Two worlds become one on this night as Thomas encounters a beauty and her story.
The beach has an infectious atmosphere late at night. There's something about the moonlight and how it dances with the sea's surface; like watching a diamond glisten against a lover's finger. I admire the moon's seductive appearance as it contrasts itself against the ink-black starless sky, it's naked form exposed to the city's effulgence.
The damp sand works its way between my toes as I pad along the shore, the waves rushing up and tickling my skin. The sharp scent of salt prickles my nostrils and mist whisks around me, moist against my arms, as the breeze kneads its dense fingertips through my hair.
The breeze and waves gently rolling over one another, putting a distance to the jarring traffic and low bass pumping through the downtown area of clubs, easing my nerves with the sea's hypnotic song. I reflect on the idea of the sea itself as a siren and understand what it is that appeals to men; why a man's love for it can be deeper than for any woman.
I can offer no solid explanation for why I am drawn to this specific lonesome place. It has become forgotten by all but a few reclusive individuals like myself. We are united in our passion for this sacred place where we dare not desecrate it with words. Humans at one time displayed their respect for the miraculous creations of nature with silence; they believed speech made these treasures impure.
An aroma wafted through the air; the scent of sweet pea intruded upon me, chasing away the bittersweet perfume of my beloved siren. This strange new smell perplexes my senses with its familiarity as it assaults me with its unwelcome presence. There is another walking this shore tonight.
As I breathe in this lingering aroma, I glance behind in an attempt to locate its source. There is nothing around me as I do a turn-about to continue along my path. A shadow emerges within twenty feet ahead, its shape forms to that of a person's. The incandescent moon offers no assistance in identifying this figure, shedding little illumination.
As I begin to approach this shadow, it slowly defines itself. The figure thins and curves into a petite and delicate form. As I come closer, I realize it is a young woman. She faces toward the ocean with a stillness I've never witnessed in another person, the wind picks up tendrils of her long dark hair and blows them about her face. The moon light washes over her now, reflecting off her pale complexion; had she been any paler she might have been translucent.
Adrenaline shatters the serenity in my body from the sight of her, my heart thumping against the inner walls of my chest. I feel light headed, her sweet scent overloading my nostrils as black dots begin popping around her. I realize I've been holding my breath and exhale, quickly taking in more air to replenish my lungs. The ocean, the wind, everything falls thousands of miles away from my mind. I am stupefied by her other worldly beauty; not even a dream could carry such grace.
A silent sigh passes through her lips as she turns away from the ocean and fixates her eyes on me. The thumping in my chest bangs violently and my stomach contorts itself into knots, not wanting to be caught in such enthrallment with her. A waft of heat flushes against my face and upper body as I begin to choke on the dry, scratchy air caught in my throat. Embarrassment consumes me and forces me to look away, down, anywhere but at her face. Never have I had this much difficulty looking into the face of a woman; never has my body been so ravished by such a sight, by any sight. I revel in these new-found emotions I thought myself incapable of experiencing.
I shoot a fervent glance at her in an effort to gain composure. A slight smile I hadn't noticed before is playing across her face, her gaze holding mine for a moment that stretched into seconds, minutes; it could have been hours, I'm not sure. Hues of deep green, black and blue-gray spark out as the moon too, swept into her gaze, dazzling across them. I exhale again when black dots pop back into sight, breaking our trance and allowing me to look away.
"Hello," I choke out.
A bigger smile spreads exposing her brilliantly white teeth as if I was being humorous. I teeter at her smile as humiliation washes over again. Already I have made myself look like a fool. I am confused with these new yet familiar feelings as though this has taken place before, perhaps a dream.
"I don't believe I've seen you here before. Is this your first time visiting this beach?" My words are on the verge of being garbled up and stammered out now as I fight with myself to maintain my composure.
"No, I visit often. We've met," her voice is thick with honey-like sweetness.
"Surely you must mistake me for someone else. I would never forget a face as beautiful as yours," I blurt. Red flushes across my cheeks instantaneously.
Serenity embraces her face now as she nods, musing at this notion. "Perhaps it was from another lifetime," chuckling softly at her own response.
"Maybe! Ya never know, right?" I laugh, my nerves twitching themselves up in a fit. "I'm Tom, by the way. Might I get your name?"
I hesitate at extending my hand out to her, the sweat layering a thick film in my palm as my nerves make it shake. She glances down before a girlish grin breaks across her face now as she giggles shyly, hooking the stray rich chocolate tendrils behind her ear while batting her hand at me playfully.
"I'm Daphne," she says as she lets her hands drop to dangle at her hips.
A jolt of electric shoots through me as the molten lump in my chest sends heat flowing through my limbs in abundance. These feelings torture my body, devouring my now aching nerves; all this dizzies me. How can one person take such emotions? Exhaustion would surely swipe over me once the adrenaline began to wane.
"So you say you visit this place often?" I can hear my words beginning to smooth out.
"Yes, I do."
"How come I've never seen you before? I have been coming here almost every night," I say in disbelief.
"Well, I'm not a gregarious person, Tom. I have kept to myself for a while now," her voice drifts with a grim expression on her face. She stares back out into the ocean now as we fall into silence.
The adrenaline dissipates as the smoldering inside my chest extinguishes; the somberness of her look leaves me in a mournful state. I watch her graceful form stride with mine effortlessly.
"Is there something wrong?"
Daphne's ballerina-like feet tread the sand undisturbed as they pad along next to my own which leave deep indentations, swelling the sand around it into miniature mountain ridges. I discern my prodigious size next to her meager proportions. The tiresome black material of her dress hangs loose over her body and ends below her knees; tattered lace garnishes the sleeves at the crook of her elbows. Her pale skin stretches out over her bones making her features sharp against the contrast of our dark surroundings. The little color she retains is caught in her jasper eyes and the subtle pink of her lips.
"Talk to me. Did I say something that disturbed you?"
"No, no. It's just I'd forgotten how nice it was to speak with someone," she says with a forced smile.
"Why is that,"; I wonder aloud.
"It's a long story, Tom. I wouldn't want to pester you with it," she shrugs.
"I have all the time in the world, Daphne."
As her name rolls of my tongue, I feel a comfort only close friends share. Splotches of pink sprout on her high cheek bones, giving me a sense of conviction and assurance that she recognizes this as well.
"All right but be prepared. This is no fairy tale," she warns.
I nod in agreement as we trudge up the shore. She stares up into the engulfing darkness and serenity comes over her again, as if she were recalling fond memories.
"A very long time ago, I was in love," she lingers on her last word.
"He was the perfect gentleman and one of the greatest companions one could ever request. His name was Thomas," she says with enthusiasm.
After hearing my name, a new warmth washes over my body and my stomach twists itself up with excitement. I feel my lips spread wide across my face, paining the muscles of my cheeks as they desperately stretched themselves to their limits. Daphne had loved a man with my name.
"He was a beautiful man with dark hair and eyes as intense blue as this sea. Not to mention the most heart warming smile in the world! I remember he could always make me feel better with that smile, even when I was in the worst of moods. His smile was like yours," she said thoughtfully.
Heat flushes my face as I begin to feel my pulse quicken.
"We met when I was sixteen. He was almost twenty-four by then. Since his father practiced in medicine, Thomas followed the same line of work. He had grown up learning beside his father as patients were treated so they had become a team. They were the old fashioned kind of doctors. You didn't have to come to them; they came to you. He tended to sick children while his father treated adults. My younger sister had become ill. So he came nearly every day to make sure she was resting and eating enough.
"After a long month of sleepless nights and constant tending to, my sister's ailment began to diminish. She no longer needed supervision but nonetheless, he visited as had become routine. To be honest, I think he came over so often to see me . Half the time he was there, he was in the kitchen with Mother. He never took his eyes off me while I helped cook dinner.
"By then, he had become a frequent guest and was considered part of the family. He didn't announce his fondness of me until several months later. But everyone knew long before he said anything.
"We spent almost every waking moment together. Until one day, he asked for my hand in marriage. And of course, I gave him my hand!"
Excitement bounces through her voice as though she is announcing it for the first time. Color took hold of Daphne's small figure, flourishing itself in pink hues. Her glowing form bewitches me as I gaze at her now, full of life.
"We moved into a house of our own and he continued to practice medicine. When I was twenty, we discovered I was with child! We didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl. He told me he wanted a boy so that he didn't have the worries a beautiful girl would most certainly bring. Although, I think we would have been happy to have either."
"By then, he had his own practice going. I was about three months pregnant when one of his patients came down with a really bad cough. He was out at all hours of the night tending to the poor man. It was so sad the way the man suffered so much. I believe it had been a cancer of the lungs."
"Thomas's patient had a daughter and she was beautiful. Roughly around my age. Her name was Silvia. Thomas had spent some time with Silvia trying to comfort her because her father's health began to get worse. He knew Silvia was beginning to develop a likeness to him but he still continued to talk to her and console her."
Daphne turns to me again, now only a solemn expression on her face. For a moment, I could see age and exhaustion in her eyes. She appeared so much more older for an instant. Then she glances back out to the ocean. I can see her fight with herself as her face contorts, tears forming now.
"He didn't leave you," I protest quietly. I refuse to believe he could ever consider letting this unnatural beauty before me go.
She shakes her head as sobs choke back in her throat. With a delicate finger, she scoops up the tears before they wash down her face, inhaling deeply and calming down. I contemplate Thomas's fortune to have such a beautiful and kind woman as a wife.
"Then what? I must know," I urge her on. My curiosity would not allow the story to go unfinished; because it was her story.
As she faces me, I can see the flecks of dark green in her eyes grow fierce, glinting like sharp pieces of broken glass amongst the stone gray and blue hues.
"I was extremely jealous of Silvia. His attention toward me seemed to... decrease with each passing day. When he'd be sent for by Silvia or her father and I would gripe about it just to show him of my jealousy," her voice grew dark and incensed.
"Then one day, he received an invitation to a party she was throwing for her father's birthday. Of course, I had not received an invitation of my own. I was furious at the nerve of this woman! He told me to come with him and I was not happy with the idea at all. I didn't want either of us to attend her little event."
When we came up to an appreciable sized rock, I offer my hand out to help her atop it to rest. Daphne grimly bats my hand away and mounts the rock in one fluid motion. As she settles down into side of the rock, she lays a single pat of her hand on the empty space beside her. I follow this command and sit beside her.
"We had another argument about Silvia the night of the party. I refused to go and he left. Angry. I had told him I hated him and that he was a worthless scoundrel of a man.
"Later that night, I felt bad about what I had said. So I went to the party to apologize to him. I simply did not want to wait for him to come home. I looked for him but neither him nor Silvia were to be found. You can imagine the fear I had when I went upstairs as I thought they were up there."
Words were lost into a barely audible stream.
"I heard a commotion at the end of the hallway. I could tell one of the voices was Thomas. I figured the other was Silvia's. He had started to say something like 'Silvia, I'm not interested in you in that way. I never was. I love my wife.' Immediately, I felt reassured but guilty for ever doubting him! I went closer to the door to hear the rest when she shouted 'You bastard! You will regret this!'
"And then I heard a loud bang. It had been a gunshot. I heard something heavy hit the ground with a thud. Everyone downstairs shrieked and began to scatter in panic. I heard Thomas bellow out in a way I've never heard before! I rushed in thinking Silvia had shot herself."
"But it had been Thomas who was shot," she stammers as tears pool in her eyes.
Ice soars through my veins, a subtle burn following it, as my chest began to contract into a tight, hefty ball as if it were turning into stone. My stomach's knots fitted up, ripping through me in a sensation only one could consider excruciating.
"I saw him on the floor holding his stomach. And then when I looked to Silvia, she hit me in the face with something. I think it had been the gun. It knocked me out.
"When I woke up, I saw Silvia sitting in the chair crying to a police officer and I was in handcuffs. They had a sheet over Thomas's body," she chokes out her words now recalling her husband's death.
"They started to carry him downstairs. Then I heard Silvia frantically shouting 'Yes! She shot him! She came in and saw the two of us together and shot him!' Silvia had blamed me. She had told the police that I shot him before she could wrestle the gun away from me and that she had knocked me out with it in self-defense..."
Liquid of a forlorn substance pours freely down her face, the bright flush against her skin is now gone though she does not return to an intense paleness as before. A gray sickly color washes over as though she, herself, is a worn-out black and white photograph. Haze whisks through her eyes as she relives these bereaving memories.
"Thomas was murdered tonight. And that... that wretched Silvia got away with it all!"
Fury and grief whips through us both now as we rest in silence for several long minutes. The tear in my stomach is wrenching itself farther apart as it continues up my torso, mangling the rock inside.
"I was hung a month after Thomas was murdered. They never buried me beside my husband and they never knew of the child inside of me," she began to heave as she held her hands with her face, rocking gently and mourning the loss of her family. "I should have told them, but what kind of life would she have had without her father and thinking her mother was a killer?"
The guilt eats through her weak justifications for her secrecy while my mind races to make sense of what was uttered to me in painful sighs and hiccups. I become still beside her as does prey when out in open fields. It is not fear that pauses me but the repugnance and confusion flooding through my body. I am perplexed by my anger, by my sense of betrayal.
In disbelief I say, "You aren't dead... you're sitting right here talking to me!"
She dries her eyes and looks at me. "I am."
Daphne's lips part, air slips through into the salty mist as she closes her eyes. A ring flourishes around her neck, just below her chin; the ring's color grows vivid with a red irritation before turning into a deeper hue of purple, then fading into a combination of black and blue. The texture of her skin begins to change as if rotting and dry; the light gray tone of her skin morphs itself into a dirty gray with green splotches. What was once rich dark hair, soft and healthy, is now becoming brittle. Her nails, caked with dirt, become longer as the flesh of her cuticles recede. The thin material of her dress fades and in some parts large holes formed, where I suspect bugs had eaten through.
Horror and disgust strike me as the once otherworldly allure of this woman transfigures itself into that of a rotting corpse. Vomit lurches itself up my stomach as it fights its way through my throat. I stagger off the rock, holding myself over my feet as nutrients reject itself from my gut.
"I... I never got to say good bye. I never got to tell him that I was sorry. I never told him that I loved him... He never was able to forgive me..."
Sweat beads up on my brow as my dry, stinging throat gags from the taste. I feel a second wave coming as I bend over again, heaving violently over myself. The muscles in my sides contract themselves as I pant. I do not want to look at Daphne's face. Her wails echo behind me as I swallow the remnants back down into my stomach. Something came over my fear as I hear her sob freely. Heart break takes hold of me as I stop to turn around. I look to where she was sitting in time to watch a tear roll off her cheek as she faded away.
Shock ravages my nervous system as I blink my eyes together several times in disbelief. She was gone. Everything is left untouched by her presence, as though she had never come. Confounded by these events, I replay it over again. New shock jolts through me. Thomas died tonight. That's why she came. Me. That's why I could only see her tonight. Because I died tonight.
Panic comes over me as I search around for her. "Wait," I call out. "Come back!"
I begrudgingly turn about for several more moments before I decide to leave. My head is spinning. A part of me believes this revelation while the other dismisses it all as a hallucination. The other part of me demands I see a doctor tomorrow.
Daphne watches him turn to leave, her arm reaching out to the back of his form as it fades in the distance.
"Good bye, Thomas. I love you."