On the Edge of Breathing

by Mari Ness


He has never called her by her full name. She does not ask or wonder why. She knows. He places a tray of silver apples near her hands. Silver, not red. She dreams of peaches in the summer sky.

“Come,” he whispers.

She shakes her head, half weeps.

“You know I cannot.”

“You will not change her sorrow, sitting here.”

He is right, of course. He is always right. Even before she fell here, before she sank beneath the earth, she knew that of him. Always just, always cold, always right.

Her window looks out onto dancing silver leaves. Beyond them, she knows, the trees are heavy with jewels, and the dead are beginning their stately dance. They follow the hours, the dead, though they have no true need: the light here never quite leaves, never quite grows. He steps behind her to embrace her, to place two cold hands upon her breasts.

“Of all here,” he whispers, “only you and I live.”

Not quite true: he guards monsters bound beneath the earth, monsters unkilled by gods and heroes. And the dog and the ferryman are quite, quite alive. But even the more educated, polite monsters don’t quite count for company. (She has already met a few; strapped in chains, or on fire, they seem less terrifying and happy to discourse on poetry.) And the dead, of course, talk, sometimes endlessly: they have time for nothing but talk, it seems. Talk, and dance, and music, and playing with silver apples and pears, their insubstantial hands shifting through the silver trees.

But not quite the same, she knows. She can be touched, as can he. She finds herself against his chest, holding his hands as he touches her, breathing just a little faster, until she remembers, and springs away, sending the tray of silver apples tumbling.

“You are free to depart,” he tells her again.

This, too, is true, if she knew the way. She almost does. She remembers pulling at the plant, the caverns below, remembers spinning and falling down unending stairs, until she had plunged into a cold grey lake. He had come to her there, pulling at her, his mouth on hers, giving her breath. She remembers kissing him and hearing the songs, the heavy whispered songs of the dead. She remembers yielding, almost, to his cold skin.

The stairs are near the lake, she knows, past the dead dancers, past the dead singers. They are smooth, low, not quite endless. She could find them, perhaps, and walk up the near endless darkness, bring silver apples to her mother, watch her mother’s hands be rimmed with ice.

“I do not know the way,” she lies. He reaches for her again.

“You grow thin,” he whispers. “Even you must eat.”

He had not taken her. She knows her mother tells that tale, feels the full untruth of it. He had saved her with his mouth. He had pulled her from his lakes.

“Eat,” he whispers. “Eat.” And he hands a silver fruit to her.

She places it against her cheek, then her lips, feeling its coolness. She thinks of snow tumbling through the earth, thinks of the taste of green apples. It is beautiful, the silver fruit, beautiful. She lets it tumble to the ground as she places her lips against his cold mouth.

Above her, the earth groans a little, but she does not hear.

4 Responses to “On the Edge of Breathing”

  1. JenM says:

    Very beaytiful, sad and poetic.

  2. Merc says:

    Very nice, I enjoyed the lyrical writing in this one and the imagery! 🙂

  3. Mo says:

    This is a beautiful retelling. Very sensuous and bittersweet.

  4. The topic is quite trendy in the net right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write ?

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