The Hour of Forgiveness
Brazen may have laid down the title of ‘loving boyfriend’ long ago, but if there was one thing he thought he did right, it was protection. His body fabricated intuition from the same collagen as his primordial stone eyes, and this concept became a constant in his personality. He anticipated words that flinched against the throats that birthed them, catching the lifeless bodies of secrets before they could thump against the floor. Even when his own legs were cut from out beneath him, he found the vigor to put others first. But his boldened nature could never be retroactive.
He may have cared for Allegheny, but he couldn’t provide protection.
He spent countless nights at her side, trying to stitch his fingers between hers and pull her from the past into the present and despite his sustained presence at her side, he could shake the feeling of loneliness from her psyche. That same feeling that wasn’t kind enough to grow fangs and claws, but rather, took on the exterior of an angel. One that took memories and mangled them into soft words which were pooled in the dips along her ears. Words that were far worse than she would ever use for herself.
It’s my fault.
I know that I deserved it.
It was moments like these when those lies got to her. “Brazen, I want to be alone.”
Her words ticked across his face, but didn’t break the skin. “No,” he said. “You don’t want to be alone.” She made an effort to look cross, toneless tears betraying her. “I don’t need anyone else telling me what I want.”
And it was those moments that made him want to take his body apart brick by brick and enclose her in hyperbole and metaphor; the sweat built into his muscle that could absorb tears, the bones that were reconstructed on the prospect of survival. Most important, a mind too durable to be occupied by gray matter and lungs assembled on the backbones of bloody screams. A citadel of himself wasn’t capable of her salvation — he knew that, as much as it pained him to admit. But it would take the burden of durability off her shoulders for a moment.
Deep down he knew that wouldn’t be enough.
Not when Allegheny dragged around the carcass of that inner child, and on her worse days, left her strapped across her spine. She let that girl’s tears sever the vertebrae with barbed wire, and color anemic blood with sickled crayons. She fed her, bathed her, even well after the notion of innocence was purged from her vocabulary.
She lets that little girl abuse her, in words that he can never see.
On your feet. You know you deserved what you got.
He tried, in vain, to carry both girls, both of them terrified to divorce from the past. Because carving away those ties meant acknowledging they exist.
“I love you,” was all he could offer.
Peeling back the sheet, he took her left arm in his hands, cradling her wrist close and safe. His fingers worked down the more sensitive areas, halting over the harsher, still stiff tissue. Like the rinds of a sabertooth’s jaw pooled their frustration into her flesh, isolating opal veins and branding them with the mnemonic of her turmoil.
The marks didn’t register in his mind as her scars. They should have belonged to someone else. As deep as she cut, she could never be un-molested. No matter how much blood she tried to pour into her former self, that girl was never coming back.
Her body was lifeless as she swallowed down sobs. Her words came weak, “Please don’t leave me here alone.” Her conflicted tone didn’t go unnoticed, nor did her hesitant moves. She wanted to be held. But didn’t feel like she deserved it.
He couldn’t love her. Another way he knows he’s failed.
That’s the only thing he seems to know, because he doesn’t know how to help her until she allows anyone inside those grottos. The ones she’s isolated from the world, because she was so afraid to work wade through them.
Wherever the thought came from, he surprised them both when he said, “I think it’s time that you forgave yourself.”
She sat upright for the first time in hours and let the conflict wage its battle inside her mind. Her silence was painful, like being trapped in the back of an alley with no option but to climb or face what’s feral. In her mind, those trepidations could fight against their secular constraints, any metaphor leash too overburden for sedation. It didn’t matter that the men who hurt her were dead, it mattered less that she was physically safe.
She couldn’t see Brazen. All she saw was her younger self. And for the first time, he saw her too, all bloody knees and plasma eyes, lips frisking a withered ‘no!’
He could tell she didn’t know that she’d screamed that word outloud. She didn’t hear that same word slip from his own tattered mouth.
This moment should have felt bigger, and in its own way, more cathartic. He should have shamelessly slipped back into the role of her patron. But through a lens of comprehension, the strength he once held somehow left him.
He held her and she cried, and she felt harder in his hold, like she’d aged ten years in the last few moments.
“I want to be alone,” she said, sobbing into his chest. Seconds later, “You’re too nice. I don’t deserve this. I don’t.”
Burying his face in a her hair, he realized she wasn’t stronger. In fact, her limbs and joints had become more disconnected. Her sobs curled into his neck, like she was trying to scale his plexus and bone and crawl into his skull for an escape. Because he was the one that was different, the one that would never treat her that way, and she indulged his herculean roots until they took hold inside her own skeleton and forced the bond of her shoulders and hip bones.
He pushed back at the thought of clemency, and the inclination for an end, and the brooding notion to think about himself.
“It’s not your fault,” he said, extorting his selfishness from the comment.
“Brazen. I’m not your fault either.” He pretended not to hear her, instead focusing on rubbing circles on her back.
“I’m sorry,” he said, doing his best to shelter her from his own defeat.
The foundation rippled from the inside, but he did his best to hold her form together.
Even when he failed, she’d forgive him in the morning.
Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction writer attending Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. Her work has been published or is upcoming on Poets.org, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Red Fez Literary Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, Potluck Magazine, Leopardskin & Limes Literary Journal, The Merrimack Review, Cleaver Magazine, The Writing Disorder, Outsider Poetry, The Chaotic Review, and Smaeralit.