Three hours before dawn, Dídac lay gazing at the shadows cast by the faint light from the open windows. The silence of her breathing made his every movement laboriously slow, as he went out of his way not to disturb her sleep. He should’ve left hours ago, but she had asked him to stay, and so he had lain in her bed indefinitely, confident that their first time together was a technical marvel and an utter disaster for both their lives.
Misery: that’s what this is, he thought. He felt as if he were betraying everyone by lying here in her bed.
He wished he was with the Marquesa at this very moment. Dídac had not anticipated that his feelings would be as strong as this. He had figured the Marquesa was correct in her summation: a lover is a lover, and a lover would satisfy him.
But Dídac felt that he had raped this girl. This was not the behavior of the love that he felt for her. It was but an amazing series of orgasms that had swiftly come to an end, leaving him with a dark and filthy tension in his shoulders. More than once, Dídac felt that he too had been raped when the girl had drawn him deeper and deeper into herself.
This was agony. He had misunderstood his whole life until this night.
Who have I become? he pondered. The question rolled over in his mind in waves like the pleasure of his orgasms, impossible to suppress or ignore. He had not understood that the physical ecstasy and the love he had clung to in the Marquesa’s arms were two separate phenomena entirely.
He did not truly love Veronica. He knew this pain clearly now. There was no conflict in the matter. He had never loved her, despite all he had dreamt of in her, the woman who would be his wife, the woman he had shared so much with. But that was the crux, wasn’t it? He had shared so much with her but had never truly given any of those letters to her out of love. He had given them merely to feel some small sense of communion, and the adoration from her eyes. She had adored him, the passages in her stories when she had feigned propriety and spoke directly to him, those words of adoration tainted with love.
Perhaps he had given them to feel the self-worth that his father had denied him.
But he had loved her only for the joy that he had felt, this simple result of her romanticized impressions. Beyond the adoration, all he had felt was uninspired possession, and now at the end, the fatigue of duty.
He could not remain in this room, not now. Moving with difficult silence, he slipped from the bed and began to feel around the room like a blind man for his clothing. The pungent smell of their sex was all over him and it rose up into his brain as he stood in the dark, using his feet as hands to search the dark until he had found his shirt.
Something there on the floor, he could feel it but couldn’t figure out what it was exactly.
A loud clang echoed through the room as the desk chair crashed to the floor, forcing Dídac’s shoulders to rise in a hardened state of fear.
Veronica sat up in spite of herself and uttered, “What was that?” in a clumsy mumble, hovering on the border of reality and her dreamscape.
“It’s all right,” he whispered to her immediately. “Everything’s all right, just go back to sleep.”
Any other night, she might have done just that, letting the flesh instruct the mind. However, the timbre of his voice was such that she immediately awakened into a lucid consciousness and rose from the bed to take account of what was happening.
For the first few seconds, she did not realize the voice commanding her was Dídac’s, nor did she remember that she was naked. She could not even think to light a lamp in the dark shadows that she moved through.
“You don’t need to get up dear, I’m fine. Get back in bed,” he said as soothingly as his fear would allow for. It was some sort of catastrophe that she had heard him make his escape. He knew he would not be able to leave now without conjuring some hurried and unbelievable story.
And with his final command of her, she turned awkwardly and returned to the covers of her bed, sitting up to address him.
“Where are you going?” she whispered to him lamely.
It seemed a simple enough question, he thought. Where am I going?
“I should return to my apartment before the dawn breaks. I shouldn’t want anyone to see me leave your room later, when people are up and about.”
“But it doesn’t matter, really. Come back to bed. Tia said it would be fine if you stayed.”
She said this so simply that he was caught off guard.
It was the last blow to his reason that the Marquesa should have told her this outright, that she had corrupted this girl, as she had himself, to the point where Veronica would not think it at all appalling that he was with her in this room. He had held on to the last shred of illusive disbelief that his fiancée’s innocence had not suffered the woman’s sacrilegious doctrines, but fully understood now that this was pointless. This girl was a precise, if not less informed, duplicate version of her aunt. It was terrifying for Dídac to hear this truth in his own thoughts.
Involuntarily, his limbs moved back and he lay down beside her to feel her immediate grasp upon his chest, her head lying down silently upon his shoulder, moving his arm so that he might hold her as well.
He might have found this to be the most wonderful moment in his life, but that would have to be a life on another world. Here and now, it was a vile feeling that rose from his stomach, the realization that he would probably spend the rest of his morning with her at breakfast. Marcelina would most likely be there as well, and this was the least comforting thought he need imagine.
“What are you thinking?” she whispered gently. He felt her hot breath breeze across his chest and call his nipple to attention.
He absolutely loathed her for asking him this; and the moment after, loathed himself for his own hatred. Why exactly was it that she felt the need to ask him such a question now? Wasn’t it enough that he would soon forsake all happiness for the rest of his life on her account?
“I’m thinking that we shouldn’t have done this.”
Veronica said nothing to his statement and he felt her breaths come in an unbroken rhythm across his chest. He felt the need to resent her for not responding to him. What exactly was she going to do, end the conversation she began without so much as a whisper?
“Do you love me?” he asked her.
Still, there was only silence from her. It drew out over minutes and minutes, every second driving him deeper into alienation.
“I don’t understand why you would ask me that,” she said at last.
“I ask it because I want you to tell me the answer.”
“Is that your true purpose?”
“What difference does it make what my true purpose is?” he lashed silently, the agitation overcoming him.
“I love you, then. Is that all you are thinking?”
He felt the chill of her pain. She was far too attached to him. She was deciphering his every emotion without the slightest effort. It was worse than anything she could have said in return.
“Why do you love me?” he asked, in spite of himself.
He felt her body twitch at last. She was no longer malleable against him now, but hardened like a statue, some sort of pale stone with the ability to breath.
“I don’t appreciate this. Why would you ask such a thing?”
“I want to know exactly why it is that you love me. I mean, I realize that you are lying in my arms and you have me in your bed, but what is the reason behind it all? Why do you love me? What is it about me that’s lovable? What have I done to warrant this affection?”
She sat up, mortified by this assault. He could not see her expression in the darkness, but he could feel it. He could smell it.
“How can you ask me that now, after all this time? Do you not realize you have injured me by this? You are my whole life. You are my fiancé, for Heaven’s sake! I have brought you to my bed and we are not even married yet! I have risked everything for you and you ask me those hideous questions now?”
He rose his hand to her face, he wanted to feel the tears he knew must be beginning. And he found them there on her face, warm drops that were becoming rivers as she began to tremble slightly.
She turned her face away from his hand, unable to face his direction in the murky blackness. He wondered if she understood how sadistic it was for him to have sought out her tears with his hands. For that’s what it was, really.
He had convinced himself to despise her now. It was his only option in this position, the only recourse he could take after she had been the whole reason his life was turned upside down. It was for Veronica that the Marquesa had ruined his peace of mind, and it was for this girl that he had fallen in love with the woman. He could barely avert the notion that he must somehow remove her from the equation all together. He realized he was now wishing that she might die, fall prey to some quick and painless death and leave them alone forever.
He would certainly die now if he could not be with the Marquesa. He no longer felt shame over this; he never really felt any shame at all. Shame made no difference to him; it was some sort of useless idea his father had probably lent a hand in designing to hinder joy. Dídac cared only that he must be with the Marquesa at all costs. It was the only thing he understood anymore and it was the entire reason left to him for managing the trials of life.
“Do you love me?” It was a choked whisper he heard from this warm carcass beside him.
“I think I deserve an answer to that question more than anyone, don’t I?” she continued. “Tell me then, go on. Yes, tell me! After all this time of loving you, after setting everything in my life aside for you, to please you, tell me, do you love me?”
“I don’t know.” The answer had come without a moment’s pause. He could not even muster the will to spare her any needless suffering. He couldn’t see the point in it. For him, the entire affair was finished. He had no reason to lend himself to any useless notion of valor now.
She was sobbing, he could feel the bed moving in time with her diaphragm. He fancied that he could hear the shift from sadness to anger in her sobs. That’s what he wanted from her, hatred. He wanted his name to ring across her lips with the sound of anger. He wanted the essence of her pain to last in the air as the sound died out. He wanted all these things now and decided that he would have them from her. The only way out for him now would be the hardest of roads, but he had no choice. This must be done.
He began to speak again, beginning the dialogue that would destroy them forever.
The memories caused her the sharpest pain. Her body’s rejection of the pregnancy paled against the canopy of miserable thoughts from the past, those times when she had prayed to God that, just once, she might be able to carry a child. But she could already feel the beginnings of it, the cleansing of the womb, the searing pain as the conception was being severed and removed from her.
Soon, Marcelina would begin bleeding, it always happened the same way. She was simply incapable of carrying a child to term, something always happened along the way. She could not remember exactly what number this was. The pain of keeping a conscious record stopped her count at five, but there had been fifteen years between that number and this miscarriage. She would shut down completely if she allowed herself to remember every one of them, those children she had lost.
Long ago, the old woman who would’ve been her midwife had shot her a look of accusation when she was seventeen. “This was bound to happen, what with all your foolish moving around, as if you were a child! You would do better to stay in your seat and try to act as if you were a lady, just once! This is terrible what you have caused.”
Marcelina could still smell the old woman’s breath, the old woman who had never had children of her own, who had never even been with a man. The old wench’s presence had searched and found her out every time the contractions of miscarriage began. The presence would not leave her until the stretch of it was over.
Thoughts of her mother were with Marcelina, that woman she had escaped from with a quiet nod as she accepted the old Marqués’ engagement gift. Those were the days when it was considered very much inappropriate for a gentleman to hold a lady’s hand long enough to give her an opal ring. She smiled at the thought of Dídac half a year ago, a boy, being so impassioned with the girl as to have searched his own mother’s room for a ring that might resemble the ones he had fantasized about in Italian novels. She remembered the love she had felt on Veronica’s behalf that evening when it was shown to her; the tears in Veronica’s eyes. The fairy tale, the vision; everything that was beautiful sitting there upon her finger as proudly as possible. It had seemed like a dream, indeed.
Marcelina had triumphed in her pursuit of perfection and proven to herself it was possible for good to come from her notions of sensibility. All that had been taught to her as a child was folly. All that she had observed and deciphered in these years had taken on the most sublime form.
It did not matter that the boy had felt loss when their time together as lovers had ended; it was certainly to be expected. She had hoped that by not allowing him to speak, he might fall prey to the point of view that most all men embraced: once alone in the dark, their woman would become an object of pleasure.
She had planned for him to gain the skills needed to provide Veronica with abundant love, filled with the sensitivity and technical skill desired by any woman. And Dídac had proven for months that he had all the passion and grace that any woman could want. Marcelina had loved him for it and prided herself on a job executed well.
And that Veronica was in his arms at this very moment was more than compensation for the misery of being put through this physical agony.
The early light from the sea was shading the cobalt sky with its first hints of the coming day. The vista pulled Marcelina away from her pain for a moment, just long enough to cherish it.
With much commotion, Marcelina could hear the exterior doors to her suite being fumbled open. Footsteps carried heavily across the floor until this person had found her bedroom doors and was making to enter without so much as a knock.
The Marquesa didn’t flinch a muscle. If this person was so audacious as to enter unannounced, she was hardly to be expected to dress for the event.
To her relief, Veronica burst into the room with a wet look of agony pouring from her face.
“Tia, it’s over, it’s all over!”
“What is it, dear? What’s the matter?”
Veronica had not made it half way across the room before she fell to her knees, trembling with the wrenching sobs as they assaulted her entire frame.
Marcelina rose from her position to kneel down and hold her, trying in vain to calm the girl.
“My God, Veronica, what is it, what? Stop that, dear, you must tell me what has happened. Veronica, stop it!” The girl was quite beyond speech for several moments.
“He’s gone, Tia, he’s left forever! He’s called it off... called off the engagement. He’s gone, Tia! He doesn’t love me! He said he never did! Oh, God.”
Veronica fell deeper into her sobs with it all said and done, her body yielding to the pain, and she cried uncontrollably.
All the while, Marcelina simply held her and let Veronica unload her grief. The Marquesa battled herself with a barrage of ideas and questions, searching for some sort of logical explanation for how it had all come to this, how it had attained such a terrific perfection of balance only to fall and shatter the child. Marcelina’s thoughts turned to Dídac, who she wanted to hold as well as attack. She could not recognize a single motivation he could have suffered that would have led him to act so rashly, so viciously. This was outrageous, how could he think she would stand for such a thing? He could not call off an engagement that his parents had not only consented to but believed they had arranged. It was ridiculous that he would even consider such an insult so recklessly.
Marcelina could feel the weight of the burden he had presented to her. She would now have to spend who knows how much effort to mend this situation. She would not allow her niece to suffer so on the whims of a nineteen-year-old boy! But what route to take on this matter? She would, of course, seek him out and try every method she could conceive of to persuade him of his fault. She would have to begin there, of course. To begin with his parents might only worsen the matter. All he would need is the sound of his father’s voice berating him to completely shut out anyone’s intervention. And there certainly was much to resent of Don Ferrero for being so stupid as to have brought his relationship with his son to this! Indeed, were she to present the issue to his parents, she would most certainly have to privately approach his mother. Marcelina would have to rely on their intimacy and her delicacy.
The pain in her womb was now tremendous, the bleeding would begin at any moment. She could already feel it welling up inside of her, she would have to hold herself until she could get free of the girl and release it. But how to send the child away at a moment like this?
A searing spasm shot through her entire body and she felt the blood begin to soothe out of her. She let go of Veronica and brought her hands to her loins to stop the flow of blood with her nightgown.
Veronica was still too wrapped up in her own pain to realize that her aunt had pulled away. It was only the second spasm and the wrenching muffled scream that brought her aunt’s suffering to the girl’s attention.
“What is it?” Veronica whispered, wide-eyed.
“Help me to the basin. It’s all right, I just need to sit there for a while. Don’t worry.” Marcelina was trembling now with the pain that had spanned out through her limbs to her fingertips.
“My God, but why are you in such pain? Is it your menstruation?”
“It’s fine, just go and call Dolça to help me, will you?”
Dídac could not stop shivering as he found his way through the streets at dawn; the chill in the air had invaded the very chambers of his heart. The silence of the streets was haunting as their inhabitants still slept, as if God Himself saw to it that he’d have the opportunity to suffer without distraction. He heard his own footsteps reverberating back at him from the dark facades of townhomes lining the avenue which brought him to his apartment.
In his mind, the resolution of his will was unimpeachable. He had made his decision and delivered its announcement as a storm. It would be impossible for him to take any course but that which led him away from marriage. He had shut out the very notion of marriage from his mind and concentrated only on the tone with which he would inform his parents of his decision. Dídac knew for certain that he would not present himself with the voice of a child. He would simply inform them of the irrevocable state of affairs, without hesitation or their leave. It was unimaginable that there wouldn’t be heated protests from all corners, but all they could do would be to scream and fight; he would never marry Veronica. He would sooner die without an heir than suffer his whole life entertaining the mere motions of happiness. This life he had envisioned for himself required that all the world avert its eyes, for he would not ever consider another filled with lies and illusions.
His heartbreak over the loss of his Marquesa, the sentence she had pronounced upon him, was more than he would bear. He simply would not love again; there would be no reason for love again. The taste of it would always sicken him. He had had his time of perfection, drinking his fill of that pleasure. His only option now was to put all that behind him, as he would also put behind him his legal studies. That was a career for another life. He would inform his parents that his time of fancy had come to an end, thankfully, and that he would resume the course of his life in literature. It was the only pleasure that Heaven would allow for him and he would not let Veronica Elena Fernández y Motas, nor the Marquesa de Amontoní, nor even his parents, influence his direction now.
As he found his way to the courtyard gate of his apartment building, Dídac had already prepared for the final event. Rousing his house steward from sleep, he ordered that preparations be made for a brief visit to his parents, waving away the man’s concern for his having gone missing the night before.
The first rays of light struck the rooftop of his building when he stepped out again. Looking up to find the dark blue night sky that had disappeared, he walked quietly to the waiting hansom.