There is a hole in her gloves again. It has become almost a ritual these days, the strands of purple thread hanging off her thumb, picked apart like a set of guitar strings. Like her heart. Her fingertips stroke the railing gently, the ice below stained by the sunset that rippled impossibly across the park. The evening is no longer clear enough to make out the flick of her hair or the curl of her scarf in her reflection, only the vague silhouette of her body, a shade darker than the water that sits deathly still beneath the surface. Somewhere in the distance, she can make out the steady hum of traffic beyond the gates of the empty park. Nobody knows she is there. Nobody ever knows.
Except for him.
He always cared, was always there when nobody else thought twice to look at her. Where is he now? Where is he this time? Where has he been for these last seven months, when she was nobody and needed somebody to pick her up and promise her the world once again?
Her breath catches in the back of her throat, the bite of the ice bitter against her tongue; she closes her lips tightly and keeps her eyes down. She always hated January; the Christmas comedown, the sleet and hail and flurrying wind that burns her skin, broken promises and spilled secrets. It is something of a comfort now, though. She likes the taste of winter, its metallic brush across her chapped lips, the thrum of her head as it swathes her in its icy arms.
The words she wants to speak do not sound themselves, choked on the tip of her tongue. Another day has gone by. Another day without a word, without a sign, without anything. Another day and nothing to live for but a hope that is slowly disintegrating into despair. Another day and another empty promise.
One more and she’ll stop.
One more and the wait will be over.
One more and he’ll be back.
The sun sets and the windows of the house across the hill glow orange and pink in its waning light. Tomorrow will be a new day but he knows what will come. He always knows. Silence and tears and the throb of loss haunt him, haunt them all. It has been too long for any of them to go back. They are caught, trapped in a haze of her shattered heart and nobody can fix it. Sometimes, though he pretends he thinks otherwise (he has to, or what else is there?), he wonders if they should just forget. Forget the man. Forget the story. Forget it all.
The sun dips lower.
The gate swings open.
It is the figure he expects but not the one he wants and he does not move from the window, his hands held neatly behind his back, eyes fixed solely on the glow of the windows across the way. The door opens, shuts, silence. A zip sings through the air, the clunk of boots hitting the parquet floor. He loves his children equally but now, every move his youngest makes is laced now with a disappointment. His son’s happiness makes his daughter’s ache even harder to bear. He knows that everyone feels the burn of her loss just as he does but normality has become unusual. Nine to five is no longer stable. Nothing is.
“She won’t be long.”
Louis’ voice is gentle, carries on the heave of the wind that shakes their small cottage. He does not turn to face his son but nods, and nor does Louis reply. There is no need. They hate the way it has become routine, though it is never said. They know. They expect and they wait and they sit in an empty silence that nobody knows how to broach.
Bill listens to his son leave the room and climb the stairs to his mother. There are hushed whispers, fluid yet nonsense to his untrained ears. They speak the language of secrets. He does not wish to understand it.
If he understood nothing again, he would be happy.
All he wants is his little girl back. His Dominique. It isn’t much.
Her hair twists in auburn curls around her neck, the ends dancing against the wind that she can no longer feel. January has grown on her. It’s new, this numbness. Better than empty, anyway. Empty makes her bitter. Numb is secure, a comfort. She has not felt nothing for a long, long time. It doesn’t hurt as much as she’d thought.
The soles of her shoes are worn and her feet mould around the wooden slats beneath her that have warped in uneven arches over time. Her fingers still drift across the rail, splinters catching in her gloves but she does not lift them off. She is good at holding on despite the pain. The gentle prick of each slither barely stings, a small incision, no blood. She moves on.
Her hair laps at her now that she faces the open, her cover lost as she meanders through the bare trees, the only comfort the dark shadows of wizened birds’ nests against a navy sky that turns steadily darker with each step she makes. It used to scare her, things like this. When she was small, she would follow her sister down into the wood behind their grandparents’ home in France, the mountains rising like blades on the horizon, claustrophobic. The crunch of leaves, the sting of nettles, the call of a bird she could not identify had chilled her to the bone, hail clinging to her eyelashes, cold and still.
When they were older, when she tried to be everything she now knows she could never have been, she had followed Victoire through the village to the edge of the moor and watched as she danced across the heather, her limbs coiling into those of the boy that Nature had carved especially for her. Dominique was alone again, feet stumbling, hair whipping, eyes stinging: always, always alone.
Why is it so hard to remember that?
She laughs, a caw that bristles against the galloping breeze.
She is somewhat glad that she no longer lives at home, glad that she does not have to face it in every waking minute. It’s easier to shut it out, to pretend that it does not concern her when she is not living with it for longer than an hour. She knows her mother wishes she would move back in but she can’t. She tried to be her sister’s carer once before and it failed. Perhaps if she had succeeded, they might not be in this mess.
Teddy isn’t around much anymore. He can’t cope with all her toing and froing. Dominique used to think they had been etched out of ivory for each other, perfection faced with perfection. She cannot deny that. They have spent their lives being drawn together no matter how far apart they are, a pull beyond the realm of Nature, an ethereal cord that winds them tighter and tighter into one another’s path.
It was always going to snap.
Not that it’s over, of course, but she will leave before he comes home from work, the obligatory visit home, and when she returns, he will be at the pub. They will kiss and he will eat and she will doze in the armchair until morning. It will all return to normal eventually. She will stop waiting. He will come back.
The night is speckled with unseasonable flecks of fading white, the thin streaks of cloud illuminated to grey under the moon’s touch. Down in the village, the bells chime in the church; they always test them on a Tuesday. She quite likes it, the dull routine of the ignorant Muggles. Normality, like she said, can’t be far off now.
She drains the last of her tea, the mug stone cold against her hands, and with her wand reignites the fire. Above the roof of the cottage, she knows the smoke unravels in a spiralling rainbow against a night sky as dark as she has seen for months. It is just the kind of night Dominique abhorred, before all this. The obscurity, she said, made her feel so small. The horizon is never the end. It just goes on and on and sometimes, infinity isn’t enough.
She slides her shoes off at the foot of a birch tree that has bent in time, its drooping curtain of wrinkled branches brushing against the wisps of hair that the wind has stood on end. She peels a layer of the trunk off with her exposed nail, triumphant, powerful. Somewhere nearby, there is a groan as the breeze meanders violently through the unmarked path towards her. She laughs when it catches her, hair flurrying around her pale face.
It is like a friend. It carries her forwards until she is pressed against a willow, its branches weeping on her shoulder, cold and overbearing. She can hear the trickle of the stream again, close against her heaving breath. Water is like a beginning. It is everywhere, hanging in her breath, on her fingertips. It is invincible.
She likes that.
He used to say that’s what she was. He could say anything to her and she would fight back, never break, never shed a single tear. He was wrong. Strength did not make her invincible. There has been a lot of thinking lately, about the way that things work, why and how and since when. She still cannot comprehend how he knew so much of her, of her every thought and feeling, yet understood so little.
Delusions. They are no good for anyone.
She stares into the mirror and watches her reflection steadily melt into her daughter’s. They never had much in common except their height and the consuming beauty that grips hearts so tightly that eventually they crumble to nothing more than ghostly cinders. It is a curse more tragic than any other she has encountered.
She can almost see the eye rolls, the objections, the hard glares. But Nymphadora and Remus are not here anymore. They have not been for a long time and yet it still hurts. Britain, she decides, has brought her nothing but heartache and she has given it back the same.
Bill sleeps in Victoire’s room now, a soft irony to his choice. They never had much in common. Dominique has always been his pride and joy. Louis and Victoire were for her.
It is cruel to say it, unnatural, even. If she dared to voice it out loud, she would find herself trapped under a dozen complaints from a family that dread to hear the truth. She has never understood this country, its unspoken rules, its secrecy. If she were still in France, still at home, she could speak out. In Britain, there is no choice but to internalise the pain.
Her reflection is her own again, her hair lined with white and blue eyes sunken into her incandescent skin. She is grey. She is nothing more than a cloud, an iridescent mist swept into human form. There is nothing alike between her and her youngest daughter.
The wind has calmed.
She tiptoes through the remains of the dying leaves, catching herself on broken bramble and twisting on top of stinging nettles. The pain is gone. She feels nothing. The bank down to the stream is gentle but clinging to pockets of ice and mud that shimmer under the night’s guidance. She walks slowly along the precipice, watching the hazy patterns change atop the frozen brook. The hillside tumbles downwards and she follows with an angelic skip, her bare feet carrying her over half-hidden stones and broken pines.
The ground flattens, the ice is sharper here and her toes curl as she steps over it, gravel rubbing uncomfortably against her with every step. It will be worth it for this.
She has never stayed out so late alone before and she steps onto the hard surface of the water. She glides across it as though she were the finest skater, hands picking at the hole in her gloves as she moves. There are a thousand things wrong with the picture, she knows that, but she will leave soon.
It is not a nightly occurrence, her being here in this place that means so little now. She comes and goes and sometimes it can be weeks before she returns. It does not scare her anymore, the openness. As she pads across the ice, not even flinching when it moans beneath her, she is powerful, strong; stronger than she ever was with him. There is not enough gold in the world that could be exchanged for this.
He goes into her room every night and waits. He knows he should not. His mother has begged him not to and his father has expressed his feelings in empty stares and silence. He should stop expecting her, stop expecting things to be normal again. Her heart is lost. They must wait for it to be found.
They think it’s naivety, he is sure. He is nineteen. That is old enough to understand. He has never been in love but he has watched it consume and expand and shatter dozens of lives. He knows what it means to love his sisters, to love the girls who always knew without him saying a thing. They were fierce together. Unstoppable.
Her emptiness wrenches at him. He only saw her cry once, properly cry. It was four o’clock in the morning and the front door had woken him as it eased closed. He could hear the sniffling, the gasps for breath and at fourteen years of age, he had tiptoed from his room and down the stairs to find a heap of red and white and blue on the floor; eighteen but not invincible. The Christmas holidays that year had been hard on all of them, the loss of their grandfather weighing over the kitchen table on Christmas Day as all twenty-two ate in silence. Never before had his grandmother invited everyone on the same day, but this time he understood why.
He had not understood Dominique, however. He had heard her climb to bed and yet here she was, damp from the snow that was beginning to fall heavier and heavier outside with each moment he stared at it, sobbing into the thick navy coat swathed around her shoulders.
He said nothing. He did not need to for he understood it all. He sat next to her and she rested her head against him and in silence, they sat there until morning came. They never spoke of that night again, the night that death had yanked them together.
He wouldn’t want to.
That is why this is so hard now. There are no tears like the last time. There is no expression of the heartbreak except for the coldness that everyone faces each time they meet someone’s eye. They all feel numb. Alone.
He stands up as the clock ticks over to five and heads downstairs. He curls onto the sofa, his legs now too long to make the armchair a comfortable seat. His head lolls against the cushion and he falls into a sleep of nights that stretch on for years, faces spun from sunlight, blinding and unreal.
He doesn’t understand.
She stands below her bridge, her hands reaching to trace the groove of each of the slats that she has not long left behind. Underneath, they are green and tired, moss gathering against her fingers. The darker side of nature: the damp and the cold and the bitter, twisting cord that tempts her in. It is beautiful.
She steps back out, her eyes illuminated by the whiteness that dominates everything around her. Across the frost, there are traces of a thousand birds, the surface scratched and uneven under their idle hopes. Life. She has never been closer to it.
Her body twists and moves through the mist as though she is being pulled from above. She is so alive, so vibrant. She dances to the melody of silence, eyes closed and arms reaching. She stretches, higher and higher, bending and swirling and breaking. She can almost feel him now. She grows closer and closer with each moment that swings by.
He can never be near her again. She wants to feel the ache again, the pain from head to toe, but there is nothing. He built her up to be something that she wasn’t and it took her to the brink. Yet no matter how hard she tries, she cannot get back. He cannot come to her.
She lifts her arms again, her gloves discarded and now her fingertips reach upwards, flexing themselves in harmony with the rest of her.
She dances on.
He watches her, white hot and shimmering in the haze of a moon that should not be there. His hands curl around the branch that he leans against, the spike of a solitary rotten leaf jarring against his palm. He watches her dance all the colours of the rainbow, her body twisting in perfect unison with the rain that dashes down around them. She has always worn her heart on her sleeve but now it radiates from every part of her, thin wisps of mist slithering from the tips of her elongated fingers as they stretch above her.
He watches her until she tires, her feet slippery on the ground that becomes thick and weighty beneath her. She struggles up the bank, tiny groans of frustration wrenching themselves from the back of her throat, and he steps forward because he always does.
It takes a second for their eyes to meet and she stops battling, stops moving completely, one hand dug against the finely carved wall, the other fisted in mid-air. He makes one more step, his face glowing in the pale night and she shakes her head, shakes her whole body and so does he. The impossibility of the moment is beautiful and they can do nothing but take it in, take in every drop of freezing rain, of falling cloud, of sharp cheekbones and eyes like lightning and the gold that glistens on their fourth fingers.
There is a flutter of wings somewhere far away but the night is quick and she starts in front of him. Her arms go first, bending into two sumptuous arcs behind her head. Her feet are bare but they obey her body’s will and with the grace of the finest dancer she falls.
It is endless.
She is endless.
They are endless.
Lysander jumps, no trace of her elegance or her beauty in his darkened face. The sky has reached its heaviest, the colour of pitch, and he slithers down the bank, bruises growing that he does not feel. His heels scrape on the ice as he hits the bottom, his body falls forward, a ragdoll’s finale. He reaches out to touch her, to hold her, to tell her that this time he will make it better but she slips through his fingertips, nothing but curls of silver cloud and vapour.
His breath comes out in heavy gasps but he does not cry. He never cries.
He promised her the world, once.
He never expected her to become it.
Reality has broken with the dawn and he must now wake up from the dream that keeps her with him.
A/N: Dedicated to Marina, without whom I would still be burying my writing under a dingy rock to be read only by woodlice.