Sabina keeps him on a leash. She feeds him milk and honey; nourishes his soul. They’ve always been close; since he was born, he says, couldn’t be without her, he says. Their parents were friends, lived next door. Their fathers worked in finance, their mothers crocheted; one big happy family.
Sabina has eyes like a doe, a mouth made of roses, her skin carved from fine bone china; nobody had ever seen a face so regal, a face so worthy of love. Sabina keeps her heart in a cage though. He thinks she’s lost the key; her heart can never be unlocked. She thinks love could be the key to the cage, but for now, the cage is closed and the door is locked and nobody’s home.
Sabina hated Tuesdays because they were dull and unemotional. It was a Tuesday, and certainly not an ordinary one when he changed their lives. It was a glorious day, full of featherlight autumn sunshine and long shadows, and although the sun shone, the air was crisp in anticipation of the approaching winter. It was a particularly beautiful Tuesday, and Sabina felt inclined to forgive its monotony and embrace it.
Sometimes, after work, he would meet Sabina on the bench, like they did every day after school. It felt good to play as if they were children again. The bench was green peeling paint and mottled hardwood, the initials of many previous visitors scratched into the wood’s aged face. It had rusted metal legs that clung to the hill, overgrown with autumn grass, submissive and bending in the wind. Sabina liked the bench, it made her think of a crab, scuttling across the beach, pressed close to the sand. He liked the bench because it was the only place he got to see Sabina alone, he loved her outline on the horizon while she waited for him to arrive. She cut a lonely outline; just Sabina and the sky, that was all that mattered to him.
When he reached her she wasn’t looking at him, a trace of a smile played on her lips; she was watching the birds, swallows. Sabina loved birds, she spoke to them as if she knew them all personally. Sabina could look at the birds forever, and if she could’ve been anything, she would’ve been a bird. He disagreed, for he thought her too grand to be a bird; Sabina was a panther or something else that really mattered. A bird was nothing compared to a panther.
Sabina turned her sweet eyes towards him, she peered into his soul. Each of his follicles stood on end. Their consciousnesses bristled and brushed against each other. What are you thinking? She said, barely a whisper, but much louder in his head. He always heard Sabina, even when she was miles away. He heard her counting stock at work between nine and five, he listened to her decide what to eat for dinner and what to read that evening. She was always with him, so surely he was always with her. He knew their souls were one, they were destined; he knew she wouldn’t refuse him, they’d waited their whole lives for this. For twenty-two years he had thought of nothing but Sabina, and now he was going to tell her how he felt.
And he did.
He knew almost instantly that he had made a mistake. He could see his universe unravel in Sabina’s eyes. He heard himself unpick the stitches of the trust that wove them so closely together, he watched as he tore it in two. The earth bobbed closer to the sun; it pitched and reeled, the hill under the bench grew ten times as tall. The sky became unbearably bright, screaming visual tinnitus, it was screaming at him to stop. He knew it was too late now. He had never been so unbearably hot, the dry autumn grass wilted in the heat; the whole world wilted around Sabina. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, their precious bubble had been shattered, he could not repair it now.
Sabina, without moving, had changed entirely. He didn’t recognise her. Her soft eyes were still soft, but full of pity now. He knew her half-smiles had never been for him. Sabina was not a mystery; she was the opposite, she had always worn her heart on her sleeve, only it didn’t beat for him. He had read between the lines where no text was omitted. He had seen hidden things where he wanted to see things hidden. Where he once saw burning desire, he now saw sisterly affection. His whole life had been a lie. He had forced all this onto Sabina when she had asked for none of it. He had ruined everything.
Sabina felt like she had lied to him, she felt like she’d betrayed his expectation. She thought she always knew what he was thinking, but she clearly hadn’t. So strange was having your whole truth turned upside down. If she was wrong about this, she was probably wrong about everything. Sabina had been sure without doubts; when something is, it just is. But now she couldn’t be certain.
She couldn’t understand how they could perceive the same experience so differently. Sabina often thought about love, for Sabina had loved before, though never romantically. She had never even entertained the idea of being in love with him. How could she entertain the possibility of loving, in that way, the other part of herself? But she realised now, that they must be complete opposites.
Sabina kept him on his leash. But now they both knew that he had put himself there and that he didn’t want to be free. There was no more milk and honey; because that had just been an illusion. They were still close, with a million miles between them. Their parents were still friends, they still lived next door. Their fathers, as ever, worked in finance, their mothers played bridge now; one big happy family.