A Man and a Mare
Not physically… they wouldn’t understand. This cold was of the heart, not of the air. She would have preferred that the air was cold, for at least such a thing as that was easily remedied. This was the sort of cold that that pierced the soul and lingered, melting achingly slowly like an icicle as the morning warmed. In that cold she waited, for a touch, for a sound, anything. Whenever she looked up, unkind eyes met hers and her gaze quickly dropped. Time passed, but she did not know how long it had been. At one point a stray cat came to sit by her, and shared her corner. She did not mind.
A shadow fell on her at last and lingered. Were they staring? She was afraid to look up, not wanting to see the expression that had always burned in her memory. A soft touch made her flinch in fear, her gaze being startled away from her toes. A hand lay on her head. A gentle smile stole the cold from her blood in moments. Her expression was frozen in a mixture of awe and fear. What was this person, to be unafraid? What was this person, to show her such an expression? Why?
That was how she met him. She had been a but a girl, and he a man. She had spent her days in her corner, waiting for something she hoped she would recognize. She was a creature, shunned by those who thought themselves superior for being human. She was a mare, a creature said to bring horrors in the night. Her dark hair and pale skin, empty eyes and slender limbs, they stood as a warning. Like a black cat, she carried bad luck with her. If it had been a girl of humankind, surely someone would have stopped to offer assistance before then. People feared even that which they did not know, which seemed to her a confusing existence.
She had been afraid of allowing herself happiness. In the years following her adoption, she grew to let herself go. Her smiles blessed the house that had taken her in. Despite her kind’s reputation, bad luck stayed far from their home. As years passed her aging slowed. She remained a young woman as the man she called “father” continued to grow older. The years seemed to grow slower as he grew frailer. Her strong arms supported him when his legs failed. Her strange eyes that had caused her pain in her childhood allowed her to show him things that he could no longer find on his own.
Then the years began to come to a close, and the cold came again. Eyes that were weak from age made out only blurs of color. Skin had been long-since wrinkled by time. He waited for something he hoped he would recognize, even with his aging eyes, as the ache that he had forgotten something weighed heavy on his mind. People came to care for him and he was comforted, but the thought remained. He remembered dark hair and pale skin, but no face came with it, not even a name. A smile came to him one night in a dream, but that was the height of his memory. His remaining days were short.
Finally he lay for the last time. For the first time since he could remember, he was truly alone. He remembered a time when he had fought for life as a child, abandoned by family and kin. Somehow it was familiar, and yet he still could not remember that face he had forgotten. He scolded himself for having forgotten, and yet he could not even remember why it had been so important.
He lay alone in the darkness. Time passed. A soft touch, but he had not even the energy to jump in fear. His eyes closed. Soft lips brushed against his forehead. His hand moved on its own, knowingly, to hold the hand that held his. Her shadow stood over him. They shared a final smile, hers gentle, his contented.
And he greeted death with the same kindness with which he had treated a nightmare.