6: Paths to the Past

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Long ago were paths to the past closed,

And what shall I do with past, at all?

What is there? Just washed with blood flat stones,

Or the door, immured in a wall.

Or the echo, that all time me worries,

Tho’ I pray it to be silent, hard…

To this echo happened the same story,

That – to one, I bear in my heart.

Anna Akhmatova, “The Echo”

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

It is a bad night.

The judgment cast upon me by my bedroom walls cannot be disguised by a coat of Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore or whatever fucking brand those men used when they came to whitewash the whispers with their rollerbrushes. They might as well have used a sheer gloss for all the good it’s done.

Crazy, the walls still whisper.

I cannot sleep, my limps twitching and restless and wanting to go outside.

Let us play, my fingers beg, and I half-heartedly entertain the idea of letting them run down to the junction of my thighs for something, something, something more than this tension that runs the length of my body like a livewire.

It’s the box in my coat closet that’s causing this disturbance, I’m sure of it.

I can imagine his face as he addressed it, somber and sullen, his flat, dark eyes unfocused as he scrawled my street number and remembered exactly what kind of victim he was.

I’m not sorry, I told him.

And I wasn’t.

Guilt is for those who hold on, and I—

I let go, every day.

Not crazy, I breathe into my pillow. Free.

Free.

Free.

You’re not normal, Bella.

You’re going to Hell, Bella.

Shut up, I tell his voice inside my head. I don’t believe in Hell.

I don’t believe in anything but Now.

It’s all I have.

But his eyes…

They won’t let me be.

+.+.+.+

I dress carefully for the exhibit, carefully buckling the strap on my Mary Jane stilettos before assessing my appearance in the mirror. The circles beneath my eyes from the restless night before have been disguised with ivory concealer. If I squint, the red of my lips against the paleness of my skin creates the illusion of a Kabuki mask.

I am small, slight and slim in the black Kate Spade tie-waist dress – a gift from Mother that I’ve worn only one other time.

I wonder what he’s wearing.

I wonder what she’s wearing.

We’ll be at the Chelsea Exhibit,” he’d said.

Jealousy coils in my gut, a serpent in striking range of the viscous muscle in my chest.

I close my eyes, summoning a vision of him, nude and moving above me, his bare hips stroking the inside of my thighs as he thrusts and thrusts and follows me into release.

Edward, following me.

My fingers twitch at the thought, each one separately dreaming of the day they will finally claim the expanse of skin that covers his back and shoulders.

But for now.

But for Now.

I will behave.

I’ll be a good, good girl.

+.+.+.+

“You going out again?” Billy asks. I’m not offended by the incredulity in his tone.

“Yes.”

“Huh. Well, you look good.”

“Thank you, Billy. I’m going to an art show.”

“It makes me sad to see a pretty lady like you go out alone, Ms. Swan.”

“I’m meeting someone there,” and it’s almost the truth.

“Yeah? He tries anything, you let me know.”

“Thank you, Billy.”

+.+.+.+

The gallery drips of contemporary pretention, all wood floors and white walls and track lighting that serves to highlight things most of these people will not understand.

There is a pleasant tightening in my stomach as I move through the rooms, my skin tingling as it brushes against the arms and elbows of the people who have crowded into clusters of wealth and wine. I no longer feel slight and scrawny in my dress; instead I am sleek, serpentine as I weave through conversations that all sound the same.

Searching.

+.+.+.+

Minutes and minutes have gone by, and I’m fighting the simmer of annoyance when the photos stop me.

I move closer.

And stare.

Two large portraits, side by side. Both photographs are of a square, white wooden table against a white wall. One photo features the tabletop riddled with dozens of silver forks, their tines violently embedded in the pristine wooden surface.

I cannot look away.

It looks so quiet there, I think.

So quiet.

The stillness of the scene is juxtaposed against what must have been the fury that came before; the frenzied stabbing of a table with common cutlery.

Violence, and then tranquility.

The calm after the storm.

“Bella?”

My name barely registers from behind me before he is coming around and smiling down and I freeze, a strange panic shooting through. I don’t like being caught off-guard.

“Edward,” I murmur.

He does not greet me by leaning in to kiss my cheek, as I’ve seen so many men do tonight, but I don’t blame him. Besides, I don’t smell any scotch.

“You like this one?” he asks, nodding toward the photo that’s drawn my attention.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

The walls in the photo wouldn’t call my crazy, I almost say, just for a laugh.

But I don’t.

“It’s peaceful.”

He smiles. “That’s one way to see it.”

My tone is defensive before I can rein it in. “How would you describe it, then?”

“It seems… I don’t know. Cruel.”

“‘Cruel?'”

“It’s sterile. There’s nothing that draws you into it. It’s… cold.”

Cold.

An echo of a memory whispers through me:

You’re so cold, Isabella.

“Warmth is overrated.”

He laughs. “I’m sure the artist wouldn’t think so.”

I look at the plaque to the side of the portraits. Vlad Antonov.

“Russian.”

“He’s from just outside of Moscow. Which incidentally makes him an expert on the cold, I believe.”

“‘Like a wind’s whistle, that’s lone spread/Over the smooth of ice,'” I quote.

“Who’s that by?”

“Another Russian artist.”

“You’re not going to give me his name, either?” he asks with a smirk.

“I gave you my name.”

“First name. Do you know how many Bellas there are in this city?”

“Do you?” I ask skeptically.

“I can hazard a guess and say thousands.”

“That’s a wild guess.”

“I’m wildly curious.”

“You really want to know?”

“Of course.”

I sigh. “Anna Akhmatova.”

“Sorry?”

“The line I just quoted. It was written by Anna Akhmatova.”

“The other Russian artist,” he confirms.

“Yes.”

“That’s very—oh.”

“Sorry?”

I see the cause of his ‘oh’ immediately thereafter.

The stunning Ms. Denault, in a dress that the gods seemed to have designed specifically for her flawless frame, approaches. The flaring of her nostrils may go unnoticed by everyone else, but I can spot it. I can recognize it: twin serpents uncoiling in our bellies, snapping with anger and envy.

She has the grace to remain polished.

“Introduce me to your friend, Edward,” she says lightly.

“Tanya, this is—”

“I believe we’ve already met,” I say plainly. “The night of the benefit.”

Tanya’s eyes flash to mine, and I’m reminded that there are cold women like me everywhere.

+.+.+.+

“Isabella, apologize!”

“I won’t.”

Now.”

“I’m not sorry. I won’t say I’m sorry if I’m not. That’s lying.”

“Charles!”

“I’m not a liar.”

“What is it, Renee?”

“Take your daughter somewhere, please. I’ve had enough of her today.”

“Isabella—”

“Cold little thing,” Renee huffs. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

+.+.+.+

The wonder that is Tanya Denault does not relinquish his arm for the rest of the evening, but his eyes are his own and they seek out my own frequently.

The memory of this is the only warm thing I have as I shower, scrubbing that woman’s scorn off my skin.

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About hollelujah
meh.

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