The gap at the base of the wall dividing their cells was designed as a channel for bloody runoff, but they found another use for it over those dragging, lightless days. The opening was almost too narrow for him to fit his hand through. His wrist was scraped ashen, and there was no better depiction of his persistence.
Maeve learned to love the open palm of his hand in the absence of his face, his eyes. The web of lines creasing his skin and the amalgam of scar tissue laid over them became a map by which she could escape the confines of that oppressive cage, by which she could almost forget the despair which loomed above like the heaviest of thunderheads. She busied her mind memorizing every feature, from the folds and pores of his flesh to the roughness of its calluses and smoothness of its ancient wounds. She learned all the different ways one could hold hands with another. Lacing fingers. Stroking thumbs. Holding that hand was to her like clinging to a lifeline amidst a roiling ocean rich with ravenous, many-fanged beasts. Holding that hand was, to her, the only reason to keep on breathing in that hellish prison, because it promised that she would see the sun again someday and when that day came, she would not be alone.
Maeve spent hours hugging the frigid stone wall. When she sat with her back against it, she could imagine him doing the same, a mirror image of misery held at bay by closeness.
“What do you think the weather’s like outside?”
“Summer’s coming soon,” he said. “Sunny and warm. Not too hot.”
But they both knew the world was on the cusp of winter. It had been mid-October when they were captured. They ignored that fact, choosing instead to believe the sun’s welcoming embrace would greet them if they got out, and not frozen rain.
If we get out?
Maeve tried to think back to the last time her hope was strong enough to turn obvious ‘ifs’ into ‘whens.’ She could feel that hope trickling out of her. She couldn’t figure out where the leak was, only that it was there, and as deep as she searched for something to plug the hole she came up empty every time.
When she laid down, she could nearly pretend like nothing lay between them, and if she closed her eyes and sent her mind somewhere far away she could replace the jaggedness of the concrete with the delicate warmth of a bed, a rug, a field of grass. The image would eventually fray at the edges, dissolved by the chill of the air or the rattling of chains or the echoing drip of water that all prisons seemed to inevitably have. She would fight it for as long as her imagination would allow.
The fantasy fell away, as it always did. She opened her eyes, and she could just barely see the curve of his mouth, the corner of his eye, a curl of black hair. This was just as good as the daydream.
And what a shame it was that imprisonment should be the catalyst to force recognition of the affection she bore. Maeve had seen the love in his protectiveness, in his willingness; she’d seen it in his eyes in brief, bright sparks, and she always chose to ignore the small fire they lit beneath her breast.
Now, encased in a box of unrelenting stone and steel, his eyes were the ghost of a memory pulling ever closer to oblivion’s edge. All she had now was the dirt beneath his fingernails. The blisters atop his palms.
Maeve drifted away into that restless darkness she refused to call sleep—because surely it wasn’t sleep, surely sleep brought deep dreams of sunshine and cloud-spotting. Lingering on the brim of unconsciousness shallow enough to wake at the slightest sound was far from such a rosy ideal. She wasn’t sure she remembered how to sleep. This cautious doze was as close to comfort as she dared to reach.
Usually the stomp of feet in the hall beyond the bars jarred her awake.
This time she woke gently, in part because she couldn’t figure out what was amiss.
Maeve squeezed his hand but her fingers closed around empty air, and she realized altogether too late, too slow, that it was the absence of presence rather than the sound of presence that stirred her.
Her eyes flew open. A hollow cell stared back at her through the gap, taunting her with its lack of him.
The surge of vertigo as she leapt to her feet threatened to steal her balance but she pushed through it to the bars of her cage where she rattled them once, twice, three times, screaming his name into the barren prison. It echoed her voice back at her as a mocking whisper of desperation. Maeve called for him until her throat rasped raw, until her vocal chords gave out like popped lute strings, until the exertion rendered the pressure in her temples unbearable and the blackness in her periphery all-consuming, and then she called for him again. Purple lights danced on the dark canvas of her vision and, as she slumped down, all she had for company was her own broken voice croaking his name.
It became a mantra from another life where she’d believed in gods and goodness. How long would it be before she forgot its meaning? Before the memory of his form was a blank silhouette?
She was alone.
The malnutrition, the exhaustion, the dehydration came together and promised her it wouldn’t be long, and then, maybe, she wouldn’t hurt anymore. Maeve battled the seductive lull of their combined voices. In truth, she wasn’t sure how long she could hold out. She clung to the bleached, threadbare image of his face, hanging on laugh lines and fine wrinkles and thick stubble before her grip slipped and she plunged into the abyss.
She stayed there for days, for months, for years, decades melting into centuries to become eons. Time was a fickle concept indeed.
The faint jangle of chains broke her daze.
A hand slipped through the gap, flaked with dried blood. The guard’s retreating footfalls receded beyond her awareness and Maeve ran to that hand and held it close, swearing she’d never let it go again.
He told her there was a window in the interrogation chamber. Her grip tightened.
“What’s the weather like?”
Maeve heard the lie in his voice like the rain it was crafted to hide. She smiled. She tried to ignore the fresh lesions encircling his wrists even as her fingers traced their raw edges.
“Sunny and warm.”
Brianna Fenty is a state maritime academy alumna hailing from New York’s wonderfully weird Long Island area. After spending a few months learning highland voodoo from Scotland’s resident fairies (AKA taking a gap year), she now keeps busy at home begrudgingly searching for a day job, writing strange stories, and forcing her very moody cat to read them. Her horror, sci-fi, and dark fantasy work can be followed on her blog, https://briannafenty.wordpress.com/, her official Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bmfenty/, and on Twitter @fentyscribbles.