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Pero Tal Vez La Quiero

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Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.

Es tan corto el amor, y tan largo el olvido.

I don't love her any more, that much is certain; but maybe I love her.

Loving is so short, and forgetting is so long.

-Pablo Neruda

 

She had his name written across her ribs, low beneath her left breast where no-one would ever look; covered by corsets, covered by petticoats and dresses. With her hands tucked into a book held up for reading her wrist rested over the bold black scrawl, not neat but clear and decisive. She had always liked it.

 

Anne was the only one of the Elliot sisters with a soul's name written on her skin. Elizabeth spent a great deal of time pinching her about it, and Mary thought it was terribly romantic. But then Frederick came and went; Elizabeth ceased to pinch enviously and smirked superiorly instead, and Mary forgot how charming it was that her sister had a soul's name, and married a suitable man.

 

"I have a soul's name," Anne had told Charles, spreading her hands helplessly, on that spring afternoon in the gardens. "So you see, it is impossible."

 

"I don't," Charles had replied, stuttering, and then confessed: "You see - you see, I have one, too."

 

Anne had blinked at him; it was not customary to admit to having a soul's name. They were fashionable, but not, perhaps, quite proper - and in any case they were very private. Anne knew girls who always wore long gloves, who made a fashion of wide ribbon necklaces.

 

"She was not - she was not suitable," Charles had explained, flushing red, and Anne had been very touched that he told her the truth. "But we are - we are suitable, Anne, are we not?"

 

She had smiled at him, gently. "Suitable, perhaps, Charles. But we are not suited."

 

He had taken her hands and kissed them in parting. "You are always so wise, Anne," he had said. "I hope - I hope one day, I will be as wise."

 

"I am sure you will, Charles," Anne had said, and she had watched him leave the orchard; herself, standing among the apple trees with blossom falling down in the breeze, hearing the rush of a sea wind in her ears, feeling the soul's name burn along her skin.

 

I hope you're happy, Frederick Wentworth - but she had thought it with grief, not bitterness - I hope you're happy; for I am not.

 

But she had smiled, of course, when Charles had married Mary: his suitable girl.

 

Lady Russell was disappointed, of course. Lady Russell was still disappointed, after all these years. She said so often, now that Anne's twenty-third birthday had passed, and there was still no-one to sweep her into the grand estate of a married lady, no-one to relight the spark in her eyes which had died when Frederick Wentworth's suit was refused, and she knew she had no right to press his case.

 

"You know," Lady Russell said, taking up an old familiar theme in the middle of tea, "persons of our class, Anne, we do not take any account of soul's names."

 

"I know, godmother," Anne said quietly.

 

"It is not done."

 

Anne said nothing.

 

"For some of the most ill-judged unions I am aware of have come about through too great an attention to such - such chances. In fact -" Lady Russell hesitated. "Perhaps you should know, now; I have not wished to tell you before..."

 

Anne lifted her head and watched her godmother, who was now pleating the fine wool of her dark purple gown between her fingers. It was unlike Lady Russell to hesitate or to fidget, and dimly, as if she were underwater, Anne sensed that something was changing.

 

Anne did not think it would amount to much.

 

"Your mother had a soul's name," Lady Russell said, with difficulty. "She never spoke of it. But I saw it, when we were girls..."

 

Anne turned her eyes aside to the fire, which was dying; quietly she reached for the poker and lifted and turned the logs, exposing pale flaky ash and the embers' burning heart. Outside, the wind whipped the trees and flung handfuls of rain at Lady Russell's bay window.

 

"... it was your father's," Lady Russell said softly. "And she was not - oh, my dear Anne. She was not happy."

 

Anne said nothing.

 

"Such things, my love, they cannot be left to chance." Lady Russell looked quite wretched. "I know you have never been able to believe that your father acted for the best, but truly..."

 

"It is forgiven," said Anne, who had always known that Lady Russell had feared for her happiness, that her father had wished to protect her status, even if the one was misguided and the latter selfish. We should have had a chance, she wanted to say; but dutiful Anne said nothing.

 

"In time, you know," Lady Russell began, and then floundered to a stop.

 

Anne remembered Frederick Wentworth peeling back the cuff of his shirt to show her her name written across his left wrist, remembered him asking her in desperation if this meant nothing to her. Remembered taking his hand in her own, and pressing it to the place where his name marked her life's breath with every rise and fall of her chest. Remembered the way his eyes had widened, his lips parted. She had not told him before that she had his soul's name.

 

It means everything, she remembered saying. But I must be guided by my elders, and - Frederick, we are very young.

 

Do not doubt I love you, she remembered saying.

 

Love is deeds not words, she remembered Frederick spitting, soul's name or not; and his parting kiss had not been gentle. It had burned like her soul's name, and she had leant into it, wanting to be set alight.

 

Anne watched the fire flicker into from blue glow into yellow-tongued life, and felt Frederick's signature pulse with each tiny vein, as her heart continued faithlessly to beat.

 

"Stubbornness is a vice, Anne," Lady Russell said, with a hint of sharpness.

 

Anne turned her face to Lady Russell's with eyes that reflected the flame. The wind howled, and picked at the house.

 

"Constancy is not," Anne said deliberately.

 

They spoke no more of Frederick Wentworth.