Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Night I Should Have Just Gone Home

If you had said it to me then, I would have argued and denied it. Vehemently, even.

But, looking back from where I sit now -- for when is our vision clearer than when we look backward? -- you could have been right.

I wasn't supposed to be there that night. Not in that courtyard. Not down that alleyway. And yet, I had gone. That courtyard, that alleyway.  I had crept down it silently, keeping to its shadows. No one could know for it was forbidden.

Not to everyone, mind you.  But to me?  Yes. And so I was the mouse. The rat. The vermin.

I couldn't say now why I had felt compelled to go. Why hadn't I just left well enough alone? Done what I was told? I should have gone home. But curiosity had me by the tail and wouldn't let go. I didn't want to be part of it necessarily - I just wanted to see it happen.

The alleyway opened into the light and I drew my hood around me. I could have withstood the consequences of recognition, but it was easier without them. So I drew my cloak close and joined the edges of the crowd.

There is anonymity in the mob. There always is, and there would have been that night. If only I had kept to the pack.

He was already at the gate, holding court with his mob-- he on his side of the gate, the crowd on ours. There were sighs. Women swooned. You will think that I'm exaggerating, but I'm not -- he was that handsome.

It was a bit surreal to see him in life -- like a picture that had jumped off the page when you looked away and now suddenly wouldn't return from where it came. I was too far away to hear the words he said, but the music of his voice reached me on the wind. There was a spell in the timbre of it.

Soon, another from the Court emerged into the courtyard and the mob followed, like dogs after the scent. The corners of his mouth turned up with a glint of sardonic humor and he made his way back to the Castle.  The mob would come again as they did every night and he would weave his spell once again.

I didn't follow the mob. But I didn't leave either. I found myself alone, hands wrapped around the steel of the gate, wishing to speak but afraid to utter words. Someone called his name from afar and he turned to wave them away until the next moonlight. But, his eyes caught mine instead, and he stopped.

It was too late to run. Anonymity was no longer mine. I was still the mouse-- but the mouse that had ventured across the kitchen floor and was now in the sights of the housecat. He smiled as he returned to the gate, his guard following in his wake.  When he spoke, I could feel the music of his spell float around me. I shook my head to ward it off.

I understood how he held the mob in such thrall. It wasn't that he was handsome, though this was what was said. It was that he was charming -- so utterly charming. But, my mother knew, and had taught, that a charming man was a dangerous man.  That a man who oozed charm always knew what to say to turn your head at the right moment from the things that you should be looking at.

That a man who knew what to say could never quite be trusted to mean what he said. In everything that passed after, I would always wonder who I was speaking to -- the charmer or the man who lay underneath him.  Perhaps they were the same.

He lied to me that night, not for the last time. You will hold that against him. Maybe you should, though I will rush to excuse him. For it wasn't a lie meant to harm, but to shade a truth that might have wounded. A lie is like that sometimes. It feels like kindness... but perhaps a dishonest sort of kindness, and so have we really done anyone a service with it?

If he had fed me the same lie today, I would have called him on it and we would have laughed. But, I didn't see it or I chose to ignore it... or I just didn't know that I could.

I must admit with chagrin that his spell worked on me that night, despite my convictions to the contrary. I should have known. As we spoke, I forgot who he was and who I was. But the guard cleared his throat and looked pointedly at my hands still clutching the railing of the gate, too near to his charge.

I lowered my eyes and stepped back, chastised. I had forgotten that we were from very different castes, very different worlds. His spell, his words, his laughter... they had made me forget and the spell he had woven nearly crashed around me with the remembering. He glanced behind him with annoyance and stepped up to the gate himself, leaning across it as he re-wove the magic.

I felt a flush of gratitude toward him in that moment as I listened to his voice.  And while I would have denied it then, that was the moment I began to love him. Perhaps the spell still holds sway.

You will think this is a dark sort of Cinderella story. The peasant girl who ill-advisedly falls in love with the dark rich mysterious stranger who whisks her away from her life of boredom and drudgery. Even now, when I look back, I can almost see him that way in a fit of romanticism. Dark, clothed in dark. A vampire of the night. I can't blame you for the assumption.

Possibly the greatest weakness of our language is that we have so few words for love. You say you love your children with the the same words you say you love the chocolate sauce that covers your favorite desserts. But they aren't anything near the same.

There is the love you feel for the man you fall in love with. For your children. For your sister. For your father, your mother. For your brother. For your friend. For the beggar you meet on the street, even.

Cinderella love is not the only one that exists. So, this was not the night I fell in love with him -- for I never did, and that night would never come. But I did begin to love him under the light of that night, and you can decide which love it is.

Perhaps it is better that way.

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