THE SILVER LEAF • by Eric Robert Nolan

“I hate it when I feel so real,” Emma lamented, gazing nude into midnight.

Her bizarre (and inscrutable) metaphysical crises sometimes came at the most inappropriate times — including the nights of missions. This made them no less lovely.

Standing there, tiny and naked, before the vast ornate stone window of her cousin’s estate, she might have been a fairy of Irish legend. Either that, or a slim, silver blade that is enchanted to stand on end, at the top of its hilt a tassel of jet black hair in her pageboy haircut.

One smooth pearl-colored thigh moved forward slightly enough to hide her pubis. She held her glass of white wine in such a way that, in profile, her little cupped hand obscured her petite left breast.

She was the very room’s purest loveliness. Fierce moonlight and starlight practically strobed the bedroom’s stone walls and floors. And within that warring white she was lustrous.

There was a poem somewhere in all this, but I was damned if I could find it. I was never a good poet, although lately I pretended to be that and a lot of other things: “Nick” (my real name is Robert), a bricklayer, and a Briton (I’m an American). And I certainly pretended to be a man with no association whatsoever with the Irish Republican Army.

Emma still stood with her profile to the blazing moon and the hills they made so pale. When she tilted it just a bit, her face was then made of silver. Her features had always been childlike, delicate, elfin.  Now — especially with that little upturned nose — her face was a silver leaf. Her face was precious metal shaped by the finest artisan.

“Emma,” I told her, “Emma, Darling, you are a silver leaf.”

And then she was furious.

“Have you been listening to me?! Have you heard a single WORD I’ve said?! I said I hated it when I feel so REAL!!”

She slammed both of her lithe white palms audibly down on the stone windowsill, then spun around at me. Her eyes looked huge, and hideous. They looked unnaturally vast within the shadows, and the half-light turned their dark blue to pure black. “I WANT TO BE FAKE!!!”

After I recoiled, she spun away from me again. She shuddered. And then it seemed to me that her beauty returned to her. She was a snowy serpentine blade in the dark. Her smooth white buttocks became the moon; her back a fair, full galaxy.

I thought this might be our cue to dress and begin the mission, but she continued her petite, angry march.

“We kill people, Robert. We kill them.”

“Culpable people,” I offered.

She finally scooped up her pants from the floor and wiggled them up around her. When the trim blue trousers came up beneath her belly button, I thought that the blue-and-white contrast was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen.

“Culpable.” She looked me in the eye and repeated the word dryly, as though it were a retort, and sadly.

My delicate silver leaf slipped into one dark corner of the room and disappeared almost imperceptibly into a dark closet. From within, her voice changed again, became hard and brittle, like tree bark: “You Americans have a schoolyard rhyme for sentiments like that. I’m rubber and you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

The two weapons with which she emerged from the closet were Russian made — fully automatic AK-47’s, with their telltale curved magazines.

And her voice returned to the mild Autumn breeze with which I had fallen in love: “We’re almost ready, Robert.”

“What did you mean earlier?” I asked her.

“About culpability?”

“No. About wanting to be fake.”

Her fair Autumn tone remained, and I was grateful for that. “Oh, that. These,” she lifted both weapons by their muzzles, as though they were bottles of fine wine, “can never be culpable. They’re real. They’re well designed, working weapons. But in a way, they’re not real. Because they aren’t real BEINGS. So they can’t FEEL any culpability. Or guilt. Or remorse. They can’t feel ANYTHING.

“I asked Father Callahan once… How would it feel for a person to have no soul? He told me he doubt they’d feel anything.”

Emma smiled at me then. It may have been the truest smile I’ve ever seen on her childlike, so-fair face.

“Have no soul, Robert.”

Then she handed me the weapon, the front door opened, and the night’s mission began.

And I followed her out into the suddenly unnaturally cool Irish summer night. I followed her, not even really because I was in love with her. I followed her because she was my precious silver leaf. I followed that leaf, even as the growing night winds around us fluttered it farther and farther in the gathering dark ahead.”

Eric Robert Nolan graduated from Mary Washington College in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He spent several years a news reporter and editorial writer for the Culpeper Star Exponent in Culpeper, Virginia. His work has also appeared on the front pages of numerous newspapers in Virginia, including The Free Lance – Star and The Daily Progress. Eric entered the field of philanthropy in 1996, as a grant writer for nonprofit healthcare organizations. Eric’s poetry has been featured by Every Day Poets, Dead Beats Literary Blog, Dagda Publishing, The International War Veterans’ Poetry Archive, and elsewhere.

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