The plot bunny hit me then, hard, and the only cure was to write. So, here it is, in all its melodramatic angst (because apparently I'm incapable of writing fluff).
1. the hidden threshold
I am not, nor have I ever been, what one would commonly term ‘a busybody’. Well, I must concede that, every now and then, I do like to intrude upon events and situations nobody officially invited me to; this statement is particularly accurate when applied to my stay in Portora. Generally speaking, I often feel an insatiable curiosity for the workings of other people’s lives and minds. This... idiosyncrasy, however, also makes me particularly adept at recognizing the limits set by someone to the amount of information that he, or she, is willing to share. A fact that becomes absolute truth, inviolable commandment, when the person I am dealing with goes by the name of Patrick Moriarty. Everything about him and around him appears brighter and sharper, as if filtered through a lens with the quality of amplifying reality, and when I am with him, all my senses are accordingly enhanced.
But I digress.
The point of the matter is: I can perfectly tell when Patrick doesn’t want a topic to be touched, as clearly as if he were holding a sign in front of my face saying, “I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want you to go there. Stop right here, right now”. And when I stumble upon such a bound, what other course of action do I have to follow, aside from obedience and retreat? It is the role I chose, after all. When it comes to establishing the rules, he never leaves any room for interpretation, and I am so madly, senselessly in love with him that I can only accept, if there’s only the slightest possibility that this will allow me to stay by his side. So what brand of idiocy, what bizarre disease is now bringing me to break that most sacred law?
I do not know. But, God help me, I can’t regret doing so, even if all I earn will be pain.
I am in his study, on one gelid afternoon of mid-November. We have agreed to meet at four, but upon my arrival the maid informs me “that the rehearsals for tomorrow’s evening concert detained Mister Moriarty longer than he first expected; nonetheless he had anticipated this possibility, and thus left instructed that, should you indeed arrive before him, you should be escorted to his study, so please, follow me, Doctor. May I take your hat and coat? Thank you, here we are”.
From the agitated way the lady said her speech, it was quite evident she thought that, for Patrick to allow a gentleman to go to his study without he himself being present in the house, Doomsday must be well-nigh.
So, here I am. One week since I waited for him in the night outside an empty theatre. One week since I learned how to breathe again.
My eyes are caressing aimlessly the spines of the books of his excellently-furnished library, when something on the far end of the second shelf brings them to a halt. It’s... a notebook, small and battered, with a smooth, crimson-tinted leather cover. It looks like it had been kept hidden for a long time and then hastily unearthed; as if its owner had wanted to check some fact, to search a specific piece of data, but, dissatisfied with what he had found, had discarded it again.
From this point on, my body seems to acquire a mind of its very own. I watch my hand stretch towards the notebook, grab it and then open it, while all kinds of alarm bells ring unheeded in my head. The pages flow rapidly before my eyes, without being actually read. I only recognize Patrick’s polished, rounded handwriting. Then, unbidden, my attention decides to focus on the last few pages1:
“Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a small brick-house in a gigantic, eternal garden, where the sun was always hidden by the clouds and the nights grew every day longer and longer. For all his childhood, he never left the house, and for all those years he only knew the walls of its rooms. Then, on his tenth birthday, he was allowed to go out. He never went back inside again.
The boy walked; and the road was narrow, and the night was dark.
One day, it began to snow. But the boy didn’t know what snow was, so he didn’t know how to walk on it, so he slipped. A black cat appeared right in that moment. He laughed at the sight the boy made, and the sound was so beautiful, that soon the boy was laughing with him. Then the cat helped him to stand, and they were friends.
The boy and the cat walked; and the road seemed to grow larger to accomodate them both, and the night was finally ending.
They walked, but the garden was never-ending. Actually, that is not exactly true. The truth is that the garden was a perfect circle, where the end collided with the start; there was no escape for the cat and the boy.
One day, a big silver crow, attacked the cat, and stole his eyes. The boy managed to catch the crow, and recover the cat’s eyes, but no matter how hard, how desperately he tried, he couldn’t give them back to the cat. The cat’s orbits remained empty and unseeing, until he eventually died.
Grief, then, enveloped the boy like a second skin, until he forgot all the other feelings he had ever felt.
The boy cried; and the road became a slope, and it was night again, forever.“
Only a blank sheet follows. The spell breaks. The sound of the front door opening dries my eyes before any tear has the chance to fall.
The notebook goes back to its place.
“What do you think of The Little Mermaid? “ I ask Patrick as soon as he sets foot in the study.
I can see a hint of surprise on his face, but he recovers quickly; after all, such non sequitur have always been the opening to many of our most intense and productive conversations.
He uses the time it takes him to cross the room to formulate a response.
“A remarkably unremarkable romance,” he starts, propping himself on his desk and crossing his arms, “that risked right to its final moments of being worth remembering only for its dullnes, but was fortunately redeemed by its tragic ending”.
“You like only tragic endings?”
“Only tragic endings are realistic. And art should always strive for realism.”
“You do not approve of happily-ever-after, then?”
I’m whispering, I realise. My throat feels like sandpaper drenched in hydrochloric acid.
When did I get so close to him? Only a few inches, between my hand and his warm thigh.
“Happy endings are a lie designed to soothe those possessed of a weak spirit” he replies, looking at me as if daring me to contradict him, his voice also reduced to a murmur.
The words sink into my heart, a rusted blade penetrating soft flesh and infecting the nerves. The pain scalds me only for a second, but I have to close my eyes against it all the same.
Something cracks within me. Only time, and fate, know if it will eventually break, or be mended.
2. free to live
It’s the first day of September. The air is chill and invigorating, the sky is blue and clear; not a cloud to be seen in a radius of five miles at least.
Two weeks and a half since we came back from Switzerland. I have just arrived to the surgery, ready for what promises to be a mild day of visits. As soon as I sit behind my desk, I notice that there’s something in the internal pocket of my jacket, something I don’t remember putting there. I go to check, puzzled, and what I find makes my heart skip a beat. For in my hand I’m holding Patrick’s red notebook. I notice that the last page is dog-eared. My mouth dry, my stomach in knots, I start to read:
Grief, then, enveloped the boy like a second skin, until he forgot all the other feelings he had ever felt.
The boy cried; and the road became a slope, and it was night again, forever.”
“One day, a big silver crow attacked the cat and stole his eyes. The boy fought and chased the crow, with teeth and blood, until he finally recovered the cat’s beautiful black and green eyes.
He went back to the cat and cried many tears, and used them to put the eyes back in their orbits. They stayed still, until the cat regained its sight. But then, the cat noticed something: having been in the crow’s claws, the cat’s eyes had flown high in the sky, they had seen the circular, never-ending garden from above, and so they had learned the way out. There was a tree, at the very, very edge of that little world, right in the space where the end collided with the start.
The cat led the boy to the tree, and showed him that there was a hole, hidden between its black, age-old roots. They went inside
The cat and the boy walked; there was a tunnel, and then a light, and they were free.
The garden they left behind crumbled and burned; from its ashes, a shining new galaxy was born. The boy and the cat promised to each other that they would explore every star in it, and that they would never be apart.
My tears falling on the page bring me back to the real world. Remember to breathe. I dry my eyes, stand up, leave the ambulatory; I run. I run and run and run, until I am at Patrick’s front door, and then on the threshold of what he calls “his own mystic gulf” (I’ll provide the translation: the chamber where he plays and writes). He is playing, but upon my arrival he stops, and looks at me; his fingers remain poised over the black and white keys. I can feel the touch on my nape.
“Oh” he says, not quite achieving to hide a smile so endearingly timid and sweet and tentative that I want to weep at the mere sight of it. “I take that you have read it, then”.
Lord have mercy, he is actually blushing. I love him, I love him, I love him.
Only few steps separates us, then two, then none.
“You changed your mind about happy endings, after all?” I say, and oh God, why do I sound like a nervous squirrel?
He looks up to me, his lashes lowered, his mouth red and full of life and secrets.
“I discovered that I... that every now and then, I like feeling weak”.
We swallow at the same time, drowning in each other’s eyes. I haven’t felt so much electricity on my skin since we were caught in a storm just outside Edinburgh, months ago.
He leans back on one arm, exposing his neck, the slivers of skin left uncovered by his haphazardly-buttoned shirt.
“And I suppose that... Well, that only fools never change their mind”, he concludes, smiling again; I sit beside him, our legs facing opposite directions, our faces only a few inches apart.
“Does that make me a fool, since I’ve never changed my mind on this particular subject?” I murmur, drinking his breath, while my arm envelops his waist.
“Oh, there always exceptions. But aside from that, yes, you are a fool. I told you so many times, have you not been paying attention?”
“You are so, so insolent”, but still, I do not dare kiss him. If I do, there’s a distinct possibility I may implode, or spontaneously self-combust.
He seems to momentarily lose himself in the study of my face; after a small pause, he touches his forehead to mine, his lips first kissing the tip of my nose, and then hovering over my own, but never actually touching them.
“Don’t you have lives to save, Doctor?” he says eventually. When he calls me by my title... He must know the things it does to me, to my blood circulation, to my mental sanity.
“Oh God, please, stop.” Reduced to moaning with one word. Isn’t that flattering.
“My, my, I haven’t even started.”
“You are always starting, you--” ...your very existence is the start of my annihilation, I want to accuse him, but I can’t, for he kisses me, deep and wet, long and perfect, an assault that conquers all thought and makes me whole, anew.
“Go” he says at last, releasing me. “I have no desire for your patients to invade the privacy of my home looking for their negligent physician.”
“Will you still be here, when I return?”
“And we will go exploring? Every star in the firmament?”
“Every star. And when we are finished, we’ll move on to the next galaxy.”
“And then the next. And the next. Good.”