Gwendoline and the Fatemaker – Part 2
A short story.
“I’m here to pour salt back into the wound,” Gwendoline said. “It’s time.”
Gwendoline had not aged in the 23 years since the Fatemaker last laid eyes upon her. The canal existed outside the passage of time – or perhaps so deep inside time that it was immune to it entirely. In spite of this, she looked different. The softness of her face was now marble, and the eyes that had once danced and sparkled looked upon him with a cold fury. Her heart beat steadily upon his forearm. The Fatemaker fought his instinct to touch it, to stroke the burgundy illustration that held her trapped in the liminal layers of his skin.
The Fatemaker took a moment to catch his breath. Finally, he said “It’s too late.”
Gwendoline cradled her near-empty pitcher to her chest. Its blue pottery was still smooth, after all these years. The Fatemaker had forgotten what it looked like, forgotten the handiwork that had shaped more than just the bowls and jugs of this city. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it for more than a moment.
“Can I come in?” Gwendoline asked. Her white dress was drenched with what he guessed was river water, and she shivered in the cool night air. She didn’t wait for an answer.
The Fatemaker followed Gwendoline up the narrow staircase to his studio. He watched her survey the space, and finally come to perch on the blue velvet chair by the fireplace.
“It’s too late,” the Fatemaker repeated, when Gwendoline didn’t speak. “We knew what we were getting into.”
“It was never meant to be a life sentence.” She paused, looking around the apartment—a bohemian artist’s studio, with canvases stacked against the walls; half the city had struck up bargains to be captured in his work. “I didn’t make a deal with the devil, only his henchman.” There was no cruelty in her tone—it was impossible at this stage—but the Fatemaker felt the bitterness in her heart.
“I can return your heart,” he said. “I can’t undo your gift.”
“Gift?” Gwendoline felt the saltwater within the pitcher, yearning to free itself, to return to its maker. Then, and only then, could she unleash her full fury on the Fatemaker. She sensed he knew exactly what she was thinking.
“It has to come from him,” the Fatemaker said finally. He absent-mindedly stroked Gwendoline’s heart. She watched it pulsing on his skin. It didn’t belong to her anymore; if it ever returned, her heart would feel like an alien in her chest. She didn’t want it.
“Where’s Valencia?” Gwendoline asked. The silence had felt like an age to the Fatemaker, but to her it sped by with a thrilling ease. After infinity, even a century would feel like a second. The Fatemaker had not aged in Gwendoline’s absence, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he had endured every second of those 23 years with as much as torture she had. “It’s like she never lived here.”
The Fatemaker turned away. He walked to the window, and looked out into the dark courtyard below.
“Valencia is dead.” His voice was barely a whisper. “I couldn’t save her from him.”
The Fatemaker rolled up his sleeve a little further, and held up his arm for Gwendoline to see. A little higher than her heart, a lock of dark hair was tattooed in an infinity symbol on the Fatemaker’s skin. She caught sight of the tail end of another tattoo, further up his arm, still concealed by his shirt. Countless lives were captured in the paintings stacked by the walls; more adorned murals across the city, and decorated ceramics sold in the market place. The Fatemaker’s influence extended far, but Gwendoline couldn’t imagine who else’s life he would seek to hold so close that he would brand it upon his own skin.
Gwendoline clutched her pitcher tighter as the enormity of the Fatemaker’s words washed over her. In the absence of a heart, she looked to her mind for emotion. Gwendoline’s brain filled with memories of Valencia, of a youth spent running hand in hand across the cobbled streets of their city. She remembered nights spent lying on the floor of the studio, pouring out her heart as Valencia formed clay into bowls and vases and the very pitcher Gwendoline had tied herself to for all these years. If her heart was still her own, it would have broken. Instead, it beat steadily upon the Fatemaker’s arm, below the lock of his sister’s hair.
“I’m sorry,” Gwendoline said finally. She stood up, and joined the Fatemaker by the window. After a moment’s hesitation, she hugged him on instinct. The warmth of his body subdued the dull ache of misery that had solidified in her veins.
“I missed you,” he said into her hair. The pitcher prodded his heart and Gwendoline’s chest cavity, a reminder of everything they had lost.
“There’s nothing I can say to that,” was all she responded.
“I miss your cruelty,” the Fatemaker said, a bitter laugh in his voice.
“I gathered that, when you called it a gift.” Gwendoline extricated herself from his arms. “I don’t miss it,” she said slowly. “I don’t miss it, but I understand it now, the balance. It was the price I had to pay. Without it, I’ve lost the good as well as the bad. I want it back. You gave me… everything I am, and I gave it up. To be good, to be better. I gave up myself in the process.”
Gwendoline paced across the room, formulating thoughts in her mind. She used to be able to speak with skill and ease. Now every word weighed a tonne; each sentence required so much forethought it was barely worth speaking at all.
“You could return my heart to me,” she said. “I could return the pain we caused each other. But what would that solve? We need to cut it off at the source – for Valencia, if not for ourselves.”
“No.” The Fatemaker shook his head. He repeated the word under his breath, a steady refrain of panic: “No, no, no, no, no.”
“Yes,” Gwendoline said calmly. “There is only one road to redemption. We need to vanquish the Saltmaster.”
To be continued…