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Fidelity

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The sunlight is bright and Mina Harker is putting up her hair. It falls on her, yellow, melting, dappled by the the lace curtain. It tangles in the coils of her hair, lingering in capsules of warmth. She feels her body beneath it, skin over muscle and muscle over bone, blood contained within, held. She is herself. She enjoys her own limits, knowing the boundaries of her skin, smooth and closed. This moment is her own, and she exists without referent.

She dresses. She is glad to be out of her nightgown, glad to feel the boning of her corset at her waist, the smooth buttons of her boots against her fingers. Her dress is brown, a few shades lighter than her hair, and the cloth gleams. Lace at her neck, at her wrists. She regards her own image in the mirror and thinks, as she does each morning, that she is glad she still has a reflection. This is what it means to still be human, she thinks - to have a verifiable presence in the world, to be accountable. To give oneself to others without opening your skin, to give oneself to others while maintaining the borders of oneself.

Not to blur, veins opening and minds opening and never knowing where your body ends. To be inhuman, Mina knows, is to be like dusk, like mist, to be liminal, to have no end, to have no death. To be inhuman is to be unable to give without taking, to know reciprocity only in open mouths and biting lips, to shatter skin and bone and consciousness in the very act of bestowing love.

Mina is standing in the sunlight and she is human and her mind is closed. She ties her corset laces, fastens her buttons, binds up her hair. She steps out and closes the door behind her.

-

She breakfasts that morning with Jack. Jonathan has been away, closing the sale of a fine manor house (to stay in a stranger’s house worries him, now, but he has loved traveling always, and will not let that be taken away from him. This journey is for a few days only), and she sets the table with scones, and soft eggs gleaming white and gold, and shining red preserves. Feeding Jack is a satisfying activity; he eats ravenously, like a child, and thanks her so profusely that one would think it was a feast that she laid before him. She leans over him to pour his tea and feels her body alight with energy, clear and strong. She puts down the teapot and lays a hand upon his shoulder. He exhales, slowly and heavily.

He stayed with her, the night previous - Mina has difficulty being alone at night, and when Jonathan is away they take it in turns. It is difficult for Jack to get away from Carfax, but she fears too much if she stays there with him. When he stays with her he is often restless and worried, concerned for his patients, but they can manage without him for a night. Arthur says that it is good for him, not to have the responsibility for the whole asylum weighing upon him, and Mina agrees. This morning at least he is calm. He smiles at her hand upon his shoulder and smears preserves messily onto the scones. Mina is not a very accomplished baker, and her scones always come out lumpy, but this does not matter. He talks, as ever, in a rush, words racing across his tongue one upon another and coming to a sudden halt whenever Mina speaks. She herself is good at listening. He talks of his patients, of articles in the newest medical journals, and she is comfortable enough following the thread of his argument and asking questions carefully and compassionately. She does not need to talk of herself. Very often, she does not wish to. The privacy he gives her lets her keep her mind close and safe.

Jack talks longer than he should and must leave in a rush. He kisses her quickly before he goes, one arm across her shoulders. The kiss is just long enough to leave her hungry for more touch and closeness, but she will not distract him. She kisses his forehead briefly and sends him to his work with her blessing. He is a good man, she thinks. He cares. She clears the breakfast table and laughs to herself softly at the crumbs in his teacup, and the fact that he has apparently mistaken his napkin for a handkerchief and folded it into his pocket. The house is light and quiet. Sparrows trill outside the windows.

-

Arthur invites her for tea. She arrives five minutes early, and the maid takes her parasol with curtsey. If Arthur’s servants have opinions about the time he spends alone with a married woman, they do not show it to her. Arthur is with her shortly, and takes her hands in his. “I am so glad you could come,” he tells her - he says this every time. She presses his hand close and thanks him for the invitation. He looks at her as though her presence has answered his deepest prayers. It is gratifying to be looked at this way; she never ties of it.

They eat in a room lined with windows, looking out over his garden. The table is set with berries and cream, sandwiches filled with crisp cucumber, little cakes iced with candied flowers. Mina thinks that she could never create such an elegant table setting herself, and is relieved that she need not think of clearing it. Arthur does not press her to eat, but she knows that his presence keeps her accountable - when she spends days by herself, she finds it to easy to neglect her meals. With her friend’s eyes upon her, she eats enough to sustain her body well.

They speak closely, in low voices, though the room is bright and the afternoon seems to invite openness. Mina knows that Arthur values her presence because he does not need to pretend wellness before her - his days are still a struggle, and grief often hits him in a great, overcoming wash. He is often alone with this, and his family urges him to find a wife, father an heir. Finding a wife requires going to balls and croquet games and opera performances; he does not think now that he can do this, nor that he could love a woman with whom he could not speak about Lucy or her eventual fate. Sometimes, he tells Mina, he finds himself suddenly feeling as though he is in her tomb again, the stake in his hands. Sometimes he thinks he shall never be finished with the act of killing her.

Mina listens. She would hold him if he needed to weep, though he does not, not today. He only wants her to listen. It is good, he says, to be able to speak of these things easily, without obfuscation or apology. He asks her how she is. She answers truthfully, though with care. He takes her hand across the table and kisses it. She melts with care and affection.

They have enough time to spend an hour in his bedroom, but the idea is too much for Arthur this day. Sensation is overwhelming to him - he weeps often when she touches him, and though this weeping can be as soft and clear as rain, he has a party that evening and cannot afford to let himself dissolve. He holds Mina for a long time before she leaves. She promises to see him soon.

-

Jonathan comes home several hours past suppertime. She waits for him curled up in the parlor with a volume of George Eliot, contained within the warm circle of her lamp. At the sound of the door unlocking her heart trembles and she closes her book. She hears him laying down his valise, hanging up his coat, and goes to him quickly, throwing her arms around him. He laughs, and says her name, again and again. He kisses her hair. She thinks how glad she is that this house holds the two of them within it, walls golden and closed. They will invite in no danger over their threshold. It need only be the two of them, and this simple rightness - him returning home to her, safe and unharmed, skin unbroken, mind un-ruptured.

She asks him if he has eaten; he has not. “I’ll warm some soup for you,” she tells him, and he follows her to the kitchen, where she makes him nourishing food, warm enough to melt the shadows under both their eyes. They talk of everything, filling the night air with words. As she watches him eat, Mina thinks about scars, the way they shift and stretch and fade, encircled by healthy skin. She thinks how miraculous it is that skin can heal itself at all, that it can create a touch silver knot like a messy stitch where once they was only a slice, puncture, breaking. Jonathan always wears high enough collars that the scars on his neck do not show - Mina’s are very often visible beneath the high knot of her hair. But they are so small, tiny gleaming dots on the inconstant expanse of her skin.

“You’re thinking about something,” Jonathan says to her, “you’re far away.”

She looks at him and smiles. “I love you,” she tells her husband, which is a truth, though not an answer. But he does not need an answer. She is present with him, breathing and feeling, even though her mind races, as ever, tangling around her. Mina thinks sometimes that she fills it within information (train schedules, story plots, history) only to keep it quiet, to satiate its unceasing hunger. No matter how much she loves, it will not make her mind stop.

He kisses her cheek. “Were you all right when I was gone? Did Jack stay with you?”

“Yes, I was,” she says, “and, yes, he did.”

“Good,” he says.

Mina stands, goes to his chair, and kisses him, tangling her fingers in his brown-white hair, which is soft upon them. He sighs and sinks into her kiss, winding his arms around her waist. She feels his breath, the heat of his body. This is what it is to be alive, she thinks, and does not stop kissing him.