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Susanna glanced nonchalantly at the long blade glinting in the moonlight. The ivory-inlaid handle was almost obscured by Fiona’s trembling hands. Susanna’s lips twitched into a small smile.
“You won’t do it, Fiona. You love me.”
Fiona flinched at the word love. “I used to. I used to love you with all my heart and soul.”
Fiona looked around Hyde Park and wondered how to tell someone who had meant the world to her that she no longer wished to be part of her life. They were in a place where they’d spent so many happy hours together, walking, laughing, reading. Now, they stood face to face, and Fiona was ready to…to do what? She still wasn’t sure.
The winter had stripped the trees of their leaves, exposing their graceful skeletons that spider-veined the sky and reached across to one another, as if they would help one another brace against the season’s harshness.
In that moment, Fiona let go of all she had left of her devotion to Susanna.
“I accept the fact that the woman I loved no longer exists. You are just using her body. She is dead.” Fiona said this to shore up her own resolve more than to explain her actions to Susanna. She’d given up trying to reason with her former lover.
“Of course I exist. And I’ve always loved you. Dead is a word that can be interpreted in different ways.” Susanna stepped closer to Fiona but stopped when Fiona moved backward. “All I ever wanted was for us to always be together.”
Fiona straightened her back and set her jaw. “You did it for yourself. You weren’t thinking of me.”
Susanna frowned and Fiona thought she saw a glimmer of pain flicker across her face.
“I did it for both of us,” Susanna said. “I wanted both of us to enjoy all that life has to offer and for as long as possible.”
Fiona had heard all of this before and wondered how Susanna could have such a limited understanding of the damage she had wrought. Quietly, Fiona said, “You didn’t give me life. You took my life and love away from me. And you’ve given me no choice.”
“You won’t do it,” Susanna repeated with a short laugh.
In the time it took for Susanna to laugh, Fiona sprang forward and thrust the dagger into her chest. Susanna’s laughter abruptly stopped and the night seemed deeper and harshly quiet. She slowly brought her head forward and looked down at the blade plunged into her body, Fiona’s hand still gripping the handle tightly. Susanna managed to lift her head up one last time to look at the woman with whom she’d shared so many years. Wide-eyed, she uttered her last word, “Fiona,” and slumped backward, pulling free of the knife.
Under a waxing crescent moon, Fiona stared at the lifeless body crumpled on the ground. She clutched the long dagger, the blood of a thousand humans dripping from its edge. As she watched, Susanna’s flesh disappeared from her frame, revealing dull, grayish bones. Those, too, began collapsing in on themselves as they thinned, layer by layer, and Fiona mourned the woman she’d lost, not this evening, but all those years ago.
A breeze picked up and blew bits of the dust across the dirt road, bringing a lump to Fiona’s throat. Susanna may have betrayed her and Fiona had come to hate her over the years, but she’d never wanted this kind of ending for her.
The familiar voice beckoned her to turn around but she couldn’t. There, disappearing right before her eyes, was the love of her life―the only person whom she’d ever loved, and who’d loved her―becoming nothing more than a pile of cursed, abominable ashes. At least, it had been the physical semblance of the woman she’d loved. Something had changed, and Fiona stood now, knowing that she’d murdered her. Destroyed her.
“Fiona,” the voice repeated. Ramon stepped to her side and gently took the weapon from her hands. “It’s all right. Sometimes, these things must be done.” He patted her on the shoulder and paused to watch the remains of what had once been Susanna, his protégé, mingle with the dirt.
He stepped into her line of vision. “Just remember what I told you,” he said. “You are destined to find your true love. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have that destiny. But you are. You will find The One some day. I cannot tell you when or where, but you will.”
Ramon’s words dissipated into the night. Fiona couldn’t take her mind off Susanna. She shut her eyes tightly and remembered the beautiful, dark-haired woman she’d once loved. The smiles Susanna would bestow on her, the sparkle in her brown eyes when she murmured sweet things to her, the lilting laughter that sang in Fiona’s ears. Images of their life together flashed behind her eyelids as remorse stabbed at her chest.
“Why did she make me do this?” she whispered hoarsely. “Why? Why did she do this to me?”
“My dear,” Ramon said, “Susanna fought her own demons and we shall never know what drove her to do things she did. But you cannot let someone else’s decisions dictate your life. She brought these circumstances on herself. You did what you felt you must.” He stepped closer to her and lifted her chin with one well-manicured finger. “Now, go home and get on with your life.”
He turned and walked away, wiping the blood from the blade with a handkerchief as he did so. “Even this life has no guarantees,” he called back quietly.
Fiona looked down at the clothing on the ground—all that remained of Susanna. A blue silk dress, gloves, a hat—things that any fine lady might have worn. But sitting there, laid out as if Susanna’s figure might be drawn into them, they were death clothes, a shroud of betrayal and regret that would cover Fiona for the rest of her days.
She kneeled by the dress, carefully folded it into a compact bundle, and placed the gloves and hat on top. She picked up the clothing and walked to a big beech tree. After digging a hole with her hands, she placed the clothing in the grave and reverently arranged stray ribbons and lace. As she filled in the hole with dirt, she realized she knew no more about the secrets of life and death than she had before.
Her sobs filled the cold night air with unspoken heartache and a longing for something she’d never have again. Even if she did find love again, as Ramon had promised, it would never be what she’d had with Susanna. Her first love, her only love. Love that had been given and taken in its purest form. She stood up.
May God forgive you, Susanna, and allow you to rest in peace.
Fiona shook the dirt from her skirts, brushed her hands together, and walked away.