The music twists around me, notes impossibly fast. The bow moves as though it’s part of me, which, in a way, it is. The melody speaks of love and want, the never-still nature of a river and the heavy, comforting silence of deep water. It’s complicated and lovely like, I suppose, so many things in this world.
My eyes are downcast, lost in the feeling, and that’s why I don’t see her. It’s the dog that causes me to look up. It sits on its haunches and barks at me, shaggy, grey-brown head tilted to one side.
The bow stills in my hands. ‘Oh, shit.’
The dog’s owner, a young-looking woman with fair skin and a blue scarf, is staring at me, her eyes glassy. ‘You’re beautiful,’ she whispers, tonelessly.
I grit my teeth. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘It’s not real. It’ll wear off.’
‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen,’ she murmurs, and takes a step forward. The dog whines. I realise that, even though I’ve stopped playing, she’s going to walk right into the water. With a groan, I let myself fall backwards off the rock where I was sitting, my hair fanning out as I sink under the green-blue surface.
I stay down. I can’t live underwater, but I can stay under a lot longer than most humans. The pond is deep—I can touch the bottom, but crouching as I am I’m out of sight. I’m still gripping the fiddle and bow. It’s not as if water will damage the damned thing.
My eyes are pretty good at dealing with different refractive indices—a thought that almost causes me to smile at the incongruous clash of magic and physics—and I watch the woman through the water’s surface. She stands motionless, hands slack by her side. Her dog circles her every now and then, then wanders off, sniffs about a bit, and returns, nosing at her hand.
Just when I’m starting to wonder if should’ve considered a contingency plan, she gives herself a shake and crouches down to scratch the dog behind its ears before turning around and striding away, the dog happy again at her heels. I wait until she’s well out of sight before I surface, wringing out my hair as I head for the water’s edge.
It’s late morning when I get home, but the early spring sunshine isn’t quite strong enough to have dried me off completely. Camron is sitting at the kitchen table, a mug of coffee by one hand, his phone in the other.
‘Oh, thank Gods,’ he says when he sees me. ‘Where have you been, Stefan?’ He stands up and puts his hands on my shoulders. ‘Your hair is damp.’
I wave the fiddle. ‘I went out to play,’ I say. ‘Caught a blasted dog walker. Had to hide underwater.’
‘You need to dry off. You’ll catch a chill.’
‘Water spirits don’t catch chills.’
‘You’re only half water spirit. And I distinctly remember having to feed you chicken soup and painkillers before Christmas.’
‘That was a virus. It had nothing to do with getting wet.’ There it is again, science and magic, clashing. I throw the fiddle down by the door. I’d destroy the stupid thing if I could, but it’s part of what I am, and who knows what would happen? I’m scared it might be like cutting out my stomach to make sure I never throw up.
Camron hands me a towel and I rub it over my head, looking at green-black strands against the white. ‘You could play here,’ he says, glancing through the kitchen window towards the stream in the garden.
‘You could. It’s not as if we have a lot of passing traffic. No one would hear early morning. Or late at night. Anyway, there’s a lock on the gate.’
‘No,’ I say.
He pulls me close and wraps his arms around me. ‘Does it even matter if I hear at this point?’
I think of the woman’s glassy eyes and shiver. ‘It does, yes.’
He rests his forehead against mine. His eyes are hazel, flecked with gold. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he says quietly.
‘But I need to know that you could. If you had to.’
‘I’ll never have to.’
He sighs, and presses his lips against mine, warm and soft, and I lean into him.
This won’t wear off, I know, because it’s real. Complicated and lovely.
Like so many things in this world.
I wrote at the start of 2020, before all the *waves hands* really kicked off, as part of the Codex writer’s group’s annual Weekend Warrior contest. I kept meaning to do something with it, and I kept not doing something with it. And you know what, it’s another lockdown—we all need something nice. The artwork was drawn by the revoltingly talented Kat Noggin—give her a follow (thank you, m’dear!) If you have a moment, leave me an encouraging comment, and maybe I will, finally, do something with it. Stay safe.