It is an ordinary summer evening- or about as ordinary as any individual day can be, really- when the skies crack open.
There is no warning to it, no light drizzle- the clouds break open and rain comes thundering down, racing down windows with vigour and beating against cracking cement road. It screeches against windows and doors; the cold seeps in through the crevices between floor and walls, the grooves between roof and tile, the spaces between here and there.
There is a split second that lasts between one raindrop and another when everything stills for a moment, quiet, and then immediately after, a booming clap of thunder lights up the sky- fiery and white hot. It's a little bit like lighting a matchstick in the dark; dancing flames that crackle alive, licking away at the very darkness that threatens to swallow it.
The lights go out a little while later, and I finally make to look away from the window where the skies are still splitting open, right down the centre, like a geode cracking under pressure. The hairs on my arms stand tall with the electricity in the air or maybe that's just my heart trying to beat it's way out of my chest.
A buzz alights from underneath my skin, and I try to quell the shakiness that seems to emulate from my very bones, hands knocking aside objects in search of candles. Finally, I manage to click open the lighter and hold it to the wick of a few candles. The flame catches and burns alive, flickering before stabilizing completely.
The wax melts slowly around the candles, dripping along the edges, and it reminds me of the sealed letter that I'd left on the table. The parchment is thin and flaky when I hold it to the light. The paper under my fingers is thin and delicate, and I take a moment to feel along the crisp creases and the sharpness of the edges. The rain has begun to calm down into a tiny whisper– a soft tapping against my windows, and it is utterly too reminiscent of the first time I received a letter.
The soft smell of the earth after rain- "petrichor," you'd said it was called- often accompanies me when I allow myself to think about those days again. The skin underneath our fingernails caked with mud and grass staining the bottom of our skirts. The sun, appearing only scarcely, sickly pale light catching on the silver of your bracelet. The aroma of fresh masala chai and piping hot jalebis that we'd managed to sneak out from the royal kitchens because we were young and cheeky and kids.
You'd handed me my first ever letter then, sealed and creased with the deftness of a baby giraffe finally learning how to walk.
I'd opened the letter later on, alone, in the comfort of my dark room, lit only by the scant street light falling in from between the curtains. I don't quite remember too much after that, if I'm being honest. I remember your cluttered writing on the clean paper, your dedication to make sure everything would be perfect for me. It was.
In the beginning, I tried not to think too much because I was afraid I'd indulge myself too much in them and then the memories would wear out their novelty. Now, I think I try not to think too much because I'm afraid I've forgotten too much and the reminder of it all settles a bone-deep ache in my chest. So. I try to think only when you send me your letters.
The light bounces off the parchment, and there's the silhouette of a letter inside. I use a sharp knife to remove the wax stamp- I still haven't bought a letter opener despite receiving letters from you every month. Why? I do not know. Maybe it's because I think that someday you'll stop sending them, which brings me again to- why haven't you stopped sending me your letters? I never reply to them- I'm not allowed to, but you don't know this. I suppose I never return them either– is that really the only incentive you need to keep writing to someone you don't even know reads them? Then again, you've always known me better than I've known myself, and then again, I've always read every single one of your letters.
The pressed flower falls out of the envelope first. That's new. It's a daisy; white petals stained with the yellow of the paper, green stem dried to a dark brown, yellow center pressed flat. I keep it aside and reach for the envelope again. There's a picture, tucked behind the letter, and I quickly put it away.
The tiniest glimpse of honeyed eyes, the dimple resting on your cheeks, a stray hair falling out of place, a gossamer gown of lavender and it is enough for what is left of my heart to get stuck in my throat. Something tugs on my chest and I push back against it. I feel my pulse racing in my throat and I swallow past the muck in my throat. It's weird- the way I've given you almost every piece of my heart I possibly can, and yet the remaining bits try to force themselves out of me, trying to reach out to you. It's weird because I don't think there is anything left to give anymore.
I breathe out and try to still the quiver in my hands as I open the letter. I promised myself I wouldn't read it but I've been breaking promises since you left; I'm sure you know- the splinters of one such bond still screams in the void that exists between you and me.
(Some days, my forehead twinges with the need to feel your lips pressed against it- some days, my fingers still grasp empty air, searching for hands that never arrive- some days I still feel the ghost of your fingers on my thighs, my stomach, my back- some days, I can't make out between the you from your letters and the you from my memories.
Some days, I reach out for you. You're never there. It's not your fault.)
Your letter begins the same way it always does. You tell me about what you've been doing- you adopted a new pet. I remember days spent poring over animal magazines, pointing out what animals we wanted to take care of. You tell me you've begun a new hobby and ask me to keep the daisy safe. (I will. I always do.)
At the end of the page, there are 3 paragraphs that repeat the same phrase- I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry.
I pretend I do not want to reach out through the page and tell you that it's okay, it's not your fault. I pretend, for the sake of me and you, because you only ever write to me when you've drunk a little too much- because I'm afraid I'll end up ruining what we have left between us- because the two of us have lost and loved and losing never stops hurting. So, instead, I force myself to skip through it all.
I love you, you write, at the end. It's always the same phrase; there are no salutations, no name, nothing. Just the one phrase at the end- abrupt. I think it's my favourite part. My language professor- the one you'd often get in fights with- would have scolded you for that- cut off an extra few marks for missing out on that. But this isn't a hastily scribbled letter for class, nor is it a practice test for me to grade you on.
The rain has turned into a barely there drizzle, and outside, the moon appears from underneath thick strips of gauzy clouds. The stars twinkle blearily, and I fold up the letter, following the indents of your creases, imagining your fingers smoothing out the crinkle of the paper. I tuck it back into the envelope and hesitate before deciding not to put the flower back inside.
(I wonder if you know what this daisy reminds me of. The night was quiet and the moon was full; the rain pitter-pattered softly on the bed of earth outside our four walls. My chest heaved with foreign longing and you held me long until after the sun poured into the room. You plucked a daisy from the garden underneath my window and tucked it into my journal; you kissed me on my forehead, soft, and whispered words that I've long forgotten. I remember thinking that I always wanted days like this with you; I remember moving closer to you, despite knowing not to.
When they found us sleeping like that, do you think they saw the softness in my eyes despite how hard I forced myself to harden? Do you think they faltered even once, at the way I allowed you to hold me? Do you think they ever watch me peer out through the layers of vine and moss and tree and feel even the barest twinge of sympathy for tearing us apart?
(Because princesses' aren't supposed to fall in love with each other. (But we did and we loved and we were happy, no matter what anyone says.)))
I put the envelope in the last drawer on my desk and push open the window. The wind rushes in, blowing out the candles and almost immediately, the burn underneath my skin calms itself down. The darkness is cool around my shoulders, cloaking me in shadow and night. It's more familiar to me than the coffee liquor of your eyes from the picture now, and I revel in the caress of the night sky.
Footsteps click on the hallway outside and pause outside my door. I hike up my skirt, the cotton bunching in my fists, and climb onto the roof outside, ducking away from sight. I step under the branch of a mango tree and the dew sprinkles onto my cheeks as the leaves spring away.
It is quiet, save for my breathing and the chirping of cicadas, as I jump down the familiar stone steps to the kitchen. The soldiers at the borders of the castle don't bother turning around. They know I only ever frequent the kitchen and my room. Not the library- never the library. It reminds me too much of sun drenched days spent laughing over lemonade and chilly evenings wrapped around each other with a book.
The dying hearth of smoke and ash leads me to the dining table. There's fresh baked bread, butter and a glass of milk, perspiration dripping down the sides. Do you remember when we used to sneak out at night to the kitchen, stealing stale bread and milk from the fridge? It is a habit I have not yet lost. The bread is soft and crackly at the top, the butter soft and creamy. The milk is cool, sliding down my throat and somewhere in the house, the clock ticks - ticks - ticks down the hours until sunrise.
Time doesn't mean much anymore. I think it ceased to exist the moment I realised I would not get to see you again. Everything feels like a repetition of the same, mind-numbingly boring days on repeat; my only solace comes in the form of your letters, and even then, it only serves to remind me of what I have lost, what I cannot get back. Still, your letters keep me sane- the only thing that breaks the monotonous days.
When I walk back to my room, I stop for a moment longer to watch the moon hide herself away, behind her veil of soft clouds. The rain starts up again, faster, stronger, louder. The wind curls around me, comforting. It feels like the end has arrived.
Somewhere between the last flame dying out in the hearth and the moments before sleep finally takes me, the world washes away and the ocean swallows us whole.
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, I think. I love you.