Every morning I drink my lover’s skin.
It is an ancient spell, our family heirloom passed down the generations. No one has used it until now. It is too dangerous, Nana said. When I asked her why we should keep such a spell alive, she frowned and said tradition.
For the spell, I need the blackest coffee and four spoonfuls of milk. I stand over it, repeating the incantation until the words lose meaning.
I cannot remember when we met anymore, so I let my lover tell the tale when we are asked. I don’t remember his face when our first child came to the world either. This is the price I choose to pay.
Who wants to be alone at the end? Both of us are so close.
I cradle the mug between my hands and sip, waiting for my lover to join me. When I drink the thirtieth, the spell will be complete.
Our son’s hired a nurse to come every other day. She gives me memory tests and writes down when I can’t come up with the right answer. My lover watches us sometimes. Most often, though, he stays in the living room hunched over the computer. The machinery confuses me, but sometimes Jonathan calls and we can see him and the grandchildren, so I tolerate my lover’s obsession.
I forgot how we marched together, buoyed by passion and justice and love. What happened afterwards, or before, I cannot tell except that we were together in a whirlpool of bad and worse. I prayed to whoever listened for these memories to vanish. Now that it happened, I think it was best my prayers were met with silence. Even bad and worse have value.
When the spell is done, my lover will have no use for pills or medicine. We will have to throw away his cane, maybe sell the house (I can’t remember all the rooms in it anyway), maybe travel. Have we been to Italy? Or was it Spain? I don’t know.
At breakfast, my lover steadies my hand. His eyes are blacker today, glistening in the morning light.
“You’re all right,” Keith asks though it doesn’t sound like a question. I nod, and I smile. When did he get all those wrinkles?
He kisses my fingers and I don’t remember whether I like that or not. That is the price I chose to pay, I remind myself.
“We should start packing your bags, Jo,” he says, placing my hand gently back on the table.
I almost drop the fork. Am I going somewhere?
“We’ll have to camouflage your stone collection. Ursula tells me it’s not allowed.”
Ursula. The nurse’s name, I think, but I’m not quite sure. The spell is taking more than I bargained for.
“Home is Northampton,” I protest.
He frowns at me, then the irritation seeps away and is replaced by a soft expression. Sadness? Keith kisses my forehead almost fatherly.
I should have listened to Nana. Her features are dim, but I remember the voice, hard and raspy, one which could make me sit or finish supper in an instant.
The twenty-eighth mug of my lover’s skin steams on the kitchen table. There are suitcases on the chairs. Are we going somewhere?
I bring the mug to my lips when a man appears at the doorway. He is broad-shouldered, or he would be if he wasn’t shrivelled up and frail. He leans on a cane as he walks. “You good,” he says.
He is Keith. My lover. Why have I not recognized him?
The mug slips through my fingers and shatters.
I will not be drinking it again.
I run to him, surprised by my own slow movements, and hold him tight; I give him kisses again and again and again until he laughs — the old laugh I remember, a guffaw straight from his stomach.
“I’ll miss you too. I miss you so much already,” he says.
I don’t understand what he means by already, but I stay quiet. I tell him I love him.
Nana would know what to do. I wish I could speak to her, confess my sin, I wish even for her punishment. The more I think about Nana, the more ghostly she becomes. Her voice is fading. I have lost her instructions, her traditions ’ and I doubt Nana’s existence. I was an imaginative child.
Keith takes my hand and leads me to the sofa. He cradles me in his arms and tells me stories about the good and the bad, about us, our life, our laughter.
I promise, my lover, I will remember.
Alice Brook writes in Vojvodina, Serbia.