I can see he is still half-asleep at breakfast this morning. His thin face seems to resemble our coffee pot with its elongated lines, the nose not quite as protruding, but equally a distinguished feature on porcelain background. The colour of his skin has been healthy recently and my pride of that fact plays a second violin only to my joy.
His eyelids are drooping slightly, pleasantly. The room has been aired; there are only a few curls of smoke from his first pipe. The curtains are wide open. Sunlight fills the clear air and the brightness gives me a rare chance to dwell on something whimsical, something never to be mentioned in my published stories. The drooping eyelids have made more than one appearance in them, oh yes. But I have omitted to add the dark, fine, straight eyelashes that look as if they have been neatly pinned close to each other. Their elegance remains unsung. The good public remains at peace. While it has read avidly about wicked villains and blood-thirsty beasts and men, the artistic, loving description of one man’s physicality by another would offend the good public’s sensibilities.
But I have come to treasure the privacy of seeing what no one else can see, neither for themselves nor with the aid of my words.
He stifles a yawn and finally, finally reaches across and picks up the newspaper. My heart speeds up. His dark head bows over the pages. His languid hand turns them, brain picking up speed as it trawls through sensationalistic political cries and dull economic reports. He is after the agony column and while in my mind I have willed him to get there faster, now that it is only a page away, my excitement becomes too much. The real prospect of the next step in all its variations turns anticipation bitter. What if he scowls? What if he scolds? What if he shrugs?
What if he doesn’t notice?
He is reading, silent and still. I can’t see his eyes; they are obscured by another rarity—strands are hanging over his brow. The individual hairs not thick themselves, yet abundant, forming a good, strong head of hair. It’s almost always sleeked into submission, the ends of the strands glowing molten only when the sun caresses them at a certain angle.
My breath catches, but not from the picture my imagination has painted even as the adored subject sits before me. No; I sense that his stillness has changed. This is what he does, this man—he shifts from human to inhuman, to a machine; from human to inhuman, to an animal, whichever suits him best: a lizard, a leopard, a fox. Or like now, without twitching a muscle or slowing his breathing, his stillness shifts, transforms from one state into another.
What will it be? I swallow, the sound heavy and insulting in the quiet of his graceful presence.
The head lifts slightly; a pair of sharp, grey eyes peers at me under a double cascade—the mop of hair, the string of eyelashes—and in front of my very gaze the lighter crystals in the grey seem to glow, as if ice has started cracking into random shapes. The lips tremble, part. I swallow again.
“Today, hmm?” he asks with a slight rasp.
I manage to nod. The eyes flash across from me.
“Judging by the effort you have put into reminding me of the occasion,” he says evenly, voice filling with richness and strength, “I can only hope you will show the same…ingenuity about the actual marking of the day.”
I breathe out and my lips quiver into a promising smile, as I nod more eloquently.
He leans back in his seat and his long legs slowly begin to stretch under the table, until my toes burn in my slippers.
“I’m all yours,” he murmurs at last, sensing my imminent combustion.
Between us on the table the paper lies, soon to be wrinkled by distracted pointy elbows, digging into it as another pair joins them. The ink smudges, but the message in the agony column still reads clearly:
“This day, ten years ago. By pure serendipity a candle found. Led the way to a camp with fire, tobacco and brandy. The camp host now an owner.”