The sound of her heals clicking in the empty hallway was worse than any tympani performance—and Alex hated listening to the tympani. It never seemed that way at night. Things were hushed and fluid; no sound seemed to resonate beyond the moment it born, the moment it was uttered. No one questioned why—she certainly never had—a moan would penetrate and resonate in the mind without seeming to fill the air. The Club had always been shrouded in that.
Alex felt her own presence as a violation; though she had visited in daylight before, this was her first time alone. She was almost too keenly aware that this place was not meant for her, that she was not mean to see it thus. The feeling was so overwhelming that she hesitated before grasping her own doorknob. The pewter was cool, almost alien too her touch. Alex turned it, noting how it creaked, how she had never heard it before now.
Inside, the room had become a dormant representation of what Alex knew. There was no fire to warm the marble floor; no light dripped from the fixtures to pool in odd spots that always seemed to make even the darkest crevices glow. Alex forgot to breathe for a moment—the magnitude of the chill was so great, she could almost taste it. Without thinking, she raised the lights to a dim glow; anything else, she felt, would have been too overpowering, and she only needed to see to find her glasses.
They were on the nightstand, just where Alex knew she had left them. She seized them with every intention of leaving as quickly as she could—this was no place for her to be in the daytime. But even though the room seemed so alien, something struck Alex as out of place. She stared at the bed, unsure if what she was seeing was a trick of the cool shadows. There, resting on the pillows as if it had been left by a loving hand, was a solitary book.
Alex put on her glasses before she let her fingers linger, hovering as if some mysterious air made her hesitate to touch the faded cover. There was no title on the cover, only an ornamental stamp that had been almost completely worn away. When she gently brought her fingertips down to trace it, Alex felt the myth of a touch long before hers. The silence surrounding her seemed to deepen as she picked it up, feeling its weight sinking into her palms. The faded cover was cool against her skin.
The spine might have painted with delicate gold leaf once, but only dark shadows remained—still Alex could not decipher a title. She opened it gently, letting the antique smell rise slowly to her nostrils. Alex found herself smiling as she breathed in the yellow scent. The irregularly bound pages were soft to the touched; she knew somehow that the book had been loved.
Alex had no further desire to seek the title; she merely opened to a silky page somewhere near the end. The irregularly spaced letters were set in a type that seemed to resonate through time like perfectly tuned universe ever maintains its pitch.
"Let not the wind/Example find/To do me more harm than it purposeth /Since thou and I sigh one another's breath,/Whoe'er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other's death," Alex read aloud, her voice hushed with the very weight of the words.
She gingerly returned to the beginning, wondering if she really was reading John Donne. Instead of any title, a note greeted her on the first page. From the skillfully rendered strokes—done with an actual quill, she guessed—Alex could faintly smell the ink. She put her fingers over her lips as an almost instinctive gesture; these words were meant to be read aloud. Somehow she knew that…somehow she could not bring herself to voice them.
"As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,/As the mind deserts the body it has used./I should find/Some way incomparably light and deft,/Some way we both should understand,/Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand."
If the words had been familiar to Alex, they would now be burned into her memory. She stared at them, reading and rereading without being able to go on. Alex was too overwhelmed to even search her soul for the origin of their familiarity; she simply read them again. Finally, her eyes fell on the rest.
"Alexandra, you've succeeded in a manner beyond which I can explain to you. You must simply take that upon my word; perhaps this only seems a final command in a somewhat inelegant execution. ~Liz"
Alex closed the book and pressed it to her chest before leaving the room. She unconsciously left the heavy door ajar, allowing the dim light to trickle into the corridor and puddle behind her. The overwhelming desire to leave had dissolved as Alex found herself walking aimlessly. She no longer heard her footsteps as unwelcome things; instead, they were simply lonely, and they disappeared into whispers as she began to tread on the carpet of the Great Room.
And her eyes met the figure of a lonely thing gliding down the stairs. Alex stopped when she realized Liz was watching her with a curious stare. She felt the penetration of the older woman's eyes more deeply than she had ever experienced when a collar graced her own neck. Whether she intended to or not, Alex ducked her head and pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear. She was still clutching the book, somehow consciously stroking its spine the way she had stroked Liz's scars only days before. It was a moment meant for silence, and Alex walked away dreading the sound her heals would make on the marble floor.