What Death Has Touched

“‘Tis a fearful thing, to love what death can touch.”

For as long as life can be, for as many long and painful silences that we endure, however many days and nights pass and seem unending. The lives of men and women ultimately boil down to a few key moments, none more important or more futile than the last. It was in such a moment Farouk found himself when he woke, bound to a chair, in a room full of smoke, a lilting voice reciting his favorite poem as if it were song.

The world froze in that moment, and he looked around the room in a daze. Flames hung in the air, frozen in their rapid consumption of the wallpaper, of his bookshelves and furniture and carpet, of his world entire. The air hung hot and heavy, searing his lungs with each breath. In the shadows, another figure moved, he squinted to make it out. Though as the man spoke, his blood ran cold. The familiar words of Halevi bringing little comfort.

“A fearful thing, to love, to hope, to dream, to be –“

“Ti?” Farouk called into the dark, the pet name of his ex-lover Tichaun, knowing it was him but not wanting it to be all the same. “Ti? What are yo-“

He danced lithely out from the shadows, nearly indistinguishable from them, though the sweat on his obsidian skin glistened with the firelight. Caressing Farouk’s cheek with his hand, he spun around the chair, then spun the chair around, so his old flame could see that flames surrounded them. Once this moment ended, so too would their lives.

“to be… and oh, to lose.” The man smiled as he straddled Farouk, he wore no clothes and, despite his situation, the bound man felt a growing warmth inside at his lover’s familiar closeness. The man was nude… and he was as beautiful as he was deranged. Their position together inspired memories of happier times.

“Ti. You-you don’t have to do this. We can still, we can still…” Lies faded from Farouk’s tongue as futility hit him like a bullet train. What was done has already been done; there is no going back, only forward into the end. He closed his eyes, remembering the look on Tichaun’s face when he walked in on Farouk with one of the Egyptian scholar’s students. He said nothing, not interrupting the liaison, only slipping back outside once he was sure Farouk had seen him there, that there was a witness to this crime against love.

Until now, Farouk had not seen him again, assuming he had found some other diversion. Like the wind he was always flying, laughing, speaking like behind his words there was a melody only he could hear. But now… now…

“A thing for fools this. And a holy thing.” As Tichaun spoke, Farouk felt the room grow hotter. Behind his lover, a shadow against the crimson burning, he saw the flames again begin to move. Sweat mottled the hair that covered the back of his hands, black bristles on hands brown like earthen clay.

“Ti… I’m sorry. I said I would be better and I wasn’t. I’m sorry. This moment is more than I deserve.”

Ti smiled, and with one hand tilted Farouk’s head upwards until their lips met in a tender kiss. As their mouths explored each other one last time, as the flames grew closer, as it grew harder and harder to breathe in the smoke. The Egyptian heard his lover’s voice, as if the air itself was commanded by his larynx.

“For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me.”

Flames licked their skin, consuming them in desperate search of fuel, melting flesh and bone into blackened carbon, fusing them into the one they never were in life. Farouk felt no pain; only distant regret; he only thought:

To remember this brings painful joy.

And then the moment ended, and so came another, and another. And another.

After hours of moments, as police sifted through the ash trying to differentiate between what was once man and once house, wind sung its way through the home’s skeletal remains, sifting the ash with playful hands. Had any officers turned to see the ash winding its way across the charred floor, they would have seen—for a brief moment—this final moment’s words flash in the dying embers before dissipating.

Tis a human thing, love,

a holy thing, to love

what death has touched.