Constellations on Freckled Faces
The room was peppered by little green stars kissing every nook of the wide white ceiling. They patched every inch of the walls and created a verdant silhouette within every inanimate obscurity that billowed with the sounds of the thundering night. Rain trickled down the covered windowsill, and when Etan turned his head to face the next stroke of light, his optics followed over a familiar woman. She was staring at him, through him, the lightning disrupting the flow of a thousand malachites kissing such soft, freckled skin. At that moment, the only thing that wasn’t as captivating were the dark circles underneath her worn eyes. Those same optics he’d longed to see for what felt like centuries to a mortal frame, hollow, and folded.
“It’s... cold,” she whispered, under the crack of clouds uniting, far off in the distance. The tune of his bated breath kept his posture still, slowed, by an everlasting dance between their longing glances.
“I know,” Etan croaked out, soft, insignificantly weightless in comparison to her weighted words. In the corner of his eye, the closet door rippled as if being touched by an unknown force, only for the culprit to be spotted, sleuthing its way from the floor to the side of the bed she lay on. Adjacent to him, her ivory fingertips fiddled with the long black fur of her feline companion, another deep jade shadow.
“And?” She retorted, no smile, yet the tease of her pursing lips left him wondering just what she wanted him to do about it. That ambient familiarity felt by those who have loved and touched someone swelled pulsar inside of his laboring chest. His face feels wet, eyes welling from the ample pain that now grips his body like a thousand hands he cannot see.
“And so, I will be cold. Here... with you,” he answered, matter-of-factly despite the chilling numbness in his veins. The cat she grazed her hands against mewled and stretched out, curling its tail alongside her and thusly disappearing in the burrow of her rib cage. Content.
“Is that what you want?” She asked again, breaking the silence in ways no knock of heavens thunder could compare. The crash and shake of his own fragile ribs could not comprehend the intensity of the moment, every cut-out shape of these beryl stars sent his mind whirring in disarray. Somber reality cracked in twain, and for the first time, he is able to move his hand.
“Yes,” a lackluster, yet passionate response left her speechless, but not without the smile so familiarly adorned to her freckled cheeks. Red, curly hair, that the man brushed against a thousand times, splayed around to curtain such a vibrant smile. Molded by wrinkles and seafoam green.
They reminded him of vines sewn into decayed buildings, lost to time; of oceans and their undertow, vast, and rebellious, yet calm and content. Her features were so familiar, yet, so vacant in his un-resting mind. Sand, forest trees, laughter, water; blue, red, and countless shades of green. Her neck was darker than he could recall, splotchy, in tones of bruises he did not recognize, but understood, so clearly.
“Where did you... go?” he braved at the cost of it all, questions dispensing from his chest like hot air held under shallow water. The very question made her lips catch in the same air they shared with a charitable click of her tongue. His tangled, ivy baron, and her soma caught in a reoccurring ballet, the undertow of what was, and what is no longer.
“I felt the cold, even before this. ” Her honesty made him ill. Nauseated as the walls that encased them in memory long passed, Etan used that one free hand to run his hand through his own dark, curly hair. In this foggy nightfall, her words were always ridgid, and the guilt allowed him to cut himself with every verbal parry.
“Are you... was it ever warm with me? Did I not do everything to make it warm enough to stay?” he persevered, prodding for those answers long left behind.
“I.." she trailed off, another whip of illumination by the storm creating a space in which the folly her words cultured could rest. Gently, she rose up from where she lay, so near and yet so far away from his embrace and purposefully so.
“If I touch her...” he thought in this ethereal moment, though, he knew he simply could not. Instead, he tried desperately to rise alongside her and speak, as he knows their time was slowly coming to a bitter end; he could taste the bitterness on his tongue, feel it wallow as acidic bile in his gut, and relish in a blurred intake of what she looked like as of now.
Breathless still, he felt the tears in his eyes pool to a crescendo, before falling in streams. Forward his breath teeters as a shallow whine, and stains beneath his olive cheek flowed like a river with no earthly end. Finally, she rose, fully standing after slipping off their mattress and leaving the cat behind. Her bruised neck faltered as she swallowed, turning, a revolting pop sounded with a mask by the storm that followed only seconds after.
His body chills to the bone, sickened.
“You cannot follow me, here, Etan.” Another wave crashed over him by the gallons, shallow desire became unfathomable like the trenches, unyielding like the sea, and empty like the dying reef. “Our time is up.. again.”
“I’ve wanted to be with you for so long,” His voice cracked like crushed pavement. Etan clamored to stand upright, not begging, nor yearning to stay but to admit one thing he hadn’t since he last saw her. To face her for what he believed was destined between them.
“You’ve slept through your alarms again...” she chastised, waning his broken ribs inside and out. “You cannot be here with me.”
“I’m cold,” Etan spoke again, through gritted teeth. Mustering all the energy he contained, he rose from his position and clasped her wrist. It was icy, opaque, nothing like the skin he once touched. He knew it belonged to her, all the same despite the momentary shock. The baron’s eyes softened, then closed with a slight shake of her head, and red hair bounced as she declined his plea. Half-lidded oculars now watched him with a saddened glimmer, Etan’s grey hues shimmering in a reflection of the emerald den and his tears. “Please, don’t go... I’m not ready to say goodbye, yet.” he whispered, to which her other hand reached over and cupped his damp cheek.
“Take better care of yourself for me, you big dummy.”
Crusted, his eyes rolled open wide as endless tears still fell past Etan’s cheeks. In his hand was her picture, the very last one they took together. On the back it signed the year, “We made it!” and the foreground of the portrait was a beach they found on their final road trip together. He and the woman from his dreams stood with bright smiles on their faces, her wildfire red hair was just as it was in his dreams.
It had been almost six years since that trip. He admired it past dark strands of unkempt hair, wondering just what life would have been like for them now that time passed. The sound of the air conditioner and passing city life ruminated on what his memory recalled as forest ambiance and crashing ocean waves. Every passing car, every chatty face, kept Etan’s swollen heart beating to dislodge him from these memories.
His therapist recommended a singular loft apartment in the sky, while his psychiatrist recommended he remains in the public eye and stay true to his medication. He did his best to appease both but ignored their dual request that he finds a support animal, or rather, something to return home to and or keep with him at all times. The apartment was empty, always had been since he moved away from all that could remind him of her, and made for the city.
It had been two years since Etan buried their cat.
Four years, since he buried his beloved, under the guise of suspicion put on by a small town and a hungry news station.
Never a day passed where his dreams did not haunt him of their final night together. Of her face in every passerby, of her scent in every shop he passes, that sells warm pastries. As the seasons changed and the fall descended, so did her aroma, and he was once again entrapped by her memory.
Etan clasped his calloused fingers over his phone, which vibrated relentlessly. His alarm shook the palm of his hand, and for a moment, he smiles. For even across the great bridge did it feel like she was there, scolding, feeling him.
It was time to start over, again, for today. Just for today. Like every other day. A recycled beginning he could never turn the page, to simply end, for his grief took one step at a time before he falls and gets back up again. Etan stood from his loveseat, stiff from where he lies oftentimes, and readied himself for the long, ordinary, day as another faceless man in New York City.