I never write angst. Like, ever. The prompts, the lyrics were all fairly upbeat. So I have NO idea where this came from (please don't hurt me). However, it took some interesting twists that I enjoyed.
Title given me was Starry-Eyed, prompts were initiative, flower, and tea shop.
Out of all the stories that have ever been told, most are love stories. Don't ask me why – but people seem to enjoy them. Add a little spice to human interaction and suddenly it's a classic. Oh, come on. Gone With The Wind? Wuthering Heights? Sure, they're good, but do they deserve the title classic? Someone once called The Twilight Series a classic, for crying out loud. We wail over the hero, we shake our head over the heroine, we add in some haphazard romance and boom, it's a bestseller. Well, call me jaded, but I think there's more to a story than that. A human being is more than the sum of their soulmate, thank you very much.
But at the same time, any story is incomplete without romance. Would Jason have been all he was without Medea? Would Anna Karenina have been as interesting without Alexei Vronsky? And the gripping tragic ending of the Beatles was Yoko Ono. I mean, she's a nice woman and all, but the Yellow Submarine met the Great Barrier Reef the day she and John Lennon fell in love. But it's all part of the story, and the story is incomplete without it.
Humans need love. And humans need to go to the toilet. It's just that the love is more interesting. But without going into too much detail, if you didn't go to the toilet, you wouldn't be too worried about love.
What I'm trying to say is that you humans are so much more than a Romeo to a Juliet or a Daisy to a Gatsby. Yes, there's romance, but there's also chopping onions on a Saturday, getting kidnapped, riding a train, and spilling blue paint. You are black and white, but you are also red and blue and chartreuse and puce and mauve. You are not a one dimensional love story, but many layered and fascinating. (Well, most of you are.) Your stories can be told in so many different ways, the most conventional being frontways, but also sideways and diagonal and backwards.
Enough talking. I have a story to tell. Maybe you'll learn something. Yeah, they're romances, but try and see the people behind the pixelated little hearts, huh? And because it's the effect that romance has on humans that's most interesting, I'll tell this story backwards, so you can see where they end up before you judge how they should turn out. And instead of the run-of-the-mill haphazard romance you guys are so fond of, I'll organize it carefully.
Oh, and a final note, just to get your attention: all the examples I mentioned?
Every single one is a tragedy.
Not much is going to change from here on out.
-Triptych the Third-
The second fact about Marlene McKinnon, that she loved to read books, is actually not a fact. I made it up myself. Presumptuous, I know, and oddly romanticized for so unromantic a creature as I, but it filled out her character for me. Cut me a break – what little I knew of her came from two actual meetings and scraps of description from a half-mad inmate. I reserve creative license.
Her favorite book, I told myself, was probably Call Of The Wild. It was one of the few books I've ever gotten my hands on; one of the prison guards had left a copy of the Muggle novel lying around, and I'd really connected with its non-human narrator. Of course Marlene would sympathize with Buck being ripped away from his family. Her father had died in prison, a soulless wretch. But they were both fighters. They were survivors, kicking against a world that had pushed them down.
It's not like I had been thinking a lot about her. She was only seven the first time I saw her, and I'd seen her for about three seconds total the second. In fact, I'd forgotten all about her until the guards brought in a new inmate. A roaring animal of a man who had to be Stupefied to go quietly to his cell. He was one of the strongest. It took him a year to start talking to himself, another year to start crying. There was something else, too, something nonhuman. I know, I'm one to talk. But it didn't seem threatening, so I never worried much about it. He was also one of the most jaded – he had no happy memories for a dementor to suck away.
It was the talking that interested me. I guess the man got tired of talking to himself. One day he comes right up to his cell bars as I go on my rounds and says "Well, as long as we're cozied up here, I guess we might as well get to know each other, eh?"
I don't respond. He laughs madly. "Strong and silent type? That's all right, beautiful. You just let your lips do the talking. I'm Sirius. Sirius Black. And I think I'm going mad." He pauses as if waiting for a reaction, and when I give none he continues. "Don't think you can ignore me, darling. I've got the rest of my life ahead of me and just my innocence keeping me sane."
I should not stop, but I turn towards him. Innocence? Well, they all say they're innocent. In between playing with their imaginary cat and screaming for their mothers. He noticed. "Ah, that surprises you. Well, don't try to take advantage of my innocence, beautiful, I'm not that kind of girl. James..." he sighed. "Now, James, for all his airs of 'experience', was that kind of girl. Two left feet when it came to girls. And somehow he managed to fit both feet in his mouth when he tried to talk to them." He laughed; it sounded like he was back to talking to himself. But I stuck around. I sensed a story. "It's a shocker he ever got Lily to marry him."
Sirius went on rambling about James and Lily, and someone called Remus. He also mentioned someone named Peter, and never without a stream of steady, shouted swearing. (Swearing fascinates me – it's so laden with emotion, so creative. Humans always seem to have a couple of cuss words handy.)
After a while, he laughed. "If only Marlene could see me now," he said. "She always swore I'd end up in prison." Then he went to sleep. I could have used his swearwords myself. I needed to hear this story about whoever Marlene was. It felt important.
As I continued my rounds, I realized I'd heard the name Marlene before. A spitfire little girl; a dying woman. She had died before I had heard her story in full. Would I get to hear it at last?
The next few weeks answered my question. Apparently Sirius liked the sound of his own voice, because he told me about everything from his mother ("A witch, in more ways than one") to the time he had set his school's Great Hall on fire ("James and I toasted marshmallows"). All I was missing was the Rorschach test and comfy couch. Then finally one night he told me about Marlene.
"We were in the same year," he said softly. The memory of days long past transformed his cell into a summer sunset for him. "She was a quiet little thing. Pale and interesting, you know the kind. Long black hair. Stayed at the back of the class, smarter than all of us put together. I never really noticed her; she was part of the furniture. Until one day when we started picking on Dorcas Meadowes. She was afraid of snakes, so we stuck one in her boots," he chuckled. "She screamed so loud I think a few ghosts were woken back to life. Marlene flew at us. I'd never seen her angry before, and she was as wild as an insulted hippogriff. She tore into me and James, told us exactly what she thought of us, and then turned our underwear into snakes. At least they weren't poisonous! Suffice it to say, I never saw her in quite the same way. I never forgot how beautiful she had looked. And I started noticing the little things: how she never wore her hair down, how she drummed her fingers in the same rhythm when she was impatient, how she doodled little animals on her homework. And I chased her for – oh, years. And by chasing I mean playing endless pranks on her and asking her out until she hexed me. Every day, until we graduated."
He sighed and slowly came back to reality. "I will forever regret not loving her sooner. Not forgetting all those other girls and spending all the time I could with her...because I did love her." He looks at me mockingly. "Not that you know what love is, yeah? You can kiss like nobody's business, but you're not one for commitment. Now girls, they're all the same. Forget the fancy diamonds and pretty pearls they all fuss over – what they really want is a ring. But Marley...she was different."
It took weeks for Sirius to tell me. He'd alluded to it a dozen times in his lucid snippets until I was almost as mad as the Lestrange prisoner with curiosity. Finally, one night after he had waxed eloquent about what exactly he was going to do to Peter Pettigrew, he began his narrative.
I have constructed the next scene in my mind many times.
The dark haired girl picks her way across the raindrenched sidewalk. Every so often she glances around as if she expects the shadows to leap up and grab her. Her raincoat is clutched tightly around her painfully thin frame, sunshine yellow in bubbly contrast with her furtive walk.
Finally she makes it to her destination. The tea shop, with its lovely awning and flower boxes, looks out of place in the grimy London scene. She pushes the door open, wincing at the bright tinkle of the bell, and enters cautiously. Her wide blue eyes are alert, but once they see what they're looking for, the stormy trapped ocean inside them calms.
Sirius – young, vibrant, with a rogueish smile – beckons her over. She catches her breath. This is just like one of her books. Handsome prince in desperate times, seeking out the girl he – no, shut up Marlene. As if he'd love a slip of a thing like you. Business. She squares her narrow shoulders and marches over to the table. "Black," she nods stiffly to him.
He rolls his eyes. "McKinnon," he mocks. "Must we stand on ceremony or are you going to sit?" Feeling like an idiot, she takes a seat.
"What's so urgent?" she murmurs. "Have you found out something that could help the Aurors? How did you find out? Is anyone in trouble?" He blinks and beckons the waiter over.
"Er, no," he said. "I just thought we could have lunch." He calmly places his order while Marlene fumes. But she is secretly flying. Sirius Black wants to have lunch with her. He has brought her here under false pretenses, just like Gatsby had lured Daisy to meet him after years apart...
"How dare you," she says coldly. "We are only to use the word 'emergency' in communications in the case of an actual emergency, Black!"
He looks at her with big puppy eyes. "I missed you. Is that emergency enough?" She stammers and he grins triumphantly.
"I got you something, by the way," he says, and reaching under the table brings out a beautifully flowering red red rose. He hands it to her with as much pomp and ceremony as the crowded tea shop will allow.
Marlene gazes at it, touched that Sirius Black would think of a small gentlemanly detail like this. She opens her mouth to thank him and the first words out of her mouth are "I hate red roses."
He blinks, taken aback, and she wishes she could condemn herself to the seventh circle of hell. "I mean, thank you. But red roses are so hackneyed. It's like the symbol of absolute love, but it's this pathetically fragile flower that wilts as soon as you cut it." She dares meet his eyes and is shocked to see humor dancing in the black depths.
"Methinks you've stumbled on a poetic metaphor," he says. "What would you prefer, a diamond ring? I'm afraid I've been cut off from the Black inheritance – "
Marlene laughs, surprising herself. She hasn't laughed since...she can't remember. "Oh, please. I don't propose on first dates. I'm not that kind of girl."
"I'm willing to take the initiative," he winks cockily. "Just give me a starting loan and I'll be able to afford one in, oh, seven years if I can scam James out of his pennies."
And Marlene is laughing, laughing hard, and falling in love hard, and it's just like her novels because her handsome hero is there to catch her when she falls.
That night, after they've spent the whole day together walking among the rain puddles of London, Sirius takes her home. They pause on the stoop of her little flat. There is one spastic lightbulb flickering above them, casting uncertain light over the cold concrete scene. Her heart flickers in time with the lightbulb as Sirius Black leans in and gives her one brief Kiss.
Maybe, Sirius Black, I do know what love is. It's laughing loudly in a raindrenched tea shop, it's taking the initiative and giving someone a flower, it's dancing in rain puddles because you want to forget about a War. It's telling a monster a story because you don't want to forget what happened. Love is anger. Love is happiness. Love is hate.
Love is a story that doesn't end.
And this story is just finding its beginnings.
-Triptych the Second-
The second and last time I ever met the girl was when I was sent to finish her off.
Picture this: a room, smashed into splinters. There's smoke choking the air. Books lie on the ground, filleted like fish, spines broken and pages gaping wide. It's a study, and you can see it used to be stately – like where an old and dignified grandfather might spend his twilight years. But the oak desk has been cleaved in two, and the mahogany bookshelves have been toppled over like dominos, and a bottle of ink is coughing up black blood all over the floor.
And the sole inhabitant of the room is not old or dignified.
The young girl looks maybe nineteen. Her face looked like it was once beautiful in the Roman sense: aquiline nose, large eyes, finely formed lips. But now it's been burned beyond recognition. Cruelly twisted into the face of a rodeo clown, so ugly it would be laughable if it wasn't horrific. She is literally holding her insides in with one hand, while the other hand grips her wand with white knuckles. Red blood mingles with the black ink on the floor.
When Death's fingers begin to stroke your throat in the first few moments of dying, you reveal who you really are. And this girl impresses me. She is screaming, yes, she is lying on the floor, yes. But it's not angry screaming. Or wails of agony. It's calm screaming, if such a thing exists. She is screaming simply because she knows her vocal cords will not be heard again, and she wants to memorize the way her own voice sounds.
I've never come across this in all my years.
I come closer, drinking in the sound of Marlene McKinnon's dying, desperate screams. It's a swan song in neon, too bright for polite company, but I'm not polite company and I am fascinated by this raw emotion.
It is like liquid human soul.
The girl sees me and stops screaming, panting for breath. For the first time, she looks terrified. And no wonder. I am worse than her worst nightmare. "Get away," she spits, a red fountain dribbling down her chin. "Murderer. Did the Death Eaters send you to clean up their mess? Too late. The rest of my family's dead. I'm the only one left." She chokes a little, then steels herself. "And I'm not coming easily! Expecto Patronum!"
A huge silver dog charges out of the end of her wand and sinks its gleaming teeth into me.
Blissful pain. I can feel.
And it hurts.
So I fly. Only out the window, though. I can still see everything going on inside. And before long, the magnificent oaken door bursts open and a young male explodes through it. "Marlene!" he screams, and then he is holding the girl in his arms. She gasps with the pain and he frantically tries to loosen his arms without moving her again.
"Hey, Sirius," she mumbles. "You were supposed to pick me up at five. You're late." He has his wand out and he's frantically murmuring spells, but the wounds do not heal. "Oi. I'm dying, prat. The least you could do...is talk me through it."
He gives a sob and she reaches a hand up to his face, leaving a bloody handprint. "Red. Like a rose," she gasps.
"Hackneyed," he manages through the tears. She hiccups a laugh and closes her eyes. He rests his face against her ruined features. "I got you something," he murmurs, and pulls a little black box from his pocket. When he opens it, there's a star inside, refracting the dying light's gleam, the stars outside, and the dying girl's eyes.
She smiles faintly. "How much money did you have to scam off of James?"
He holds her a little closer. "I love you, Marlene McKinnon. Will you marry me?"
"Thought you'd never ask. I want a white wedding, please...lots of red...roses..."
He strokes her face gently. "Marlene, no, Marlene, don't leave me..." But her eyes are closed and the gasps have finally, mercifully, quieted. The boy holds a shell, and he holds it like he will never let go. He starts to scream. It isn't calm screaming like Marlene's. It is ripped and torn in a hundred places with raw, bleeding agony.
Marlene McKinnon will not have a white wedding. It's a black and red wedding. I guess that makes me the maid of honor.
-Triptych the First-
There are two hard and fast facts you need to know about Marlene McKinnon. Her father had been sent to Azkaban when she was seven. And she read too many novels.
I came across the first fact when I met her for the first time in 1967, when she and her mother visited her daddy in Azkaban. They'd been allowed one visit before he got kissed by a mistress he'd never wanted: me. It was more of a Judas kiss, actually. The final Kiss to the betrayed. He had been tricked by a disguised Death Eater into revealing the locations of dozens of undercover fellow Aurors. They and their families were dead within the week. Oops. The Ministry needed a scapegoat. Enter John McKinnon, stage Azkaban.
Unfair? Welcome to wartime politics. And I wasn't about to argue. You've never tasted a soul, and I've never tasted human food, so I have nothing to compare it with. But it tastes how I imagine sunlight must feel: light, bright and not quite fulfilling. Like you're only getting the dimmest glimpse of something much more scintillating. Souls are pure, and they slide too quickly down the throat to get more than a brief flavor.
By the way, as far as I know, I'm the only one who actually thinks about how souls taste. I was always a little different from the other dementors. As a whole they're basically the soulless population of Woodstock, the way they wander around intoxicated, waiting for their next fix. I guess you could call me Rudolph – reindeer games and all that. I was never a part of that. I eat souls, yes, but as distracting as the taste is I'm always fascinated by their stories. So I crept closer and peeked around the door to hear what John McKinnon was going to say in his last moments.
"Marley, I'm not coming home," he tried to explain.
The seven year old began to cry. Big, snotty crying. I didn't understand why. "But it's my birthday tomorrow!"
John McKinnon started to cry too as he tried to hug his daughter through the prison bars. "I know, I know, Mars, I'm so sorry..."
Soon all three were crying. I was a little disappointed. He had twenty minutes to talk to his family for the last time, and they decided to waste it on tears? How unexciting.
"I love you, Daddy," sobbed little Marlene.
It was the first time I ever heard the word love, and I wondered what it meant – some kind of human emotion, likely. It wouldn't be the last time I heard it, and it wouldn't be the last time I struggled to understand it.
They remained like that, the little family of three, holding onto each other and sobbing like they were a raft aboard an ocean of emotion, until finally one of the prison guards walked up to let them know it was time to leave. He looked me up and down before he entered.
"You're not needed till tomorrow," he said.
I'm not here for them, I wanted to say. I'm here for me. I'm trying to understand.
"Scamper off then," he said. "You'll get your fix soon enough." Prat. But I floated a little distance away, still close enough to observe, but far enough that he stopped shivering as much. I watched as he went in.
It was some time before he came out. When he did, he was carrying Marlene, who was kicking and screaming, and supporting the mother. She was pale as the moon that looms over the prison at night.
"No!" screamed the girl. "No! Let me go! Daddy!" But try as she could she could not break loose. She, the guard, and her mother made their slow way down to the docks, where a boat waited to take them to the Apparition point. The mother stumbled once. She lay on the ground and lay unmoving, eyes staring into space. She looked as if it had been her soul that had been taken, instead of her husband's. I swooped in for a closer look. The girl saw me and screamed.
"Get away! Murderer!" It was the most hate-filled cry I have ever heard in my life. Not that that stopped me. Hate means nothing to me. The girl writhed and screamed as I came closer to examine the mother. Why had she fallen? Had her legs stopped working? No, she seemed to be in the grip of some heavy emotion. Her face was blank, limbs frozen, ears deaf to the guard's entreaties to get up. A cumbersome thing, emotion. I didn't understand why humans put so much stock in it. The little girl was angry, but that didn't hurt me. The mother was sad, but that didn't save her husband. And this thing called love. What did that do for anybody? Why were humans so attracted to something that made them so weak?
Finally they bundled the family into the boat. Marlene had to be held down so that she didn't swim back to the island. Her eyes found me, and bored into me until the boat finally faded out of sight.
It would be fourteen years before I ever saw her again. In that time, Marlene would get a Kiss of her own. One that would infuse her soul with light, not drain it.
A few days after Sirius tells me his story, I go outside to look at the ocean. It dashes itself to pieces against the black rocks of Azkaban and then, undamaged, rears itself up to crash again. Each drop has been everywhere in the world: in the atmosphere, at the bottom of the sea, in a wave. They each are their own story. No drop can be separated from another, for if one drop stands alone it forms its own microcosmic ocean. They are part of a seamless whole.
Marlene McKinnon's story is a drop of water. It had no beginning, no end; it was not concluded when she died, but continued on in Sirius, in me, and now in you. It cannot be destroyed. Can water be transformed to nothing? If burned, it continues to exist unseen. If frozen, it remains stubbornly present. If stories are remembered they are not destroyed.
It reminds me of a poem I once read, by Muriel Rukeyser. A dementor reading poetry. I think that's supposed to be ironic. But there is one line that goes:
"We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer, or the look, the lake in the eye that knows, for the despair that flows down in widest rivers, cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace, all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves."
Beginnings are nothing more than what we create ourselves. Is love the same way? Something that in creating creates us? I believe there is so much more to life than love. Life is defined by nothing. And yet "in time of war what shall we feed?" Love is a product of what we are. Hate breeds hate, apathy apathy, and love...everything.
So love is a story. There is more to life than love, but love is everything.
"One life, or the faring stars."
I gaze up into the heavens. The faring stars are in my eyes, but I cannot see them for the light.
Overly cerebral perhaps, but I hope it made someone out there think a little. What is your story? How is it worded, and how much love weaves in and out of it? A triptych is a sort of three paneled panorama showing different sides of things. I tried to show three sides of Marlene, and three sides of love. I was always fascinated by the dementors as well, so this evolved into a kind of Marcus Zusak-type narrator. It was incredibly interesting to write.
Rukeyser's poetry is truly wonderful; go read it! And for the record, I count Twilight as a tragedy and also quite enjoy Wuthering Heights and Gone With The Wind.