A Short story by Nasir Ali Hussain
The night was almost as striking as she was. Alice was pretty alright, in this soulful, doe-eyed way that could make a certain type of man yearn and burn. Maybe that was the problem? The perennial problem of beautiful people is that they always seem to believe that the way they look is enough to get them through life. That so many doors will open without being pushed or knocked on. That honing the skills necessary in leading a psychologically and practically successful life could be dismissed. That was a concern for those less fortunate. Then when it was too late and the persuasive power of looks had been diminished and betrayed by time and age, and sturdy competition by a younger model wanting to supplant you began, bitterness would inevitably form and foment. Bitterness had ensued here too, but Alice was only twenty fours years old and in the full bloom of life….
She looked and dressed like a Victorian doll. Her skin was as pale as full cream milk and the features on her face were sharp, yet with a graceful quality. She had a fine aristocrat nose, full red lips and eyes in which the darkness of her large pupils contrasted finely with the whiteness of her face. Her hair was long and shiny; and looking at it in the rain brought to mind the image of a river when moonlight is reflected on it. She wore it parted in the middle and long strands hung down the sides of her face reaching down the slim contour of her waist. She was lovely to look at.
These Welsh heights, enveloped in rock and greenery, always made me think I had come to the end of the world. And on this night I realised I had.
“You don’t believe me?” She said; her large, beetle black eyes momentarily flashing with a fighting light in them.
“Oh, I believe you alright,” I said, taking two steps towards her as I spoke and then stopping when she took one step back in answer.
“ I mean it,” she said, taking a backward step.
“I know you do.”
The early evening air was filled with the quiet rage of a late autumn warily sensing winter’s approach. The sun had slowly retreated back down the ridges of the natural path we had taken up from the Snowdonian valley.
“Our world’s round like a hazelnut or the rings in an onion,” I said nonchalantly, kicking a thick lump of rock off the cliff perch. I strained my ears for the sound of the rock landing below. I listened in vain for a sound that never came.
“I’m not trying to trick you,” she said, raising a finger up at me. Her deep, sing-song voice sounded deadly earnest as she glared into my light brown eyes.“Here’s where everything comes to an end, Nasir. Here’s where the world, all cities, towns and villages disappear. Don’t you dare come any closer,” she added pointing that raised finger at me.
I held her gaze with the same firmness as she held mine. “I Just want to look at what you’re looking at; want to see how far up we are.” I took two steps forward and strained my neck to see below. “There’s so much mist and fog down there in the valley.”
“That’s no valley,” she said. “And that’s no mist and fog down there either, and you know it.”
She was right. I knew it, she knew it. In that moment I wished I had pressed my lips against hers and held her close, as she had asked me to at that party two nights earlier. I would have too, but something about her cold, selfish sense of entitlement had made me turn my attention elsewhere. I regretted my decision to walk away from her now. And that’s why I was trying to walk back to her now. But I was a stranger in town, who’d been invited to stay a while to sing and play my violin at the village big wig’s daughter’s eighteenth birthday. I did not plan to stay long. In fact, I had been thinking about leaving the next day. And then this had happened.
I had followed Alice up that lonely trail after hearing her drunkenly threaten to go walk to what the locals called ‘The Shunned Cliff Face.’ A place that even witches and practitioners of the dark arts had always left alone, because the place was known to be a locale beyond the domains of what we call good and evil.
“Why are you angry with me?” I said.
“Because you ignored me at Kathy Wrenn’s party on Saturday, ” she said in a hoarse, whisper.
My words extracted a bitter smile from her.
“I only look at most men once, while most men look at me at least twice, and you ignored me. Doesn’t it make you angry to be ignored?”
“Not really,” I said, allowing the corner of one side of my mouth to stretch in a wry, half-smile. “Because if it did I’d be walking around angry most of the time.”
“But, now that I called you came. You’re in love with me, Nas.”
“…. Alice, I’m not in love with you,” I lied.
For down below the pinnacle on which we stood, like two birds perched on a peak, was a wide reaching panorama. In this was a transplanted sky that looked like a pleading, outstretched arm. A huge arm made from a blue, white, black and purple mist and surrounded by a kind of fog that was so foamy that you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a stormy sea, had it not been for those lights. My eyes took in an endless blanket of blue-black studded with stars. They looked like illuminated jewels that twinkled and shone like colours in a wizard’s cloak. They had a beauty that made something inside me long to be done with everything and everyone. And the weirdest thing was that there seemed to be a face down there among the stars. A smoky, pulsating face that looked a lot like mine. And it seemed to be speaking to me, pleading to me, articulating in a voice made from mist and celestial jewels that sounded like a thousand glass mountains falling from a thousand miles away. And that voice beckoned. It was so achingly beautiful that I was overcome with a longing to go to it. To be with it. My head swooned, swelled and swum with thoughts I fought with great strength to control. A bird cried overhead and I snapped out of my trance long enough to dig my fingernails deep into the palm of my hand. That did it. That gained me enough control of my head so that those beautifully urging whispers would not pull me down to them. Down to the stars way down below. Down to the end of everything as I knew it and the beginning of everything that I could not hope to know.
There were people who could tell us how far up we were. But there wasn’t anyone alive who could tell me how far down those stars and trails of mist were.
“You must forgive me for not only ignoring you, but for doubting you too. We sure are standing at the edge of the world. If you were to jump off from here, you’d be falling forever and ever” I said, taking another step towards her.
“That’s what I think too. That’s why I came here this evening,” she swooned.
“That’s why I followed you.”
“I forgive you,” she said, arching down to look below once more. In that instant I reached out for her. My fingers touched the frilly lace at the end of her sleeve and grabbed a hold of her wrist, but it was like grabbing onto a bar of soap as she slipped from my grasp. I heard her holler the words ‘forever and ever’ and then, as my arm swished out to reach her again, she was gone.
Bending down to my hands and knees I saw her falling. Her eyes still fixed and mesmerised and hands and feet outstretched in the purple black mist. I watched that falling figure grow smaller and smaller against the swirl of stars in the skies below…
Till finally, I could see her no more.
Copyright By Nasir Ali Hussain 20/06/2021