Megan’s Journey Through the Labyrinth

Photo by Victoria Ostrzenski : Story by J.C. Howell

She’d searched for Ford that day and met Benedikt instead; at the end of the afternoon they shook hands…

— It was nice meeting you

…but it didn’t end as Megan had hoped, because the following week she met Benedikt again. She’d been on her way to a quiet, empty table at Café Nikotín. She’d held a small stack of post-cards: for Mom and Dad and for a whole gaggle of friends. One significant postcard was going to Chris: she loved him, but didn’t know if she wanted to go on with the relationship. A trip into the cockles of Europe, she’d thought, might have clarified something.

“Hi,” Ford had said smiling from his seat at a buffed aluminum table centered with the pole of a green umbrella. “Care to join us?”

“It is good to see you again,” Benedikt said.

“You’ve met?” Ford asked.

“Last weekend,” Benedikt offered.

“Then you should join us.” Ford smiled. “We’re old friends it seems.”

And later, midway through her white coffee, Ford had turned the course of their halting, polite small-talk. “Have you been to the Labyrinth?” he’d asked. “We were heading there in a bit.”

She’d never been to the old stone-work maze, but it stared up at her from the face of a postcard: it was as ancient as medieval bloodshed, and as dark as this city’s history of alchemists and syphilitic, absinthe-addled poets. Romantic and spooky: it was just the kind of place that might shadow her nightmares for any long stretch of future decades, but she liked Ford’s eyes and the way his skin made her think of buffed pecans, so when he’d asked if she wanted to come along, she’d said yes against every bone-deep desire to avoid that part of the city. But it couldn’t have been such a great risk — could it? — with Ford’s skin color, and Benedikt’s off-kilter jokes and the invitation to drink škóy with him and with Ford. Though she couldn’t fathom the depths of Benedikt’s uncanny glacial gaze, she’d considered the invitation, because it would be a chance to be with Ford, to watch the movement of his hands, and imagine them touching her. If the Labyrinth was in a dicey part of the city, neither of them seemed especially worried about going there.

“You know the story of the Labyrinth?” Ford had asked

“No.”

He’d shrugged. “It’s simple, really. Once you enter the Labyrinth, the only way back out is the way home.”

She’d scoffed the idea of stepping into that maze and stepping back out in Cincinnati.

But nothing was ever as simple as it seemed: reality and symbol were different things in this part of Europe.

The Labyrinth was ancient stone and mortar cemented in patterns that only a mason might have understood. Now, she picked her way — alone — through narrow, switchback corridors of stone-work walls and flagstone footpaths. Last week, Ford had told her it was best to walk through the Labyrinth with bare feet, but she’d kept her shoes on. She cringed through the memory of Benedikt stooping down and unstrapping his sandals. Though lean, there was something stocky in his manner, as if he spent his days at work, strangling bulls with his naked hands. His toes were blunt, rounded, and dusted with scant, bronze hairs. Ford, beside him, had kicked out of his shoes and pulled off his socks and for just an instant, she couldn’t tell them apart.

She was alone, now, following the path they’d taken — together — one weekend ago.

The walls of the Labyrinth were stone and mortar, but the square heart of the warren was heavy with grapevines and earwigs. Here, she saw last Saturday in her mind’s eye: Ford and Benedikt standing together and laughing at some small joke. Though they’d done their best to be nice and to include her, the Labyrinth — as Ford had said — showed her something else. And maybe the Labyrinth remembered her this evening, because it was showing her Benedikt’s gray gaze with shimmers of blue in it.

Benedikts’s eyes, last weekend, had been spooky and unreadable; she couldn’t find the personality at home in them. Now, some unnerving phantom of Benedikt held her attention with a subtle smile tugging the corners of his lips. A breeze fondled his ragamuffin hair and he raked it back with splayed, pale fingers. She flinched, glimpsing Ford at home inside of Benedikt’s eyes, staring out at her. Benedikt smiled and reached forward, touching her face with the warmth of his fingertips.

“Ford’s your boyfriend.” She felt the words spilling before she could bite them back. “And you followed me here to tell me that.”

Saddened understanding flared in Benedikt’s gaze.

“I’m not here. I’m at home with Ford. But you’re here looking for something….” “I’m not — ” but she stopped.

“Home isn’t a place,” Benedikt said. “It’s the one right person who’ll miss you when you leave.”

“I don’t even know if I want to stay with Chris.”

Benedikt shrugged and touched her shoulder, softly. “I see how you look at Ford, but you can’t live in his eyes. You have no choice but to return to the one you sent that postcard to. You are not finished back there. An affair with Ford cannot make you happy, but Ford and I can be good memories for you, if you want us to be.”

She closed her eyes.

Benedikt leaned close and planted a kiss on her forehead. “It is nice that you came back to our Labyrinth, but now, you should leave. If you want company before you go, you can come to our apartment; we’re not so drunk yet. You know the way there and we’ll hear you at our buzzer.”

“I don’t want to intrude.”

“You won’t.” Benedikt smiled.

“Okay.” Megan blinked; Benedikt was gone.

As quietly as she came, she turned around and fumbled her way out of the silent, ancient maze.

All the way to Cincinnati, she thought, hesitating before stepping out of the Labyrinth completely.


Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on December 7, 2016.

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