Prompt game response for Andrezel’s Round 2!
“Still out here?”
She shifts, one hip pushing slowly through the heavy air, but doesn’t take her eyes from the lights that are beginning to twinkle below. She takes a long, deep breath and blows it out through her nose, slowly. Calm. Always calm. “Just finishing now.”
“That’s good.” He steps out onto the roof in soft-soled shoes, and in his silence she can sense the crease that’s settled between his brows. It’s been there for a while, for a week or a decade, she can’t quite remember. She’s had a little wine. It’s a bare half buzz, but it serves.
“Time to wash up for dinner,” he murmurs against her ear, suddenly there, and he pauses a beat before he rests a hand on her hip. “They’ll be waiting.”
She gives the smallest hint of a sad smile to the panorama, but nothing to him.
“It’ll be dark soon,” he goes on, with no weight in his voice, just to say something. They say a lot of things, and most of it means something, but sometimes they speak just to hear words—to feel the snap of the tongue, the rumble of the r’s, the cadence of breath. Breath is a miracle. He exhales against her neck, and it’s cooler than the night air. Breath, if they’re honest, is unnecessary.
“There was a car earlier. Any news?” She sounds disinterested, but that’s not it at all. She’s tired.
“No, not this afternoon.”
“Not even a letter?”
“Nothing. Maybe tomorrow.” Whenever tomorrow is. She’s been tired for as long as she can remember, and she’s exhausted by scraps of contact made through outdated modes of communication. Reminders. They serve. The girl could get a phone, and instead sends telegrams. Where do you even find a telegram office these days? Telegrams are over, she’s almost certain of that. She turns, swimming through the humidity, and pushes her nose against his cool neck, exhausted. “Hang tomorrow.”
“Won’t you come in for dinner?” he asks quietly, his voice artificially light. He knows, then.
“But the others…”
“Hang the others!” she says in an explosive exhale, and leans against him, away from the city and the ocean, bright in the glare of a hundred thousand eyes, eyes they’ve walked past for a generation or two.
“It’ll be dark soon. Please come inside.”
“To do what?” She puts a hand against the cool skin of his cheek, and finally meets his eyes. “Put on my brave face? Drink what’s left of the wine? Make small talk like a child, speaking in riddles? To dance around the thing that no one will say—” and oh, they’ve said so much—“The one damn thing left still worth talking about?”
His eyes fully focus on hers in the twilight, and she can see that she’s frightened him. It’s always been the two of them, as far back as she can remember, the two of them and her pages and his hands and the thrumming base line of ever-expanding human knowledge, but once upon a time she must have had a normal mind, and a family. A kid sister who loved antiques and music. When he plays, sometimes, when he really floats away in it, she can remember her sister. A sister that’s sitting in a telegraph office. How many can there be in the world, anymore? It won’t be that hard to find her. It won’t take that long.
“No, I will not come inside,” she says gently, like a mother to her child. He’s older by a few hundred years, that’s funny. “You say it’s getting dark. Do you think I can’t see it? That I can’t feel it under my skin?” There’s a reason I’ve clung to port cities, to the riot of cultures and languages, she thinks, and she knows he feels it. You saw it coming and you let it win. You remember everything, and you think that makes you weak. “Yet you ask me to come in and smile, and be a devil. I say I won’t do it.”
“Please don’t do anything stupid,” he whispers, but his eyes dance away again and she knows he’ll let her go. He’ll wander back to Detroit or Seville, someplace where you can feel the energy draining out of the world, where you can hear the slow march of entropy if you press your ear against the pavement. He’ll play and play until his fingers should bleed, and they won’t.
“Where are the things that I brought back last week?” she asks, putting on a practical face. She’s so tired.
“In the storeroom, on the bottom shelf.” There are lives in that room, passports and obsolete bills and photographs that feature a man and a woman they’ll take to calling ancestors.
“Bring me the sack. There’s a light in a case. And some batteries.”
He stops her with a gentle hand on her wrist, but won’t meet her eyes. “Don’t do this. You can’t leave me here.”
She pauses. That’s new. He’s never asked her to stay before. He’s wanted her back, yes, but that was manageable—he just cut an album in the style of the day, and waited a year or a decade until she heard it playing tinnily over the radio in a street café. But this, this is different, why is it different?
“Oh my dear,” she gasps, and pulls him to her, and he holds so tight she can’t breathe, so she doesn’t. “You’re right, of course I can’t.” You idiot. “I can’t leave you. Not here. Not when this is all that you’ve known.” She pushes back so that she can see him, and smoothes the hair back from his face, and she’s babbling, words like verse. “Not when you shrink from the cars on the drive and the shadows on the lawn and the shade of mortality you think walks two steps behind me. I can’t leave you in the dark.” She’s talking, and she hears the roll of her own r’s and the cadence of her breath, but it’s just music now, a popular tune about something important she’s forgotten. What did she just promise? She’ll keep trying, wherever she is, and if she’s lucky he’ll keep reaching for her until she remembers. “I have to strike out in it: to bring back a little light to leave you when I’m gone.”
He looks down into her eyes and holds her upper arms tight. “It’s getting dark,” he breathes. It’s getting dark, and there’s something in his eyes that she doesn’t understand, something he remembers, something she let go of a long time ago.