Published for Kindle as Echo of Darkness
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Lesbian erotica | Dark fantasy | 2014
When I left Maria in the jungle, I thought I was done with her. I wanted to be.
Although I had no home, no need for the routines that supported life, I had a reason to return to Chicago. Serendipity had transformed an opportunistic hunt into a discussion. That discussion had become something more.
If Sophie was my friend, I couldn’t explain it, though she drew me back to her again-and-again.
A month after leaving Nicaragua, I stepped from a warm August evening into Sophie’s cool office, which was the first floor of her home in a busy Chicago neighborhood. She wore an orange dress and gray sweater. Her blonde hair, touched with gray, was wound into a bun.
“How are you, Nadzia?” She spoke the Polish accent well, her voice flourishing with maturity. “Please come in.”
I took a seat on the couch and dropped my silk shawl next to me. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony played on her Victrola. An electric lamp lit her first floor office, but a candle also burned on the marble windowsill. She knew I liked firelight.
“I’m glad you could make it. I’ve missed you. How long has it been?” She sat down across from me. “So tell me. Have you liberated your wild horses yet?”
She liked clever thoughts as a child likes candy, but little else about her was so simple. She spoke of love that required sacrifice. It was her strivings I knew so well, not her, but her hopes were compelling. I wanted to believe in her world. Mine had become an extended autism, like trying to understand laughter through a pane of glass.
I had no answer for her, so I just shook my head.
“Then we still have hope.”
“Hope for what?” I asked.
“Desire isn’t the only assurance of life.”
“I lied about those women.”
She said wistfully, “The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.” She glanced down, self-conscious, it seemed. “Why do you always bring poetry to mind?”
“Because I endlessly revise.”
She was a physician who practiced psychoanalysis, but her appeal was that she was less a woman of science than religion. Her conservative appearance hid a gypsy heart, but she lacked the centuries that might have allowed her to embrace my paradox. She didn’t recognize the tightrope I walked. She didn’t believe in monsters.
She analyzed my lies, while I enjoyed the game.
She had strewn the table with artifacts of the unconscious. Now, she watched as I browsed. I picked up an antique card bordered in red. At the center of a sea of blue was a gold-clad apostle blessing a king: Andrew, patron of Russia. Sophie told me she had left Russia at nine years old. She retained an accent.
I said, “You live in an age with a poverty of imagination.”
“And what age do you live in?” She thought I had misspoken.
Her compassion was genuine, but so was the darkness covering her like ashes. The peculiar scent was faint. I was a bee searching a fragrant wind for a flower. Death dwelt here. I had always sensed it in her presence, although I couldn’t explain it.
I traded the card for a small replica of the Liberty Bell from the World’s Fair.
At the delicate “tink,” she said, “You rang?” Her eyes were pale and volatile, like tinder awaiting a spark. She wasn’t who she appeared to be.
The colors in the room brought back Victorian memories from my time in Europe. One wall held three framed photos. Gray faces smiled through glass. Against another wall rested an upright piano. I had played it before and was thinking of doing so again. She waved me toward it.
I left the couch and smoothed my satin dress under me as I sat on the padded leather bench. She seemed the sort of woman who should own a grand piano. Maybe she had chosen an upright so she could enjoy it alone in her office. Maybe she wanted her art deco rooms to shun traditional adornments.
She turned off the Victrola while I limbered my fingers. I moved gently into “Morning Prayer.” Sophie’s favorite composer was Tchaikovsky, so I played the tender children’s piece before finding my way through some of the Russian’s first piano concerto.
“You have quite a memory,” Sophie said after coming to stand behind me.
“Your turn,” I said.
“I would rather listen to you.”
She sat down beside me and smiled. Her gaze had darkened since I arrived. I didn’t know what to make of my fair gypsy friend. Maybe it was due to the dim light. Or maybe the dry tinder was kindling.
The desire I felt for her burned for a name. Lust. Love. Hunger. Hate. What I craved was beyond the flesh, went right through it. Sophie couldn’t give it to me. No one could.
My attention returned to the piano and Chopin. A tortured composer but not so resigned to Fate as the Russian.
Time moved differently when I was with her. It slowed when we spoke, yet passed too quickly to leave clear memories.
A compulsion seized me. “I want to tell you something.”
“Of course.” She rose, but let me return to the couch before taking a seat. The fondness in her gaze waned, and the scientist took charge. She was ready to analyze whatever I said. The change saddened me. I preferred our times at the piano.
With some hesitation, I said, “I love you.”
My confession didn’t surprise her. “This is transference. You understand? You only think you love me.”
I raised my face to the ceiling. “Yes, Sophie! And you think you are like my mother. I know your science! But I’m here only because my mother was raped by a Cossack during the Great Northern War.”
Sophie raised an eyebrow. “The Polish war?” She cocked her head. “Two centuries ago?”
Embarrassment was not a familiar feeling. After two hundred years, I experienced few occasions when it mattered what anyone thought of me. I went to her Victrola and set the needle back on the disk. I wallowed in the Russian’s struggle for a while.
“We both love tragedy,” I said, my back to her. “Why is that?”
“Maybe it’s only the complications we love.”
The moment called for a sigh. Then I said, “You think love is quiet suffering.” I faced her. “Love should be terribly noisy.”
Her eyebrow arched again. “Nadzia, why do you sail for the shore but refuse to reach it?” She smiled as if I should understand, as if we shared something.
I tasted death in this house.
She listened to the symphony for a time before continuing, “You don’t like his music because you don’t believe in fate. Or is it that you hate him because you do?”
“You’ve updated,” I said, gesturing to the photographs hanging on the wall. I never asked who they were, the smiling people. I didn’t want to know about those more dear to her than me. I sat back down.
“Reminders of renewal.” My curiosity must have made itself apparent, because she added, “They’re photographs of the families of murderers and the families of their victims.”
What she said made little sense to me. I struggled with the implication. A man doesn’t smile for a camera with the mother of the man who killed his daughter.
“These people hate each other,” I insisted. “How can they not hate each other?”
Sophie shook her head. “Death is a thief. In the end, we’re all its victims. When we see we have that in common, we can forgive.”
The confession I had been anxiously practicing evaporated from my mind, leaving a chilling dismay behind. Her words felt like an accusation. I leaned forward. “What do you know about death?” My hands strangled the edge of the couch. “Victims don’t owe anyone.”
“It’s an opportunity. An opportunity for peace.”
“Peace?” My tone was heavy with ridicule.
She offered a smile and touched my hand. She had never touched me. “I’m not one who believes we end at the grave. It’s the moment in-between we fear most, isn’t it, Nadzia? A moment pregnant with possibilities, none of which we have control over.”
Her pulse quickened.
“Peace comes through power,” I said, watching her carefully.
“Yes.” She nodded, her gaze drifting away. “Yes, it does.”
Her earnestness warmed me. Then it angered me. She usually challenged my lies, but she was preoccupied. I decided it was her husband. He had spent a great deal of time with us, if only in her thoughts.
She recognized my jealousy and reached out, not to stop me, but to apologize as I left.
She was a woman of integrity, willing to listen but unwilling to relinquish familiar pains. I understood. She had entertained the darkness, but she didn’t trust the night.