Sometimes, when the wolves howled at night, he’d ask her to sing them away. He always remembered the way she’d drowsily lift her head off his shoulder, slide the covers off, two-step to the windowsill, and lift her voice to the world. It was a quiet anthem she delivered, an elegy to forgotten silence, bittersweet departures, sunny days fallen to rain and snow. Each time, the song emerged a little differently – a few notes here, a few words there – but he always accepted that as a part of her magic, the incomprehensible aura she wrapped around herself like a second skin. Later, after everything had fallen apart, he would wake up shivering in bed, and wonder how he had ever fallen in love with something he didn’t understand.
They met a few years back in the small college town of Stone, where the shutters of abandoned houses moaned in the wind. She was an archaeology major, drawn to the bits of bone and rock scattered beneath the town’s sandswept streets; Stone, as the old town geezers would say, was a historical landmark, a forgotten treasure. He was her assistant professor – a sandy-haired graduate student from the coast of Wales, drawn to the Americas by a burning desire to escape and an innocent notion of the Yankee dream. Arriving at Stone, he’d regretted his spurious exodus instantly – but still, he settled down, carving a home for himself amidst the town’s dusty bones. The town’s monochromatic lifestyle, in its own way, offered a certain kind of solace, a calm and stability he’d never felt back home.
She was gifted with a slender frame, delicates curves complemented by waves of bright-blonde hair that wound their way past her waist. He often found himself staring in her eyes – a faded ocean grey, the indifferent hue of the sea as it disappeared into a white-bound horizon. They bespoke a bleak yet brilliant rapture, though he wondered at times whether their smiles were mocking or sincere. She was tall, too, taller than most – a characteristic, she’d admitted to him on the day they met, that often scared other men away. Thank the Lord, he’d teased, that the Fates had bestowed him a paltry inch over the top of her head. They laughed, and looking into her eyes, he’d known then that was something special about her, something that, perhaps, was good enough a reason to stay.
That night, he’d unpacked all the bags from the truck, and fed the letter of resignation to the flames. No, he told his brother on the phone, I’m not ready to come home yet. He hung up before the angry sigh scalded his ears.
When they talked, and they often did, she told him about home. She told him about the crazy uncle, who ate nothing but raw meat and lived in a home for the mentally ill. She told him about each of her seven siblings, from little Thomas with the bright smile to stern-faced Keagan who knew more about the world than all her teachers combined. She told him, falteringly, about Gabriel, who hung himself in the shower on his sixteenth birthday, forever young.
He listened to all of this with a mixture of sympathy and sorrow. Through her stories, he felt himself inextricably bound to her family, a fellow partaker in their triumphs and tragedies. Tell me more, he’d say as they lay on the couch, stargazing at the cracked ceiling. Tell me more, so I can say less. For whenever she asked him about home, he’d stutter and mumble something about how it didn’t matter, it wasn’t important. She’d fix him with those grey eyes of hers, and he’d look away, unable to meet the scathing mixture of pity and sorrow in her gaze.
He remembered one of the first nights they’d spent together, curled together in a naked mound as a bitter storm raged outside. He’d been exhausted – she loved to take control beneath the sheets, guiding him with her hips as he lay under her, a captive to her embrace. He recalled how her hair seemed to crackle with energy as she threw her head back, basking her face in the light of an imaginary moon; she bared her teeth, and as he pumped his life into her, she’d lean down and nip him ever so softly on the ear. At times, it seemed as if she were most alive with him inside her; her skin took on a different tone, and her eyes would flicker with what looked like subtle shifts from grey to yellow, grey to yellow.
That particular night, their union had been followed by an encore of shrill cries: it was wolf season, and every so often a pack found its way to Stone’s surrounding regoliths.
“Listen,” she said. “They’re here.”
He rubbed her shoulders and asked her softly, “Can you make them leave us alone?”
Pausing, as if considering whether he were serious or not, she slid out of his grasp and stepped toward the window. As the ecstatic rush of lovemaking gradually ebbed away, fading into a welcoming sleep, he heard her sing,
Mermaid’s cry, Ariadne’s sin
She found no solace in her name or skin
Rest well, brothers and sisters, at night
You remain, still, in the mother’s light.
A few months later, just as the season neared its end, she disappeared without a trace. No note, no letter, just an empty silence in the room she once called home. He never got the chance to tell her about home, the broken family and abusive brother, and he didn’t think he would get the chance to again. Sometimes, reminiscing on their halcyon days and her sudden departure, he’d wonder if she was ever really there, if it was all just a long dream. But then he’d whisper the words to her song, and ask himself how he ever learned them in the first place.
written for my creative writing class, senior year at lawrenceville, 2015.