Published in the first edition of the Ziauddin University Atlas, 2016.
So much depends
On the condensation in the eyes of a lover
The trembling fault
In the silent breath before a kiss
Laced in songs of forever
A hesitant thought
Flickering before a superficial wish
“TELL me a story,” she said, snuggling up to him as they watched Rigel and Betelgeuse twinkle overhead.
“Alright,” he agreed. “But just one, okay?”
She said nothing but he felt her smile in the dark beside him and he was glad.
“Once upon a time,” he began, “there was a beautiful girl who – ”
“Why do all your stories have beautiful girls in them?”
“Maybe because I haven’t found one yet,” he teased.
She elbowed him feebly and he laughed.
“Fine,” she said. But he knew she wasn’t angry. “Go on.”
“Okay, so once upon a time there was a beautiful girl,” he paused, meaningfully, “who danced.”
“She danced so well that all who watched her were mesmerised into silence. And it was not uncommon to see tears glistening on the cheeks of her audience, for in her graceful movement they saw the fragility of life and the transience of existence.
“Now there was a benevolent prince who lived in a castle not too far away and when he heard about this extraordinary dancing girl, he was exceedingly anxious to see her for himself. So he dressed up in the garb of a wandering mystic and set off to satisfy his curiosity. He travelled for many days – he was a benevolent prince after all, not a benevolent navigator – but eventually succeeded in finding the little tavern where the dancing girl was.
“Making his way to the front of the crowd, the prince waited anxiously to see the girl and – when the curtains finally parted – he couldn’t breathe, for she was indeed lovelier than the moon. The girl danced with her eyes closed, losing herself in the music and when she finished, she stepped forwards to curtsy, looked into the prince’s lovelorn gaze and promptly froze, blushing fiercely. That was all the prince needed to see. He jumped onto the stage, tore of his disguise and got down on one knee. The crowd burst into grudging applause and soon the two were married and would have lived happily ever after except – ”
“Except what?” she asked.
“Except that this was a time of change. The era of kings and queens was at an end and the time of this-ism and that-ism was about to begin. The fires of revolution were spreading and, though the prince was benevolent, he was also a prince and he realised that it was only a matter of time until his people realised that, too. He had not forgotten how grudgingly they had applauded. He had not forgotten at all.
“So one night – a night just like this one in fact – he took his princess by the hand and led her up the stairs to the highest tower of the castle. And as they stood under the stars, watching the fires of a new epoch burn in the distance, he asked her to dance one last dance for him. And when she finished, he took her in his arms and whispered something in her ear that made her laugh and cry and cry and laugh. And then they stood quietly at the weathered battlements, watching the familiar night fade away into an uncertain dawn.”
“Wow,” she whispered. “What did he tell her?”
“No one knows. But if I had to guess – if you were that girl and and I was that prince – this is what I would have said to you:
“One day, the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda Galaxy. And the Earth will be no more. And in that blaze of light, all that we’ve loved – the places where we lived and we met and we kissed and we cried – will be lost into the coldness of space. But I’d like to imagine that as the debris of what we once were journeys out past the suns and the supernovas and the comets’ icy tails, our stardust will fall on a young planet. And millennia hence, two young lovers on that young planet will look into each other’s eyes and draw back, amazed. For in those eyes they’ll see something of you. And in those eyes they’ll see something of me. And across the eons and across the light years, for a moment, you and I will be together again.”
She said nothing but he felt her sleep in the dark beside him. And as he watched Orion wheel across the heavens – as Hypnos weaved his ancient spells – he felt her warmth beside him, holding back tomorrow, and he was glad.