By Ashley Morrow Hermsmeier
At first, the hours flew by. We didn’t notice when tonight turned to next morning and next morning to next day, and even now sometimes we forget. Servants doze where they stand. The musicians (the ones who are still here, anyway) take turns nodding off mid-song. Our feet won’t stop. Our arms won’t let go. We’ve become little more than ball bearings spinning around each other, our friction worn away. Woman and beast made man and wife.
When our wedding dance began, he said, “You take the weight off me,” and I could have floated away. I wonder what he thinks of the weight of me now. We are paper thin, the two of us, held together by the frailest sinews of our story. Others around us have faded, crumbled one by one and forgotten. A couple hundred years will do that to most stories, but not ours. We dance on the dust of them. Some have tried to change us, but the ending is always the same, goddammit.
Sometimes I hate him. He smells of licorice root and lavender.
Sometimes I love him. He never steps on my feet.
Sometimes the sleeve of his jacket slides up his forearm, and as I turn beneath it, I glimpse the dark arm hair and remember the beast I fell in love with. I want him to rage, to break free of his body’s borders, to shatter this ever after.
We smile because it’s written but our eyes have told a thousand other stories, have fought a thousand fights, have strayed a hundred thousand ways. We go round and round, and so does the world outside us.
The castle walls crumble a bit each day. They are giving in to the encroachment of vines and trees that slip twiggy fingers between cracks and crevasses and expand while we’re busy shrinking. Mice emerge from hidden places and scamper across our wedding table. They sniff empty tureens, platters, and trays that once held soufflés, puddings, and cakes—spoils looted by their mousy ancestors so long ago. I watch the disappointed creatures leave again, disappear into the castle’s living walls, and I envy them that freedom.
The skies have learned to roar and strange shadows drift across the ballroom floor with us. All the bells have gone shrill—they’ve lost somehow that visceral vibration, they ring without feeling. We no longer hear the laughter of children playing on the castle lawns below—we hear whispers that they lock themselves into rooms and stare at glowing boxes all day long. We dance and we dance.
We used to speak of our life together, after all this. But I see it in his eyes and I’m sure he sees it in mine. We fear it. We fear it as much as we fear this never-ending end. One day, perhaps when the world has spun its last, we will be forgotten and in turn, forget ourselves. Just as the guests, musicians, servants, all have slipped into the ether, so might we. It is the best we can hope for in this tormented bliss, in this loving hate, in this happily ever after and ever after.