Wings of Steel

"If you love this, now deal with it."

His voice was harsh in the dull edge of the light, cresting against the sweat-laden shadows that seethed all around us; all three of us. As soon as he let her go she collapsed, her body too light with fatigue, with famine and frailty, to make much noise when she struck - limb by delicate limb - the damp stone floor beneath us. The sound she made was instead a whisper of silk, like the beating of wings as a clutch of small birds rises in alarm at the report of a gun. It was the last word she would ever say to me… she always knew better than to betray more than that, staring up at me with her eyes wide and tired.

I trick myself into believing it was trust, at the beginning of every day that dawns. Trust, understanding, love… all of those beautiful things that we always talked about, those daydreams of some time that perhaps was passed down in stories from great grandparents long dead. I understood, though, as I looked down into her dirt caked face, framed by matted hair and the tattered remains of once fine gown, that in the world we live in we cannot afford to have beautiful things.

And so, how friable is the notion? That she still believed what we used to believe in, before the monstrous child of those dreams, those hallucinations rent us from one another? To this day, I am not sure. Laying there on that floor, in the bowels of a compound she had never seen, would never see the exterior of (though, it is a face that will be etched, by familiarity and infamy, into my memory forever), she may have loathed me… even feared me, what I had become. But I did know, for sure, that she recognized me. They had starved her to ruin of light, of food, of clean air and clean water. She was a specter of the brazen, full, heart strong woman that I had married… barely recognizable even to my eyes. But her mind was about her until the last moment (knowing this, it is worse for me). And she knew me, even as I nearly did not know her.

It had been over long before that.

I went home that morning - no, not home. To the house, the gilded shell, which they had provided me for all my hard work. I raged in that house, turned every mirror to face the red-papered walls, shuttered every window and broke keys in the doors of the upper rooms, as many as I could before my trembling overtook me. Somehow, I found myself back down in the washroom beyond the kitchen, staring into the full basin, which reflected thankfully only the fickle light of the candle-bearing lamp above me and no shape of my face. It was my father's face, I knew… the same strong jaw I had admired as a boy, the same wide-set blue eyes, stable brow. I wore his face… though today, he would have had no pride in seeing his youthful reflection there. I screamed. The echo of my voice was guttural, muted by the plush carpeting… it came back to me only to die.

I swear now, I never knew that they would take her. I would never - could never - have sold her life into this fate, not for any price, and - is my failing greater, in this? - not to save any cause. I never knew.

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