The second Esther looked back at herself, in the dazed eye of the street light, the feeling dawned on her like it could never have before.
The mass of wheels and smoke captured her eyes first. Her gaze scratched, ran and returned, struggling to build at least one solid image in the ever changing beams of the fire. It froze as soon as she could start lining the flesh that seeped through it.
In horrified silence, she saw.
She was not to be called alive because of her breath, when it still rose in clouds to meet the night; it was not about the flush of her cheeks, nor the blood that spilled on the road. And yet, now that her shape was no more and she had flown way beyond the guardrail, she was not dead either.
There were no longer nerves nor synapses to convey the feeling. It was there anyway, wild, boundless and free. The drive to live on shot through her without diversions, no longer enclosed by chemical codes.
At the side of the road, Esther stood alive. And her empty shell, crushed in metal and plastic, taught her — if this was her death, it would know no end for a very long time.
There was a distortion growing in his gaze.
Nothing had ever changed between the two of them. Not even now. His glances were a book she had the patience to read on, where everyone else shrugged and turned their back. Since the beginning, actually, the alphabet of his wishes had matched her own.
From where she was, nothing could stop Esther from noticing. His eyes held the same wild glimpse she had caught, a handful of years before, on the edge of the sinkhole he had almost slipped in.
She had watched the longing burn in his gaze — the ancestral wish to descend, to uncover the secrets of what lay beneath the surface. She had thought of the shine that hid at the core of darkness, of the caves in her dreams, and felt the same.
It had brought them together, the thrill of filling that void.
Unable to touch, with sealed lips, Esther could only wait for the rift to grow bigger. She was there while he walked back, retracing the steps of a tragedy he ended up making completely his over time. She was there when the driver’s hands shook, despising their own survival; she felt the sound of his bones, when they finally cracked under the weight of guilt.
When he left behind his car for a boat, long after he had lost himself, she followed.
She could only watch. Either way, she was never going to leave his side.
With every passing memory, he felt closer to her.
She could sense the parallel lines he ran along. Each began in white chalk, each ended with a word, or bent in a diagram of lost opportunities.
He was like that. Written in his nature was the need to rebuild. He left a hand-print in every idea he touched; he built sequences, leading them straight to a solution either temporary or eternal.
With her, it had not been different. He had tried, time and time again, to relive each step and find the missing point in their tragedy. But all he ever accomplished was losing sight of anything, except for the emptiness.
There was a blank he could not bring himself to fill — and the failure, with each try, cut one of the threads that still bound him to reality.
From the very moment they had first met, she had decided the riddle of his mind would be hers to solve. After her passing, she blamed herself. Their patterns of logic had become too entwined to keep their integrity as two separate entities; she had torn it away from him, and torn him apart.
So much had died. So much more than just her.
She wished she could touch the broken egg shells. They reminded her of him. She stood on her own, for long hours, on the edge of the cliffs or just beyond the fence. They stood, miles away from each other, on a similar horizon.
He dared not look — yet he looked for her. Sometimes, she saw the corner of his eye flinch in fake hope.
It was too late to turn the whole island into his mirror.
She knew the time had come when he awoke, and she realized his spirit almost walked by her side. Nothing stood to part her from him but a thin frame, which his fevers and his rituals had steadily unwoven.
He had fallen asleep on the far end of the island. The circle of earth the lighthouse stood on always marked the beginning of his longest, truly sacred wanderings. The waves in his soul echoed a tempest that day — the music sheets, the net of words, had overgrown on the cliffs as if they were running through his veins. They marked his ramblings on the rocks, expanded within his imagination. There was no point in parting them anymore.
Esther drifted nearby, staying true to his path. Quiet, on the wayside, she waited for more and more threads to loosen. His hand felt closer than ever when she spread her fingers, invisible white against the gray clouds.
For the first time in months, maybe years, he had a destination. The red light sang to mark his journey, in tune with his swaying words — up there he struggled to reach her, with all the ghosts of the future she had left behind to extinguish.
Step by step, he marched on, collecting the fragments of his memories.
When he was in pain, she voicelessly sang to him.
Maybe — or so she wished — the sleeping side of his ears would catch the sound. Maybe transformed, maybe lowered. She no longer hoped to be heard, and yet she sang; to him, and for herself.
Halfway through the path, as the wind played the stone flutes it had carved throughout the millennia, she saw the road and the full moon, and his destination became theirs.
It sounded peaceful, yes, the perspective of flying. For a man who could never move on, it would mean starting anew — dropping the anchors, breaking the chains. She, too, felt lighter as he walked; her ethereal limbs balanced the lead in his feet, her fresh touch soothed the fire of the infection. Along the path, in the shade of his holy words, they let go of their burdens.
They were two when the ladder ended, and the last metal step traded them for another gust of wind. Two spirits erased their weight, growing useless wings in the grasp of gravity. And she thought that, at last, she only yearned for oblivion — to sink in dark waters with the last paper boats, to carve twin chalk lines against the night, would finally write the name of freedom on both of their souls.
One man alone fell on the shore, and two were the gulls that painted the sky.