Heart of the Matter

“Now that you are human, you won’t fight?” A tall, stately figure garbed in blue ceremonial robes and a warrior’s headdress comes before my eyes. She bears a sharpened sceptre in her right hand, and somehow I know there is a feather under the helmet.

I draw my right hand across my chest palm inward, and bow slightly, extending my hand in greeting, before forming it into a fist and preparing for divine battle on this stellar arena. The goddess dips her head almost imperceptibly, and I notice this is a different neck of space than before, with many more stars. The first time we crossed blades was in a quiet auditorium room with a veiled curtain, seemingly on Earth; I had manifested weapons at the time, but perhaps now that was unnecessary.

What is in your heart, child?

As my feet coil in preparation to spring, a scene begins to play down left.


She hits me again and again with the force of a fighter, and every time she does white words escape to the skies.
I cannot do this.
Her fists are powerful and clenched.
I am not good enough.
They beat me without false mercy or quarter. Her red shirt fills my vision.
It is too much of a risk.
Her face is neutral and her eyes composed.
I don’t know if I can trust you.
She jams my knees with her foot and black impurity oozes outward. Her fingers in my chest remove the same. There is pain in all these places, but I remain standing.
It will destroy me.
Her knee forces its way into the nerves of my inner right thigh, opening my hip in external rotation; her fingers find a nerve in my neck and press. She moves in.
Find someone else.
I don’t scream. Neither of us makes a sound.


Three innocent-looking gray balls with the energy of terra firma fly straight from the goddess’ hand toward me.

What do you fear?

Down below another scene unfolds.


She races through the woods on foot; a wide gravel path with sharp stones absorbs the impact of her strides. Droplets of liquid stain the path behind, but never more than a few in one place—she hasn’t stopped long enough for that.

Her inward breath draws a sharp pain in displaced bone, and her every step a concentrated throbbing at the joint. She ignores all this, though, knowing there is somewhere she needs to be.

I’m coming.

She bursts into the clearing as the coniferous trees lining either side relinquish their boundaries. She feels the wetness of her shirt for the first time since the wind has abated, and the pain is excruciating. She wants nothing more than to curl up in a ball on the ground and moan, but something is more important.

She sees the growing darkness in a blue sea out of the corner of her right eye; in front of her is a secluded lake in the forest clearing. A woman in pink stands across the lake facing her, and suddenly she knows what to do: She forces herself to stand upright and breathe deeply, somehow drawing strength from the mysterious woman; it is agony when she raises her arm, but she props the other under it and forces herself to attain the necessary height, even with a broken scapula. More blood streams down her shirt as her hands come together in the shape of an imaginary ball at face level; she focuses all her energy on the essence of who she is and projects us both into an imaginary whirlwind swirling protectively around a lone island on the water. Her projection is everything but the pain, to avoid distracting me, and through her eyes I see mine are glowing white—oblivious to all except the task at hand.

She can barely make herself out through the swirling wind, but soon sees herself placing her hands under my collar, wearing a black coat to hide the bleeding—this I do not see. Her effort isn’t altruistic—that would never work—but there is a purity and practicality to her love that moves me: she could be shedding her last drop of blood, and still she would give me time and space to decide, with only the most of respect.

There is a bang as I make my decision.

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“You figured it out.” She came to me on the same desert terrain as before. “You know who I am to you now.”

“Yes.” A smooth, shiny gold connection joined my abdomen to hers whenever I allowed myself to see it. “I suspected, I wondered, and then I doubted, but—”

“You’re the only one whose eyes I can see through,” I confessed. “Just like my own.”

“Oh?” she asked quizzically. “Mightn’t that be you are evolving?”

Like a serial killer.

“Maybe,” I admitted. “But seeing and feeling someone else’s perspective is unusual.”

“Especially without invitation.”

“So you’re snooping,” she teased, pretending to sound accusing. “Invading my privacy.”

“Trust me, if I’ve seen anything personal, it’s embarrassed me just as much as you.”

“Oh I’m not embarrassed,” she said assuredly. “But I want to know.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes.” She nodded enticingly. “Show me my past.”

“If I do this, you’ll be drawn to the material. No one can resist the pull of their own dormant memories.”

“I’m counting on it.”

“There’s no going back,” I told her. “Once you open that door—”

She grabbed my shirt and I saw raw emotion in her eyes. “I stand on the precipice,” she said. “Waiting and wondering, knocking on a door that will never open.”

“You see through me, and all I see of you is shadow.”

You are the figure in my dreams.

“I know almost nothing about you—you’ve made sure of that.”

“That’s not entirely—”

“I know you keep things from me,” she insisted. “I can feel you holding back bits of the truth; you dance around telling me what I desire.”

“It’s for your own good—I’m letting you walk away.”

“I don’t—” she tried to say, but I interrupted her with a rush of my own words:

“If you never want to speak to me again, I understand; if you want to be friends, I can do that, too; and if you want something else, I will learn to meet you where that road begins.”

“I wasn’t finished,” she said sharply. “How can you force me to make this choice without all the information? How can you deny me a fair trial?”

“Haven’t you already made your choice?”

“I—” Her voice broke. “I spend hours thinking about you. I’ve looked for every available scrap of information—and believe me, there isn’t much—and it doesn’t answer my question.”

“Which is?”

“I find a stranger irresistible, and I have no idea why.

“What is it about you—you’ve turned my life upside down. Will you at least tell me what this is?”

“Because I think you know. You turn me in circles when I ask you; you force me to guess answers to riddles I will never solve.”

“Even when you answer, I know you’re giving me the PR version—not the real one you keep in your heart.”

“Truth is a dangerous thing,” I warned her. “A little learning…”

“You know these things for a reason. How can you deny me that?”

“Would you rather I be irresponsible?” I shot back. “Show you bits and pieces of things you can’t understand. That I myself don’t fully grasp?”

“You’re afraid of being wrong,” she observed quietly. “That’s what this really is—you’re protecting your precious reputation.”

“You’re asking me to take a risk that may never come to fruition.”

“Nothing less than the chance I took for you every lifetime. You came first, before everything.”

“I didn’t ask—”

“Me to love you? Me to remember you?”

“We don’t control the heart,” I said gently.

“Mine has always belonged to you.” She grabbed a fistful of my shirt in just the right place, twisted and squeezed until all the blood ran out of her fingers.

“Let go.”

“I know it looks like I—I’ve gone away.” She took in broken, shallow breaths. “But I—the more I care about something, the more it tears me apart.”

Who are you?

I was silent.

“Please,” she begged. “Be honest with me. Don’t change things.”

“Not even—”

“Don’t fudge”—her fingers shook—”don’t hedge. Most of all?”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not—”

“I need to see everything. I would rather you guess and be wrong than leave something out.”

“Bring me to where you are, and then let me choose.”

I sighed. “You will be the death of me, woman.”

Ruin always followed close on your heels.

“I don’t care.”

You were always brave.

Beyond Dreams

I lie beneath the frothy water of a light green sea, held in the loving embrace of a gray whale, magically able to breathe without bubbles. It is peaceful beyond belief, and I want to stay like this for all eternity. But much as I wish it, this cannot be.

She appears through the gently uneven surface of traveling waves, distorted by the refractive index between surfaces on nearby land, as clear as day. This is the only time I am unhappy to see her, because as her beckoning hand calls, I know an important challenge awaits. And a stubborn, selfish part of me wants to ignore it.

Suddenly I am above an eternal deep blue sea. Beautiful, but dangerous. As I hover, a heavy, dark cloud gathers beneath the surface. A primal fear rises, suffusing my entire being—fear of the dark: heavier than lead, blacker than night and eternal. It is ceaseless and I begin to panic.

The equivalent lightness doesn’t lie at my fingertips; rather, it dances diffusely in the air. What’s below becomes larger than the ocean in my mind’s eye; they don’t connect as they should.

Eternal black holes are portals.

Then, as if magically transported, she and I stand alone on the sole island of an ocean clearing reminiscent of a lake. Rocks rise smoothly upward, defying the gravity that seems to hold us in place. Everything is deceptively perfect: it is a temporary haven—not an illusion, but a symbol. And though time flows otherwise, there are only finite moments for us to convey an infinity of everything.

Minutes have no meaning to divinity.

“What are you afraid of?” There is a transcendent love in her eyes.

I place both palms on her shirt front. “That you aren’t real.”

There is a brutal honesty to this that scalds me as it escapes, but she transmutes it to smoothness.

“That I can’t do this.”

She lays her own hands on top of mine, and to my shock I realize her eyes are black. “We have been through everything together,” she says quietly.

“Share yourself with me.”

The island becomes a raincloud—probably a cumulus deciding whether to let loose—and we stand atop it. Above are fluffy white clouds, which ironically seem more capable of rain.

“Maybe you’re just a figment of my imagination.”

Thunder crackles below, and lighting follows. Our feet are set alight.

She places one hand on my heart and an electric current seems to ignite. “I am everywhere you are.”

“I know your hopes and fears, your dreams, and your demons.”

Rain falls lightly from above, from beyond the white clouds.

“I am you.”

I pull her hands away from me. “Then it is forbidden.”

Her hands find their way under my collar without turning it up.

Nothing is forbidden.

Suddenly the answer is in me.

There is one way to connect opposites beyond my power.

“You have to mean it,” she says solemnly.

I recall, with inappropriate humor, a character forcing others to offer true love or suffer the joint-numbing consequences.

I close the distance and she stays unmoving, offering me the freedom of choice.

As white joins black.

Our lips come together.

Raw

Warning: Contains PG-13 / T-rated content.


The world faded into an arid, windy desert plain under a cloudless sky and she came into view before me. “I’m sorry,” she said, stepping close and taking my face in her hands. “So sorry.”

We stood like that for a moment. I could feel contrition seeping out of her every pore, but still it felt like a betrayal.

I brought my fist back and she went flying.

An open room with two doorways either side and windows behind flew into place, and she slammed against the hard, unpainted wall that rose in greeting on the opposite side. There are things you can forgive, and others that take time to digest. This was the latter. And sometimes through action, you can start to figure out what it is you want from a situation. It’s like the pause in between thoughts, or the space between breaths.

The floor was dark and rough, and the wall looked to be the same. I surged forward and hooked my hands under her underarms, preparing to hit her again. She didn’t scream as my knuckles slammed against the other side of her head, and I felt something inside me loosen.

Her eyes silently gave me permission. “It’s okay,” she said, as her head lolled from side to side in-between blows, “I don’t mind.”

I respect a foe who doesn’t squirm.

I drove repeated punches into her abdomen boxing style, and blood began to trickle from her mouth down to her collar. “It looks good on red,” I said nastily, digging my knuckle upward to cause more pain.

She was bloodied and bruised now, but I kept going, extinguishing the last of my demons with violence until my knuckles were chafed and her head fell slowly onto my shoulder in soft surrender. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into my shirt, where I felt the gentle impression of teeth and a mark of red on white. Then with some effort her head lifted to look at me. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

A part of me wanted to stroke the back of her hair, but I wasn’t there yet. So I grabbed her shirt where the placket opened and threw her against the wall.

She gave a small involuntary gasp and slid to the ground, where to my surprise blood began to soak her right sleeve. I stepped closer and saw two familiar holes in her arm. She brought it quivering to my face and with gentle strokes left a faint smudge with her thumb. “If you want to hurt me,” she said, and the wind seemed to pause, “you know how.”

I yanked her to her feet, ignoring the way the movement pained her. Every fiber of my being yearned to do as she suggested—we both knew I wasn’t squeamish when it came to retribution. But as I raised my fingers to inflict agony, an invisible wall of feeling seemed to come between us. I attempted to walk forward and was halted as if by a force field. It wasn’t painful, just certain.

There was no friend that day.

She took this as her cue to close the distance. “If you wanted me dead,” she leaned in unsteadily so her head was next to mine, and whispered in my ear, “I would be.”

“You didn’t touch any of my vital points.”

“Or my wound.”

It sat between us oozing blood, a symbol of so much.

I stepped back and turned away. “I don’t kill anymore.” There was a clear view of the desert outside the window, barren but not harsh. “Doesn’t mean I forgive you.”

“How many people have you allowed this close?” she asked softly.

I would do anything for you.

My shoulders tensed as she spoke, “How many people know—”

I swiveled but she was faster, jamming one leg between mine and using my momentum to press me over the table behind us. “—that underneath the neat and refined exterior,” her voice trembled, and blood dripped from her injured arm onto my usually pristine white shirt, “is a passion and a violence so exciting.”

Her eyes gleamed as I broke the grip and shoved us both upright. “We have a history. It’s not uncommon.”

“Why have only the boring parts?” she challenged. “I like seeing you like this.”

I looked down and saw my shirt tail had become untucked in the scuffle. There was blood in various places, including on my cheek.

I looked at her, barely standing with bruises and blood everywhere, and somehow the whole thing seemed ridiculous. “This is nuts.”

“No, it isn’t.” Clouds moved in outside as if there was suddenly water for their formation.

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you to believe.”

Magnetic

“If you’re afraid of becoming unhinged, don’t worry.” She folded her arms and floated down from a background of distant stars to come to a halt in front of me in deep space. “It won’t happen.”

“Hey,” I said, taking in her long-sleeved checkered red shirt and enjoying the feeling of suspended gravity before remembering what this was about. I cast my eyes downward uncomfortably at the actuality of the fact. “Did it hurt?” Soft and comfortable.

She kept her usually friendly expression stern. “Not as much as it did for you.”

I was reminded that sins committed went much deeper than wrongs received—in feeling, depth and resolution. “So,” she paused, surveying the nails on one hand. “Will you?”

“Not for me,” she corrected, with an unusual seriousness in her eyes as she lowered both arms to her sides. “But for us both.

“Before this,” I said pensively, knowing exactly what she meant, “there would have been no way.”

“But now…I’m not sure.” Things we owe.

“Things are fair between us,” she said, her tone hard, but not overly harsh. “More or less. But there is no place for weakness at this juncture.”

“You must play every game.” I was reminded of the deceptive fancy of the roulette wheel, spinning in wild abandon, and the measured precision of every blackjack hand, and knew which it was I had to play.

“You have done almost everything else.” Things to overcome.

“To a casual observer…” I trailed off, “it would make no sense.”

“Nor would it seem fair.”

She dismissed this with an uncharacteristically commanding wave of the hand. “Finish what you started.”

And then I understood. “This is what you’re like when”—I swallowed—“something you love is violated.”

Her eyes were unyielding for a moment in time. “Fine,” I conceded, raising my left hand, palm up.

Waves like transparent, invisible water began to undulate and multidimensional color seeped in through the crevices between peaks and troughs until the top of several heads became visible in a swirling distortion not unlike the gravitational lensing observed at either end of a traversable wormhole.

“Time,” she declared, looking pointedly at me, “and space.”

“I’ve never taken anyone with me.”

“So learn.” Who says you don’t have a built-in pensieve?

I bent my head until it was almost superimposed with the appropriate one, and focused on both our presences until our perspectives became one.


“Lauren!” a woman shouted from the bar on the right, waving something urgently. “You forgot your jacket.”

“I’ll get it,” said the friend walking beside me, and she swerved off the main road to pick my leather jacket from the waitress’ hands.

“Here,” she said, handing it to me. “You’re only careless when you’re drunk.”

“Tipsy,” I disagreed, trying to keep my feet walking in a straight line. “I don’t get drunk.”

It was a dark autumn night and the air was cool, but comfortable, and a few pale white clouds looked down from above as our feet clicked on an uneven road surface. There was no traffic at this hour owing to the secluded nature of the area, and we made a familiar turn into a dark, deserted alley on the left where the car was parked.

I threw my jacket at my friend and fumbled in my pocket for the keys.

A shadow flitted across the side and a strong pressure squeezed my cheeks. Two hands, unusually callused but not possessive, held my face as lips descended on my own before I could resist. It was dark, but I felt their passion even though I could not clearly identify the figure. I stepped back and drew my gun from its holster in a practiced motion and pointed it at the attacker, trigger discipline preventing the immediate discharge of a bullet.

“Who—” I had intended to ask the name of my assailant in a calm, composed manner, but then I saw they were wearing a skirt. My skin burned and my blood boiled. Hatred clouded my vision and quickened my pulse. Who was this woman to turn me homosexual? I didn’t think that this might be an overreaction, and I didn’t wait for anyone else’s opinion. In that moment, it didn’t care what excuse they might have had, or who they were. If I had bothered to exercise my usual judgment, maybe things would have been different.

There are things you do not see.

With practiced aim, I released fear, frustration, anger and hatred in a lead projectile whose aim was true. It found the right shoulder of my attacker and surprise combined with stopping power had the added effect of knocking her to the ground. She screamed once, almost the sound of a lover wronged as the smell of gunpowder rose in the air, and a shell fell to the ground. I stood there, stunned, but shaking with rage. I didn’t clear the scene, as I normally would, or check the now-victim. I was speechless—I didn’t know if I wanted her to die or disappear, just that I wanted to unwrite everything that had just happened. You see, I was proper in every way—a model citizen, a paragon of justice, you name it. But somehow deep within I was afraid it was all a show that could be undone by a single “unforgivable” act. To me, then, this was the worst thing in the world.

A pool of blood had gathered by the time my untrained friend prised the still-warm weapon from my hands. Maybe it was the times, or character, but what she did next surprised even me.

“Stupid gay!” she yelled, and with an accuracy that should have eluded the best marksman, emptied another round into the fallen women right next to mine.

By now, I was beginning to regain my senses, and remember who I was and what we did. “Stop,” I commanded, pulling the gun from her grasp and pointing it downward, as the safety went back on. “We don’t want to kill her.”

I thought swallowing my feelings was the worst thing I had ever had to do. Until, with shaking fingers, I undid the mask.

“Alexis!” I yelled in horror. I didn’t know whose face was paler—hers, from blood loss, or mine from shock. “W-why?”

How do you feel now?

There was a lot of blood, but she was adamant we leave a trail of evidence to exonerate me.

She committed perjury on the stand to keep me from prosecution.

And kept the details of her injury private, so I could focus on the proceedings.

I guess she took responsibility for initiating something I didn’t want and provoking a reaction neither of us was prepared for.

I wanted to stay friends, but over time her independence, unspoken dignity and presence of mind made me really wonder if this wasn’t something I wanted.

Despite the overtures, the final move was always left to me. I think that was the clincher—that I could have walked away.

So one quiet night as fall turned to winter, I went to her.


My vision was black as we drew our heads out of the past and returned to space, coming to stand once again among the stars. “You were honest,” she said, and I could see that the hardness in her eyes had been replaced by a vaguely radiant beaming. “I appreciate that.”

I attempted to brush it off by shrugging my shoulders. “I think you earned it.”

“You know,” she suggested somewhat bemusedly, making a rotating motion in the air with her hand, “you aren’t very lasso-able. I’ll give you that.”

“How do you mean?”

“If anyone tries to maneuver you, it doesn’t work. But,” she continued, making a building motion in front of her with both hands, “if there’s a complex structure that needs solving, you’ll follow the rope all the way to its creator.”

“Admit it, I intrigue you.”

“That was a long time ago,” I said neutrally. “We’re different people now.”

“Some things change; some things don’t,” she teased. “When it’s time”—an orbiting planet became visible somewhere in the distance as it entered a new phase of rotation—

“You’ll come to me.”