When he opened his eyes, Tristan was taking in a simple, rustic, hotel room. The sheets upon the bed were rumpled, and the pillows were smashed, and folded in upon themselves. The minimalist accommodations were quiet, and still.
Tristan’s shook his head back and forth languidly, shrugged his shoulders up and down, and then twisted his muscular torso side to side several times. He settled himself, then proceeded towards the far end of the room, bare feet making soft, tiny, slaps on the hardwood floorboards as he continued through the room towards the far corner.
Though he walked lightly, the sounds coming from his footfalls seemed to reverberate around the room. When he reached the corner, he stopped in front of an old, worn chair. The shirt that he had recently worn was draped haphazardly over the back of the chair; the leather strap, with the ancient key hanging at its lower end, hung over the rounded, worn, wooden ball, at the top of the backing of the chair.
Why had he been so careless?
He had removed his shirt, which, of course, made sense. He needed his chest to be bare. But why had he taken off the key? For this portion of the process, the key was integral. Tristan could feel the muscles in his face contort, as he pondered his own, curious behavior.
He twirled a finger into the leather strap, then lifted the pendant from its hanging point on the chair. He spun the worn, leather loop around his wrist one time, caught the metal in his palm, then closed his fingers around the key. He turned around completely, and focused on his return to the bathroom.
His first step struck the floor with a loud, sharp, thwack. Tristan stopped, confused by the volume and fierceness of the footfall. He didn’t think that he had strode forward so forcefully. He pulled his left leg back and realigned it with his right.
Suddenly, and shockingly, he smelled notes of brine, seawater, warm sand, and moldy, wet, driftwood in the air.
Tristan couldn’t abide another delirious episode, so, he steeled himself to leave the bedroom. He retried his just retracted step, and this time, the loud cracking sound was replaced by the swift, heel-toe, successive clicks of leather and wood soles on crisp boards. Upon hearing this, Tristan paused, knowing that the sound of his bare foot contacting the floor should not sound that way. A few seconds passed, and then an echo of the earlier, rapid, consecutive, clunks, occurred.
Tristan paused patiently, and after several more seconds, the sounds clicked once more.
The time between these occurrences began to diminish, then fell into rhythmic consistency, with half-second gaps between each pair of quick thunks.
A short while later, Tristan was still paused with his leg extended, but he noticed that the sounds had changed slightly. In addition to the clicks that he was hearing, he began to hear a second set of the same sounds. These were slightly less sharp, and seemed more muted than the first, but there was no doubting their presence.
Tristan felt an intense heat, flare in the palm of his hand where he held the key. He opened his fingers, and let the key fall from his grip. He looked down at his hand, but there were no marks, and there was no redness on the flesh. Yet, his hand still felt excessively warm, as if someone was gripping tightly to his palm.
The damp, salty, fish and seaweed tinged smell, intensified. Tristan breathed it in through his nostrils, and closed his eyes.
The heat in his palm came from her hand. His right hand was in her left, their fingers were intertwined, and their shoulders touched with gentle intimacy. The swing of their arms was minimal, and uncoordinated to the briskness of their gait. After a short time, the rapid duets of sounds gradually slowed to match that of a lazy stroll, and the tandem approached an ocean facing storefront.
They entered the jewelry, bauble, and trinket emporium, and proceeded to examine the display tables of artisanal craftmanship, then riffle through the bins of semi-precious treasure.
She found an ornate, white-silver clasp, in the shape of a lilting octopus, that she held up to Tristan’s throat. She gestured her other hand towards him, turning her palm upwards, then nodded solemnly, with mocking approval, and a mischievous glint in her eyes. She smirked slyly, as he indulged the playful display.
He asked the shopkeeper to present to them, a thin gold necklace with an oval-shaped, ornately wrought, flat pendant. Embedded in the craftsmanship of the pendant, was a, predominantly ivory, opal, flecked with gold, turquoise, maize, and royal purple. He took a portion of the chain in each hand, the pendant hanging down several inches below the parallel, and reached towards her crown. He draped the necklace over the top of her head, and slowly descended towards her neck. His fingers sunk into her thick, luxuriant, raven hair, his fingertips brushing her temples and tickling her cheeks as he brought the chain to rest against her neck and collarbone. He leaned forward slowly, and placed his lips at the corner of her mouth, then pressed his cheek into hers, and spoke softly into her ear.
Her face flushed, and she brought her hand up to touch the cheek not pressed to her own. She murmured into his ear, ran her hand up to his hair, and delicately scraped her fingernails against his scalp.
The shopkeeper was patient, but also, still a salesman. After waiting a considerably longer time than socially adequate, he cleared his throat.
They drew back slightly, finding each others eyes, gazing deeply, mining each others souls for precious gems, and not having to search too far.
She slowly removed the necklace, and his mouth formed a mocking pout. She playfully swatted him on the arm as she handed it back to the shopkeeper. She leaned forward, kissed him on the cheek, and steered him from the case that held the most immaculate jewelry.
She found a pair of cuff-links made of ivory and silver, with painted red and black accents, fashioned in the shape of lighthouses, that she held near his wrists. He found a bracelet of intertwining branches and leaves, made of white gold, that he slipped over her hand. She found a bronze ringlet, wrought with a twisting piece of coral, that she placed on his head.
He found a ring, with a gold band and housing, and adorned with ruby, diamond, and pink gemstones, arranged in a broadly spiraling fashion. He slipped it onto her finger, and smiled. He internalized the sparkle of the gemstones, the shine of the metal, and the size of the ring on her finger.
She picked out a pocket watch, crafted of brilliant platinum, with an alabaster face and obsidian hexagonal gems at hour indicators. She clipped the chain to a button point on his jacket, and slowly slipped it into his pocket. He noticed the craftsmanship of the platinum, which was immaculate, he noticed the detail in the gemstones that showed the hours, and their perfectly polished shapes. And as the watch slipped into his pocket, he also noticed the hands, which were supposed to be ticking, breathing, and counting time, were not moving at all.
Though it was not their intent to steal, the shopkeeper clearly disproved of the momentary concealment of the pocket watch, and furled his brow while shaking his head back and forth slowly.
She withdrew the watch, and the two simultaneously blurted out apologies. Sensing that the merchants patience was thinning, they shook off the playfulness, and focused their perusal on the jewelry, instead of each other.
After several more minutes of survey, Tristan located a beautiful hair clip. It was brilliant silver, with a seashell atop the clasp, and a radiant pearl housed in the center of the shell. He asked the shopkeeper to show it to him, gesturing to her to join him near the case.
When she was by his side, he pulled a large section of her midnight hair back from where it hung near the front of her face, and used the seashell clasp to pin it directly back from her temple. He smiled at her, and she blushed.
Without taking his gaze from her eyes, he requested the price from the merchant. Without hesitation, he retrieved the notes from his wallet, and paid the man, maintaining his attention on her lovely face. She thanked him, left the silver seashell clasp in her hair, and placed her hand in his. She turned and walked towards the door, the motion and the grip on his hand pulled his arm, shoulder, and then body, along with her.
They strode down the wooden walkway, the successive click-clicks accenting their stroll. The sea air was crisp, clean, and invigorating. The warm pressure of their intertwined hands was calming, and reassuring. Their pace was simultaneously soporific, and stimulating. They were entranced, with each other, and by their environment.
Until their reverie was abruptly disturbed.
“Flower for the lady?”
They halted, and before them was a disheveled, derelict child, no older than nine, with a ratty, wicker basket hanging from the crook at his elbow. The basket held a dozen or so long, scarlet roses, with velvety, vibrant petals, and vivid green stems.
“Perhaps she is deserving of two?”
Tristan inquired about the price, and nodded gently at the answer. He found his wallet, retrieved a bill, and gestured in the boys direction. The urchins eyes drew wide when he saw the currency, and a greedy smile expanded across his face.
Tristan nodded. The boy took the bill from his hand, and pulled the basket from his arm. He placed the handle in Tristan’s open hand, squeaked out an enthusiastic thanks, and took off down the planks.
Tristan took one of the roses from the basket, brought it to his nose, and breathed the flower into him. The rose presented a soft perfume, delicate and floral, yet fresh and satiny, accented with hints of anise, apples, dark fruits, and clove. After absorbing the flowers intricate scents, he held the rose towards her, gesturing it towards her nose. She took it from his hand, and performed the same motion he had just completed. Her eyes closed as she drew in the flowers scent, her eyelids fluttering, and her mouth curving upward.
She took the full basket that he held out to her, then placed the lone flower she had appreciated into the slumbering bouquet. She smiled lovingly at him.
He reached out, and pulled her body close to his. He held her close for uncountable breaths, then, he pulled back, and placed his hands at her shoulders. He opened his mouth to tell her everything he was feeling in that moment.
No sound came from his lips.
He could see her mouthing words to him, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.
He realized that he couldn’t feel the contact that his hands made on her shoulders. He couldn’t feel the fabric of her dress, or the heat of the flesh beneath. He took her free hand in his right, and felt no tactile response. His hand on hers may as well have been akin to sliding flesh over glass.
He leaned forward, desperately, and merged his lips with hers. He couldn’t feel warmth on her lips, nor a sense of connection. He withdrew his lips from hers and placed his mouth upon her neck, hoping to taste the subtle, salty, sweat of her skin, but finding no sensation at all.
Their surroundings began to heave, and pulse, like a breathing orb, shifting and altering from lightning-bright, to hazy-light, to veiled-darkness. The bubble around them began to rapidly contract inwardly, towards the pair. Their environment was shrinking, their sphere of perception was closing in upon them. Tristan reached his hand forward, and sunk his fingers into the inky waves of her hair. He tried to press his fingers, in a slow, massaging fashion into her scalp, but he couldn’t feel her on his fingertips. He pressed his body closer to her, and placed his head next to hers on the opposite side of where he clenched her hair.
He opened his mouth, and from it came, the monosyllabic denial. Though he couldn’t hear it, internally, he knew, he screamed it at the top of his lungs.