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A love so quiet.
By: Sofia Benchafi
Life works in peculiar ways. It happened quietly, like a whisper in the rain. As the crimson petals of her
spider lilies absorbed the last of her tears, Sayu scoffed. Who would have thought that death could taste
Falling for him felt like a free fall from a hundred story building, endless and terrifying. There was
something almost otherworldly about the way Nour’s hands worked the soft and impressionable fabric of
her soul, bending it, twisting it, making it into whatever shapes he would think of. They were gentle,
warm, feather-like when they grazed her skin; like a whisper, the petal of a spider lily kissing along her
aching heart. There was something scary about the way he carried himself; with confidence, a seamless
crown of power on his brow, an empire of emotions weighing on his shoulders. The mesmerizing glow in
his eyes, his gaze apt to burning her flesh when it lingered on her, his steps so loud they shook entire
buildings. All of it terrified her.
“There are things about me too unsightly to be loved,” he had told her once, a soft breeze playing in his
hair. “You wouldn’t like me if you saw me.” His eyes were filled with the flames of the setting sun and his
skin glowed like gold under its dying rays.
“I don’t think that’s true.” Sayu looked away, only to lock eyes with him once more. “I would love you
Loving him felt like drowning in cactus honey, bittersweet and suffocating. She watched the sun set in his
eyes that night, watched the moon rise and fade in his irises, and when the sun peaked its nose from under
the sea, they parted ways after a touch-less goodbye. As she awoke alone in her cold bed, a tumult of
thoughts swarmed her mind, and all she wished was for nightfall to cradle her in its arms again. It’s funny
how love tends to take more of us than we would like to give. Sayu wished she had held him that night,
she wished that she’d known how this would end. Sayu wished that she’d taken more of him with her than
a broken heart and faded memories.
The night he left, Sayu lost a piece of her soul.
He felt...different. Safe. Outrageously comforting. His gaze, heavy as stone, watched over her from the
corner of the dark room. He was seated in a small space between what looked like, in the twilight, an old
olive-green cupboard and a greasy wall. The window glass in the room was covered in the same,
sickeningly green grease that seemed to have been spread over it with a butter knife; even and opaque.
The floor felt dusty, as though it had not been walked upon in ages, and the ceiling harbored but a single
rusty abatjour torn by time and dirt. One instant, she was chained up to the deteriorating counter, the next,
she was free to roam the room. Her legs felt weak, and her hair seemed to have grown much longer,
obstructing her line of sight and getting in her mouth when she took in occasional shaky breaths. Her hair
felt greasy, she remembered, long locks dark like the night; as though, perhaps, soaked in thick drying tar.
She recalled walking to the windows, wiping some of the grease with the bottom of her long white skirt to
sneak a glance outside. All she could see, through the narrow cracks of the stained glass, were shadows
prowling in the night in a thick dark fog, endless and terrifying. She had found solace in his presence,
eyes locking with his while he murmured words of reassurance from across the room.
“Don’t come closer. Stay where you are, it’s okay. You’re fine. You’re fine,” he kept saying, over and
over, like a mantra, a spell bound to shield them from danger.
When the fog had reached the room, slithering through the cracks in the walls like a thief in the dead of
night, the whispers stopped. The fog breathed an insufferable ache into her, hid Nour from her sight. To
the pain, she preferred darkness; her eyelids seemed to numb the agony when they were shut, when she
couldn't see her flesh being torn into pieces, when she couldn't see her robe being painted crimson red. At
some point, she must have fallen asleep, or perhaps unconscious. She awoke to an uncomfortable, warm
wetness under her legs, like she was sitting in a puddle of lukewarm water. Once her eyes adjusted to the
darkness, she could tell that it was, in fact, blood. She felt a presence around her, strong arms holding her
frail body tightly.
She found herself again, in cold sweat and on a bed she knew wasn't her own. She was still sleeping; the
walls seemed to waver, gently lulled by the sound of her record player. She must have dozed off again.
She sat up in her dreamt-up bed, linen sheets soft on her skin. She let herself down from the bed. Cold
water lapped at her ankles. She glanced down to see herself in her reflection in the water. The person
looking up at her felt foreign and lost. She looked up again, to find that the walls had faded, replaced by
an infinite horizon of purple sea. In the twilight, floated an infinity of candles. The warm light seemed
almost alive; there seemed to be tiny little creatures floating in the air, caressing her skin, soaking into her
flesh. The air was warmer, her pristine white robe no longer crimson from the blood, her limbs free of
strain, her body no longer in pain. The water played with her feet, slowly rising to her ankles, wetting the
hem of her skirt. A little voice in the back of her mind whispered that the tide was rising, that it was time
to leave. She reluctantly took a few steps in front of her, as if to test the waters, to "tease" whatever kept
her from staying in this place she loved so dearly. With her last step, her toes grazed the water yet did not
sink in. She stepped back, and then stepped back again until the small of her back hit the bed. Water then
pooled at her feet, lifting her up onto the cold bed. She lain amidst the many pillows thrown on the bed
and let herself sink into their softness. As she drifted into sleep, a little part of her ached for the tide and
the warmth of the candles, knowing all too well where she would awaken.
Sayu didn’t miss Nour, she hated him. Her heart ached at the memory of his honey eyes and golden skin,
and voice so quiet it filled the air with static. Losing him felt like a piece of her soul had been ripped away
from her, thrown into the deepest abyss there was, left to die in complete darkness. Sayu hated him,
despised how hard he’d made it to let him go.
It was the little things. He’d never said, ‘I love you’, but when he held her hand under the table at the
class reunion it felt warm, a little uncertain perhaps, but oh so warm. He had never bought her flowers,
but he slipped raspberry gummies in her mouth when she least expected it, his fingers were sticky, and
she tasted the sweetness of his intentions on the tip of her tongue. It was the way he’d wrapped his jacket
around her when she got cold on the beach, how he brushed the sand off her dress and tried to guess what
the seagulls were talking about by the sand banks. It was the way he terrified her, and yet his fingers
grazed her skin as though she was made of glass.
Life works in peculiar ways. It gives and takes whenever it pleases; there is no pattern to its chaos.
Something, somewhere in this multiverse, had decided that they weren’t meant to be...and yet it had left
Sayu with shards of memories that would forever cut her flesh, like shrapnel sinking deeper into her soul
every time she would whisper his name.
This time the pillows were a deep dark blue; the hue seemed as though it had been faded by the sun, and
perhaps time. The covers were still soft, pleasant to the touch, yet heavier. They enveloped her like a
cocoon, trapping her limbs in endless loops of warm cloth. She debated whether she should get up, dip her
feet in the water, let the tide coddle her aching soul. After little contemplation, she decided against it,
shimmying her body to make it sink a little deeper into the bedding. She closed her eyes and focused on
the rumbling of the water. She could hear gentle waves crashing onto the bed frame, the faint sound of
wax melting off the candles and falling into the cold waters. If she stayed very very still, and held her
breath, she could even hear hints of distant seagulls. As she lay there, she let her mind drift to all kinds of
thoughts. Not necessarily very pleasant thoughts, mostly not, really. She thought of Nour’s arms wrapped
around her, of his breath on her neck, of how he used to tell her stories to pass the time.
The thought really did not do much for her morale. She felt herself shudder.
She decided to focus on her senses instead. Making sure to move the bare minimum, she reached up with
her left hand and pulled the covers down, just enough to let her nose peek out. She took a deep breath. An
overwhelming smell of salt and warm flames filled her lungs, followed by a feeling of peace. She focused
on the scents around her, bending the candles to her will, making them smell like different things. She
liked the chocolate scented ones; the citrus made her want to stop breathing all together. She realized that
cactus candles are a surprisingly good thing-even though she was pretty sure that she had made that
fragrance up-but that vanilla tickled her nostrils. Lavender candles were undeniably meant to burn in hell.
Who ever smelled lavender and thought that it should be made into something to be burned for scent?
After a while, she got tired. Her nostrils protested against any smell she picked, so she made the candles
odorless wax once more. The waters were calm, the pillows soft around her, the blanket hugging her body
in warm serenity. This bed was her little bit of certainty. Amidst the chaos of her destiny, and the
indifference of her fate, she had found a piece of paradise, an oasis, a bubble of innocence that she
desperately tried to cling to. As she reluctantly awoke from her slumber, the pungent smell of spider lilies
filled her lungs.
Life works in peculiar ways.
Hours later, her mother would find Sayu in her bed, lying in a crimson sea of spider lilies, roots anchored
in her broken heart, lungs filled with petals that lingered on her pale chapped lips. Sayu would be buried
with her flowers, as was custom for victims of the Hanahaki disease. Her flower would grow through the
six feet of earth to emerge on top, looking over her fragile and broken heart for eternity.
As Sayu felt the sting in her throat, tears rolled down her cheeks to mend her soul. As Sayu took her last
breath, she wondered if Nour could smell the flowers too.