The Meaning of Love
by Ethan Naegele
Mrs. Horwitz forgot to take her medicine.
The September sun beamed through the large westward windows of her upstairs room. The daylight transformed into its familiar twisted dark gold color of late afternoon, and through the curtains she saw light so beautiful that it enchanted and disintegrated her all at once, because it reminded her of a time when she was younger and prettier out in the park before sunset—younger and prettier and filled with blind passion to live and die in the arms of a charming young man, so elegant and respectable and perfect—younger and prettier. She sat in the white room with the large windows, soaking in the daylight, soaking in the memories of a life so beautiful, so imaginary.
Mrs. Horwitz got that way whenever she forgot to take her medicine. Before long, she’d recall the memories of Dear Old Dad who, when she was fourteen, decided that he wouldn’t have a whore of a daughter and decreed that she was never to leave her room. It was never long after those memories that she’d remember the night when he didn’t come up to her room to make sure she didn’t somehow escape through the bars on the windows like the dirty whore he knew she was. She’d remember how she waited another night to emerge, in order to avoid the risk of being beaten harder than last time, and on that next night she found the corpse with asphyxiated skin tinted light blue, contrasting the cold, black beads of his eyes that stared into infinity. She’d remember asking God for forgiveness—because her tears were anything but mournful.
Those memories tainted her consciousness and prevailed all these years, lightly skating across the edge of perception until the day when Mrs. Horwitz forgot to take her medicine, when they would finally shatter the surface and plunge into her mind and corrupt her every thought.
Mr. Horwitz sat in the kitchen directly below her room. A carefully crafted meal of chicken and peas rested on his plate. The peas were hardly softer than rocks and the chicken was still blood red in the center and still displayed a disheartening rubbery texture. He could hardly complain, though. She spent hours of her life creating this meal, and—since he was not allowed to cook—his lack of choice, and lack of knowledge that there was even a choice, led him to chew and swallow the green rocks and bloody rubber with a mellow smile on his face—pleasantly, ignorantly.
Now and again there were fleeting moments in which a moment of higher consciousness produced a thought that invaded his mind and shattered his ignorance. It only ever lasted for a fraction of a second: a thought not even put into words, no more than a fleeting feeling. Such a feeling invaded him when he wished that he was allowed to leave the house today, but then the perverseness in him settled and replaced itself with a docile, mellow internal smile—as it always did—and as he stood up and looked at their wedding picture, he reminded himself that this is love; this is happy. Never again would he find himself in the dark place where he was always shivering from the cold and crying from the lovelessness, where the sky was always concrete gray so that no gold could ever seep through, because he found love; he found happy.
Upstairs, Mrs. Horwitz now paced back and forth across her room. In her mind, images of her husband alternated with images of her father. The dark gold of the room seemed to strengthen for her eyes only, and upon noticing, that color bombarded her mind and represented all of that which was forever lost in that room, where—between the bars and beyond the branches of the distant trees—she could see those golden rays as they danced into her eyes, and in her mind came a flood of yearning and desire for open fields and freedom, for young love—a feeling to which she could surrender herself completely—for the feeling of human touch, for the twinkling energy of staring into the eyes of another human being.
But those feelings are only idealistic, only idiocies, she told herself. She did not marry a man but an idea, a prevailing idea that told her it was possible to separate the tyrannical nature of the father from the husband. Impossible, she now told herself. Her anger boiled. She reached for the knife under the bed.
Mr. Horwitz had just finished his meal. Standing up, he began to notice the dark gold color that cast itself into brilliance. A vague emptiness swept through him and shook him, but only briefly, like a ship through desolate water momentarily riding upon threatening waves before steadying again. As much as he wished to go to the backyard to witness the transformation of sunset into dusk, he reminded himself that she didn’t allow him there out of love, nothing other than love. She couldn’t function if she was without him, so she had to keep him inside where nothing bad could ever happen to him—inside where he was hers and she was his and they could love each other for all time. He knew that.
It was there. Always there. Always will be there. She tried for a decade now to remove the devil from him, but it remained, prevailed, thrived, even, only ever shifting from his conscious to his subconscious. She had to contain him, tame him, before he strangled her. Had to. If she didn’t, Satan himself would emerge from him and she would only see slivers of gold from between the bars on the windows again. She knew that.
She held the knife behind her back, with both arms crossed behind her, behind her white dress with spots of roses. Mrs. Horwitz was ready, ready to go further than any other time when she forgot to take her medicine, and she walked down the stairs like a bride down the aisle.
Mr. Horwitz heard her soft footsteps. He let the sound of them float in his mind pleasantly. He turned his head slightly and closed his eyes. The woman he loved was coming to join him.
“Let’s go to the yard,” she said.
He never questioned it.
She followed him out the sliding door. He breathed in the enriching air of the emerging September evening, fine and rare. The sunlight on his skin was palpable yet delicate. He closed his eyes and allowed the light to create graceful forms through the lids.
The knife plunged into the side of his neck. It was as if his muscles truly relaxed for the first time in ten years as the weight of his world broke away from him, as if gravity itself had been inverted and allowed everything to float away into the heavens. He collapsed, and the bright red poured onto the unkempt grass.
The devil finally escaped him, she thought. Yet so did the life from the man she could almost love, if it wasn’t for the tyrant within. But he was pure now, cured, released, she realized, so now all that was left was the man without the tyrant; now he was not her father and now she could love him!
So Mrs. Horwitz chased after the man. She knelt down beside her husband. A swift puncture of the carotid artery and she was there with him, following him. She removed the knife from her neck and allowed the divine crimson to pour, and then she collapsed perfectly beside the body, then both faces stared up into infinity. She caught up to him. Her stream coalesced with his, where they met to form a crimson lake that glistened under the dying sun, where their souls had married in everlasting peace.