The silk is cool against my eyelids and the air cool against my skin.
I can feel the goosebumps slowly forming in a ripple across my arms and chest.
I fidget a little against the restraints to exploit the softness of the sheets beneath me.
I can hear traffic and distant music out of the open window, muffled by the height of the building so the noise is reduced to a soothing level. There’s something exciting about hearing people outside go about their business; they are so close yet so far away. They have no idea I am listening.
I hear the door open and some soft footsteps against the carpet.
They pause nearby; I don’t know how close.
I arch my back very slightly, and lower it again.
He lets out a little laugh, and takes a few more steps.
I feel the gentlest touch caress my lower leg and I flinch.
I fidget a little to take advantage of the soft sheets beneath me.
I hear the sound of springs compressing and feel the bed sink in one corner.
The gentle hand returns to stroke my other leg, this time starting at my ankle and slowly, slowly meandering up my leg in oscillations.
It stops when it is half way up my thigh.
I fidget again, this time not voluntarily.
The fingertips begin to retrace their steps back down my leg and I let out a little squeak of disappointment.
They stop again, caressing from side to side.
I point my toes and part my legs very slightly.
A final murmured laugh and the fingertips disappear.
He stands and plants a delicate kiss on my outer thigh.
Some light footsteps later the door opens.
I hear the light switch flick off and the door close.
The traffic and I are alone.
The slow power of the music warmed the air and infused her blood with calm. She settled back into his arm as they sat on the carpeted floor against the wall, and let her eyes fall shut as he began to stroke her arm softly; habitually.
His caress drifted in and out of time with the music, intentionally strumming her arm, as if she were the acoustic guitar that filled the room, with his delicate fingertips. After a few minutes his head came to rest upon the top of hers, flooding her with a perfect warmth and drawing a smile onto her lips.
She nestled closer to his chest and his arm tightened around her for a moment. The song ended and brought a short silence punctuated by his heartbeat against her ear.
A new song was greeted by a heavy, slow rise and fall of his chest; a long sigh of memory as a smile took over his lips, too.
The world seemed to be spinning faster than usual, and it was off-balance. The ground swayed and tilted and she stumbled as she walked. The people around her seemed unaffected by the rapidly shifting gravity and looked on in disgust at the drunken flailing of the sober woman before them. She was grasping at the walls desperately as she searched the maze of hallways for the elevators. Upon finally reaching the correct end of the building she shakily withdrew a key card from her bag and slid it down the receiver by the doors. She hugged the handbag to her chest and leaned against the wall.
“Deep breaths, deep breaths”, she muttered to herself, looking down to the floor as it rippled and undulated.
The doors flew open mercifully and she stumbled into the elevator, taking the metal rail that lined the mirrored box in both hands to steady herself.
She reached out an arm and pressed the button for her floor, as well as the two either side of it that somehow had read the same number a moment ago. She looked into the mirror as she began to ascend, staring into her own eyes. Her reflection blinked, she did not. She closed her eyes tightly for a couple of seconds. When she opened them her her reflection had turned to look behind her. Her eyes were now frozen on the mirror.
The door opened and closed next to her. Her reflection flinched at the sound. She did not.
She stared into the woman in the mirror, not so sure it was a reflection anymore, as it blinked independently and looked around the room.
The doors finally opened on the correct floor and she staggered out into one final hallway, the walls breathing rhythmically around her. She found a familiar door and inserted the key card still gripped in her hand. She silently thanked a deity she had never spoken with as she pushed the heavy door open. She left the lights off and ran to the bed, landing face-down in the soft sheets. She breathed slowly and deeply, filling her head with the sterile clean scent, in blissful darkness.
He watches as she cries in fear of an invisible tormentor.
He holds her down as she tears at her skin.
He strokes her hair as she stares vacantly into the horizon through dusty eyes.
He kisses her cuts and bruises and burns and scars.
He holds her so tightly and tells her the world isn’t ending.
He listens while she says some horrible words.
He soothes her when she wants to die.
He watches her eyes twitching with anxiety, her arms held tightly across her chest, her gaze shifting rapidly from one imperfection to the next.
He feels helpless.
All he ever wanted was to love her.
Keeping her alive is consuming his soul.
The sun shone mockingly, illuminating a world that she did not want to see. Her every muscle heavy with a fatigue that she couldn’t sleep off, her mind not present, but not elsewhere. Nowhere, really. She allowed her eyelids to drop closed and rested her head on her knees as she sat on the carpet. The warmth from the sky was unwelcome. It met her skin like the touch of an old friend who had wronged her in some way, and she tried to shake it off.
The dog let out a shrill bark of excitement behind her as a stranger pulled into the driveway. Her head remained down, her eyes remained shut, and she listened as the vehicle turned and left again and the dog resumed its nap at the bottom of the stairs. She raised her head only to pick up the mug from beside her. She lifted it to her face and let the steam flow over her face to cleanse her of the dirty feeling the sunlight had inflicted.
Her skin became sticky and smooth from the vapour, her eyes regained the strength to open a little, and her disdain for the sun lightened.
The sea teased the coarse sand of the beach with its caress a few metres in front of him. He watched it through distracted eyes, turning every minute or so as if waiting for someone to join him on the moonlit pebbles of the shore. A ferry was passing on its path into the harbour, close enough that he could hear its speakers announcing to the people on the deck that they were to prepare for the end of their journey. The waves became erratic as the large vessel marked its tracks, racing each other to the beach with impatient hostility.
The man glanced behind him again and this time stood clumsily, slipping a little on the stones. He smiled as his eyes followed an invisible person that appeared to be traveling towards him. He reached out a hand in greeting but the way he retracted it slowly whilst turning back to the sea suggested that his advance was rejected. His eyes still followed the unseen soul as it traveled towards the sea, and he began to plead with it for attention. He took a few steps closer to the sea and paused to stare out over the water for a few moments. The boat had passed and the wash was calm once more.
His gaze lowered to the pebbles at his feet as he spoke a soft apology. When he looked up his expression changed. His eyes wide and his mouth ajar he staggered forward three steps, reaching an arm out before him in desperation. He let out a cry of pain as he stepped into the edge of the sea and then dropped to his knees, one arm still extended before him, the other on the watery floor for support. He stared through widened, teary eyes at a point in the water a few metres out; a point too deep for a person to stand.
He was plucked from the water by an older woman in a dressing gown, who held him in her arms and stroked his hair gently for a minute or two as he sobbed heavily into her shoulder. She steered him towards the pavement where an older man stood with an open towel, and together they deposited him once again into the solitary car at the edge of the road. As they stood beside the vehicle the older man took the lady’s hand and squeezed it gently to comfort her as a droplet of water slid down her cheek. She wiped it away hastily, giving her usual wave of thanks to her messenger, who stood in a doorway across the road with a phone in her hand.
“Why did you do it?” read the note in his hand.
He stuffed it back into his pocket, his face expressionless.
He stood alone in the open grassland, not a light for miles but the low moon in the cloudy sky.
He looked around him, cursing the incompetence of his men under his breath.
He sighted the large mound of dirt and began to walk towards it.
As he came closer two figures rose from where they rested next to the soil.
He berated them as he approached with profanities and insults.
The two men bowed their heads and muttered their apologies.
He strode closer to the excavation behind the dirt and assessed it for a moment.
“You sure it’s him?”, he said, gesturing towards the hole with a nod.
The the taller of the men stepped forward and handed over a leather wallet and an ID badge.
He examined them.
The badge matched his own.
He gave another nod and threw them into the trench.
He took the note once again from his pocket, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed that in also.
“Fill it in.”
The two men hurriedly collected their shovels and started to replace the soil.
He turned and to walk back the way he had come.
A few paces away the ground became soft for a moment, then resumed normality.
He did not look down.
He knew what lay there.
She put on a clean dress. He put on stained jeans. She put on make-up. He considered shaving. She stripped off and bent over. He put on a dirty hoody and rubbed an erection against her leg. She wore attractive, uncomfortable underwear. His were off-white with extra holes, because they were comfortable. She exercised every day. He said he might join the gym one day.
It was her job to be attractive, not his. He was losing her.
The man before me had eyes filled with hope, almost pleading, like an innocent man before a guillotine who had accepted his fate but still prayed for a miracle. The dark blue tie around his neck looked too tight and clashed with the light blue pinstriped shirt on which it lay. He had an air of discomfort about him as he knelt on the carpeted floor of the restaurant, extending to me a small red velvet box.
The air grew dense with silence for a moment until the piano at the far end of the room began to play a gentle melody of encouragement. My eyes were resting solely on his, but we were both very aware of the dozens of eyes that stared expectantly at the box between us as he started to open it. The gem inside looked out of place in his hands. It mimicked the glint in his pleading eyes as he lifted it towards me further. Chatter vibrated through our audience littered with sighs and coos.
The words that left his mouth fell ungracefully to the floor. I broke eye contact and glanced briefly across the tables in front of me, full of smiles and hope. I painted a smile across my own mouth as I looked to the man once again. I gave a slow nod and the room embarked on a scattered applause as the ring was removed from the cushion in which it nestled. He took my hand in his and electricity flowed between us, but it was an uneasy energy. The ring was slid onto my finger with surprising ease and I lifted my hand to inspect it. It felt cold and heavy, its glimmer like a raindrop against my glasses.
I stood and he put his arms around me in celebration. He placed a hand very gently on the back of my head to hold me closer and whispered a message of love into my ear, his breath hot and sticky. I squeezed my arms around him in response before releasing him and pulling away to take my seat once more. He resumed his place opposite me as the rest of the room settled back into their own lives.
The innocent man smiled in relief; his execution had been delayed.