I said no.
It wouldn't be right, I said.
Not because she and I are both women - I'm not so backward-thinking as all that.
But because she has all the power here, and I have very little. She has wealth, and influence, and all I have is my boat, Meg. That and a lot of debt. Mostly to her. The boards I stand on right now, the way I make my living... it's hers. She paid for it. Until I've repaid her, I cannot be free of her. Until I'm free of her, I'm not free to really be with her.
Does that even make sense? Did I wreck it all and throw it away for pride alone?
Do you see why it could never have worked between us? She didn't see it, but the born-wealthy can be a special kind of stupid.
She has all the privilege that wealth brings. She can spend time on herself that I must devote to making ends meet. While I work my hands raw in the freezing rain, she sits in comfort, reading, honing her mind. The sun and wind kiss my skin with harsh lips, and she tends to hers with lotions and powders. I watch birds in flight, and she organises parties where she can make influential connections with other rich and powerful people. The salt spray plasters my hair to my face, but hers is a soft and fiery sunset. The memory of its gentle perfume intoxicates me.
I like my freedom, of course. I am beholden to no one. I will stay that way. I owe her a debt, yes, but I'm damned if I don't pay it off fair and square, by the terms we agreed.
That is where we differ, because that is her life. Always trading something of value for something of value. Always looking for the advantage, the better deal.
She offered to write off my debt, that we could stand together as equals. I laughed, but there was no joy in it. Would that not make it loom all the larger between us?
It should never have been, this shining net we wove between the two of us, string by string, knot by knot. Money and love must never cross paths. But it is done, and I don't know how it can be undone. She has wormed her way under my skin and grown larger than my life, and I don't know how to cut her out and stay standing.
She is a scar, then. A new part of myself that I must learn to live with.
Why is it that every footstep, every wave, seems to lead me back to her, eventually? She is a compass. Everything in my life is in relation to her. Before, or after. She would like, or she would not. Something we shared. Something we will never have a chance to share. My needle trembles, and I curse her and I love her, and round and round I go.
Sometimes, I feel a surge of joy or sadness or frustration... unconnected to whatever I am doing, and I waste a moment's fancy thinking, We knitted ourselves together so closely that she's a part of me, still. I feel what she feels.
This thing between us will die. It must. No matter how palpable it feels right now. No matter how strong and squirming, worming into my ribs, tugging and biting at the aching red thing it finds there. If not tended to, this thing, this love, will wither away like a neglected houseplant. Love is something we make, after all. A net of vibrant threads to catch us. I am determined not to make it anymore.
When I am working, my head bowed forward, and a damp curl falls into my line of vision, I recall her slender fingers tucking it back into place. A sweet stab of hurt in my chest, welcomed perversely because it is all that I have left of her.
That and my debt.
These afterpains are equal in their intensity to the sweet fire we shared. I test the sharpness and satisfy myself that, yes, it was real. Real while it lasted. Real now. I burned for her then, and I burn for her still. Skin and soul, all the way down to my marrow. I am fascinated to know all the secret parts of her.
It feels like I will feel this way always. I remind myself that this is surely never true. The houseplant always dies if it is not watered. Time and neglect will stunt its growth. That does not feel true, but I curse how I feel and say it again, all the more firmly.
If I set a man on fire, I can tell him that the fire will go out, and the pain will subside. In that moment, does he believe me? Would it even help if he did?
So I burn. I grieve.
Mornings are the worst. I wake, and the day stretches out dolorously in front of me. Years, too, seem intolerable from this vantage point. Longer than long. Hours scream like decades without a hint of her to ease their passing. When my eyes open first open, the sting is keen. The chafing of daily tasks helps dull its edge a little, and helps me navigate through the days. Grey, sunless waters, interminable in their monotony after the sunshine of her.
Pushing through the pain and getting my legs out of bed is an act of sheer will. I've always been an early riser. I've never liked to waste the day on my pillow. (Unless it was to share it with her, bellies kissing, hair tangling, sighing breaths shared.) I prided myself on it. But now I am sluggish. Always, I tighten my lids against the inevitable beginning of the new day and try to sink again into sleep - blankets and tucked around and between, in just the ways I want her to surround me and be surrounded by me in turn.
As the day wears on, I find some sense of equilibrium. By the time I sink, exhausted, into my narrow bunk I feel almost alright. The warmth is a comforting echo of hers, and the little sharp edges are smoothed by the steadying of breath and the hope she might be waiting for me in my dreams. Pathetic really, isn't it? Perhaps, one day, the year will be Teatime (our parting being the year of Eyes Opening), and I will find myself content after all.
I turn my tiller, and aim my bow at the sunset. Away from shore. Away from her and her insistent pull. Time and distance will dull the edge and loosen her thrall over me.
She calls me Mistress, still. I've begged her not to.
All this time, I avoided telling her my secret, thinking it would push her away. And now for all my secrecy and planning, look - she has left anyway.
She thinks I accumulated money in the normal way. How to tell her that I was born into much worse poverty than she was? But that I have lived long and, after a while, money almost makes itself?
I should not have offered to cancel her debt. Truly, I have had too much money for too many years, and I did not fully consider the implications. All I wanted was for her to be comfortable. Secure. It was the greatest gift I could think of to give her. One that was too great, and she could not accept.
One way or another, she will return to me. I am certain of it. Love might turn her back to me, or else money. An opportunity. She might not even know it. I have many webs, twitching under my feet and funneling more resources to me.
I know I sound cold and calculating. Manipulative even. Considering the long term, and convincing myself of the inevitability of her return, is the only way I keep my pulse rate steady and avoid sinking into a puddle on the floor. I spread my webs, I steel myself against the years, and I wait.
It might take a long time, but I am prepared for that. I have time. I am not so ignorant to say it's all I have, but it does feel that way today. Today, and all the days she is gone.
I could hasten her return. I could manipulate the web so that some of the resources landed with her. She need not know it came from me. But what if she did? What if she worked it out? Her sharp mind picking at the knot of my deception to untangle us in the worst way possible.
No, I cannot. She would accuse me of not listening to her. Not respecting her. Being deceitful. Not trusting that she could and would pay her way with honest hard work. She would be right. It would loom larger between us, and larger still for being shrouded in secrecy.
She is always right, damn her.
All I can do is let her waste her years. The frustration galls me. I am, as she said, soft and spoilt. Too used to getting my own way. I hate this. I hate being apart from her. I hate being powerless against it. Worse, I hate that I could impose my will, but I must not.
On the day she returns, I will tell her my secret at last. I will make her my offer.
I can lengthen her life, and she can bring an end to mine. There will be balance. We both get something we want, something we value. And we can be together. For a precious little while.
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment so I can easily reciprocate.
The story behind the story: not autobiographical. I wrote this for a writing contest. I was randomly assigned "Romance". I didn't feel this hit the brief well enough to be submitted. It's more of a couple of monologues hinting at a story, rather than a story itself.
Still - off you go little fledgling! Be in the world.
If you enjoyed this one, the best compliment you can give me is another read!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!