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That Shifting Marble

Posted by Wild Musette editor on

That Shifting Marble

by Elizabeth Sackett

 

A retelling of the myth of Fand

 

The first thing you should know about Colin Savage is that it hurts his shoulder to throw stones, but he does it anyway. I believe, when he was in his twenties, he was very angry and very alone, and hitting something with a small, hard object helped him to know that other things were angry and alone too. If they were angry and alone because of him, well, he didn’t mind. It was still solidarity.    Once, when he was twenty-seven, he was walking along the lake and trying not to think about the woman he’d just gotten pregnant, and there was a beautiful pink stone on the sand in front of him. A kind of a pink color, like rosé wine, smooth and dense as a peach. And there was a bird in the sky, drifting a little on the breeze and before he knew it, he’d wound his arm back and thrown the beautiful stone towards the flying shape, and it fell something like Icarus into the sea.

I remember it well. I say the Icarus thing because of how the sun was beating down on my head, and how waxy my wings felt in that moment, like great white candles. And there was the stone, a heavy thing piercing my breast, and I felt the blood in my body shudder as I fell.

My husband and I live by the lake, because he is a leader there, of sorts. He drives his ferry off every night, and I see him in the morning when he curls into my spine and whispers a salty hello into my shoulder.

I’m usually sleeping and tell him to get off, because I don’t like sharing a bed, and sometimes when I feel his weight settle down next to me there’s a kind of slow nausea that stirs in my gut. I was awake all night after being struck down, though; I swam home and walked along the shore for a time with a bloody dress, and by the nighttime it still hadn’t healed properly.

“What’s this?” he said when he came home, looking dark and tired and weighed down by water and time and work, work, work. I stood in front of the mirror, naked, and he touched the bruise on my breastbone in bewilderment.

“Some little shit threw a stone at me,” I said.

“Yeah?” he said. There wasn’t too much in the way of vengeance in his response, but he did meet my eyes in the mirror with something like sadness in his face. “You were flying?”

“I was.” He didn’t like me flying. Still doesn’t. I met his gaze, that face that people see on that long journey every night, and wonder how long ago it was that we met. I can’t remember, really. People didn’t live on this side of the lake, back then. Sometimes they still don’t. Sometimes I wake up and the whole lake is dark, like a disk of blackness, and I can tell that people won’t be around for hundreds of years.

“Let’s go to bed,” he said softly, and I could hear people lazing about in the trees outside. A couple was there, in one of the trees, and they were laughing at one another in a senseless kind of language, and my chest hurt like a bruise was blossoming there and would continue to do so for quite some time.

“Let’s sleep,” I said instead.

My sister heals people and sometimes makes them sicker, and this work keeps her busy. She heard (either from my husband or the wind, or maybe she was flying nearby) about my attack and offered her services.

“Get a drink with me,” she said the next day, showing up on my doorstep. My husband was away, collecting souls from elsewhere and probably enjoying a slice of solitude.

“I don’t feel like it. I hurt everywhere.” I said. I watched her sitting there at my wooden kitchen table, cracking her fingers with several small pops. She was always a small woman, and something about the slightness of her shoulders was nauseating. Looking at her then, I remembered vividly something else that she had told me in that very same kitchen. It was years ago, and nighttime, and she had looked fragile and fulfilled as a stern child. I remembered her lips moving and wondering how she did it, how she could be full of words and sorry and calm and sure.

I stopped remembering, and focused on the situation at hand.

She tsked at my response, or maybe my critical gaze, and twirled a strand of my hair in her finger the way she used to when she wanted me to brush her hair.

“So pretty and red,” she mused softly. “I was always jealous.” And then she yanked a few strands from my scalp with a child’s grin.      

Colin Savage was sick for three days. It started out as a strange sensation like having hair stuck in his mouth at all times, even when he was eating or kissing someone.

His girlfriend wondered at the disgusted expression on his face that first night, like something disgusting was in his mouth instead of her tongue.

“What is it?” she asked and he shook his head and said, “Nothing, nothing.” Truthfully he was itching to leave and find himself in a different state or country or even house, anywhere but this place with someone who was growing another someone in her body, and that someone was partly his someone. He was never able to take care of things that were his. They always broke because he was careless.

He tried kissing her again and then said, “I think I’m going to vomit.”

“Such a charmer,” his girlfriend said, and offered him some Pepto-Bismol.

After three days, I got into a fight because the couple was in the willow tree again.

“Will it be like this every day?” the girl was saying and the boy was saying, “Of course. Every single day. I’ll be here, and here, and here,” and with each here he was touching a different place on her body.

“Would you get out of my tree, please?” I called, sitting cross-legged below them. They looked down with a start and the girl giggled a little, half embarrassed for herself and half embarrassed for me.  

“Didn’t think it was your tree,” she called. “Didn’t think it was anyone’s tree. Don’t trees belong to themselves?”

“I’ve known that tree since I was a child, and it’s as good as mine, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped rubbing yourselves against it.”

“Well, actually, fuck you,” the girl said. She seemed a little startled with herself, and for just a moment her face was reminiscent of my husband’s when he wakes up after a season of nightmares and is surprised the world can possibly be dewy and golden. I almost laughed but then I kicked the tree instead.

Colin would tell me afterwards that he’d tried to rest, and that made him feel worse, so he decided to take a walk instead, which also made him feel worse but at least he was doing something. A man of action. His girlfriend was at work. She was a receptionist. “She has a voice like an elevator,” he would tell me a few days later, running the pad of his thumb over the rim of my coffee cup.

“What the hell does that mean?” I would ask, smiling a little, and he would tell me that it went up, and down, and up again, always traveling somewhere without actually staying there.

As he walked down the beach that day, he saw two young people arguing with a bird, and then he realized the bird was a beautiful woman. He couldn’t figure out how he’d mistaken her for a bird. And then suddenly there was a whisper of wind like a wicked grin and he felt better, clearheaded and healthy, and he was suddenly running over to where the young couple and the woman were about to come to blows.

“Get out of the damn tree,” the woman was saying.

“Don’t hurt her,” he said to the young couple, out of breath and red in the face.

“What? We’re not doing anything,” the boy said and the girl narrowed her eyes at the woman who kicked the tree again, seemingly for no reason. Even when kicking a tree, the woman was graceful and slender and otherworldly.

(“That’s not what I was thinking,” he would tell me.

“No, that’s what you were thinking.”)

And then the beautiful woman looked at him, and smiled. Her smile wasn’t kind. She looked at him like someone who knew him very well and didn’t like him for precisely that reason.

“You’re healed. She healed you.”

“Who?” Colin said. He was dumbfounded and couldn’t even remember being sick. Then he remembered, and also remembered the baby, and picked up a pile of small stones that were resting at his feet. “She wants you out of that tree,” he said, and threw the handful at the boy’s head, the small grey rocks unfurling like a firecracker.  

After it was over, I invited him back to my house.

“That was stupid,” I told him, and filled a bag with ice for him to rest against his temple.

“You’re welcome,” he said. He sounded like a little boy and I looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time. I see cracks in people. Not their whole history, not anymore. There are too many people around these days for me to understand all of them. But I could see, looking at the burgeoning wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, that he had been disappointed once at a very young age and sought to therefore disappoint as many people as humanly possible in retaliation.     

“What are you so angry about?” I asked, and sat down across from him at the table. He tensed a fist and relaxed it, like a demonstration.

He didn’t answer me. “Was that your tree?” he asked instead. “Do you own this lake?”

“Something like that.”

“You’re angry. I get it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Angry people always find excuses for being angry,” he said. “It’s inherent.”

“You got involved all on your own,” I pointed out.

“Because I wanted an excuse to throw something,” he said. “And because you’re beautiful.”

“Bullshit,” I said. He clenched the bag of ice and I saw the way the shards melted against the heat of his skin. He was alive and changing and changeable. He had stringy brown hair pulled into a small knot at the back of his neck and a face with big, clumsy features, but something in his face shifted when he said beautiful. He suddenly looked old and gentle.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twenty-seven.”

“And how old’s your girlfriend?” I asked, because I could tell he had one from the way he hunched his shoulders. He carried himself like a man with a lover, and a man who’s afraid of his lover.

“Nineteen.”

“Robbing the cradle. I’ll add that to your crimes.”

“Along with…?”

“Throwing rocks,” I said. “At birds.” And I saw that shift in his eyes again and saw, just for a moment, a memory from his childhood. I saw the child in him squeezing a frog very, very hard, and I saw a dark shadow drift over his apartment building and take something from it. Just a spark of happiness. A ghost of joy, a desire to wake up and stay awake. I saw his father look into a mirror and see himself as ugly.

“You don’t own the lake,” he said, with those spirits moving around in his eyes. “You’re something else.”

“Something else,” I agreed.

I have loved my sister for nearly my whole life, which is longer than the lake has been around but not quite as long as the sky has. She and I used to fly together over Ireland, and then Scotland, and then New York. I got married and settled down.         

She was almost as beautiful in youth as she is now. She would take a lover and then heal him after a time of three years or so, and then he’d forget about her and she would stay with me for a time and drink.

“That isn’t a healthy habit,” I told her once. I was a newlywed and she was feeling very sad because she couldn’t get quite drunk enough for her own satisfaction. We sat in my kitchen, with the sound of time dancing outside the window in grey and brown shadow.

“Drinking or screwing?” she asked.

“Falling in love and then leaving them,” I said. “Over and over and over again. It isn’t good for you.”

She laughed. “Fand,” she would say, nearly condescending, “I can’t fall in love. That’s part of the problem.”  

“What do you call it, then?” I asked, watching the play of shade on my sister’s face. There were no windows in our house, and she looked ready to grow wings and throw herself into the sky. I’ve always found emotion beautiful, even when it nauseates the recipient.

“I become them, and lose part of myself,” she said. “I hate it. Imagine if I loved them, too?”

My husband had been sleeping for most of that day, resting up for work. He and I had danced the night before, his arms flinging me through the room as he stood sturdy and bemused, a gentle-faced tree. We heard one particularly loud snore come from his room.

“You mean you would deny yourself that?” I asked and the serious moment was shattered as we dissolved into giggles together.

When my husband and I first made love, I was amazed at how simple his expression was at the beginning and at the end. I wasn’t sure what his expression was in the middle. From then on, he looked at me as though I were a kite disappearing into the sky.  

Colin and I didn’t make love at first. He looked around the room with its iron bedposts and its piles of shells, half frightened and half insolent. He didn’t ask many questions. But then he said, “Is it your room? Yours and his?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” And he bridged some sort of invisible shroud and touched my hair, and my breast, his face clouded, like he was already anticipating the thunder.

When Colin returned home a month later, his girlfriend had left. Their house was abandoned. The furniture was still there but the drawers were empty and nearly fell from their frames when he tried clumsily to open them. He wandered from room to room to room (there were three rooms) and thought about the woman he had been staying with, who was me, and remembered the words he had said to me the previous night.

“You don’t mean that,” I’d said, but was wrong. He did. He’d found the ultimate god to anger and reveled in that concept, and there was a kind of love to that.

We’d fallen in love strangely. If he was fascinated that I was some kind of thing he couldn’t grasp, I took comfort in his changeability. He wouldn’t stay and stay and slowly drift away from me. When we separated, it would be cruel and quick and over. We made one another powerless.

Colin wandered the house for an hour until he stopped suddenly in the kitchen. There was a chair at the kitchen table that sported chew marks an inch deep and it was still there. He remembered wondering what kind of dog had taken that leg in its mouth and clenched its jaw around the unrelenting object. Perhaps the dog had loved the owner of the chair. Perhaps it had disappointed its owner, and all of the violence of destruction hadn’t provided any solid gratification. Colin didn’t know, but the thoughts drifted around his mind like time through my curtains, frustrated and aimless.  

The chair had belonged to his girlfriend, not to him, and she hadn’t seen it fit to take with her. He sat down in it and felt it creak beneath his weight.

My sister initially started sleeping with my husband because she was bored and sad and I was away, flying, and she’d been looking for me and there he was, a powerful and malevolent presence in my kitchen. Someone who didn’t need healing.

“Where is she?” she’d asked. I don’t remember where I’d gone. Coney Island, maybe. It was new back then.

“Somewhere,” he’d said with that bemused smile that never quite left his face, not even when he was sad. They drank bitter tea together and wound up in bed.

Or maybe she’d gone there looking for him.

“I have something to give you,” she said, and he nodded as she handed him a folded-up bundle of paper.

“A map?”

“So you don’t get lost out there.”  A sweet, mild joke, and her smile tentative on her face, like something new starting. A creature like a small, clever shadow, my sister. How was it that he kissed her, with gentleness, with impatience?

Or perhaps it was none of that. Perhaps when I returned home and saw them, really saw them, saw their togetherness and heard them, really heard them tell me what happened, perhaps that wasn’t the first time. My sister looking at me sharp, like a young star. My husband touching the swirl of wood in the table with a kind of reverence, and giving me that same expression. The tail had blown away and maybe if he squinted, he could still find it with his eyes.

So. Perhaps it had been happening for years and I hadn’t noticed it.

I think about it a lot. I can’t fully see it, though.

“It’s very simple,” I told Colin once, some time later. “For me, anyway. There’s the water, and the idea of water. The physical presence is temporal and the idea is timeless.”

Colin didn’t look at me as we walked along the water. He kicked a stone and then another and then pointed out that I get angry over temporary matters, like the willow tree incident.

“Well, my temperament is aging,” I responded. I was feeling buoyant, like I used to feel flying with my sister. “Not all of us rot completely, you know.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“Don’t be cute.” I studied his face, the shadow of it in profile. It never stopped amazing me, his face. The turn of his nose or the tilt of his lip could say everything, could tell his whole story. We’d been living together for two years at this point, and I sometimes felt I could become him if I memorized his face carefully enough. It was slippery. It kept shifting.

“You barely give me a voice,” he told me then.

“You don’t like to talk.”

“You don’t like to hear me.”

“Are you done accusing me of things?” I asked and gripped his hands hard. He looked me in the eyes and I could see him aging and it intoxicated me. He laughed and gripped me right back, and then we kissed as we always did, half angry and half energized.

And then, walking and kicking stones, he told me about the dog’s chair.

“What a physical thing,” he said. “To just dig your jaws into a piece of furniture. To have at it.”

“Should I get you your own chair?” I asked very seriously.

He laughed and I didn’t realize it then, but he was thinking about how nothing from me fully existed. I couldn’t get him a chair. I could get him the idea of a chair. It was ridiculous, I thought later: I could seat him in a tree, or wrap water or wings around him, or give him a chair from my home, which was real and whole even if only some people could see it. I gave him everything. There was nothing for him to take from me but himself.

But anyway, that’s what he was thinking.

One morning, a little girl laughed from outside our window. Colin woke up before I did and stretched and peered out the window at the people who were sometimes there and sometimes not, and he saw the little girl disappear around a willow tree.

I woke up when he shut the door. Maybe he meant to do it quietly, but it felt like a thread snapping and I could do nothing but weep for hour after hour. Then I stopped crying and walked out to the kitchen to wash his cup out and wait for my sister.

I think about what it means to disappoint. I do this a lot and always have.

Once, I flew over a loch with my sister. It was so cold that the idea of coldness went straight through us, and the water beneath us was like shifting marble. I knew more back then. I knew enough to know I didn’t fully understand the place turning slowly and softly beneath us.

“I kept them away for as long as I could,” Lin told me after Colin’s departure. There was a flask of water in her hand and she poured it into his cup, twirling her wrist with a maddeningly subtle kind of grace. The bones of her fingers were so light, too light. Violently fragile. There’s something violent in being unanchored.  

“Thanks,” I said.

“The girl was growing and her mother’s heart was broken.”

“I imagine.” He would be a decent father, now that he had learned to love solid things. That love would stay in his mind and heart, even if the memory of me would fade as it had to. He would continue to let people fall.

Lin was staring at me intently. “I am sorry, you know,” she said.

He would let people fall because there is an unbreachable distance between heart and like. In falling in love with Colin, I had healed someone, I had taken someone away from their partner. I’d nearly become my sister, but loving someone cannot turn you into them.

“I don’t know,” I said. I looked into her small, dark eyes, that shifting marble, those small planets.

The last thing you should know about Colin Savage is that he has dreams. He dreams about a cloak of night stretching between himself and a lake like a pair of dark wings, and he doesn’t know why but he doesn’t question it.

His wife knows. She remembers a long stretch of time, when their daughter was just a baby, that he had disappeared to another woman’s bed. When he returned, he held her and felt her weight against him, and picked up their daughter and marveled at how solid she was, like a rock. He wanted to hold the both of them forever, but they didn’t have forever and that made it all the sweeter, sweet like something disappearing, like a memory floating off into a grey ether.  

 

And so, as the water slowly disappeared from his cup one night, that night, right after Colin left and for decades to come, my husband finally came home. He’d ushered enough souls for one night, and there was laughter from the trees outside.

“Are you mine again?” he asked.

“Are you mine?” I echoed. He was so big, he filled up the entire doorway. He took my hand in his and we both knew the answer. We had changed so much that we didn’t even fit in the same room anymore, or the same story.

 

 


Elizabeth Sackett has a degree in writing from SUNY Geneseo, where she was the recipient of the Lucy Harmon Award in Fiction Writing. Her work has appeared in Gandy Dancer, Neon Literary Magazine, Subprimal Poetry Art, I Want You to See This Before I Leave, and The Literary Nest, among other places.



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