never in your eyes, Mary Jane, or in your skin, or your hair. It was never in your body, or your face.

The beauty, the real beauty, was in the stars, those stars we watched from the shingled rooftop of my childhood home. And it was in our shared knowledge of their secret names.

It is there now, as, together, we gaze beyond the window, and we watch as the ghosts of everyone we have ever known, ever hated and loved in equal measure, ourselves included, gather in the stardust-scattered emptiness that lies between the raindrops. And they join, these ghosts, and they dance, whirling and spinning and laughing, down the corridors of Time. Forever.

Every time it rains, Mary Jane. Every time it rains.