Ruby lips descending into salty brine. My lips. Bright light yielding to dark, fathomless depths on a midsummer’s eve where the sweltering heat of the sun still lingers in the damp night air of the goldfields. Eighteen years of growing up in each other’s company, budding feelings finally confessed—only to have the last night marred by the shattered delusion of something we were never meant to be. A first date gone wrong.
That day—the day you watched me die,
what were you thinking?
I know. You were feeling sorry for yourself, for the loss you would have to suffer so early on in your youth, and for having to conjure up an explanation plausible enough to avoid scrutiny: “My Darling Clementine, drowned!”
Does my death yet haunt you? Very well, poor dear, console yourself. Exchange one woman for another; touch is all the same. Rest your brow upon my little sister’s breast—see if it helps you to forget. Forget me. Forget you. You forget yourself.
Not I, though—I will never forget.
Clusters of lanky ash trees lining the brine pools before us bear mute witness as you snake your hand around my waist, seizing me with clammy fingers.
Clementine—kiss me. I can’t contain myself—I love you. You joke, surely, I think, until your fingers fix themselves under the hollows of my jaw, vice-like. I meet your gaze, alarmed by what I see—not the face of a friend, but something strange, twisted.
Your mouth is shaping lovely lies—deceit etched into the corners of your smile. Something heinous lurks there, heretofore unnoticed. I see it clearly now, reflected in your features, some hidden urge burgeoning to the surface. In your eyes a manic glee. Your tongue, a serpent’s tongue, moving to ensnare mine.
If this is love, I want no part of it.
Let go of me—are you insane?! You’re hurting me—
A gasp of breath, a stifled scream, a stumble and a fall. Followed by splashing, flailing. Silence. All at once, the mania flees your face. Not so very bold now. I recognize you again, but it is with
changed eyes. You pause in horror for a spell before departing, thinking I am lost and gone—for good.
I am not lost. Still here, fighting in that one suspended moment where you watch me drown and whimper to yourself, clasping your hands tightly around your arms—arms that were all too quick to release me—or was it push, rather? —as I tripped and fell. I struggle to keep my head afloat as the weight of my woolen dress pulls me down.
Yet, be it the work of some sick miracle or sheer force of will, I can still see your figure—clearly outlined—as my eyes lapse under the slippery film of the water. With piercing scrutiny I trace every movement in your face—those frantic eyes, that pale, trembling jaw…
Why do you tremble so, and not I?