Art Pact 209 - The Body

It was an hour before I could move. I knew this because the church bell was ringing when I found him, and it rang again as I finally managed to reach out an arm and touch it gently against his throat. His skin was cold, clammy from the mist in the air that had fallen on him. I think perhaps until that moment I had hoped that he was just sleeping, but that touch dispelled all vain hopes in an instant. He was dead, of course, and all of my hopes for him, my dreams, had died with him. That was a strange thought - to realise that something had died within me, and that at the time I had not known it. Shouldn't I have felt my heart breaking, my dreams collapsing into dust? Shouldn't I have looked up from my book, frozen in my stride, jerked uneasily from a deep sleep? What had I been doing when he had gone, I wondered? Had I been thinking about him? Or had I just been going about my business, completely unaware that the obsession that had grown to take up its own life within my mind had just had its foundations dynamited?

I had never touched him. I had wanted to. I had dreamt of it, an imagined world where he was not married, where I was not so paralysed with desire that I could talk to him easily and explain my feelings, where he reciprocated and treated me as a woman rather than as a sexless friend. This, then, was the realisation of the dream. Not an embrace, but an assay. Rather than affirming his life and my own, I was checking for it. The pulse that I had dreamt of kissing was flown now, and touching my fingers to his neck felt like looking down a long-abandoned tunnel and knowing that no more trains would come, that the air would be silent and still.

He was lying almost face down, but propped up slightly by his left arm, his right splayed out on the other side of him in what I realised after a few seconds was the recovery position. Had someone moved him this way after he died, or had it been before? I could see no signs of injury, maybe someone had found him in distress and put him this way before going away to... to what? Call an ambulance which never arrived, perhaps? Perhaps he had died while they were putting him in position and they had panicked and run away. I wondered if there were any traces around, signs of who the mysterious benefactor(?) had been.

The graveyard filled up the corner plot of the great triangular block formed by Cambridge street on the north, Euler Street on the east, and Walwich Avenue to the south. Cambridge and Euler met at almost a right angle, and at that point was the church itself, the burial grounds surrounding it to the south and west. He had ended up a couple of meters inside the southern boundary, in the shade of a great elm tree overhanging the fence that separated the consecrated ground from the neighbouring garden. The headstones here were old - possibly from the first founding of the church, before it had burnt down and been rebuilt in the eighteenth century, and the action of time and lichen had smoothed their surfaces into unreadable stone smudges. Here and there a name was visible, but on the nearest headstone to where he lay I could only make out the words "the Lord", the word "the" written with a thorn rather than in the modern style.

A strange thing - I had a vivid memory then, of watching a man writing. I remembered sitting in a dim room, the air filled with wax smoke and the only illumination a battery of candles clumped together in the middle of a row-carved table. The man was old - perhaps in his sixties - and tonsured like a monk in an old film. He was writing something in a language that I remember not being able to read, but I watched carefully as he formed the thorn letter in scratchy ink on vellum, slowly working the tip of his quill pen across the surface. The candle light flickered madly against his face, and as he put the finishing touches to the letter he turned to me as if for approval, and I nodded. He nodded too, and began to roll up the paper.

When I left my reverie I was still sitting on my knees in the graveyard. It seemed like five hundred years had passed. I took a deep breath, settling myself again. He was dead, and I had never touched him until it was too late, had never kissed him. I thought that perhaps I should take the last chance I would ever had, so I leant forward and braced myself with my hands against the grass, lowering myself inch by inch until my lips brushed against his - so gently that I could not feel the cold.

I closed my eyes, held the kiss, breathed in. His scent, of course, and the smell of damp soil, but there was something else underlying it - not an almond smell, which I realised oddly I had been expecting - but something that reminded me of acid, and oddly of chips. Vinegar, I realised. Specifically, the sharp dark scent of balsamic. I opened my eyes, pushed myself up until I was sitting straight again.

Something else was odd. I was looking down on the man that I loved, that I had never been able to tell that I loved, and although inside me I could feel a little bit of me that was screaming and crying and wailing for her loss, I did not feel the need to let it out. I'd taken his pulse, scanned the surroundings, tested him for signs of poisoning. Why had I done that? How had I known to do that? I pushed myself to my feet, suddenly spooked - and spooked again when I realised that it was my lack of fear that had frightened me, and nothing else.


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