Once upon a time, we were young and ardent and that one organ in my cavernous chest pumped in time with yours. Your parents had named you Markus and when your lips parted to whisper in the close dark nights you always called me Clodia. At night you were sweet and slow and second-guessed every move you made. And I always laugh when I think of that self-conscious side of you, Markus, because when the sun rose in the sky you woke fiery and impassioned. A revolutionary mind and an inescapable charisma took over at day. That was the Markus I fell in love with as an impressionable young girl, the one who personally took into his own hands the task of changing the world. But you could only love me at night while the man I loved hid away. In the brilliant beams of day, Markus was a man to be loved by all and he could not waste a moment of his precious time dallying with a fool named Clodia.
I supported The Cause and rebelled against The System, anything to gain the love of that incendiary, irresistible Markus. I burned buildings and walled myself up using the scorched rubble so that I did not resemble myself as I had been, as that fool named Clodia. One night the new Clodia stood naked in Markus’s gaze and he could not recognize her anymore. He cried out, tears staining his cheeks, leaving gleaming trails illuminated by the moon light: What have you done?! Staring at my pale body dappled with bruises and burns, I, Clodia, had no answer to give but this: I traded your love for that of a greater man who would not have me as I was. I changed by day and did not have the forethought or ability to leave behind a lunar doppelgänger as Markus had done.
After that, you could not even love me at night and I learned about heartache. My wretched and wailing heart was pained every moment of every day. To see your face on the news, or worse, in person, was a slow and searing death from which I could not really die, no matter how much I wished it so. In time, I came to understand that the only way to soothe my burned heart was to bring you pain, in any way possible. I seduced your disciples and left them as shriveled, disillusioned shells of what they had been, all their genius lost in a haze of psychological trauma and tears. Your Cause? I started riots at your peaceful sit-ins; the blood on my hands was a balm for my dejected soul. Now, to see your face on the news, tearstained in the brilliant beams of day, weak and tired, your body shaking as you held the shattered corpse of your promising protégé, your lovely and leonine lover Leona, was like a rebirth. Your System? I fed it with all the fires of my being. I lobbied for laws that broke your resistance in two. I campaigned for men so foul and corrupt that I shudder to think of it; they polluted your beautiful Earth with smoke and fog, they laughed at your notions of equality, they turned our world on its head and I helped them do it, spine tingling with glee at your pale, drawn face plastered on the papers.
I remember that night you stood utterly defeated on my doorstep, your limbs twisted from the multiple breaks I paid reckless drunkards to administer in the riot years. My sick, black heart, which till then I’d persuaded myself was healed, jumped erratically. The years had been far kinder to me, but my beautiful exterior could not hide the wretched soul which lurked within. Your eyes were impossibly dark, reflecting back at me the way in which the night clung to my person. In your sweet, simple voice, the only one left to you these days, you once again asked me: What have you done?! Listening to the painful, rattling breaths you took then I had only one answer to give: Once upon a time we were young and ardent and I lived for the love of a strong, beautiful man named Markus. But, at night you were the one left to love Clodia, while that man hid away from a foolish girl who was nothing like him or his lioness Leona.
That Markus broke my heart, so I killed him and left his wheezing, weakling doppelgänger behind. All I had done arose from that one lesson I had learned from the captivating Markus who breathed fire in the daylight: How to take the world into my hands and mold it into what I wished it to be. I could not live in a world where I was not worthy of his love, and now he can’t love anybody more than me.
Then you laughed, or coughed, or wept (I couldn’t really tell) and put a gun to your head. Before pulling the trigger you gave me the saddest smile I’ve ever seen and said: Once upon a time I loved you as much as I loved my Cause but was too terrified to show my enemies that, afraid they would take you from me in quite the same manner as you dealt with Leona. So, as you said, I could only love you at night, when no one was watching. And you internalized it all and burnt the things I loved most…hell, you would burn the world, Firestarter. So then I could never love you again. Now there is no one left in this forsaken, polluted, wretched world who could, would, or ever did love you. Burn in your fires, Clodia, you fool. There were bits of blood and brain on my face that mixed with my tears as the coroners zipped up the bag with your withered body. There was nothing I, Clodia could do but obey, chaining myself to the bed and smoking my last cigarette, enjoying the slow burn of vodka sliding down my throat before igniting the wet sheets and screaming into the empty night: I promise to burn for you forever.
If you’d like to submit original short stories or poetry to the Voice’s fiction section, please e-mail email@example.com