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Salmacis


Salmacis
by L. S. Johnson

Love, I will tell you how it began: you made me with a look.

I never believed the poems, the songs, the swoonwords of the romance-writers. I believed myself to be I, Salmacis, nymph and whole and solitary. Yet you defined the world the moment you stepped before me. Everything else around you—the sweet blooming trees, the gleaming lines of my pool, the summer-brown hillsides still stubbled with olive green—it all disappeared. Save for myself, made alive by the touch of your hand upon my waters.

Love, we are two elements attracted.

Love, it is true: we are but two halves sundered, though they would have you believe otherwise. Where does true wisdom lie, in your senses or their feverish denials? I will give you a hint: there’s nothing for you in their stories, their pictures, in the laws they would cast upon us. They would take your very heart and replace it with ink and paper. They would make us both automata, only able to speak their words.

Love, your lips say no, but your eyes say yes.

Love, some things are inevitable.

Love! I give up. It’s all true. I am crazy, vain, obsessive. I am lazy, unfit, uninterested in anything save my own pleasure.

In anything save you.

What else did they say? I am hysterical, certainly. I creep, I stalk, I will not deny it. For whatever I am, I am because of you.

One touch and you can end my suffering.

Love, they’re just jealous.

Believe me, we were made for this, it’s only natural. Those others who whisper in your ear? They will never know completion, they’ll never be whole, as when your breath travels full circle in a kiss, passing life into two hearts. Why hold yourself apart to be like them, another sniggering boy, groping breasts and peeking up skirts? We can be so much more than that.

Love, be a man and yield.

I shall tell you what they told me, now this is true. They said, you should act like the others, you should hunt, serve, you should make yourself useful. Useful. Here is what it means to be useful: the cold hand of a god on your neck, being rutted right out of your body, rutted into cow-eyed shame. Into someone else entirely, made a shade of your former self. That’s what useful gets you.

It’s true. I have watched it happen, watched their tears as they are taken, watched them cringe like animals, watched them go as still and silent as the rocks, the trees. I have watched them, again and again, and gone right back to braiding my hair.

Until you did this to me. Love. Prancing around naked, flirting with my surface. As if you didn’t know this was my home, as if you didn’t know these were my waters. As if.

Love, I just want one kiss. Like you would give your mother, your dear friend. One kiss and I’ll stop.

Am I that monstrous, that you cannot even spare me the gesture? Do you not see how I suffer for you? Can you honestly say you feel nothing in return? Not from where I’m sitting.

Do you think I would hurt you? Do you think I would do anything, ever, to hurt you? I love you.

You could do far worse, you know. I’ve seen men hump animals, seen them mad with lust for plants, clouds, their own faces. Do you think you’re better than them? I’ve seen mighty kings crawl like beasts, just for a few minutes between a pair of thighs. Do you hold yourself above them?

Can you honestly tell me you don’t feel anything?

Maybe you’re not the man I thought you were.

* * *

I watched dawn arrive from beneath the water’s surface, watched my darkness split by the first thin gleams of the sun’s light, watched my soft swaying world suddenly catch fire.

You belong here with me.

At the edge of the pond I wait, patient. You will come. You’ll tell yourself it is because you don’t see me nearby, because it’s the closest fresh water. Just a quick wash and you’ll leave. You’ll tell yourself anything, but you will come—

into me, love. Come into my waters, my body. Diffuse into me, dissolve, feel yourself become entangled in my limbs, my hair. Your lips, my lips, your skin, my skin. Oh that we should never part. Oh that we should always be on the verge, our selves on the brink of dissolution—

Love, just lie back and think of Greece.

Oh that we should always be like this, united in pleasure. You in my arms, as a woman should hold a man. This is what we were made for.

Oh that we should always be like this.

Your voice in my ear, you are praying, yes, pray, pray that we are united at last, a whole being from our disparate longings—

Your words my words, your lips my lips, your prayers in my mouth smothered and swallowed, we are complete—

Love, still you would weep?

How like a man.

How like a man, to want love without transformation.

How like a man, to call whatever marks him monstrous.

How like a man, to waste his fear on the inevitable.

How like a man, to pray neither for salvation nor for vengeance, but that others may suffer the same fate.

How like a man—

* * *

We open our eyes again and we rise out of the water and there is only our one voice, crying out: our wisdom is our body. I will tell you what I know is true. And if I speak my truth aloud, if I speak it in our voice, low and high, soft and loud, with your Phrygian burr and my watery warble; if I speak it with our mouth, our lungs, our single beating heart, now will you believe, believe in me, believe at last?

* * *
L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California, where she is currently at work on a trilogy set in 18th century Europe.  She can be found online at traversingz.com.
What do you think is the most important aspect of a fantasy story?

It's hard to privilege one element of a story over another, as the sum is always greater than the parts . . . but I will forgive a lot for a great character.  When I'm writing, I start with a character and I go from there—and when they start surprising me then I know I'm on to something.

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