I can almost feel your breath as you murmur in my ear, What if it wasn’t murder in the first place? What if it was self-defense? Or revenge? Or what if it wasn’t the Moon at all who killed the Sun that first and most fateful time? What if they were a setup, the blade and the blood and the blame? You say there is a universe for every possible iteration, so why not these? Your laugh is a cold, serrated thing. What if you’ve been asking the wrong question all these years? No wonder you’ve never found the true answer. Foolish little scribe, you have always been so quick to judge my words as lies – did you never think my noble lover capable of deception as well? No, his tongue is sweeter than honey and sharper than any blade. But you will never learn.
Despite being both sun and moon, you are truly winter gods. You rule over a city of darkness and storms where summer is merely an abstract concept. Even the summer solstice is soaked in blood, after all, and the sun’s inevitable triumph is something to be mourned, not celebrated. Between the solstices are a succession of long, starless nights bleeding into short, rainy days. Or perhaps it is all the same day, the same night, the same moment drawn out into eternity; I admit it’s hard to tell. Either way, your realm is not for those who wish to honor the ever-turning wheel of the year and its balance of light and dark, death and rebirth. You are gods of death only. Each solstice is ushered in with blood and in between darkness reigns.
It is an ancient dance – white teeth and lolling tongue, sharp hooves and swift legs, predator and prey united in survival’s endless contest. Breath mists white in the cool morning air of a summer solstice while wolf and stag twist in choreographed ferocity; feint and fight, snap and stab, blood and brutality. Life, death, to nature it is all of a kind, one long revolution like the earth upon its axis. The stag does not begrudge the wolf his hunger. The wolf does not begrudge the stag his resistance. They were born for this combat, hunter and hunted, and without the one the other cannot exist. Thus when skill or chance contrive to spear leaping wolf upon lunging antlers, sharp tines sinking through flesh and muscle, there is neither regret nor animosity. Today it is the wolf who lays bleeding out on the tundra, but in six months the stag may just as easily take his place.
A dark stage. Tanim stares down into the glass in his hand, gives the amber liquid an idle swirl while I sought you in the last sip of laudanum, he muses aloud. From the darkness behind him, the snik snik and spark of a lighter. The flame catches, burns a small spot in the darkness to reveal Daren as he lights the cigarette poised on his lips, closes the lighter with a metallic snap. Tanim, oblivious, continues. I sought you in brothels and fight rings, and Daren, pacing, wreathed in smoke, they say madness is repeating the same action yet expecting a different result. I sought you nightly like a man possessed, Tanim finishes the drink in one long swallow, as if parched, yet you evaded me. That is not quite true, however. Tanim lifts his head, eyes searching, seeing nothing. The hand holding his glass shakes slightly less than his voice. I prayed to you; you did not reply. I prostrated myself before you; you turned your back. I courted you like a lover and yet you denied me time and time again. Daren drops the cigarette, madness is repeating the same action despite knowing you shall never produce a different result, leaves it burning in the background while he moves closer. I loved you most dearly of all hence we enter this dance again yet you are fickle, o death not because we hope to change the ending and I have winced in the light of so many unwanted dawns but because we know we cannot. Tanim, with a sigh, Can this be the end now? Can I be done? Come, fifth sword, and cut down this hanging man. I am so tired. Daren steps into the candlelight, lays a gentle hand on his jaw. Hello, brother, softly. Did I keep you waiting overlong? Tanim’s weak smile, oh sweet relief, oh final mercy. Never. They kiss. The gleam of the blade in Daren’s hand is the last movement seen before the stage goes completely dark. The glass hits the floor, shatters. The cigarette burns itself out.
Every solstice someone dies. On the summer solstice, the Moon; on the winter solstice, the Sun. Each time is different, yet each time is the same. I spend the weeks leading up to the solstice imagining death after death, murder after murder, seeking the scene that will be chosen for this iteration. Will it be suicide or fratricide – premeditated or a crime of passion? Will it involve a gun or a knife, poison or illness, violence or mercy? The Moon prefers small, sharp things that bleed his lover out slowly, while the Sun prefers to leave bullet holes or bruises on pale skin. And where will it take place? In bed, where they are most vulnerable? The alley, hidden within a curtain of pouring rain? Or on the roof, with all the dark city laid out below as witness? I cannot yet say for sure. Right now all I feel is the thin blade in my hand and all I see is the night sky reflected in his unfocused eyes.
There are times when I want to either be fully in that world or not there at all. Like now: I can watch him sink to his knees, but I can’t pull him away. His hands tremble now, no matter how steadily they held the blade a moment before, but I can’t take them in my own. I watch him bite back a sob as he folds over, hands fisting in his hair – wiping blood on black locks – and I can’t hold him or touch him or do anything of value. If I could, I’d fix him a drink; wash the blood from his clothes; get him in bed. Do… something about Daren’s body. If I have to watch this scene replay itself unto eternity, I at least deserve to be a player and not solely the audience. I wouldn’t stop things or try to change the outcome. I just want to clean away the blood so neither of them has to. That seems fair.
Why, I ask you, is the summer solstice so much harder to face than winter’s? Awash in red, you shrug and answer with that eternally sad smile of yours, Because we both love him. I expected this answer. I love you, too, I point out, but you shake your head. Not in the same way, and then, before I can respond, Don’t worry, I don’t take it personally. Over the body of your dead lover, I try to meet your eyes, match your smile, and fail. Three’s a crowd.