by Joel Gn
“Roxanne” began in issue 115.
Autumn had finally arrived, christened by the descent of brown maple leaves on the ground.
Two whole months had passed since our accidental meeting at the café. We started going out, which inevitably attracted unwanted attention from all the gossipmongers in college. I told Trey we were dating, and he welcomed the news with much favor, citing that Estelle would be spending less time with her strange friend and devoting more of her glamorous life to him.
Roxanne chose the highlands for the hiking trip, and I shuddered at the sheer magnitude of the chill. It was high altitude, and I felt terribly cold and breathless, despite wearing the thickest windbreaker the store had to offer. In reality, I was a summer kid, acclimatized to surfing in the simmering hot beaches of the coastal regions. I enjoyed cruising with my roller-blades during the summer, my tanned complexion a testament to its effects. Roxanne preferred temperate climates, although she amiably accompanied me on my summer vacation. She gently reminded me of the place I mentioned at the café, thus we took a few days off and packed our bags for the ranges up north.
She wanted to touch the peaks of the mount, and the climb grew difficult as we clambered toward our destination.
“Don’t you feel cold?” My voice was hoarse, and my tongue was nearly frozen. The wind stung my lips as I spoke.
She was ahead of me, her limbs did not falter nor lose their vigor since the start of the journey. Roxanne was no collegiate athlete, but the harsh weather and terrain did not seem to dampen her resolve to reach the top. In fact she appeared to be dressed for a summer beach party, with her black tank top and tight-fit track pants.
“No, I kind of like it. A little more, love; we’ll be reaching the top soon.”
It felt like hours before we reached the cliff that overlooked a wide ravine, separated by a huge lake. The view was breathtaking; the color of the afternoon sky blended in perfect harmony with the amber colored woods. The wind carried the dead leaves toward us. Fragile fibrous, bodies brushed against our cracked skin.
Roxanne untied her hair and gazed towards the sunset. She sang a song, a ballad of cryptic language, vaguely familiar yet distinctly refined. It reminded of some prehistoric show I used to watch on television, the kind of art films that had subtleties of poetry but no special effects.
“What language was that? It was beautiful”
“It was Latin, my dear. A song of creation”
“Latin? You never told me you could sing Latin. No one speaks it nowadays, much less make music out of it.”
“Well, you never asked.” She turned and smiled at me, a flawless portrait of grace and charm. I put my arms around her, and silently prayed for life to remain that way.
* * *
To the majority of my relatives, my marriage had become the irony of the century. As a kid, I told them I would never settle down, that life had so much more to offer than getting a wife to produce incorrigible offspring. Thus, the reception became a playground for unabashed teasing at the folly of my youth.
“So, Jay, for all the advertising of the good bachelor life, you’ve got yourself tied down!” joked Aunt Molly, the one-mole wonder with the beehive hairdo.
“Hey, take it easy on the young fellow, at least he’s got a fine young lady for keeps, unlike our Ricky, whose wife can’t even sew a button!” added her husband, the sarcastic Uncle Young. He was a gynecologist, and adhering to family tradition, he was the one to deliver all babies born within the family, if the need arose.
Roxanne was pregnant the following year. She initially resented the thought of consulting the doctor, even one that came from my family. There was an inherent phobia of any medical procedure, whether in drugs, surgical needles or electromagnetic scans. It took a great effort to convince her to solicit Uncle Young’s expertise.
One Tuesday morning I received a call from Uncle Young in the office. I had found a decent job as an editor of an entertainment magazine after graduation. The management did not require foreign correspondents, which enabled me to spend more time with Roxanne instead of running around the world with the paparazzi and getting sued for publishing sexual scandals.
“Jay, my boy. The preliminary results of your wife’s checkup are out. The baby’s fine, but there’s something I feel you should know. It’s about Roxanne.”
I left straight for the clinic after work. Uncle young with his bald head, bushy eyebrows, thick-rimmed glasses and stubby nose, looked every bit the medical specialist in gynecology his credentials claimed him to be. He was sitting on his desk, flipping through pages of data that were entirely Greek to me.
“Now, be honest with me boy,” he said. “Has your wife suffered from any seizures of fits? Does she have any fainting spells?”
“None that I know of. Is there anything wrong with her?”
“Her blood. It’s not normal. In fact, I am incredibly surprised it can sustain life itself.”
“What do you mean? She’s pretty much alive, I am sure of that.”
“Yes, which makes it all the more intriguing. Her blood does not belong to any of the known human variations within the gene pool. It does not contain the lipids needed to retain heat, which reduces its density. In other words, she is able to tolerate low temperatures without feeling cold, since her blood circulates at a faster rate, producing heat in the process.”
I watched him, pacing back and forth behind me, explaining to me the details of the report, simplifying the esoteric terms exclusive to his profession. I comprehended her immunity to the cold during our hiking trip, and how warm her skin had felt to the touch. So maybe she was born with a genetic deformity that made her blood work differently, but that did not prevent her, or me from leading normal, happy lives together. She was always different from other girls, but that was about psychology, not blood.
Uncle Young sneezed and rubbed his nose until it swelled red. The flu bug had taken its toll on him.
“Well, boy,” he sniffed, “we ran a few scans on her, just to check if everything was normal, and we found something most peculiar.”
He opened the drawers on his shelf and took out a couple of film discs before inserting them into the viewer.
“See, there are two growths, aligned with her lateral muscles on her back, perfectly symmetrical. They are layered neatly behind the deltoids, like folded wings. From our analysis, the pair has been dormant for a very long time. I asked her about it, and she stubbornly refused to say anything. Her glare can be very disturbing, you know.”
I left the clinic, vexed and brooding over the reports. It was so unlike Roxanne to turn antagonistic. She never once lost her temper, although there were major disagreements regarding my liberalist attitude to life. She never once reprimanded or chided me for anything, since I usually felt guilty enough to admit my faults even before she asked.
I opened the door to my house, only to find her crying on the sofa. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and her hands trembled violently. I sat beside her and she frantically caught hold of me, her grip was hard, as her ivory nails pierced my back.
“They are here, Jay. They have finally come.”
I covered her cheeks with my hands, lifting her face to mine. Her eyes shifted away from me constantly, and I realized that my presence was a desperate attempt to relieve her fear. Her mind was in a state of confusion and panic, as she mumbled incoherently to herself.
“Tell me, Roxanne. What happened?”
“My parents. They have come for me. I can feel it.” She held back her tears, breathing heavily.
“That’s impossible, they’ve passed away. You said so yourself.”
“Forgive me,” she muttered softly as she lowered her head. She had lied about her past, kept it locked away from everyone who knew her. I felt cheated and betrayed, but her intentions bore no malice. Was it fair to judge her? I looked at her, broken, helpless and afraid. She was never so vulnerable before, yet why did she refrain from telling? Why did she choose to bury her past, unless she knew it would harm us?
“Promise me, love, I beg you. Do not let them take her away. They will destroy her.” She placed my hands on her womb. I felt the unborn child kick, responding to the touch of a parent.
“Don’t worry. I will not let anything happen to us.” My arms were around her in a tight embrace, feeling her racing heartbeat, and wondering if I genuinely understood everything she said.
* * *
When Ariel was five, I brought her back to the church where she was baptized.
I was surprised that the custodian, Brother Joseph, a short rotund Negro monk who wore a King Rapper cap on his head and a hip-hop crucifix on his neck, was able to recognize us.
“Oh my, sir, you girl’s all grown up now. She was only an infant when Father Jacob sprinkled the water o’er her head” He swaggered excitedly to the pews where we sat.
“Hah, you were still in seminary then. I believe your new appointment as priest would give you the standing to modernize this outdated papacy.” We exchanged e-mails on a regular basis, and he was an ardent fan of my magazine column that was a derision of politics and religion.
“Things have changed pal. Spirits are no longer an object of faith, they have become a physical reality.” He replied, cupping his pudgy hands together.
A physical reality, it was the stigma of truth. They finally came for her, on our daughter’s first birthday. It was a vessel, larger than the moon, with lights that shone like the stars. There were tremors as it made its descent, but it refused to touch the ground. The wind shattered the windows of the house, threatening and taunting us. Roxanne rushed out, screaming in a language I could not understand. She knelt on the ground, crimson tears flowing profusely. I stood behind, at the doorway, with Ariel in my arms.
From the ship came a light, glorious yet blinding. It was upon me, and I turned away, feeling vulnerable and weak. I felt it pierce my limbs and veins, delving deeper until it scorched my heart. I fell to my knees, wincing in agony. Ariel cried.
Roxanne begged them not to harm me, writhing in pain as the skin behind her back tore open. Blood sprayed from her shoulder blades, as a pair of silver wings broke free from their skeletal bondage. They were massive; their feathers were shards of metal, flexing vigorously, like a newborn butterfly. She lay on the ground, silent and numb from all the pain.
Two creatures appeared before us. They bore the shape of men, but they were adorned in heavy steel armor. Their wings were beating with incredible power, keeping them in the air, and the visors of their crested helmets hid their faces from us. One of them flew down to Roxanne. It took her by the arm, leading her away in the direction of the ship. I tried to run towards her, but the pain in my heart was excruciating, paralyzing me to the ground.
I heard the words of despair. I saw her face, staring at the both of us, her hand stretched out, for a final touch of humanity.
And they were gone.
“Yes they have.” I opened my eyes and smiled at Brother Joseph. “All right, my little one, wave goodbye to uncle. We are going somewhere special.”
Ariel curled her hand to mimic a paw, and waved it at Brother Joseph.
“Oh yes, I almost forgot. Here is the translation. Took me a long while to figure it out. It’s almost like making deductions from dinosaur bones, you know.” He dug into the side pocket of his robe, and passed me a crumpled piece of paper.
* * *
Autumn was near, as the rustling trees and migrating birds bade goodbye to the summer warmth.
“Feeling cold, my little one?” I asked. She shook her head, and I put her down on the meadow, the same place where her mother and I saw the sunset. She saw a young dove, one of its legs was broken, and she laid it to rest on her little palms, caressing the lifeless limb. It began to move. She lifted the bird into the air and it flew away.
I smiled at her and took out the crumpled note Brother Joseph gave me. I remembered the song she sung to this place, a long time ago. I repeated every word to him; his painstaking efforts at translation had finally borne fruit. Part of the note read:
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, when the sons of God went to the daughters of Men, and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
Copyright © 2004 by Joel Gn