Ten days after Hardeen's wife was in the ground, and he'd started selling the possessions that he could no longer bear to see around the house, the things that sang too deeply of her, he found a photo of them on their holiday at Hastings Beach when they'd rented a house for four whole weeks and they'd made love like they'd made love when then they'd first started dating, and this was a good decade and a half after that. There'd been much to regret by then, infidelities on both their parts, spells cast that had failed, spells cast that had been all too successful, and the craft being what it was those were often the worst. He put the photo down after such a brief perusal because it stung him, there she was, and there he was, both dressed for dinner and not a hint of death about them, though surely neither of them could have been so naïve to think, even then, that they would have forever.
He picked the photo up again, and found a dim pleasure in the pain, in the recollection, all those kisses, passionate, and stinging. He could see nothing that did not make him love her, and while he did not regret his presence in the photo, he resented the narcissism it revealed, that even in this moment, just two weeks from the last time he had ever spoken to his wife, or kissed her living flesh, feverish then all too swiftly cold, he still cringed at his own image, at the already thinning hair, the already widening belly, which he had done something about in his forties, but given up on in his fifties, focussing instead on his skills with the word and the way and the application of metaphors to reality.
He remembered driving back from his labours to her. He remembered her displeasure, at the worst of his castings, at his cruelties, so that in the end he had kept this aspect from her, where in all other parts of his life he had been totally honest.
He put down the photo and considered the mirror. Not liking what he saw, he gave up on reflection for the comfort of the fridge and another beer on the balcony.
The phone rang, twice, but by then he was too drunk to answer it.
Besides that's why you had a message bank. His wife had never liked answering the phone refused to do it when he was home, when he called her, he could sense her hesitation, it both frustrated and delighted him that someone so strong could have such a weakness, he could see her face, the creases, the tension that her muscles possessed in those eternal moments before she answered the phone, he knew that if he was ever going to find her, it would be then, in the pause between rings, and he wished that he did not possess all the power that he did, because he might find her then, it was possible, as much as it was wrong
It had never seemed right that he should have such a great love, he who had yearned, who had ached, and regretted every lonely wank. And then it had become all about the power, and that was just a yearning too. They had met through a mutual friend, now long dead a victim of the internecine wars of the practitioners of dark and light, and the relationship had quickly escalated, physically and emotionally, and the first time they fucked he'd already known he was in love, in the dark, bound in their sweat, and he'd cried, so softly, so silently that he had thought he had gotten away with it without her noticing, but she had noticed.
She noticed everything in that way that people who love notice everything, even when they don't realise it, even if it is only expressed in the way they move or the sound of their breathing, which might come slow and deep or swift and harsh and her breathing had slowed, then quickened in those last hours, when he sat by her bed, as if he could call it her bed, her bed was here, not in that hospital, that bed was no-one's except perhaps death's because it had settled so many times there. He knew about death, he had sent it out, riding low over the hills, eating into the minds of his enemies, their children, he had blackened stars. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
But he couldn't save her from it, that was not where his skills lay, nor those of his allies, and he could not be made to change sides, not even for love, because he knew that way lay death as well, and he could cope with this grief, but he did not want to die, and he knew that she would not have wanted him to die, and it made him love her more, and him a little less, even though he realised that he could live with that, the deeper darker part of his brain, round which his heart was but an opaque shell, could deal with that.
His heart. He had given it to her.
Not literally. His heart was in a jar, in a chamber a thousand miles distant and deep beneath the earth. Safe. Well guarded, though not obviously so.
He cracked open another beer.
The phone rang, and once more, he imagined her hovering, haunted by (haunting) that ringing, by the possibility of talk, she hated small talk, though she made it appear effortless, she was loved by so many. But none had ever loved her more than him; none had ever been a better fit. He knew that, were he to live another thousand years -- and he just might, or even to the sun's ending, to the earth's engulfment or ejection, to the blackening of the sky the switching off of stars, click, click, click, like he had switched off the machines, once she was gone, they had let him do that, as though it was some prize some great gift, and he had let them, because maybe it was -- he would find no better fit.
That thought, and the beers drunk too swiftly, drove him to his feet, to the edge of the balcony where he swayed, making a small wet noise, a kind of racking sob. He would find no better fit.
He thought back, strayed back, his memory cast adrift, to his first dabbling in the dark arts. His first summoning of demons in the deserted streets of Logan, high on speed, when he could get it. He'd liked speed, but it took away his edge after a while, made him reckless, too swift to error. He'd lost a girlfriend that way.
That had been his first death, the first directly attributable to him. The demon had snatched her away, and three days later her body, well most of it, was found, bound up under the expressway. He'd never forgiven himself for that. He'd hunted the beast, three times round the world, once into that great dark in the sky, and there, in that dark, which he realised was as much himself as the beast which he fought, he tore the demon asunder with flame, and words of bleak undoing so dark that, on it's last breath, he had fallen from the sky again, and lain sobbing on the still cold shore of some place, not of this world, but close enough that he could enter it again at last when he had found the strength.
He had never done that for anyone else, not even his wife. But then, such rage wasn't about love. And oh, how he thought he'd loved her, and he had, as much as sixteen year old could, in that love that is merely a facsimile of love, because love is a lightning bolt and a lifetime, a layering of loves, and a fracturing, and he'd only known her four months.
Still he'd become a somewhat austere figure after that. More focused.
It was that almost responsible darkness that his wife had been drawn to, and, let's face it, he could be charming (he allowed himself a smile at that). They'd shared a love of Faulkner, and Salinger, both sorcerers in their own way. They understood the power of words, and what was the craft, but a forceful narrative, a lucid rendering of matter?
He had shut down stars with the force of his mind, he had battled his enemies in the dark and light places, tasted their fear and his own. That he had become so vast, so powerful in some ways and so compromised in others, did not surprise him, but it did irritate. She would have laughed. She had laughed, at his pomposity, his strict adherence to the rules of engagement in his war and craft. He was old school casting, even when he had been poor and hungry; he had always been old school.
You do not find the craft. It finds you, instructs you, is its own mentor. He had not lost the craft. Just her.
The phone rang again, and he regarded that space between the phone and him, he thought of her.
Now that she was gone he found he thought of her more often, and he realised that he had not thought of her nearly as often when she was still alive, even dying, he supposed that you did not think of air, or to breathe, until there was no air.
The phone rang its assigned rings then stopped.
He hurled the bottle into the dark, watched its arcing jettison of beer. It landed with a heavy thud in the grass, somewhere a dog barked, because of the beer or some other stimulus, he didn't know. It set them all off. He could silence them all in an instant, a click of the fingers. But that wasn't who he was.
He turned off the lights in the house let the urban dark contain him, the dim glow of the city. He had a clear view of it from the second storey, but here was all lawn, the spider-webbed branches of trees. It was nice enough place he supposed, but nothing truly remarkable.
This had been her home. She had stamped herself so thoroughly into every inch of it that he knew a lifetime would not be enough to remove that presence, just as he knew that he too was marked by her and permanently. He could no more remove her from him, then he could untangle the experiences that had made him who he was. To do so would make him something else. But would that be so bad. There was luminosity to that possibility, a purity born of its own symmetry.
He was a man of potency; still, he hadn't withered and died. He retained his vigour.
He was suddenly very thirsty.
The craft is transformative, and nothing more so than the black arts. Love is transformative too. He had been a good husband. But that man was no longer required. They had never had children. He regretted that, a little. But children were a lottery, a parade of potential betrayals. He had seen it in subordinates – the senseless deaths, the poisonings, and daggers in the dark. The charm of children would have not held. She would have liked them.
They'd argued about this thing frequently, he had at one stage feared that she would leave him, but she had changed her mind. Perhaps realising it was too late.
He opened another beer.
The dogs were barking again.
This world, this damn world of marriages and brevity – nothing was fixed, not even the stars. That was the lure of the dark and of his craft. Power was ultimately about the quiet, the constant. Love was not, which is why it did not last.
He had loved, but he would not love again. That was it for him. Part of him was ruined by that. Part of him liberated. The balance, was just that, a balance, bound by rules as old as time, sacrosanct. But he didn't care any more.
He finished this beer.
The phone started ringing. He thought of her waiting.
The dogs were barking.
He snapped his fingers and the dogs stopped.
The phone kept on ringing. He hesitated. She was there waiting. So was madness.
He set his bottle down, and in the empty quiet. In the house with all its photos, its art procured by her, the books and diaries, he acknowledged that he remembered her, that he still loved her. He clicked his fingers and cut her from his mind, and they were just photos, and they were just books and objects to be scrutinised, but meaningless beyond their appearance.
Hardeen was happier then, only he didn't know why.
This story originally appeared in Zahir 14.