Lilac & Lakmei are disturbingly similar. The light from their window never goes out.
|The shadows that fell from the hollows of Trinity Church grew longer as autumn announced her arrival. The days were growing shorter, and the sunlight that saturated the town during the day grew thinner and more desperate as it drained as much color from curtains and wooden sideboards as it could hold, readying the small desert town for the dull gray of winter.
Candles flickered in their amber glasses on the makeshift altar inside the Trinity Church office. Their light threw dancing shadows on the walls — shadows which, under different circumstances, might have been cause for some concern. Lilac and Lakmei * knew there was a Prime of Darkness in their midst, and they knew all too well the kind of powers his kind possessed, the magic they held. Allowing shadows to play across their walls, to numb them to what quickly moving shadows could mean, could have harkened the snuffing out of their ancient existence.
But Lilac and Lakmei were not concerned tonight. This particular Prime of Darkness was more interested in the pie woman than he was in them or their games. This put them at ease. For now.
They sat at opposite ends of the overstuffed couch in their waiting room, feet curled up under them as they sipped pinot grigio from identical crystal glasses and read identical novels, hummed identical melodies, and thought identical thoughts. In fact, nearly everything about them was identical, from their white, heart-shaped faces to the timbre of their lilting voices. The only perceptible difference between them was their hair – both wore their hair long and board straight, but where Lilac’s was black as death with a curious violet sheen, Lakmei’s was gleaming white.
It was the crackle of thunder that made them look up from their books and catch the other’s eyes, inviting each to recall that the other was present.
“It’s going to rain soon.” Lilac spoke the words aloud, though she needn’t have done so. She’d been communicating with Lakmei in other ways for millenia, but for some reason she enjoyed, even after all this time, the sound of her voice. She liked the way speaking felt, the way the vibrations in her chest and throat became sound, the way her voice sounded different to her than it did to others. She enjoyed the physicality of speaking and listening. It was one of the perks of corporeality.
Lakmei leaned her head back and breathed in, smelling the air for rain. “It’s coming from the east,” she said. “Should be here in twenty minutes or so. Some tea?”
“Yes, please,” Lilac purred, snuggling deeper into the corner of the couch. It was a rare October night in west Texas where the temperature hadn’t climbed above 60 and the wind howled through the narrow country lanes. Love & War didn’t have much in the way of tumbleweed, but if it had, this would be the kind of night to see them performing their namesake action down the road.
Lakmei filled two identical coffee mugs with water from the cooler and put them in the microwave. “Something has arrived that shouldn’t be here,” she said.
Lilac sighed, marking the page she was reading before setting it down beside her. “I know, I felt it, too. Not our concern, though,” she said, her voice stern.
Lakmei shrugged, rummaging through their collection of tea boxes. “I don’t know, it could be,” she said. “Whatever it is, it – ”
“Human,” Lilac said. “It’s not a what, it’s a who, and you know that. It’s a ghost. This is not our domain. Stay out of it.”
Lakmei chose two tea bags and set them out. “Do you suppose it’s still a ghost if it has a physical body?”
Lilac cocked her head to the side, thoughtful. “The Prime of Darkness has a physical body. We have physical bodies. And we three of us are still what we are.”
The microwave beeped, and Lakmei retrieved the two steaming mugs and dunked the tea bags inside. The corners of her mouth quirked up into something like a smile, and without quite looking directly at her counterpart, said, “Strange to hear you speak of us like that. The three of us. Together.”
Lilac winced, her chagrined expression mimicking Lakmei’s almost-smile. “A fine trinity we make,” she said.
“Mmm.” Lakmei wrapped her hands around the hot mug. “What do you think the ghost wants?”
Lilac shrugged; the question was clearly of small import to her. “They usually want the same things. To see loved ones. To recall their too-short lives. To seek justice for wrongs done against them.”
They sat without speaking while their tea steeped, listening and smelling for the coming rain. Lakmei closed her eyes, could hear music playing in her head. It wasn’t coming from her, though, not from her own thoughts or her own memory, but from Lilac, who was remembering another time when they sat in a room not too different from this one, in a town very different from this one, listening to Alexei Dombrovski make love with his violin. His music set the very air a-quiver, his notes dancing like electricity along the skin. Hairs stood on end to be nearer to his melody; the body ached to hear him play, to be filled with his emotion, to be fluent in his language. To be present with Alexei Dombrovski’s playing was to sit at the feet of God.
His music would never be studied by eager violin pupils with more wish than earnestness, never praised by critics with more ego than talent, his name never written in the annals of music’s long history, for Alexei’s music died long before he did, as talent so often does amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. So much of the world’s talent went undiscovered, shared only with a handful of friends and family who inevitably envied and hated the talent more than they appreciated it. This was humanity’s way. They loved, even worshiped, what they could not themselves do but only if the genius belonged to a stranger. The genius of loved ones was too rich a pain to bear.
Lilac and Lakmei knew this perhaps better than anyone.
When the tea was ready, they drank it. When the rain began, they listened to it. When the candles burned out, they relighted them. When all was done, they sat in stillness, Alexei Dombrovski’s last impromptu recital on a virtual loop inside both their heads. The rain, with its fat splashes against the office windows, provided the perfect counterpoint to the doleful melody Alexei played. When the sun rose over the edge of town, they put their nighttime things away and prepared to greet the new day.
*Author’s note: Lakmei is pronounced LOCK-may, like the title character in the opera Lakmé.
See all the stories from Tales from Love and War, Texas at http://www.loveandwartx.com