The wind roared like a bear awoken early from hibernation. The dying flora and fauna of summer too weak to remain anchored. Mother earth accepting the cruel departure of her children as they are ripped from her arms by the rampaging wind. Their corpses slammed and hit against him, determined to make him fall. The ornate topiary of the St-Denis suburbs carefully curated now bowed to its real master the natural world.
The storm unwelcome, hit without warning, it was not as severe as the invisible knife repeatedly stabbing into his chest. A sword wielded by the man whose smile was akin to the grandeur of dawn breaking over still water, his eyes brighter than any star in the dark sky, his love molten, burning like the midsummer sun, his soul as large as the harvest moon.
Arthur betrayed him, made their love a lie. Made his place in the gang untenable, forcing him to leave all he held dear, all he knew. The knife wounds tore his flesh, cutting deep into his being, but couldn’t cut the love out of him. He wanted Arthur so much he couldn’t breathe, every step away from the outlaw quelled the light that was his life. His heart could not beat without his sight, his lungs could not inhale without his scent, his mind could not focus without his voice.
The rain, a thousand needles pricking at exposed skin swirled and thrashed. Forming the outline of Orion, the great celestial hunter, running along with the bear wind, it pursued John with ferocity. Stalking in brief moments of calm and striking again and again, dancing to the Gods whilst his mortal body felt crushing blows. With commanding force, the hunter pulled at its bow. An arrow quivered through the darkness. John collapsed; his frame crumpled on the cobbled stones.
The storm still raged around him, but all he could hear was the heavy and slow beat of his heart, his doe eyes darkening, they rolled with acceptance, the light dying. Arthur was the hunter, John his prey, this was their end, savage and real just like their start and every moment in between. At least it was his outlaw that was responsible for ending him.
“Mr Marston! Mr Marston” he couldn’t identify the shapes that called to him. Jezebel cried, wild with fear from the storm and her limp owner. Hands moved with purpose lifting his corpse-like mass, dragging him from the claws of the wind, saving him from the hunter that desired his pelt. The familiar crackle of fire consuming wood shook him momentarily from his delirium. Her warm face peered from a rocking chair where she and Rose sat quietly while he slept.
“I am dying Sister.” He choked.
“Whilst the wounding of a heart is intense Mr Marston, it does not lead to death.” She rocked gently, gazing upon Rose’s beautiful blue eyes, they blinked in confusion to the whole dramatic scene. She refused to even attempt to sleep when the wind howled around the rafters of the old rectory.
“How do you know my heart is wounded?” John asked petulantly, he detested how transparent he was to her.
“You went to get Arthur, he isn’t here. You said yourself many people have tried to save him from that life.” She lifted Rose up and placed her on the rug next to John. The young girl instantly curled into his side, like a kitten seeking comfort from its mother.
“I assume you argued, crossed words, he didn’t want to come?” She sought clarity on what had gotten him in such a mess.
“I didn’t give him the option.” He huffed, his gaze staring intensely into the flames dancing. Unable to acknowledge Rose fully, the girl pulled at his heartstrings, she made him chose between her and the man he always loved. Her innocence needed protecting it meant more than the corrupted love Arthur was willing to give. She didn’t even know of this choice, but he still couldn’t bear that gaze, not yet.
“Before I gave myself to the church, before I married my dead husband. I loved a woman dearly.” A creak echoed through the silence, the Sister rocking sincerely to the admission of her truth. John shot a glance; he’d heard of women being that way inclined but had never met one.
“You can see the truth in everyone’s eyes if you look hard enough, eyes are the window to the soul after all.” She caught his gaze. “Your eyes come alive when you talk about him, only passion provides that light.”
“You don’t find it disgusting?” John quivered.
“How can love be disgusting?” She gently rebuked
“It’s not love” John grumbled
“That’s the argument talking.” She said lightly, trying to dispel his angst.
“No, it’s the truth” he rattled. “I played my hand, and I lost. I was a fool for thinking I had a hand to play, I wasn’t even the only player at the table.” He sobbed. She took a moment, her face thoughtful and circumspect, love was hard enough fathom for someone so young, betrayal was even harder.
“Maybe not now, as the hurt is too real, but soon, you will come to realise that life is not a game of cards. People are fallible, and they make mistakes, sometimes repeatedly. We should always forgive those who hurt our hearts, by the sheer virtue that they were granted access in the first place, means they are special to us. The Special people in our hearts can be careless maybe, selfish, we can all be that from time to time, but truly they do not mean to cause pain. I am sure Arthur feels that pain, John.” John sniffed, her wisdom was suffocating, like Hosea that day fishing where he revealed his darkest secret only to be greeted with warmth, levity and understanding. That day he forgave Arthur, not that there was anything to forgive. The first kiss forever clouded by his own fear was now a bittersweet memory. His desires were real, taking three years to be unveiled like a virgin bride at the alter three weeks was all it took for reality to crash around them.
Perhaps he was naïve for thinking that anything that pure could survive in a world as cruel as there’s. Arthur partook of the apple, tempted by the snake Dutch and now paradise was a distant memory consigned to the periphery of their minds. There now remained one pure thing in his life, Rose, who should not be responsible for her own redemption, having not sinned but was sinned against. At what point does God turn his back on the innocents deciding they are complacent in their own downfall.
John awoke to the now typical bustling sound of children playing in the yard. He retrieved a cup of warm coffee from the rectory kitchen and joined them, interested to see the extent of the storm damage from the night before.
“Just a few fallen trees and plenty of leaves, I am sure you will have it cleared up in no time Mr Marston.” The sister ushered him to sit with her on the porch steps.
“I am sure I will, then I can enquire about that job at the apothecary, can’t rely on your charity forever.” He took a sip of the hot coffee as his eyes scrolled over the shabby court-yard, it always stood out as run down next to the grand homes that surrounded it. The storm had been a leveller, making everything appear run down, disorientated, just how he felt. It was time to rebuild.