Not too long ago, slowly and painfully, I began to fall in love.
Having been in the House of Spades for half a decade, at the name of Ace for two years, I was 19 years old when I first laid eyes on her. Matilda was her name, and she was the most splendid walk of life I had ever seen. She possessed the most somber of disquiet, flowing, dancing hair, challenging style and such a ruthless sleekness of the frame. Back then, Matilda's lips would taunt me from afar, in speaking or in playful pouting to this man, that man, drawing me into worlds of hypnotic displacement, raw fantasy, the need to mistake her for much more than what she truly was. Some call this love at first sight. Regardless to say, my work suffered just slightly after she showed up. She had just moved into Verona Central with her father, Governor McNealy, a political do-gooder whom I might have had to kill, were he not so easily bought off.
"A gangster like you should never get involved with politics." Lobo would say. Wise words lost on a wild youth.
She was at every ball, every opera and ballet. She went to all the major symphonies, and even the more social political conferences. Basically anything her father attended. I know this because another of my key tasks is to be at those places, maintaining the Seals that kept out the more obnoxious Spirits and Shades.
Like any well adjusted young man under the influence of senseless romance, I began to lose my mind. I would toss and turn in my sleep, the name "Matilda" bouncing around in the subconscious like some sort of chanted poltergeist hymn.
I developed a much needed alcohol problem (and retain it well, for the record). According to the way of the universe, the rupturing shift occurred within a single, short chance moment. At the hundredth dance party, on another nameless evening, I was waiting patiently at the bar, hoping with great zeal to receive something that would get me very drunk, very quickly. Another part of this spiritual surveillance gig was to remain relatively unnoticed. To be perfectly honest, I was generally thrilled about that, and getting drunk greatly reduced my need to be noticed, which, if you look as consistently fantastic as I, is expediential. Despite this, on that strange night, at that miserable party, Matilda just waltzed up and did something very few people should: she talked to me.
That did it.
Its as simple as that, she spoke and the city was as good as destroyed, because in her eyes, her voice, in every nervous little shuffle of the toes of her shoes, she radiated innocence.
Innocence is the last thing Verona Central supports, as a rule. To be blunt, I don't think I had ever seen it before.
It was a fairytale word to me ever since I can remember. Even as a child, innocence was something the kid across the street would claim after blaming me for the broken windshield his rock caused. I had no idea if innocence had a scent, an appearance, a flavor. It did, all three could be identified: "Matilda"
Looking deep into myself, in that very moment I decided her innocence should belong to me. I wanted to keep it safe, this hidden treasure, keep for myself. You must understand, I beg of you. All I'd ever seen in that city had been a rapid decay postponed by the anticatalyst of apathy. At first I loved her because she was beautiful, graceful, and had style beyond the masses, but then... in that moment I loved her because she could show me something about the world that I was born unable to see.
We talked all night. About life outside of the city like I had never known. Of lakes, and the enormous free prairies of her childhood, the skies unclouded by the treacherously blanketed layers of city smog, of “carefreeness” and “relaxation”. We talked about her favorite colors, the songbook her mother gave her before she delicately, peacefully passed away, we discussed what must lay beyond the veil as I pretended not to know.
By the time the sun broke free of the horizon, she had just fallen asleep in my arms on the veranda of The Amber Ballroom. I welcome the vivid remembrance: Dawn was an explosive firestorm, reflecting off of the bits of crystal set into the ground all around us in reds, yellows, autumn orange hues. She was wearing a crimson red gown, flowing out the back, but tight as a forging sleeve to her thin, long body. Her hair was red that month. I remember looking at her chin. She had kissed me earlier that night, and in one of our closer conversations, I had set my lips on the bottom of her jaw line, resting a-comfortably soft upon her dovely neck. Her lipstick must have been on my lips, for there was a faint red circle just where they had been.
That one night, the dream it had been ( passing in the same stale-time-fancy-fall that makes one want the return of deep, deep sleep), set the standard for the over-achiever in me. Every time I saw her I wanted things to be more romantic, more genuine and more beautiful than the last. I had to tread carefully, though, for as I am a product of this city, I had to make sure the things I was doing, the places I was taking her, wouldn't set claws into her and pull her into what I wished to preserve her, and her blessed innocence, from.
It was magnificent. There were times with her that I prayed I could die on the spot, never to fear a moment would break it, steal it away into obscure normality. She had a way about her that was so playful and kind, but deliberate and aware. She could break a heart from the corner of her eye and she wouldn't need to know. Good Lord, I'd be a liar if I said I couldn't stand the joy she would bring this cold heart of mine. Matilda, Matilda, she was an Angel sent to a midnight bloom, she helped this blind soldier see what life could be, showed him the well from which to draw courage to approached it.
Days, weeks, maybe months went by (Years? In my state...) We had come to the conclusion that we were deeply, madly, hopelessly and drunkenly in love, and that we had to do something about it immediately.
In the House of Spades, we have a certain manner of “wedding” our people. We know the unavoidable truth about public marriage: that it’s a legal game of signing papers, getting gifts, and dressing up. Temporary and indrastic. Our method is designed mostly for The House's Kings and Queens and various Aristocrats of Verona. Its a sealing event where the two souls of the participants are literally split in half and fused to the other. The effective result varies from person to person, but the consequences of breaking the oaths are always ultimately severe.
The Jack of Spades leads this process, and when they are available, the Twos of Spades stand in to translate. Avery, the Jack, speaks in tongues throughout the whole of the ceremony, and is impossible to understand without a particularly expensive translator present when the Twos cannot oblige. In the case of Matilda and I, there were several occupying spirits in the Temple (an abandoned cathedral, turned market, burnt down, then rebuilt as a rented general events location) who were more or less fluent in tongues. Most Spirits are.
The cacophony that came erupting from Avery's mouth throughout the entire ceremony was enough to make most people vomit on the spot. Such deeply resounding baritone rumblings of guttural dismay followed by ear splitting and technique-defying crowing would take the consciousness from any mortal that feared for there sanity, no doubt. Not to mention the great ugly candles littered about and the various numbers of dancing, clacking rodent bones and rune stones circling around us upon the hard tile floor. My current theory is that this was all to distract us from what was really being said. Had we known what was really going on, we would have run out of the place screaming and flailing.
We did do our best to stay attentive to the spirits. They were indeed having a hard time keeping up with all the noises and super-vocal clamors Jack was producing. Most was clear, up until the end. Rather than making un-earthly noises for the last two or so minutes, all sound stopped entirely to be replaced by...something. Our breath had gone silent as all that could be heard was a sordid, low tremble, as though coming from the depths of Hell itself. Several uneasy minutes passed until, finally, the sensation ceased as Avery spat out of his mouth a blue clover and a carpenter's nail, promptly passing out in a heap. Dazed, confused, and glad it was all over I collaborated with the spirits, who had done their best to keep up with the weirdness during the silence. They said the best they could figure, the general gist of it all was that if one of us died, or was killed, the other would die that very instant. Naturally, being so obsessed with one another, that sounded brilliant. We were pleased with the idea that one wouldn't have to be on this planet a moment longer without the other. The other part, the weird stillness at the end, although difficultly translated was intended to mean that if we were to be unfaithful to one another, and I quote specifically: "Nature's end to life will be reversed." Now does that make any sense to you?