A Short, Short Story:
Abigail Bright has the prettiest love sign I have ever seen. It sits starkly on her face, the panther’s body curled over her left eye and down her cheek, etched in black and red and gold, tail forever mischievous. From the back of the classroom, I sometimes catch the glint of her love sign as she turns her head, softened by the sunlight coming through the window next to her. It makes my heart ache.
Abigail is one of the lucky ones; she found her Other in the Love Directory six years ago, when she was just eight. She and her Other email and talk all the time, she tells us. His name is Jonathan. She shows us a photo of him. He has dark hair and dark eyes and a wide smile. His love sign is as beautiful as hers, curled around his right eye, a perfect mirror match.
When my mother dies, my father’s emerald snake glows for weeks, before it slowly begins to fade. It will never truly go away, no love sign ever does, but it is no longer the brilliant grass green it used to be. Sometimes I catch my father tracing its shape on his knee, a look of deep sadness on his face.
My mother had been twenty-eight and my father twenty five when they had met, old in modern terms, but that was the time before the Love Directory existed. Back then, it was only by chance that you would meet your Other, only by some whimsical twist of fate. So many Entwined never met, never knew whether their Other was in the same city, the same country, the same continent. So many died alone, like Mrs. Ram, our neighbour, her silver rooster standing to attention on the palm of her hand. I used to imagine that Mrs. Ram would one day meet her Other, and perhaps the rooster would finally crow. But one long summer when I was seven, I saw the rooster fade, and I watched Mrs. Ram sit on her porch day after day, mourning the other half of her soul, a person she had never known, a person who had died somewhere, without her.
So it was lucky that my parents had ever met at all. What were the chances, they used to say. One rainy afternoon in August, they had both been rushing to get home when they’d crashed into each other on the street. Their umbrellas, both green, had blocked each other from view. My mother had fallen forward onto her knees, scraping them. As my father bent down with a handkerchief to place against her bloodied knee, mumbling ‘Sorry, so sorry’, he saw the snake, curled as if sleeping, waiting to be awakened.
Theirs is a grand old love story, one I used to ask to be told to me time and again, in great detail. It was the last story my mother told me, there on her deathbed, and never shall it be told again.
“Why don’t you want to show me?” Somerset asks. “I’ve shown you mine.”
“Yeah, and yours was nothing to look at.” I scoff. It’s untrue, of course. Somerset’s love sign blazes on his back, a copper and blue jellyfish, each tentacle a myriad of opal colours in the sunlight. Sometimes I think the tentacles move, as if swaying in water. His is my favourite love sign in the whole world.
“Please. My love sign is glorious. My Other is probably staring at hers right now, unable to take her eyes off such perfection.”
I turn my face away from him. Whenever Somerset talks of his Other, there’s a strange feeling in my chest. Probably because he’s my best friend, and I know once he finds her, or her him, in the Love Directory, as is bound to happen, he won’t be mine anymore. He’ll go away to wherever she is, and he’ll be hers, and we won’t sit in trees like this, we won’t tell stories or be friends even. That’s what happens when you find your Other. You Become.
“Come on, show me,” he cajoles. “Is it because it’s on your butt?”
“Yes, you perve!”
“Well then, just tell me what yours looks like.”
I look up at the sky. There’s a mass of huge black stallion clouds galloping towards us, turning everything black.
“A horse,” I say, finally. “My love sign is a horse. Green and gold and purple, like the sky after the rains.”
Somerset grins. “Was that so hard then?”
As it begins to rain, he says, “So, is it on your left butt cheek or your right?”
I was barely five when my mother and father sat me down to tell me about love signs. “So where’s mine?” I asked them, twisting my head this way and that, looking down my shirt.
“Honey,” my mother said. She placed her hand on top of mine to stop me fidgeting. She looked me in the eyes. “Baby, you don’t have one.”
This is what I know of Love – it is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I remove my clothes and look at myself in the mirror, imagining my own love sign on my bare skin, evidence that I was once part of someone else, before the Gods split us in half. There are days when my heart hammers so loud, as if the blood in it is trying to escape. What does it mean to have no love sign? We daren’t say it out loud. It’s unheard of. It will need to be a secret for the rest of my life. There is no one out there for me, no one who will put their name and email address and a description of their love sign in the Love Directory. One soul, two bodies. Sometimes, the knowledge steals my breath and wets my eyes.
Perhaps I will find a picture of a stallion. I will colour it in with green and gold and purple. I will give it wings, because I can. I will imagine it on my skin, in the curve of my left buttock.
Perhaps, in another world, a horse and a jellyfish can be mirrored halves.