The Longing

Henry knocked and entered at Alice’s voice. She was usually a neat young woman, but today the bed sheets were in disarray, the drawers of her dresser hung open, and the contents of the bookshelf were spread across every surface.

“Don’t you say anything,” she said sharply as he shut the door. “Not even the twitch of a smile.”

“Of course.”

She paced the room, and her hand skimmed the wall as she walked back and forth, back and forth. “I had to send for someone.”

“You have girl friends.”

She spat, an action Henry had never seen from her. “Five minutes of their jabbering and I would tear out their hair.”

Henry raised an eyebrow. “When the longing came on me, I went to the mountains. Maybe you should do the same.”

“You are a man. You’re expected to do foolhardy things.”

Henry leaned against the door and folded his arms, keeping his distance. “I remember feeling I could wrestle a bear. That I wanted to wrestle one. I hiked for two days without sleep, trying to find one.”

Alice sat for a moment on the edge of her bed, picking at the quilt. Abruptly she stood and began to pace again. She laughed a bit wildly. “It doesn’t feel like it’ll ever end. I want to tear something apart or eat a cow or climb on the roof and jump off. I’m half-convinced I’ll fly. I’m going to do something incredibly stupid if I leave this room.”

“You wouldn’t be the first.”

“I remember when you returned. I was only, what, seven or eight? I thought a fairy had bewitched you. You were different. You frightened me at first, did you know that?”

“I suspected as much. I was different. The world was different.”

Alice came close, changing her path, and hesitated before him. “Why haven’t you gone after her, Henry?”

“She’s coming to me.”

“You keep saying that.” She returned to her track. “It’s been ten years, at least. Is she on the other side of the world? How do you know she’s coming?”

“Many things can separate the Bound. Your brother had to navigate occupied territory to reach Doreen.”

Alice picked books off the floor and stacked them on the table, rearranging the stacks every time she added a new book. “His longing came a month after yours. He left and found Doreen within the year. She’s waiting for you, Henry, somewhere. Tell me why.”

Henry sighed. “This is why you called me.”

She began to push books off the table, one by one. She spoke over the thuds. “Soon–very soon, I think–I’ll know. I’ll understand what you understand, what everyone who has survived the longing understands. I’ll sense that person out there I’m bound to. Do I wait for him? Or do I go to him? I want him to find me. You can’t understand, probably. You’re too logical, too practical. I need to be found. But what if he doesn’t come? What if he’s too passive? What if he doesn’t want me? It happens. What if he’s a coward, he’s afraid of the dangers, of the journey, of who I might be? I’m not especially pretty, I know that, but I think I’m passable. If you squint. I’m passable, aren’t I?” She frowned, deeply worried about her appearance in a way Henry had never known.

“More than passable.”

“You have to say that. You’re Joseph’s old friend. Will you leave me when the one bound to me comes? You won’t have to watch out for me anymore. Is that why you remain, for the sake of my brother?”

“She’s coming to me,” Henry said.

Alice smacked the table with both hands. “No! Lies! She’s dead, isn’t she? If you had gone to her at first…but you hesitated. I know you did. And now you don’t feel her. And there’ll never be another. That’s what you’re hiding. I know it. You’re hiding something, something you never tell anyone. I see it. Is she dead?”

“Don’t go on like this,” Henry said soothingly. “She isn’t dead.”

Alice began to shake. She folded her arms around herself and her whole body trembled. She glared at him. “I’m going to burst,” she whispered. “I want to rip your head off.”

“Soon,” Henry said solemnly.

“I need to do something, anything. I’m going to die.”

“It’ll be over soon,” he murmured.

“Don’t! Don’t stay calm! Yell at me, beat me, shout and scream! Do something!”

“Do something,” he told her. “It’s all right.”

She shook and then flipped the table and flung the mattress off the bed and raised the chair above her head and smashed it against the floor until it splintered.

She sank to the ground, crying. She sobbed until it lessened bit by bit.

“Alice,” Henry said, kneeling. “Are you all right?”

She sat on her knees, her long hair covering her face. She raised her head. In her eyes was a strange mixture of hope and fear. She stared at him. “Oh.” She moaned. “Oh, Henry….”

He nodded, white-faced. “I’ll leave you until you’re ready. I….” He shook his head and stood.

She nodded vaguely. As he opened the door, she spoke. “You weren’t lying. You waited.”

“I’ll see you soon, Alice.” With a trembling hand, he shut the door.

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