Swallow

"You were seduced by the open air long before I could get to you."

Bitter words, once spoken to me by an ex-girlfriend displeased with my dreamer's nature and better interest in the outdoors than her want for impractical shoes and short, expensive skirts.

"Swallowed by mother Nature's jaundiced eye."

To an extent, it was true… Ever since I was a boy, I'd spent more time out of doors alone than I did with my peers. I had explored that land of my birth as intimately as any man could a lady's physique. I knew her soft hollows, her curving tracks, her secret slips of shadow leading off into the blind oblivion.

That mild wilderness was my shangrila, and in my youth I thought I knew that nothing could spoil it. Those acres were inalienable to me. I was secure; I was arrogant in that knowledge. That girl - I don't even recall her name - had spoken to hurt me and I'd brushed her off without as second thought. She'd have had no more than a half-dazed glance into the distance, a totally unfelt apology, and maybe some vague words about how I hoped we could still be friends. I didn't, you know, but that's how all young men are.

For a long time, those woods were my only compatriot, but as I began to grow a little older, that animal desire for companionship drew me out of the hazy shell, leading me into a handful of miserable, stunted dating experiences and ultimately causing me to yearn solely for a woman who could share my passion.

Had I known that I could not have both, I do not know to this day which one I would have kept.

I met Magdi at a party that I attended some time in my late twenties. I was tired of my so-called career, realizing that the particular ‘corporate ladder' I sat on left no more rungs to be climbed. The soiree was nondescript despite it's façade of glamour - some black-tie high-society to-do that a colleague of mine had encouraged me to go to in hopes that he and I both would land a better job. She was the trophy of the CEO of the company my friend had wanted to edge us into; a middle-aged salamander of a man, not totally without physical allure but certainly with no intellectual charms he could call his own. To make up for it, he wore one on his arm, like one would wear an expensive ruby cufflink… but Magdi shone more brightly than any gem the earth will ever produce.

He'd announced her as his own, tactlessly, in some speech that I hadn't been paying attention too because my collar itched. The room was swiftly heating, full as it was with people largely out of their element, all undulating around small tables like fish strung out of the water. Despite the fact that I'd never taken interest in persuing what I could not have, or couldn't keep if I did have it, I could do nothing but remember Magdi's face. The clarity in her sable eyes occulted halfway beneath the shadow of her heavy lashes; the shining ringlets of her hair curling darkly back from her high, pale cheeks; the delicate shape of her lips, cool and smooth as wine; each was caught fast in the web of my memory.

Later in the evening, I had gotten so painfully bored of the party that I took the liberty of some small explorations of the building. It was a house, presumably afore mentioned CEO's, decorated in elaborate, classical styling; picturesque to the point of cliché. Dazed from the surrounding cacophony of voices raised in showroom revelry, bright lights, and a glass of tepid wine served earlier in the evening, I didn't hear them as I padded down the staircase. My subconscious halted me before I got far enough to really embarrass myself, and I looked down over the burnished rail into Magdi's face. At first, the picture didn't register with my brain in its entirety - She was too distracting with her head lolled over the low back of a couch below, her arms spread over the cushions, lazy smile pinning my helpless psyche. I soon assembled image with meaning, realizing that a man's figure was below her, mostly on the floor, with her skirt shoved up above her knees and his head covered. I felt my mouth open wordlessly, at once apologetic and furiously blushing as I began to back away, every joint in my body feeling like cement.

The black fairy smiled, pursing her lips and shaking her head as if to whisper ‘It's alright' but I made a swift exeunt nonetheless. I couldn't look at the man she pretended to belong to for the rest of the night, singed by the memory of his toad's voice mumbling between her thighs, but I could hardly take my eyes from Magdi herself. It was the awareness that she hadn't cared - the utter tedium of her faux passion - and the totally superficial dance that she mimicked now. She no more belonged to him than the wood belonged to me, and I felt like it was only her and I that knew the secret. It was so macabre, and I didn't know how to let it go.

After saying my goodbyes to the co-worker that had brought me into this strange other world, I thought I was alone to walk home and clear my thoughts, glad for the outdoor air and night's quiet. Suddenly, I felt a small hand slide into mine, tugging me around to face opposite where I had been. Magdi stood behind me - a delicate vixen in crimson lipstick, with cloudy, unruffled curls falling around her siren's face. I stuttered, trying at once to introduce myself, to compliment her, to ask her if she needed something. She laughed, more experienced at this sort of fencing than I was, and pulled me off the street I'd begun to cross.

"I saw you watching me tonight," She said after she kissed me.

We didn't really talk much that night. Magdi asked to walk me home, and I let her, though I had the suspicion it ought to have gone the other way around. She said she wanted to see me again, and I told her she could come any time, and she disappeared into the night.

My head was rocketing so quickly around the coil of sensations that I barely thought I'd sleep. I stood at my closed door for five, or maybe ten minutes, my fingers at my lips where hers had touched them. I thought she was an angel. When I did lay down, I slid into total unconsciousness without another breath drawn in the waking world.

The minx appeared at my door with coffee that Saturday morning, and she spent a long day with me talking the world around us into perfect, organized circles. When evening fell, she coaxed me into my bedroom and spread the universe effortlessly onto the panes of darkness. Her tiny frame pinned mine - I was, and would remain forever, helpless against her - and she devoured me. It stung that she wouldn't let me take her home, but she promised - oh, those wine-sweet lips curved into the sickle's smile - that I would see her again soon. I, for my part, was so fascinated I hardly knew what to do with myself when she wasn't in my sight. Within a week or two I was displaying all the classic signs of obsession… hardly sleeping, eating like a robot, with even less mind on my work than I had before.

We never spoke of her other lover. As the weeks wore into months, I scarcely realized he even continued to exist. I never asked her, however, and it was not in me to suspect that she had left him, or that it was he to whom she returned periodically

Despite the depth my infatuation, I was always looking at her face for sign of that expression she'd held during the passionate ministrations of her other lover. Never once did I see it, and soon believed that she loved me as truly as she whispered. Our mornings together lengthened, until sometimes she wouldn't go home for a few days at a time… lingering in my flat and straightening my things, attending the sadly neglected pots of herbs lining my kitchen windows. It was always my greatest hope through the day to return home and discover the delicious, irresistible flower of alabaster silk and tearose fragrance waiting in my living room.

I did so, more and more often, frequently dropping my briefcase in the kitchen to dash to her and take her lips to mine. I would make love to her on my narrow couch, and we'd stumble naked and laughing to the bedroom later before falling, exhausted, into one another's arms. This progressed for a few months, and I became comfortable enough with her to reveal my second love life…

My heart nearly stopped to hear that she wanted to see this verdant scape, on which was painted every dream I'd ever had as a boy, and most that I'd indulged as a man. I obliged her without hesitation. She walked with me all through that summer, crossing beneath the arches of sunlight, dancing through webs of morning dew and reminding me about each blade of silver grass, each ominous swath of shadow.

It was impossible not to belong to her completely.

However, sometimes, when the night fell and we'd lay awake in the darkness of my flat, I'd feel intangibly like she was slipping away from me. I would stroke her hair, trying to guess from her breathing whether she was asleep there, with her head in the hollow of my shoulder, or awake and staring into the textureless black as I did.

A summer circled on, winding ever toward its final curtain, I began to realize more faint change between Magdi and I. I liked to think that it was just the sign of our relationship settling into stable patterns. That, I told myself, was a sign of something with permanence. But Magdi looked at me less, it seemed… I felt often like I was trying to search for her eyes. She would sing to herself, sometimes, on our walks - which she'd grown so fond of as to insist that we make them daily, which I of course didn't complain about - and I always felt like the song was inside familiarity for me, but try as I might to rattle the melody from the raftors of my brain I could not. I asked her, on several occasions, what it was, but she would only smile tenderly at me and shake her head.

Autumn began to touch the world - the whole world that I had ever known - and the air became brittle with the promise of an early frost. I remained forbidden from her home, despite the hours we spent together. She would leave me for that hidden place periodically, derelicting my life without her presence for the longest hours I ever had to endure. To miss a night or so with Magdi, though agonizing for me, was not unheard of. But after the third, the dull spot in my heart was growing. I took the day off work for my soul's ailment, and followed my instinct into the woods, barely paying attention to my steps. I knew the trail that well. It had been one of my favorites as a boy, and as a result it was where I usually took Magdi.

The forest split suddenly, trees giving way to sky above my head as my feet broke from heavy moss into the grass of a clearing. I focused my eyes at behest of a small sound, to see my orchid standing toward the opposite edge of the tree-hemmed enclosure, long black coat fluttering about her calves, eyes on me and bright with mischief. My heart leapt at the sight of her, steps quickening as I called her name. Smiling her Elysian smile, she opened her arms to me, beckoning me closer. Just before I reached her, she laughed and bolted, teasing me.

I ran after her, begging her to come back to me. I needed her so much.

"No, no no…" she would laugh, breathlessly, turning halfway over her shoulder to look at my tiring pursuit. It was so strange that, despite my longer legs and better knowledge of the land, I could not reach her; almost as if her body was touched with some preternatural strength that lent her boundless speed and endurance that I lacked.

I did tire, realizing after we'd run almost a mile through ever-thickening forest that something was not right. Magdi was still laughing, but her eyes were not the same as I had known. They did not meet mine when she turned her head back toward me. She ran recklessly, the wandering branches snagging at her hair and clothing; I was surprised she didn't fall and harm herself with the way of it, but she never once did. She kept laughing.

"No, no, no," Her fine voice echoed upward through the lances of waning sunlight. I stumbled to a stop, watching her disappear into the gathering shadow. It took me a long time, standing there as the air chilled and the sun finished setting, to realize she wasn't coming back. Still, I waited until dawn to trudge homeward, numb and trembling. Thrice I woke over the course of the day (it was exactly six months since her first arrival at my home) because I thought I heard her dainty knock.

Having never had an address or phone number to seek her out aside from my own, I felt rather awkward inquiring about a missing persons report. A few days later, the news paper dispelled the dilemma for me entirely. The report had already come, headlines announcing that a powerful public figure's fiancée had disappeared days prior. No mention to the possibility of an affair, of an ulterior motive for her disappearance; just weepy quotes from the amphibious CEO about how much he missed her, her beauty and consummate loyalty. I sneered, grinding the paper deep into my garbage can. He could never know of how a woman like that warranted love. Never know of the depth and reality of my affections for her.

I don't know if it was the sheer ugliness of that emotion, or the backlash that she had just run away into the forest never to return, but I spent two days home, vomiting up everything that I ate.

Days passed - I was loathe to read the papers, but I did - and they had begun to find fragments of her clothing in the forest west of town. Theories of foul play spiraled, the media ablaze, fuelled by the smell of money concerning the people involved. The two people - Magdi and her apparently betrothed. The police didn't have any suspects. They never would.

By the end of the week the frost had fallen, and the cold weather was sapping the energy of the media campaign quickly. Within another two days, or maybe three, the light was blown out all together. Magdi's - my Magdi's - stiff, nude body was found several miles north of the trailhead, vacated of breath and spirit both. The underbrush was stirred by her convulsions, pale arms and slender legs nicked all over by the rough ground and briars around where she had fallen. The autopsy report found no evidence of assault, of any outside human forces acting on her. She had died alone, unmolested, having torn all her clothing off herself and dove to the ground of her own volition. Her angel's visage had frozen in a look of total ecstasy.

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