We all fall down.
It is the feast day of St. Valentine, when hearts are devoured and disgorged, paraded and taken, given and regretted.
It is my first as Harlequin. And I will not take it lightly.
I catch a glimpse of her rocketing through the streets to catch the 735, my Columbine, homemade shirt tight across her nips and loose about her long neck. Her thrift store coat flaps and catches her legs, covetous of her against the February cold, but she throws it back, throws her hair back, and launches herself into the wind. My Columbine, a little scrapper of a thing, knee-high to a giant, and wild in the eyes. Her name is printed in harvest orange on her student ID, sans serif under her grainy face: Jane Melissa Laroche.
Jane. I’ve never loved a Jane before.
I slip through the glass doors just before the bus shuts, flitting up the icy steps and past the rows of frozen features to where Jane is standing, hand high on the bar like a tiny ballerina. The autobus lurches and sways us all drunk-like, and what better for this day? We dance to the music of the engines and streets, swaying high and low--then off our feet as a cyclist darts out before us and the bus stops short. Coffee cups and curses fly, and Jane’s fine fingers twist loose to land her smack a-dab atop me. Her palms squeak in the melted slush and muck on the ribbed floor; and as she ducks her mighty head, I pull my silver hatpin free, press my heart to her hammering chest, and pierce us two together.
Jane mutters an apology. She has banged her nose, she thinks; the blood drips heavy on her shirt from somewhere, and she covers half her face with one huge hand as she stands, stumbles, and fumbles for a hold. She signals for the next stop, though it’s a full forty blocks from her destination, and she does not pause when she alights from the bus.
The graveyard is empty this day. Jane hurries almost past it, and I caper behind her, silent and unsighted. There are pink plush bears on some graves, wreaths of crimson roses, and, on one fresh mound (I see it winking bright and cold and oh, so fair), a solitaire diamond in an unworn ring.
Jane halts of a sudden, so abrupt that I must needs tip my toes and pinwheel my arms to keep from breaking her balance again. She frowns. The blood is crusting on her chest, runnels of red against the violet-brown. Her fingers twitch to the lapels of her much-abused coat, pinching it closed over her heart and mine.
She hops the low stone wall and the higher iron fence without a second thought, plants her feet atop the dead in a long, unlingering line leading to a quiet grave in the southwest corner. It’s empty earth; the man whose name adorns the wearing stone was long ago consigned to fire, ground to dust, and set free to fly in the wind. But the grave remains just the same, one in a row of like last names: Hardingly; and, in smaller type: Richard.
I knew him once, Hardingly, Richard. I said his name against his throat, against his chest, against his pillow in the darkness; and heard of his death in the darkness; and came to his grave to lay a lily after everyone else had gone, in the somnolent August darkness.
Before I was Harlequin.
A pocketful of posies.
Jane did not know him. But she’s standing here before the quiet earth, gazing on his name, pressing her hands as wide as the world against her heart and mine. I can feel my heart, warm under her palms and her heavy coat, pulling her here, and me behind her, despite us both.
Jane feels in her pocket for a moment and pulls out a little artist’s notebook. She plops to the wet earth, heedless of the almost-mud oozing into the fibres of her corduroy trousers. A pigeon-coloured crayon appears next, and she flips past coffee shop demoiselles and abandoned playgrounds, past city statuary and figure studies (five lovers, it looks like; she is more Harlequin than I) to a fresh page.
She draws a single, sylphlike rose on the heavy-grained paper. Its petals purse at their shadowed tips, but furl into a tight, virgin bud before sloping darkly into a long-thorned stem.
She frowns at the drawn rose, tilting it and considering it in the watery winter light.
A ring of roses.
Jane cranes her neck and looks me full in the face. “It wasn’t yours to give," she says.
She plucks my silver pin free from her chest. My heart topples. She catches it in one clean, careless move, and lays it gently on the ground, upright against the mottled stone.
Two fingers press to her chest, still welling sluggishly under her sticky shirt. She pulls away the blood, and paints the petals of her illustrated rose a deep, drying red. She tears the page free and tucks it under my resting heart. Then she kisses me once, cold and sweet, and is gone.