Actions

Work Header

on love

Work Text:

Eve doesn’t believe in true love.

Eve is small and the only Korean kid at her school and people expect her to be quiet but she isn’t, she is loud, and it is only a little bit in spite, and she doesn’t believe in true love. She prods and pokes and questions and all this means she only has half a friend, just on Friday lunchtimes when he isn’t sitting with the popular boys. On the other days she sits and reads, or sits and thinks, or walks and thinks. This is the only time she isn’t loud.

The girls in the hallways are loud, too, but what they’re loud about – in that giggling, self-conscious sort of way that is nothing like Eve’s brand of loud, untidy, resolute – is love. What they’re loud about is true love. The descriptor is important, apparently, even if it doesn’t make sense – it implies that false love is love, too, doesn’t it? Or even that all love is false, as long as it’s not true.

But Eve is less interested in the meeting of minds and more interested in happens in the depths of them. She likes roots and undertows, currents cold yet unseen.

Shouting filters through thin walls, long after her bedtime. Eve doesn’t cry. She thinks, she weighs up the inflections in those voices and tries to pin down the place where they begin. She doesn’t lament love lost. No, she studies the dejected tilt of her father’s shoulders or the stifle of her mother’s anger and she wonders…why?

People like to hurt each other. It’s a pattern she’s noticed. Her parents, they hurt each other with sharp words and bottomed-out silences and something about money which she doesn’t quite understand because she’s only recently learned that it doesn’t just come out of a hole in the wall. Her parents treat these things like weapons, like they want each blow to hurt. Hurt is the point of it, hurt is the burn and the salve all in one.

And why do they hurt each other? that is the question. It’s not for love, that’s for sure. This, Eve knows.

 

 

Eve doesn’t believe in love at first sight.

She doesn’t have any of the flings that college seems to promise, she puts her head down. Schools the lingering English edges of her accent into line – it’s her insecure phase. She practices broader vowels in the mirror on Friday nights when her roommate is out.

She doesn’t believe in love at first sight but, hey, at least now she has more than half a friend. Two friends in her classes and one friend in debate club, to be specific. She wants to quit debate club – she speaks well, mounts evidence clearly, though she falls on her face every time she has to argue for something she doesn’t believe in – but she doesn’t want to lose the friend.

She’s not lonely, exactly. But she thinks she should be. There’s this way that other people throw themselves into the world, like wishes on the wind…like there’s a danger in staying still. Some unthinkable threat lurking in the act of being alone. Like being alone is an act.

Eve is not acting. She simply is.

And her father calls on Sundays and asks what she did last night and Eve tells him she curled up in her room and read a book or finished her essay and he worries. He worries that she’s not making friends, that she’s not having the American college experience. He worries that she’s lonely.

She nods and hrms along. If she’s lonely, it’s not the worst thing. If she isn’t, then something might be wrong with her and she doesn’t care to pursue that line of thought. Her psychology major can be put to much more productive use analysing others, laying out the patterns. She observes, she theorises; she doesn’t herself tessellate.

She sometimes thinks she’d understand herself better if she met herself from the outside, like a mystery. But it wouldn’t be love at first sight. Not even then.

 

 

Eve doesn’t believe in soulmates.

There’s nothing wrong with comfortable, especially when it’s love. She settled into the groove of it before she even realised she’d changed her shape, just slightly, in order to do so. Welded into it. Still. It’s so much easier to just run along the same track.

She certainly loves Niko. She loves the warmth of his voice and the care in his fingertips and the scratch of his half-shave. She’s loved him for ten years and could see herself loving him for forty more.

That’s kind of the problem.

Bill calls her…self-contained, when he’s being nice about it. Compartmentalised, whatever you want to call it. Everything has its function and its bounds and each of them is separate, different, all its own. That’s what life is, it’s only natural. Like a body. If you swirled all those inner bits together you’d have nothing but a glob of cells, a useless puddle. Each lobe of the brain, each chamber of the heart has its own purpose apart from the whole, and you lock the most fragile of organs behind a ribcage. It’s only natural.

So if anyone were made to love Eve – or just to know her, even – then it could only be herself. Not even Niko; there are a lot of things he doesn’t know and never will. Once, she spent the better part of a day staring at her wet laundry and thinking about the precise angle at which someone stuck a stiletto through the ear of a German politician and how she thinks that someone was a woman, how that thought thrills her. She hung up the clothes, eventually, but kept stopping to grasp a peg and stare at it in her fist. Thinking about the fingers around that blade, how skilled they’d have to be, how delicate, how strong. She wears down these tracks in her head, alone, tongue running over and over and over the lines of her teeth.

Eve loves Niko, but mostly she’s alone. And that’s fine, she’s pretty sure that’s how everybody is, they just don’t like to talk about it. Nothing wrong with comfortable, nothing wrong with keeping a little of herself to herself.

 

 

*

 

 

Eve doesn’t believe in true love, or love at first sight. She certainly doesn’t believe in soulmates.

You do.

It’s not something you think about, you do not dwell, but in certain moments…you do.

You believe in love at first sight in London. Lightning can strike in the most common of places: a hospital bathroom. Bleach-white tile fuels the first flame of passion, its smoke wafts of chemical sterility.

Perhaps it is cheating, because she looks so much like Anna, and you love Anna. Loved Anna? There’s only so much room in the vastness of you, probably only enough for one at a time, so when you step out of the bathroom and pull the knife on the first guard you imagine that he has Anna’s face. You imagine the blade slips easily into the meat of her stomach, parting the soft skin where you once rested your head.

The second guard has Anna’s face, too, and you kill her again. You fantasise, for a second, about kissing her evilly before telling her goodbye, I have a new love now, I don’t need you, I don’t want you, and this Anna sobs wretchedly in the death of her grief.

The nurse pleads. No, no, please, oh, don’t, please – and you finish the sentence for her: Non, non, je suis navrée, Oksana, j’avais tort, je ne l’aimais pas, je t’aime, je t’aime, non, non, ma chérie, Oksana –

You kill her lovingly – to the hilt, yank and twist until you cut through the heart. The love dies.

The target herself is last and easiest, blinking through a drug haze. She doesn’t have Anna’s face, but you imagine that she has her hair – her face is a new one, the woman from the bathroom, your coup de foudre.

You slash her throat. Shallowly, you want to see how long this death can stretch whilst still maintaining the show of intimacy. You want to stay to watch, but what if that woman comes out, what if she rounds the corner and sees you here, an exposed wire, naked and bare with blood up to your elbows? You don’t particularly want to kill her just now, it would be nice to keep the fantasy alive for a little while. So you slip out before the target enters her death throes.

On the flight back to Paris, you tear a scrap of paper out of an inflight magazine and draw from memory the cascade of her hair. It could be Anna, at a glance. You know different.

 

 

You believe in true love in Rome. Rome, of course, Rome, wherefore art thou. The city of love has exhausted itself for you, you are empty and wanting. On the prowl for some other place to devour. Something older, something with towering, ancient teeth and though they crumble still they are sharp and they sink into you just as you grope down its throat to take its heart. True love happens in Rome.

And true love, they say in the stories, drives people to extremes. People do crazy things under the spell of it. People deny it, they deny themselves. They flinch and they harden and they fling out paper-scrap words like no and you don’t and I’m sorry to disappoint. They don’t understand that some things are written in stone.

And then they get what’s coming for them, because Rome is not the city of love and Rome does not forgive, it does not forget, it only forsakes. Rome suits you better than Paris ever did. It suits you like a shave so close it nicks the skin, and that’s why you have to leave. You don’t even stay to watch the bullet do its work.

 

 

You believe in soulmates in London, and Paris, too, and even in Rome a little bit before Rome hollowed out and gutted you. But you believe it again, in London, again, which is so not appropriate. Paris loves like stupefaction and Rome loves like ruthlessness but London doesn’t love at all, London is a lot of boring and nothing. Love is an act and London does not act, it simply is.

So it’s all the more surprising, embarrassing, almost, that you believe in soulmates for a moment above the Thames, in the heart of London – the heart it does not have. Life has a way like this, of being unexpectedly amusing. You marvel at it. You marvel at her and maybe you might believe in something without killing it first.

But wouldn’t there be a kind of pleasure in killing it? Poetry, even. What else are soulmates for? And you have made the most of it, haven’t you. You’ve observed the closest of intimacies at the tip of a knife. You’d like to know how far it stretches, like taffy, like bloodletting – where do the two of you end? but there’ll be time for that later. The future is amorphous, the future is ordered. Time is stacked ahead of you.

You stand in London’s not-bleeding not-heart and you look at her and you think, let it come.