It didn't feel right at first to join him in the dining hall but as Elaine got dressed, she forgot right from wrong. Outside the cottage, the rain danced and made fast strokes against the windows. Elaine tiptoed closer and placed her forehead against the glass. With her tongue sticking out, Elaine felt the coldness of the glass and almost wanted to run away.
For one, Elaine did not know the man who'd asked her to come to dinner. She barely knew who she was. A week ago, Elaine had woken up on her bed, holding tightly to a stranger. She'd screamed and he'd wrapped her firmly, calming her down. At breakfast, he insisted she was his wife and they'd come down to Monkey Cottage to get away from work. Elaine let herself calm down and believe him. But it still felt wrong to be with him.
Elaine touched her reflection on the window and sighed. She thought about crying but swallowed the confusion. She would run away from him, from everything. Elaine touched her head and groaned. She could barely remember anything. It was as though half of her life had vanished and she was left alone, like something used and tossed aside.
Her gown fit her perfectly. Her stomach, while not flat, made her look lovely. There was no way to describe her. Her hair was short and loose. She had a pale face and a high cheekbone. It was her eyes that made her pretty. Yesterday, as they sat outside in the grass, he'd leaned closer to touch her face.
"You have beautiful eyes, Elaine."
She'd smiled and nodded and pulled away, aching to remember why his touch felt familiar on her skin.
Elaine had eyes that resembled honey caught in the sun. It was bright and calm and brown enough to make her countenance endearing. It was the only thing she liked about herself. Elaine was not skinny and somehow, faintly, she could hear someone criticizing the thickness of her thighs. She closed her eyes and listened, calmly, to the sound of the rain hitting the rooftop.
He would be waiting for her in the dining room, she knew. And yet she was unwilling to rush herself. There were still a lot of things she ached to know. Like how she knew nothing of her former life. Like how she could not tell who he was. Like how she felt trapped in the cottage. He'd called her Elaine but she had no recollection of the name. When she asked of his name, he'd paused.
"Kevin," he'd whispered.
Elaine did not know him and it bothered her immensely.
She left the window and scanned herself in the mirror. She looked good enough. Slowly, she cracked the door open. The hallway was a little dark. There was a lone lantern placed midway, but the light was dim and made her breath quicken. Elaine stood by her door wondering whether to keep walking or to go back and hide beneath the sheets. She did not want to worry herself but she'd begun to fear Kevin. He did not pose a threat but it was the way he smiled, innocently, that made her fear for her life.
Standing there, she reached over to feel the wooden walls. It felt cold. Above her, the rain sounded like a thousand hands beating against her chest. Her throat ached. Her toes curled until her knees gave way. Elaine toppled over, hitting the floorboards with a soft thud.
Breathe! She told herself.
Elaine looked up where the lantern had been only to find that it was gone, replaced simply by a flashlight. The white light bathes the walls with colors Elaine could not understand.
"Kevin?" she called breathlessly. It had to have been him who'd changed it as she fell. But it made no sense. She heard footsteps. "Kevin. Is that you?"
The footsteps continued like a slow pounding. Then it quickened. Elaine screamed in panic. And she thrashed and kicked.
"Elaine? Oh my goodness, darling. What happened?"
Elaine felt his hands on hers and then she relaxed. She opened her eyes and looked back at the light. The flashlight was gone. The lantern was back.
"Why did you put a flashlight there on the floor?" It was a simple question, one that was unimportant but Elaine pressed on, pointing over his head. Kevin turned back to where the lantern and its yellow light sat and he frowned.
"I did not change anything, Elaine," he said.
She started to sob so he kneeled by her side and crumpled her in a warm embrace. "It's okay, baby."
Elaine let him hold her as he owned her. She was contented, suddenly, in his hold and his heavy breathing.
"You need to lie down. Relax a bit."
He helped her get to her feet. The lantern watched her frame and the shaky legs. The lights flickered. Elaine thought she heard someone scream.
"I don't know who I am," she cried, holding his arms for support. "I see things. I hear things. What am I?"
"You will be fine Elaine. Soon. I promise."
He held her waist as they walked into her room. He helped her to bed and tucked her in, pressing a kiss on her forehead.
"Kevin?" she called as he made to leave.
He turned back to her. She almost pitied him. He looked weary, with his hair a mess.
"Do you want to eat here with me?"
He looked down at his stocking feet and nodded. "I'd like that, yes."
Dinner consisted of fried grated potatoes, and wafers. He set it up on the floor and curled against the wall. She sat beside him and ate. Gradually, the rain died down until it was only a drizzle. It was dark outside and Elaine was aware of his presence now more than ever. The issue with the lantern worried her but she couldn't trust Kevin. There was so much he hadn't told her.
"How are you feeling now?" he asked, watching her.
"I don't know," she replied.
"It will get better soon."
Elaine stopped eating. "Why can't I remember anything?"
He too stopped eating and pushed the food aside. He reached over to touch her hands but she pulled away. "I know you still don't trust me, Elaine. But I'm telling you the truth. You fell off a tree and I don't know what happened next. You went to bed. You were fine."
"And now I can't remember my name or who you are?"
"It's so fucked up."
Elaine sagged against the wall. "Then let's go back to the city. I might remember things."
Kevin fell quiet.
She glanced at him and the roughness of his beard. Underneath it all, he was handsome. More handsome than she was willing to admit. She'd caught herself staring more than once, at the way his lips curled when he cooked or the way his brows creased when he was deep in thought.
"Kevin?" she called again when the silence had grown awkward.
The rain had stopped and there was a quiet that made Elaine aware of her girly toes.
"I don't think you are ready yet to go out. I want you to heal a bit, rest well. And then I'll take you back home."
She folded her hands across her chest and said nothing.
"Elaine," he whispered. For a moment, she believed he wanted to tell her something important. His eyes sparkled and dimmed and then he looked away. "I love you, Elaine. I want you to remember us. I hope for that. I couldn't live without you."
That night Elaine did not sleep. She tossed in bed and groaned and contemplated suicide. For how could she live with the knowledge of not being complete. She'd consistently asked him to let her see more people but he'd clung on to the same excuse. That she was not strong enough. But she was. She needed to see people, to jerk awake suddenly and remember his touch, remember her love for him.
Just around midnight, she woke up to the sound of footsteps in the hallway. Slowly and softly, Elaine rose and tiptoed to the door. She pressed her ear against the door and waited for the sound again. She heard it five minutes later —a soft sound like pebbles hitting the water.
Elaine did not think much about it. She simply pulled back and opened the door. The lantern was still in the same position, the lights so dim she could barely see past her feet. But there in the corner, she noticed a shadow. A female. Elaine jumped back, frightened to her bones. Instantly she grew cold.
"Who—who are you?" Elaine's voice was low and shaky.
The shadow did not move so Elaine took two steps forward. "Who are you?"
A scream tore through the hallway and Elaine fell to the floor, covering her ears. It was a scream so loud Elaine thought she would die. "Please, stop."
The noise stopped, the silence thick and heavy. She sat up and swallowed. The figure was gone.
Kevin ran to her and helped her up. He took her to bed. "Was it a nightmare?" he asked, patting her gently on her back.
She said nothing to him.
'It's —don't worry," he whispered against her shoulders. "Do you want me to lie with you?"
She said nothing.
He moved from sitting down and lay beside her. Her back was against him and he stroked it with a gentleness that nauseated her. "By the end of the week, I'll take you back to the city. All I want is for you to be better. I don't think the cottage is helping you."
To this, she turned around to meet his gaze. He stopped touching her and fixed his gaze on her chin. She could tell he was nervous. If they'd known each other for years and had kissed more times than normal, why then would he become nervous?
"Why hasn't anyone called me yet? I don't have a phone?"
"We lost your phone," he answered.
Kevin said nothing. He tried to get up but she held him down, gently, unapologetically.
"What aren't you telling me, Kevin?"
"You won't forgive me if I told you."
She let him go. Not because his words meant nothing. But because she knew she could not stop him.
In the morning, Elaine woke up to the windows open and the curtains flapping free. Sunlight filtered into the room, staining the sheets. She got down from the bed and walked to the window. The air smelt fresh, a mixture of wet plants and sunlight. Around her, trees bent and twisted, and if she thought about it closely, she could tell it was a prison of some sort.
She took her bath and dressed up in shorts and a T-shirt that was too big. She combed her hair with her hands and licked her lower lips.
Kevin knocked on the door and pushed his head in. "Breakfast is ready, Elaine."
She followed him down the hallway and into the dining room. The table had already been set. She thanked him and started to eat. He joined her and they ate quietly. The house was bright and warm and suddenly, Elaine did not feel trapped. She looked at Kevin. He seemed to have shaved his beard. Elaine knew she was aching for him too.
At the end of breakfast, he took hold of her hands and led her outside. The grass grazed her feet and the sun illuminated her skin but all she could think of was his hands on hers. They knelt under a tree and she laughed at the ants that passed by.
"I love you, Elaine," he said abruptly.
She did not love him. Not yet. But her heart felt like it would burst just hearing him tell her he loved her. He leaned in and he kissed her lips. Gently as though he was afraid. She pulled closer until they were skin to skin until she was needing more than just a kiss.
And then she pulled away and got up. "I can't do this."
He stood up and kicked the air. "I'm sorry for last night. How are you feeling?"
"I saw a shadow of a female yesterday. Call me crazy but she screamed so loud I thought I was going to die."
"That's what you've been seeing."
"What do you mean?" she asked, sniffing quietly. "You don't think I'm crazy?"
"You aren't, no."
"Then what is it?"
He took off his shirt and Elaine could see the scars lining his back. And as she stared, a new scar formed, wide and ugly against his chest. She watched as he cried in agony, not knowing what to do or what to say. She leaned in against the tree and started to cry. His screaming stopped and he fell and lay there.
"Kevin?" she sobbed.
He was quiet for a long time. Then he talked. "I'm not your husband, Elaine but I wish i was."
"What are you saying, Kevin?"
It took him a while but he stood up and he knew he had to tell her everything. "They are coming for you."
Elaine threw her hands in the air, frustrated and weak. "Talk to me."
"I am no one. I was sent by the gods to kill you but oh, Elaine, I can't. I am so in love with you."
Elaine dropped her weight to the grass and tried to breathe. It was hard, nearly impossible to.
"And they keep marking me and hurting you as a reminder. I have to kill you."
She closed her eyes and felt the sun against her bones. "Then kill me."
"Will I die in the end?" she asked.
He did not tell her when.
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Incredible. It was complicated and dream-like. I read this while walking, the air on my forehead, my chest. It felt heavy and light at the same time. Kevin is certainly a character—I went back and forth on a seesaw. Nice job.
This left me needing to read more about this plotline, and these characters! I was worried that Kevin was going to be a bad guy of sorts, and I'm glad he wasn't. I liked the dialogue of the story; the timing made scenes flow very nicely. Great job!
This is beautiful. Just beautiful. I am in love with your style. How are you?
What a ride! I had a lot of theories as to what was going on throughout - you kept me guessing right to the end. As always, beautifully written!
Oh, the ending. The title intrigued me and I knew I had to read it. It's so...wistful in a way. The writing style was so pretty. I have nothing else to say. Keep writing!