Taste the Sun

DAVID PALUMBO

I never loved him. He never loved me. He just wanted me to stay the same, all prim and prissy, his perfect lady to keep him company. He never took interest in me.

That’s why I did this. That’s why I locked myself in stone. If he didn’t love me, I won’t give him my love. I’ll lock myself away. I’ll become a statue. And what difference would it make anyway? Isn’t that what he really wanted? For me to be a statue in his garden, for him to stare at once and a while?

It was so…easy. He left one of his books out that evening in his laboratory. Mash a few leaves and a frog together, drink it and stand outside in the full moon, and there you go! You are a statue. I thought about how I should stand; I decided to pose like a goddess, gracefully holding a flower to the moon, but the curse came so fast I fell onto the dark grass in the garden, onto my belly. The curse squeezed me, turned me cold, and I tried to take a breath… Now I’m locked in stone, forever gasping at the moon.

The strange thing is, the way I am frozen in stone is so similar to how I lay on the grass when I met him. It was a bright and lovely day outside my father’s mansion. I was wearing a light, breezy dress, on my belly among the honeysuckles and reading a romantic book, when he walked up, his thin, scholarly self arching over me, his face blushing in boyish love. I remember how the sun shone behind his head, giving him a beautiful halo. It was so magical that I could taste the sun.

But it didn’t stay that way. It never stays that way. It was so boring being married to an alchemist. He would always lock himself away with his apprentice, deep in his laboratory with all of his liquids and his flasks. He never took interest in me.

And his mind, it never stopped. He was always thinking: at the table, in the garden, even in bed he would stare up at the canopy, thinking about his test tubes, his liquids, his potions. He never talked. Just thinked.

But I was always asleep, or trying to sleep. I was always exhausted. Traveling does that to you. There was always something to do, a party to attend: Lady So-and-So inviting me to her wedding, Dame Something-or-Another to her tea. Anything to get away from that boring, dank castle.

He came once, my husband, to one of those parties. Oh, that was humiliating. He was a gentleman to be sure, but so awkward, so plain compared to everyone else. And the other ladies, how they looked at me, their upturned noses, their rejection. He wasn’t some handsome, brawny knight with adventures to tell, just some boring alchemist. Why couldn’t he be more like them! Why did he have to be a soft-spoken beanpole? How did I ever fall in love with him?

Love. I did fall in love, but not with him. There was a knight, large and powerful and skilled with a sword, with flowing yellow hair and deep blue eyes. The way he took my hand, the way he kissed it, it always sent happy little shivers up my spine. Oh, how handsome, how powerful, how masculine! And he had stories, romantic stories of how he victoriously survived all sorts of dangers and foes.

But he had to go to war. And my husband, OH that….that….weakling….. he wouldn’t make him a potion! There was something he could do, right? Something to make him invincible, something to help him kill a thousand foes, and he wouldn’t do it. He just sat on his stool, his spectacles down his nose, slowly shaking his head. “Power can corrupt,” he muttered.

That handsome knight, that brave, beautiful knight… he died. And my love died next to him.

And now I’m stone. I’m stone cold. Literally.

Wait, my husband… he’s here. I don’t know how I know; I can’t see a thing. He’s… he’s crying… his on his knees in the garden, pleading with me. I don’t feel anything. I can’t feel anything. I don’t care. I’m stone. I’m stone cold.

I see him every evening now. He’s pouring liquids on me. He’s trying all sorts of things, all kinds of spells. They don’t work. I could care less. I don’t feel anything. It rains and it all just runs off the cold stone. It snows and accumulates on my back, but I don’t feel cold. I’m already cold. I’m stone.

I see him, he’s weeping at night. He’s blaming himself for this accident. He paces back and forth, pondering how to save me. I see his black silhouette in the warm candlelight pass through window after window and back again. But I don’t feel anything. I’m trying to care, but I can’t.

He’s here in the garden again. He’s talking to me. He’s telling me about his boyhood, how his mother died at an early age from consumption. I didn’t know that before. She caught it coming back from a party. When I was away at parties, he would be worried sick that I would catch it too like his mother did. He was worried about me? I never noticed.

There are honeysuckles under my chin. I always loved honeysuckles. He’s caressing my cold cheek. He’s kissing my open mouth good night. He never did that before.

No, he did kiss me. He always did that before I went to bed. He even kissed me when I was pretending to sleep. Somehow, I never noticed it. I’m remembering now, I remember everything. The night I was sick with influenza; he gave me honeysuckles to cheer me up. I didn’t even smile. That rainy afternoon, he asked me what kind of dessert I liked the best. I just shrugged. He wanted to come to that marriage party. I told him it was a ladies party. He tried to show me around his laboratory, show me all of his experiments and his journals. I didn’t really care. I just cared about his father’s money.

His money? I only cared about his money… I didn’t really love him at all… no, no it can’t be! It was him! It was always him! He never loved me. He only loved his work, his viles and his test tubes. He let that handsome knight die, he never cared, never!

What’s he doing? He’s with that apprentice… he says blood will do it. He’s… no, he’s going to kill himself! He’d sacrifice himself for me? He would do that?

The apprentice, he’s trying to pull the knife away. He’s shouting at him to stop. I want to scream. I can’t! I can’t move! I’m frozen in stone! Stop! Please stop! Don’t do it! It’s my fault! I didn’t love you, I never really loved you! But you loved me, you always loved me… and I stopped you! I rejected you! I was wrong, I was cruel to do that! Don’t kill yourself! Please don’t do that! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, it was my fault. I did this to you. Please… forgive me… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry….

*****

“Sir, wait!” the apprentice shouted. “The statue, she’s crying!”

The alchemist lowered the knife from his heart. The prone statue had tears rolling down from her eyes. The apprentice was right. She was crying.

The butterfly that had alighted on her stony hair fluttered away as a crack revealed itself on her face. It spidered, and with a soft crackle bits of stone fell off of her lips, revealing their red flesh. Soon her nose followed, then her eyes, her cheek, and soon her entire face felt the slight breeze in the air and smelled the fragrance of the honeysuckles under her chin. Her dead eyes began to focus as her hair and her neck were freed from their stony prison. Soon cracking gave way to a soft roar as all of her stony skin crumbled away into a fine dust. She gasped, blinked furiously to get the dust out of her eyes, and rolled onto her back as her limp body dropped onto the grass. It was bright out, very bright, and she squinted as the alchemist dropped to his knees and put her head in his lap.

He stroked her soft cheek. Her hair was tousled over his lap in a curly red blaze that he so loved. He smiled tenderly.

She reached her weak arm up to his cheek. His hair, disheveled from many restless nights, looked regal as the sun shined behind him like a crown. She smiled weakly.

“John….”

“Rachel….”

“What’s… what’s that behind you?”

“It’s morning Rachel. Taste the sun, love; you’re free.”

— — — — — — —

Every once in a while I find digital fantasy art that inspires me to write a short story. This one I wrote at the challenge of a fellow writer to write a short story in under 1500 words. At 1482 words, this is one of my favorite stories I wrote. Thanks for reading!

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~ Matt Krell is a student at Life Mission Training Center, life-mission.org. His Twitter profile is mattckrell but he doesn’t use it so don’t follow him ;)

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