Ana looked for Miguel in the café where they had met Sunday mornings. She hurried through their favorite bookstore, glancing down each aisle, and along the bridge where they first held hands—the river surging beneath her. She called the university where he had taught classical antiquity, his favorite bar, and his mother two thousand miles away. Nobody had seen or heard from him.
Weeks later, just when Ana had exhausted her options, her sister called.“He’s in the courtyard downtown,” she said. “Brace yourself, Ana. He’s different now.”
Ana ran along sidewalks and across roads, her feet beating against wet concrete and asphalt. Layers of clouds rolled across the sky and pulsed with lightning. Wind cried in the allies she rushed past. Everything had turned gray.
She entered the courtyard, a rectangular expanse encompassed by buildings like the walls of a cage. A figure stood out in the distance, obscured in shadows and rain. The lean body, the curly hair, the confident posture that belied an eternal sadness—she knew it was him, damn it. She yelled, “Miguel,” but thunder silenced her voice.
Ana placed her palm over his chest and her ear against his lips. “What happened to you?” she asked.
She flung her arms around him and held him like she did on their first date when they attempted to tango and he stepped all over her feet. Did he remember their bursts of laughter as he nearly crushed her toes, the bright colors whirling around them on the dance floor, the band members on stage sweating and smiling as they filled the air with amorous music? Did he remember how they ran through the snow and into his apartment, where the heat of their bodies kept them warm?
She would find him awake at night gazing out of the window, mourning the state of the world. She would take his hands and say, “Come back to me.” But he kept hardening. He took a sabbatical and stopped talking to family and friends. And that morning when Ana arrived at his abandoned apartment and found the note, she nearly died.
Now he stood in front of her, a statue in a courtyard—a monument to the dead. She tried to move him, but he would not budge. She tried to see into his eyes, but they were cemented shut.
As Leonora sat alone with candlelight flickering around her, the owl burst through a window near an upper corner of the lobby. Shards of glass rained down on the floor. The owl perched on the dilapidated chandelier and dropped something from its talons. A finger—torn from the knuckle—landed in Leonora’s lap.
Although Leonora could no longer tolerate living in society, she craved intimacy and affection. One can endure loneliness for only so long.“Bring me a companion,” she had told the owl. “I want to be enchanted.” She certainly did not request bits and pieces of human beings.
Leonora sat on the moldy chaise lounge in baffled silence as the owl flew in and out, dropping body parts all around her. A dark foot. A cloudy-white ear. Clumps of black, gray, brown, blond, and red hair. Teeth, tendons, bones, and organs. A heart, still beating.
After amassing a sprawling collection of human fragments, the owl perched again on the chandelier. It ripped from its stomach a silver feather and watched the feather flutter to the floor. Leonora went upstairs to bed, convinced of the owl’s uselessness and stupidity.
Hours later, with sunlight spreading around her and birds chirping in trees, Leonora arose to a flawless performance of a piano piece she had never before heard. She put on a robe and hurried towards the music.
Stopping at the base of the stairs, she gasped, stunned at the immaculate condition of this abandoned hotel in the mountains where she had withdrawn from the world. The white marble floors gleamed so brilliantly her eyes needed to acclimate. Strolling through the rooms on the first floor, she marveled at the mirror-like quality of the polish on the wood tables, cupboards, bookcases, and storage chests. The Persian rugs burned in red, as if a master weaver had just completed them. Oil paintings of cherubs floating in clouds, once caked with grime, hung freshly painted in frames mounted on the walls.
Then, a wave of aromas reached Leonora: chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon. On a table in the dining area, a silver tray displayed pastries of various shapes and sizes. Champagne bubbled in a glass flute and steam curled upwards from a cup of coffee. On the white tablecloth, a rose lay next to a sheet of paper with a handwritten poem so terrible in its beauty one cannot bear to repeat it.
The piano filled the hotel with sound, reverberating through the rooms. Leonora spiraled into a rapturous state, dizzy with euphoria, listening to the flurry of notes, crescendos and decrescendos, soft and delicate moments, and forceful statements. The music lured her closer, although she knew the Island of the Sirens lay scattered with bones.
Leonora entered the lobby. The body parts had vanished, the broken window had been replaced, and the purple chaise lounge, previously tarnished and mold-speckled, appeared new. The chandelier sparkled like a cluster of hanging jewels, scattering reflected sunlight across the ceiling and walls.
In the far corner, on the bench in front of the grand piano, sat a creature one could not describe as human. The final notes of the piece became softer and softer until they tapered to a whisper. The ensuing silence nearly drove Leonora mad.
The creature stood and walked towards her. Neither male nor female. Neither young nor old. A lean, muscular figure. Thick, multi-colored hair cascaded down its neck and shoulders. With each blink, its eyes changed back and forth between green and yellow.
Leonora placed her hands on its chest, its silver feathers softer than silk. She stepped closer and rested her head over its fluttering heart. Wings unfurled from its back and wrapped around her, enveloping her in a darkness from which she would never emerge.
III. Waiting for Spring
I requested a frosty dress with a swooping V-cut in the back and glassy stilettos created from ice.
I asked for lipstick as blue as frozen lakes, curly white hair, and pearl-like earrings made of miniature snowballs. “Let me go out into the world,” I said.
“But,” he said, “your place is here.”
Every night, he has sat by the window inside of his house and watched me. Every night, I have imagined his house bursting into flames.
He still visits me constantly, his breath so predictably smelling of coffee in the morning and bourbon in the evening, just as the sun rises and sets. He touches and shapes me, tries to maintain me in his image, the heat of his palm like acid on my skin.
When the migrating birds rest on the roof, they chirp about the splendors of spring.
Now, I wait for the first hint of warmth and the promise of rain, for the time when slushy black heaps form on the roads and patches of mud appear in the yard, when clumps of my body fall to the ground thudding. I dream of melting into water. Parts of me will soak the soil and reemerge in blades of grass and flower petals. Other parts will evaporate into the sky where the wind will carry them across the earth, to places far from here. I will see the world.
When this happens, he will not be able to find me. He will not even know where to look.
Mason Binkley lives with his wife and identical twin boys in Tampa, Florida, and works as an attorney. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Barely South Review, Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other places. You can find him online @Mason_Binkley.
Artwork: Anna Dittmann, Censor