“It’s inevitable,” he says. He’s lying on the bed, throwing a little red ball into the air above his head, catching it over and over. “Like death and taxes. We all have a need to settle down and leave a legacy. Children. Art. Money. Whatever. It’s part of what makes us human. Everyone wants to be remembered for something.”
Sunlight refracted through window panes cuts shadows through his features.
I look up from the book I’m reading. “Not everyone,” I say, laying it aside. “When I go there won’t be anything left.”
He catches the ball and rolls to meet my eyes. “Nothing?”
“Not even a memory.”
He considers this. “Come here,” he says, and I come.
I tread lightly across the floor, searching his face for some sign, some hint of suspicion. He pulls me down beside him. “Where would you go, anyway,” he says, nuzzling my neck. I start to answer him, then realize it wasn’t a question.
Most nights I can’t sleep. When his eyes close I roam the house, bathed in the light of standby power indicators, carried aloft by the steady hum of the modern world. My fingers slide across the polished furniture standing along the walls like sentinels. In the refrigerator, tiny parcels of meat wrapped in shiny plastic line one of the shelves, sharing space with chilled vegetables which have been cut and washed and drained.
Eventually I find myself outside. I always do.
“You know how much I adore you,” he says, sliding his fingers through my hair. I run my lips across his skin, taste the tiny crystals of salt that cling to him. He sighs, a river flowing, and puts his arms around me.
Beneath my bare feet the wet grass shines silver in the moonlight. In the distance, across the length of manicured lawn and neat rows of flowers conceived in places I can’t name, the trees call to me in whispered breaths, their limbs beckoning. Without a sound I walk the garden path, a tiny road made of sharpened stones. It ends abruptly where the wild begins, but I keep going, into the forest, into the cathedral where I am called priestess.
His fingers move across my inner thigh, pressing between my legs. I kiss him, long and deep, but he breaks away to suckle my breasts and rise above me in the golden sunlight. My arms slip around his neck and pull him closer.
“Don’t ever leave me,” he says.
“I love you,” is my answer.
All night in the darkness of the forest I run, my limbs stretching, my muscles burning with joy. I am red in tooth and claw, fear in a handful of dust. Power flows through me like an electric current, crackling across my skin. Around me the night and the forest rejoice.
I feast on the flesh of the small and weak, their skin and bone crunching beneath my jaws. Blood stains my lips like the juices of berries. When I stop to rest vines rustle and slide around me, covering me with the scent of earth and things growing green. I could grow roots and press myself into the soil beneath my feet; I could sprout wings and fly into the trees.
In the east the stars begin to disappear, and I make my way back through the undergrowth to the place where the grasses are cut and left to only dream of whispering secrets to the wind, where trees unlucky enough to be caught within this civilized orbit are pruned and shaped beyond all recognition. I hesitate before I go in, pausing for a final breath of night.
Inside, the door closes behind me with a whoosh of conditioned air. I take a shower, letting the warm water cleanse away all traces of the forest. Bits of leaves mingled with morsels of flesh wash down the drain and are gone. The soap smells antiseptic, clean, and it masks my scent. With a fine-toothed comb I work out the twigs that are tangled in my hair.
Each time it becomes harder to return.
I tread lightly across the floor to the bedroom. Beneath the sheets he sleeps, his breathing even and purposeful, dreamless and deep. I slide in beside him, the cotton chafing my skin, and wrap my naked legs around his body. Through the window pane I watch the sun begin to rise, though I am not saddened.
I know the darkness will return.
It always does.