A note about his one:
Thanks to Sr. Cervantes for the literary image, and to the artists everywhere for painting the visual ones. This one is my favorite. Although not the exact version. That one was painted by someone else. That I will probably never see again.
Sitting down to write the final Shades of Blue story. When I write a story, I start with all of my music on shuffle, until one song feels like it captures the mood, even if the lyrics don’t match or anything. Then I will listen to it until I am done writing. This evening’s song, which based on it’s length, I will hear over 50 times in a row (now you know part of why writing is a solitary pursuit for me) is Nic Cave’s “I Do Dear, I Do.”
Additionally, I have lived in Puerto Rico for 9 months now, and have seen it rain really hard, but nothing like tonight. If rain really is angels crying, they are particularly sad tonight. Maybe it was the song, maybe it is the story. It definitely added to the mood. Especially when the power went out and candlelight was the only light source besides the screen.
Dulcinea watched as he tried to reason, and to fight, and to wail against the windmills. He really is mad, she thought.
He brayed, and prayed, and pled to her and to God to help him. Alone in his fight against the dragons, he continued tirelessly trying to keep them at bay. Talons, wings, jagged tails all coming at him, his shield and sword increasingly heavy in his arms as the fight went on for what seemed like months. He didn’t care. The damsel was his love, and as his duty as a knight, he had to free her from the dragons.
He was winning. He was winning! He had struck a blow into the heart of one of the beasts, and suddenly, in the spurts of blood released as he withdrew the sword, he saw the ending. He knew he could defeat them. And she was here! After all this time, after marrying someone else, she was here, to see him in his great triumph.
Little did he know that everyone else had decided to leave him in his madness, and she had only come out of a debt of love that she had never repaid. She was here to watch him die. Just so he wouldn’t die alone.
Her presence encouraged him, and he fought with superhuman strength well beyond what his body, ravaged from the months of beatings and starvation, could have mustered without her nearby.
And then one struck him on the left side. A sudden surge of pain traveled through his body, and he knew the blow was fatal. He struck back, decapitating the monster, but feeling the energy leaving his limbs.
“I love you,” he said to her, wanting to feel the sweetness of the words pass through his lips at least once more.
He did. He had. She had been the one to awaken his heart after a long, divorced-induced slumber. Sleepwalking through life, he had stumbled across her in a restaurant, eating alone, reading something on her phone that made her laugh. That laugh, that he would cause, that he loved, was the first indication that something was wrong, by its absence and eventual loss. He loved that she made him laugh, that she loved him, that she cared for him, even, or especially, when he no longer cared to take care of himself. Until she could no longer.
“I loved you once,” Dulcinea thought, watching him, silent in her embarrassment for him.
And she had. The charming man in the suit, eating alone, as she was, at the little Greek restaurant back when he was normal, and she was single. They had exchanged glances when she had laughed aloud, and three months later, they were living together. Those were the happiest days of her life, having come after her own walk through the desert of love. For her, it had been passing youth, one too many failed relationships, and the seeds of doubt about her self-worth planted long ago having matured to a thorny rosebush, with her inside that had isolated her.
He had cut the roses around her heart carefully, with a sweetness he had forgotten he had, buried as it had been under layers of arguments and anger over a decade of the slow death of his marriage, and he had presented them back to her for the beautiful flowers that they were, and not the cellar bars they had been before. The bush had died back.
But the roots remained. She would water it with her tears, shed whenever he ignored her fears, her opinions, her needs, or even his own, in pursuit of his writing. Until one day, she found herself again surrounded by prickly branches, bearing sweet roses.
He thought he saw her wave to him. Unable to move on his own, he tried to stand up using his sword as crutch, only to have it slide into the ground, with him stumbling, face first into the dirt. He lifted his head, to see one of the dragons snap at him, managing to just avoid the razor teeth.
Eventually, as his pursuit led him to madness, she had left, and ended up in the waiting arms of another man, who was none of the things she loved about her dying knight, but none of the bad, either.
“I cannot fail now, not now that I am so close,” he urged himself. He stood up, ignoring the pain, as he had ignored late notices, his job, reality, and most of all her. Some last reservoir of strength propelled him to his feet, and stood once again to challenge the remaining dragons. He swung and killed, and swung some more until the last of them lay slain. He walked over towards her, stammering something she could not hear, having blocked her ears to protect them from the dying screams of the dragons.
He got closer.
“I did it Dulcinea!” he exclaimed, finally close enough that she could hear him. “I killed them!” He managed a smile.
He was now close enough that she could still see the eyes of a madman, intermittent while they were together, full-blown bonkers after she had left.
He fell to his knees just feet away from her.
“They’re gone, Dulcinea. They’re all gone. You’re free.”
She bent down to touch him, an old habit perhaps, to touch his face. The few nicotine-stained teeth that had survived the beatings from groups he was certain had imprisoned her, like the high school boys whom he was certain were Barbarians, stood in stark contrast to the drying mud and blood that covered his once-handsome face. His upper lip swollen from some altercation. Oh, how she had missed those lips and his kisses.
He looked up at her, out of breath, clearly in the clutches of death.
“There was nothing you could have done, Dulcinea” he said, with the remnants of the voice he had used to serenade in her native Spanish her when he had picked her up from the airport, after a business trip.
“The reason all of my female protagonists were always so beautiful, so amazing, so smart is because all of them were you. Every one. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t look like you, sound like you, inside my head, she was you. You couldn’t have been more perfect,” he said with a bloody smile.
She looked at his eyes, and the madness was gone, replaced by that smiling look that he had had for her in their early years. That sweet smile, so damaged now, but still so beautiful to her.
“I never wanted to stop writing, and I let myself go mad is because that was the one way I had left that I could continue to love you. I knew my body had failed me, I knew I had failed you, and only by driving you away could I free you to be away from me” he started.
“In each of my stories, there is always a kiss, maybe a first, maybe a last, but it was always based on our first kiss on your birthday. If I kept writing, I could still kiss you, I could still make love to you. I could still be your knight. I could still be the sweet man that you used to love. So you see, there was nothing you could have done to save me. I only wish that I had been better for you. To you. I only wish that I could have loved you the way you wanted. In real life, in our bed, in our home, not in some story. But I knew that the dragons that imprisoned you were never going to let you go, so I wrote stories of noble knights and rescued princesses. Of monsters being vanquished so that the beautiful girl could be freed. I knew that with my faults, I could not free you. And it drove me mad. Because the one thing I wanted most, I could not do. To free you.”
She found herself unable to speak, overcome by the emotions of the years of praying to hear just those words, to free her from the guilt she had made into her personal cross, the weight of it ruining her back to the point that she lived with pain every day. She looked about her and saw a field of slain dragons and torn rosebushes.
“I am sorry I couldn’t have helped you. I am sorry that I added to the dragons. There was nothing you could have done. It wasn’t your fault. Go home, and be happy. I love you,” he gasped before collapsing.
WIth his dying breath, he said the one thing she needed to her, years ago.
What he had been fighting was not just his issues, but those inside of her, too.
And when he finally stopped, when he finally stopped tilting against them, his valiant and noble pursuit turned pyrrhic victory, a victim of a broken, no-longer-beating heart, only then did she realize that they were not windmills after all, but the dragons and rosebushes that enslaved and isolated her he had been battling.
“I love you, too. Tal vez en otra vida!” she thought, repeating in Spanish the chorus he had sang for her so long ago. Maybe in another life. She took first step towards home, the pain in back suddenly absent, and a solitary tear wetting her cheek.