The boat rocks under me, back and forth. I'm a baby in a cradle. I'm a dog without his bone. In the grotto on the top of the stairs, I can just barely see the two of you standing in the flickering candlelight. She takes your hands in hers, and I think, if she doesn't come back this time, I can still kill myself. I can find my way back alone. The revolver is in the bureau drawer in my bedroom. All I have to do is pick it up and put it into my mouth, and leave the mess for everyone else.
My face goes into my palms as I wait. I'll come right back, she said. There is something I have to do. Something I have to tell him. No, I have to go alone. Why are you worried? You can see me, you're sitting right here. No, I have to do it alone.
My left arm hurts, more than it has since the day you cut me with your sword. At first the physicians thought it was poison, but the Pasteur Institute found nothing - no foreign substances, no infection. Just a festering wound that looks like a slit, with odd folds of skin around it, puffy and loose, that won't heal. Occasionally it breaks open a little. Tonight it gapes as wide as it did on the night I got it.
The blood looks wrong, brownish and somewhat thick. But there's no infection, they say. Even so, it hurts. It all hurts.
When she untied me, her kiss hurt too. At first, I watched her face when she kissed you, but then I could watch only you, the disgusting, deformed side of you, and your lips as they moved in wider and wider circles around her mouth. Your dark hands rested on her pale hips lightly at first, and then pulled her hips into yours so that the two of you were mashed together at the groin.
No one held my head, but I looked anyway. That kiss burned me all the way down. It was like looking into the sun. If I could have killed you at that moment, ripped your head off with my bare hands, I would have. I almost got to kill you once. How good that would have felt. There you were, on your back, your legs slightly up in the air, belly exposed to me on the snow, and I didn't kill you. I wouldn't have run you through quickly. I would have straddled you and pierced you in and out slowly and shallowly, with many small cuts. You would have bled all over the snow, and then died there. Then we would have been free of you. I wish I had bled you like a pig into the snow, because nothing could burn like watching your mouth move over her face, all over her face.
I still want to kill you, but my body won't obey me. I shiver with exhaustion and cold. If she does come back, how am I going to punt this boat to the other side of the lake? My hands shake like an old man's, and I don't think I could even stand without falling face first into this lake of ice.
She never kissed me like that, ever. Not on the rooftop of the Opera. Not in the carriage. Not in her dressing room. And certainly not on New Year's Eve, at the Masked Ball, when she turned her face away from me. When her mouth stayed tight and closed.
Her mouth wasn't closed for you.
When she untied me, she kissed me, and it didn't taste right. Even through her tight little virginal mouth, I knew her smell, her taste - the lilac water she splashed on her neck; the baking soda and mint she used on her teeth. She always smelled fresh, and her tiny dry kisses tasted good. But this kiss didn't taste good. It tasted rank, and tangy, full of salt.
She tasted like the ocean.
She tasted like you.
I know what you smell like. I know what you taste like. You trussed me up like a Christmas goose, spraying your rage and venom into my face. Your shirt was soaked, but not with water. Those lights on stage are hot; even she, as delicate as she is, would come to her dressing room dripping with perspiration afterwards. But after all your exertions, you stunk like a boar, like an elk in rutting season. Your stink was almost as bad as the noose around my neck, and you terrified me as my neck, my chest and belly lay open and vulnerable to you. I still don't know why you didn't strangle me right there.
I shiver so hard the boat shakes. Something bothers my lip, something slightly sticky. I lick my lips absently, and there it is again, like salted almonds, but bitter, too.
It's you, on my mouth. She's put you on my mouth, contaminated me with you. I want to fill my hand with lake water, to wipe off every trace, but my hand won't move. Or I don't want it to move. I can't tell anymore. My left arm throbs; moving it is out of the question. My right arm hangs useless, then bypasses the lake and slowly explores my face.
My tongue emerges of its own accord and licks, gently licks the sticky spot around my lips. I know the taste at once.
Your mouth. On me.
I lick your spit off my mouth, every bit that I can find. You must have soaked her, it's all over my mouth, even down to my chin. Her tears, your tears, mine, who can tell? They all merge into a sticky, alkaline mass. There are no tides down here, but somehow, I can feel the tide going out.
My wounded arm hurts a little less. It seems to have clotted a bit. Then I see her walking down the stairs, unsteadily in the long dress full of water. The front is wet and stained as her face.
She plods through the water and struggles into the boat. I can't help her; my left arm throbs too intensely, and my right arm shakes like a leaf. You watch her struggle as she tries to pull the heavy train into the boat after her. The candles behind you outline your fierce, erect body with an edge of light. Your rough, wild hair forms a halo around your head that flickers and wavers as if moved by wind. You would lift her in effortlessly, I know, and set her gently as a china doll in the bottom of the boat. The boat almost topples when she lands in the bottom with a thud.
You stand there looking at me with eyes all full of contempt, and suddenly I can smell you. It makes no sense, how could I smell you? You're too far away. When she embraces me I know why. She's covered with your smell, all over her. Your sweat soaks the front of her dress, as do your tears, and her tears.
I think of the last deer Father and I hunted. When I slit it from neck to crotch, I cut the musk gland by accident, and spoiled all the meat. That's the smell, and it's all over her.
She tries to kiss me, but I turn away and start to push the boat off. I have just enough strength for that. I take a deep breath, and your smell is in the boat, thick and rank, like that of the deer. It crosses my mind, to rip that tainted dress off of her right there, and throw it into the lake. You would enjoy that, wouldn't you? I'll put up with your stench instead.
How did you manage this? I can barely push the boat forward, and it wavers and wobbles as it finally turns. My arm starts to bleed again, and trickles down onto the stick, making it slick and hard to handle. Behind I hear your voice like a roar, or is it the roaring of blood in my ears? I steal a glance over at her as I strain, and notice that as she cries silently, hiding her sobs, she looks backwards.
At you. It has to be you. I don't turn around, but your eyes bore into my back. She half stands up to embrace my shoulders, but she still looks back, and finally I tell her to sit down. All I need is for her to topple the boat and pitch us both into the water. That, no doubt, you would enjoy as well.
I shake her hand off my shoulder. I don't want her touching me until she's had a bath to scrub off the reek. I know we're going forward, but the boat feels as if it's being pulled backward, by some kind of tide or undertow. What tide? There are no tides here. The moon doesn't reach down here.
If I stop the boat, and kiss her right now, lick her face, some of you will still be on it. My God, you stink. I'll never get the taste of you out of my mouth, or off her skin.
I plan to burn that dress.
We turn through a passage and suddenly the walls are alive with faces, huge men with leering, laughing mouths and eyes. I know at once that you made them, carved them into the stone here, and they mock me as we pass.
She looks at them too, with a horror of recognition that I don't quite understand. Her face in the dim light looks gaunt and haggard, with a blue tint to the skin, and thick greyish circles around the eyes. Even her dress shines faintly blue. Her left hand rests quietly on her leg, and I notice that the ring is gone. I saw her put it on before she kissed you, and now it's gone.
She never put it on her finger for me. We went to Swarovski's together and picked it out, the best they had, but for her, anything. Oh, it went on her finger for the fitting. The jeweler cut it down for her and then we both admired it before she took it off and put it back in its box. Will the lady wear it? the jeweler asked. Then she asked him for a chain - a thin gold chain. The jeweler looked at me, and I was as puzzled as he.
When we got to the carriage, she put the ring on the chain, and with her most charming smile, asked me to fix the chain around her neck. I'll never take it off, she said.
My face grows hot as the blood leaking out of my arm when I remember it. Oh, she wore it faithfully - around her neck. Until that night when you ripped it from her. Your chains are mine, you said. Your chains are mine.
Your chains are around my neck, too.
I touch a bit of the wound's slimy blood and bring it to my mouth. It's no surprise. It tastes like you, too. Before I know what I'm doing, I've licked my fingers clean.
The movement draws her attention, and she looks up at me. But when she sees me looking at her hand, she covers it hastily with the other one.
On we go, until we dock on the far side of that hellish lake. I help her out of the boat this time, but touch her as little as I possibly can. She slides her hand in mine as we trudge heavily up the stone steps, and all I can think is, that hand was the one which rested on your face, that caressed the coarse deformities of your features as if they were made of the finest Chinese silk.
I let go of her hand.
She goes on ahead of me now, and I notice that the train of her dress is black with the mud of the corridor. The water has stained it as unpleasantly as an unwashed face. Her hair hangs in lank tangled masses over her thin shoulders.
When we reach the broad curving staircase, the strength of my body returns. She takes my hand again and almost pulls me onward, so anxious is she to get out of the dungeon. Then I look up at the curve ahead, and she's headed straight for the open trap door, the one I fell into when I raced down the stairs to find her.
I shout out her name and pull her back just as she is about to plummet down into the water trap. My arm has stopped bleeding, for now. Then almost against my will, both arms go up around her, and fold her against my chest. Your smell still lingers on her, but not so strong this time, or perhaps I'm already growing accustomed to it.
On we go, skirting delicately around the trap as if you might leap out of it and drag us down once again. We move like children who tiptoe past a certain closet, or who won't go into the cellar, for fear of what they might find there. Then we see light, and hear voices and shouts, even a few cheers that swell as we step forward blinking, blinded by the brightness. She squeezes my hand, and I can even return it, here in the light.
No doubt, the mob has found you by now, and your pieces are strewn all over the shore of that foul lake, the devil's own pissoir.
But I still plan to burn that dress.