Part 20

Muse left her car and walked slowly towards the graveyard.  Stone pillars framed a wrought iron gate, shadowed by an archway which bore the phrase:

WE SHALL RISE AGAIN

She pushed through the gate and meandered down the path, looking at the headstones.  It was an old sort of graveyard, one that was kept trimmed and tidied respectfully, but didn’t see many visitors, because anyone who cared about the inhabitants were buried alongside them.  It had the advantage of interesting grave markers, not those boring modern plaques or uniform blocks, or worse yet, postal box style slots in walls.  It had the disadvantage of there being no flowers or wreaths laid on the graves, which gave it a sad and lonely atmosphere.

Muse was all alone; no mourners came to see the long dead, nor was there a stray genealogist or groundskeeper to be found.  Perhaps the threat of rain kept them away.  She read the names and dates on the stones, imaging to herself how they might have gone.  The older ones she saw lying in bed, surrounded by loved ones, passing quietly into the everlasting night.  Young ones she saw cut down before their time by illness, plague, malice, or accident.  Babies came gasping from their mothers’ wombs only to cease breathing for no reason at all, a few days later.  A row of relatives all died on the same day when their house burned down.

She supposed.  She guessed.  She imagined.  Muse thought about death a lot.  She could think of a million different ways to go, ready at the front of her mind.

She came to a grave beneath a marker that bore the likeness of an angel playing a harp, and she lay down in its shadow, stretching herself out.  She gazed at the sky, a thick gray mass of threatening clouds, and let her eyes shut.

But didn’t sleep.

She didn’t know how long she lay there, mind drifting, but her back was damp when she sat up and brushed grass blades from her clothes.  As she got up, movement caught her attention from the corner of her eye.

A few rows down a person was walking, carrying flowers.  Muse stared, having little else to fix her attention on in the otherwise empty graveyard.

It was a woman with long black hair, and she carried a bouquet of snapdragons.  Muse realized with small surprise that she knew her.  It was Beauty.

She knew it was Beauty even at the distance of two rows, even though she looked different than the last time she’d seen her, because Beauty was the only person she’d ever met who actually radiated, well, beauty.  It surrounded her like an aura, that you sensed rather than saw, but quite clearly said, “Oh hey.  Yeah, it’s me.”

Beauty looked Asian today, like a perfect porcelain China doll.  Muse found that she was walking towards her, without knowing what she intended, what she would say.  Beauty stopped and watched her come, an expression of surprise on her face.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, as Muse came to a stop before her.

“My car broke down,” Muse answered.

Beauty frowned; this was obviously not quite the answer she was looking for.  “Here?  Of all places?”

Muse shrugged.  “Yes, it broke down right outside the cemetery gate.  Is this where you live?  Or is it impolite to ask?”  She added the last part cheekily, remembering how Love was forbidden to know where Beauty lived in this world, or go looking for her.

Beauty turned without reply and continued on down the row.  Muse followed her, having nothing better to do.  “How is Love?” she inquired, half carelessly.

“I haven’t seen him for a while,” answered Beauty without looking back.  “But surely you know that.”

“No.  I haven’t seen Love in several weeks, myself.”

“Really.”  Beauty turned her head only slightly, not enough to look at Muse.  Her long, sleek hair fluttered in the breeze.

“Yes.”

Beauty stopped in front of one gravestone, that of a tall, fierce looking angel holding a sword.  It was the only grave in sight with flowers, a wilted bunch of tiger lilies.  Beauty knelt to exchange them with the snagdragons she carried, and Muse read the marker.

“Peter Van Loren.  1874.  Someone you knew?”

Beauty sighed.  “Love is the one who wants you, Muse — you torment him with your absence and dog me with your unwanted presence.  There’s irony, in that.”

“Has he been searching for me, then?”

Beauty looked over her shoulder, up at her.  “He left to search for you, and told me that it was all over, between us.  That he loved me, of course—” he mouth twisted briefly “—because Love never wavers, but that he was forced to choose one or the other, and chose you.  He chose the one he couldn’t be with in either world, which, I suppose, shouldn’t surprise me.  Love feels a need to suffer.”

Muse raised her eyebrows.  “I have to agree, after all that’s what he was doing with you.”

Her eyes flashed.  “I was reasonable with him.  I was never anything other than forthright with him when it came to my feelings.  And I never taunted him with promises of fulfillment if he went on a ridiculous quest for me.”

“Well.”  Muse stuck her hands in her pockets.  “I suppose that we should be having a catfight right about now.”

Beauty stood.  “I let Love go; he’s not the sort of person you can hold onto when he’s made up his mind otherwise.”

Muse couldn’t help but smile.  Beauty disapproved of her entirely, but it mattered little.  Knowing that Love had abandoned his sometime lover and gone in search of her, lifted her spirits and made Beauty’s words wash over her and disappear unheeded.

“As for my business here, that is none of yours,” said Beauty, and walked past her, away from the grave.

“Is he the mortal Love told me about?” Muse asked.

Beauty stopped, turning back.  “What?”

“He said you loved a mortal in this world.  I supposed that mortal must be very old by now.  But perhaps he’s long past being very old.”

Beauty stared at her for a long moment, out of dark slanted eyes.  When she finally spoke, her voice was measured and slow.  “I loved him more than anything.  I died for him, and he went on living, forgetting about me.  I never forgot him.  I’ll never love anyone else again, for as long as I live.”

Then she turned and walked on.  Muse didn’t stop her, or say anything more, just watched her go.  There wasn’t much you could say to that.

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