LOVE IS BUT A SKEIN UNWOUND BETWEEN THE DARK AND DAWN
When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
—“When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats
When I’m old, I’ll say I married in black today because I put cute ahead of lucky. I’m a modern girl, not superstitious, and I look my best in clean, black lines.
At the wedding, I blamed it on the awards dinner I have next month. If you’re going to buy one expensive dress and wear it twice, black’s the reasonable choice, right?
But now, already almost dream-soft and full of sleep, I’ll tell the real and secret story: In a depressingly not-atypical moment of wandering attention, I left my white, purpose-made, gorgeous, bias-cut, silk dream dress on the MAX line coming home from the seamstress shop after work last week. This pisses me off because I had planned to go barefoot, and had to wear heels. Because Amit and I looked like badly matched storm clouds—me in black, him in gray. And because I still have no idea where my real dress ran away to. Nobody turned it in. I can almost feel it out there, living its own life. And my ridiculous imagination is worried it’s having more fun. Dreaming freer dreams.
Amit says we must have ransomed it for the weekend’s unreasonably brilliant weather. Having paid such a high price, we made full use of the shockingly clear, high blue sky and the first smells of dirt and roses in Portland’s long, wet, and usually cloud-filled spring. We didn’t even set up the tent we had rented. Our friends poured out into the sunshine and the grass of the Japanese Gardens with their cake plates and little “Laura and Amit” bubble-wand bottles, and I wound up shoes-in-hand, dancing with my new husband in the koi pond. It was exactly what we wanted for our wedding—an old-fashioned free- for-all with friends and family who won’t ever be all together in the same place again unless one of us dies young.
I hope our honeymoon can be the same—exactly what we want, even if not how we planned it. We had planned to be somewhere over the Atlantic right now, but young graphic artists like me don’t get many chances to pitch huge ad campaigns for banks, so when my boss asked if we’d push the honeymoon back two weeks, Amit and I decided it was a reasonable sacrifice to make for such an opportunity. Now, beside me in our expensive wedding-gift-to-each-other Danish bed, he is already lost to dreams. I’m waiting for sleep to claim me, too, and overthinking it, my crazy imagination pondering what pieces of a person can wander like attention on a train, or drift off like awareness into sleep.
The wicked, peat-smoke whisper catches me just as I’m falling asleep. “Maud?”
I don’t really fall asleep. I only float up into it. I try to be graceful so my body won’t feel it’s dropping behind and jerk me awake. But how can I be falling or floating if I’m right here in my bed? And how can I be so clumsy about it, when my athlete’s body can do pretty much anything easily but dance?
In the coming wild two weeks, I will come to listen hungrily for this husky lilting whisper—and it will learn to call me by my name— but it’s my wedding night. I wanted to sleep through it.
“Are you truly mesmerized then, Maud?” The inviting Irish whisper keeps finding me—it sounds like from an ocean and a hundred years away—just as I start to lose consciousness.
No, you don’t lose consciousness when you sleep—that would be irresponsible—but I feel like I could lose mine permanently tonight, and my mind.
No, I will completely lose my heart. I’m going to look like shit at work tomorrow.
“Maud, you are entranced.” Her whisper has grown a new spine of bright, almost erotic excitement. “Submit your will to mine!”
I crave sleep the way a locked-up junkie wants a hit, but I’ve never actually heard voices before. So maybe I’m not asleep. Maybe I’m falling apart. There’s been enough stress with the NorPac pitch materializing just two weeks ago, and a wedding to plan, and putting the honeymoon on hold. I crack a lid to check for crazy.
What I see spectacularly fails to reassure me. Hellfire-blue eyes probe mine from a ghost-white face. Gaudy, bright brass posts wreathed in cloth have sprouted from the foot of our slim platform bed. Nightmares on my wedding night. Fucking figures.
But at least I must be sleeping. And the bed I’m dreaming is better than mine. It smells more of smoke than fabric softener, and I am tired. Tired enough to dream about sleeping, anyway. I nuzzle into my dream bed’s warm, intimate softness, wishing I’d imagined myself under the covers. It’s chilly. But I’m sinking into the crisp outdoor smell of woodsmoke, and the warm, interior scent of someone else’s body. Not Amit’s, which should trouble me. But I’m coming unmoored— mind from worry, muscle from memory. I’m floating up. Adrift.
And overthinking it still.
Dammit. I have got to get out of my head.
But if my carefully compartmentalized, pinned-together, modern self really falls apart, where will the pieces land? They’ll wander off, I guess. Not sluts or renegades, just pilgrims, hunting their truth, or god, or you.
“Only keep your eyes closed, Maud,” the Irish voice whispers. The mattress bends to buoy her weight perched on the edge, and infant- soft fingers fan my cheek. They spin into my hair, running through it, teasing out long strands with a hungry tenderness.
I wear my hair short, and it’s way too curly to finger-comb without swearing.
“Maud, you are mesmerized,” she whispers, her breath quick and trembling. She turns her ear to my mouth, and I struggle to keep the slow and steady breath of sleep. Her lips blaze my cheekbone to my lips, and open, whispering, “You will not remember this.”
She kisses my mouth once in a slow luxury of stolen sensuality, and a delicious pull blooms between my legs. Hell no, I’m not forgetting this. This dream shows more imagination than I knew I had.
“When you wake up, you will remember only what you have seen with your soul’s eyes,” she whispers. Her voice strokes my lips. I want to kiss her back, but she clearly wants me asleep. So I peek instead, just enough to see the BBC miniseries loops and coils she’s worked her hair into.
Okay, she’s right about the closed eyes.
My slammed shut eyelids and her old-fashioned clothes create a silent movie flash of jumping, jerky movement. All I need now is organ music and a man weeping in the dark theater. But it’s only her voice again. “When you wake, Maud, you will have no bodily memory at all. Although you may...