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The Empty City

Through this city I wander. The cold is pitiless, wind blowing right through me. It only makes me feel the more invisible.

There is no beauty that meets my gaze, and I am accustomed to looking down always, or squinting against the dead leaves in the wind.

This is a place where it is always winter. The sky is gray, the chill tolerable, but never pleasant. I have grown so used to it, that it is as though weather has ceased to exist. Snow, rain and sun are weather. This gray chill is a void.

I feel so lonely that I think I am losing my mind. When I am around others, I behave disgracefully. I am so pleasant and winning as to attract their distrust, yet I cannot help this desire to connect to someone else. But every day that I am alone, it becomes clearer to me that I never will have anyone.

Once there was someone for me, someone I believed would be with me forever, but I cannot think on him long.

I must keep moving, or I will freeze through and through, body and soul.

As I gaze at the doorway he's there, a mirage, and I don't believe what I am seeing.

"Dresden." He says my name with meaning, as though it is a prayer.

"Gabriel." For a moment I am unable to say more. I stare stupidly at him. "Please, come inside." I have managed to unlock the door and push it open with a trembling hand.

He takes my grocery bags and motions me inside. It's so familiar, because it has happened before. My throat is dry and aching. I don't understand why it ever had to stop, or why he is here again.

He's looking after me. He helps me put away the groceries. I put a kettle of hot water on the stove, and with trembling hands put two cups on the counter. I dare a glance at him, and when he says nothing, I open a tin and spoon tea into a ceramic pot.

I don't think this is what most women do when they see their ex-lovers again. Briefly the words of Diana Ross's, "I Will Survive," float through my mind:

"Go on now, go walk out the door
Just turn around now
You're not welcome anymore."

I certainly make a mockery of female power with my hospitality, I think to myself with a trace of amusement. But what else can I do? I'm still not sure if I will be able to live without Gabriel. I must survive in my own way.

I gaze at his bowed head across the warmly-lit kitchen. He is looking at his hands. I can't even guess how he feels. Is he guilty? Remorseful? Unhappy? He meets my gaze suddenly, and I see all of that, and more, in his eyes.

Good grief, we hadn't that much time together. Perhaps it meant more to me than it did to him. That is what I have told myself time and again. He had never mentioned marrying me. But marriage isn't something that really exists in this world anymore. It is a social institution, and society is no longer.

While we gaze at each other, the tea kettle starts to hiss. I take it off before it whistles. I always do this: not because I'm impatient, but because I have nothing better to do.

I make tea, we sit and drink, and still he says nothing.

When he finishes his cup, I look alert, because I know now he's going to say whatever he came to say.

"It took some time, but I finally found some transportation. I have everything in place for you to leave Drommende."

It wasn't what I expected to hear, and I don't much care for the authoritative note in his voice, either. "I don't have any travel plans."

"You're getting out of here. It's dangerous. You're the only human left now."

"The only human left." I look at him. "What about you?"

"If you know what's good for you, you'll pack up and leave while you have a chance."

"Why should I want to leave?"

"Your life is in danger."

"No one knows I'm here, except you. I go days without seeing another soul." Sometimes I'm not even sure I exist.

"I can't explain more," he says grimly. "I went to a lot of trouble for you, Dresden. Get your bags. I'll see you in the truck myself." He takes my keys and I jerk them away from him.

"How dare you? You can't tell me what to do. I've waited here for you, for months." There's a sob in my voice, but I don't care. "If I go to... wherever you tell me... are you going, too?"

"No. I don't intend that we should ever see each other again."

"Get out of here." I fling the keys at his head and he ducks, looking surprised. "Just go away. Don't ever come back."

I realize why I'm so angry. I really thought from the moment he showed up that he would reconcile with me. I'm ashamed of myself. I can feel the heat rising in my face.

He looks at me with tenderness, despite my outburst. "Don't you know everything I do is for you?" he asks. "Every thought. Every motive." His voice drops to a whisper. "For Dresden."

What a line. I lift my hands to my face. "Please, just go away," I whisper.

I feel his hands over mine. How did he come so close? I didn't hear his footsteps on the floor. "I'm going," he said. In the wake of his touch I feel a laceration, and gasp.

I open my eyes and look at my wrists and there's marks on them, as though I've been clawed by an animal.

Gabriel is no longer in the room.

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