Entertaining Despair

Rose was not fond of March, its limbo between winter and spring gave her a feeling of hanging in midair. The days were cold but without snow, somewhat wet but nothing bloomed. It reminded her of an indecisive middle-aged man failing to pick out a suit coat - not something she actively hated but was annoyed only when she happened to encounter it. The day that Despair came knocking was a perfect example of March. Drizzle would fall for ten minutes and stop, the sun would make a pathetic effort to break through a cloud and every once in a while the wind made a little noise. Then the sky spat more water, almost as an afterthought. Rose could not think of a single impressive thing about this day, except that it was Friday and therefore almost the weekend. She felt she deserved a good weekend. That was when Despair knocked on the door.

He was better dressed than she would have expected, if in outdated fashions. He greeted her with pleasant, friendly eyes and a charming smile. His was a face which, if she’d encountered it in a bar she would've liked to have his phone number. There would be excited little conversations with a girlfriend, punctuated by giggles and surreptitious glances from across the bar. As it was, she expected he’d be sleeping on her couch for a few days so she opened the door and stepped to the side, not inviting him in but not barring his entrance either. He would come in or he wouldn’t, that was the way Despair was. He did come in, nodding tersely at her and taking a seat while she made them a pot of coffee. Not a word was said until they both had steaming cups in their hands. She was supposed to work that day, but decided they could do without her. Despair didn’t come for a visit every day.

When the words did flow, they were mostly on her side and he listened like an old friend. He was interested in Rose’s life, and she was happy to tell him about the job she’d recently left in favor of one better paying and less fulfilling, the man she’d broken up with and the marriage she’d ruined last week. Her faith was in question, she informed him, and she had a definite suspicion that her conscience was dying. Not speaking much, Despair nodded and made understanding noises at appropriate intervals. The phone rang which she ignored. Work would be there on Monday.

Finally Despair did speak, suggesting that perhaps she was hungry and after a moment of consideration she decided that she was not. They called out for pizza in the afternoon anyway, but what Despair didn’t eat was left to grow mold in the fridge. Its generally said that conversation cannot exist in a vacuum, but in this case the opposite was true. Despair soaked up her bitter words, leaving nothing but silence behind. He learned that she related greatly to Julia from Brideshead Revisited, and that she didn’t smoke or consume sugar in the mornings. The moon had already set when he prepared to bunk down on the couch, but Rose took his hand and led him to her bedroom where he put his arms around her and she felt his cold breath on her neck as she went to sleep. Her dreams were dark and unsettling, and when she shuddered in her sleep Despair stroked her hair and smiled. He did not go to sleep; his blue eyes were wide and unblinking through the night.

Miraculously the next day was sunny and they sat on the beach all day and watched the tide. The breakers reminded Rose of carousel horses with their heads thrown back, manes flying. The sun reflected off of them and made the water look jeweled. Generally of the artistic lean, she tried to write something about it in her journal but let the pen eventually fall unused. The words came so easily when she talked with Despair but not now, and he smiled as he looked over her shoulder. He put his arm around her and she leaned her head on his chest, sighing quietly. They ran into some of her friends some time after that - it might have been the day after or it might not have been. They wondered who her new boyfriend was, and while she tried to tell them it wasn’t like that at all Despair smiled and wrapped his arms around her possessively. It didn’t help the general impression. So they rolled their eyes and repeated the question slightly rephrased. She told them the truth and they looked at her strangely through their sunglasses and drifted away, talking of money and sex and upwardly mobile things. Rose watched their tailored backsides depart while Despair told her that she didn’t fit in with them. It was an inescapable truth.

Leaning forward, he whispered in her ear that he wished to be with her for always, that he would be good to her and she realized that he wasn’t an itinerant guest this time. So she turned and put her arms around his neck and told him that she was bored and tired and alone, and that she would love his company. Reaching up to kiss his chilly lips she asked him to take her someplace different from where she’d been. He promised her he would and then took her home. Their love was a frozen sunburst, and when she went to sleep it was with his eyes in her soul, his taste in her mouth. He was in her dreams as well, smiling as always and beckoning with long fingers. He whispered about the places they would see, his eyes unblinking and made of ice. She listened to his voice, smooth and dark and sinister as it was, and walked toward him shivering.

She did not go to work, and everyone wondered because that was so unlike her. Her friends sniffed about being deserted. They went to her apartment and thought it odd that she would sleep in the middle of the day in traveling clothes. But then they noticed the blood on the sheets and the now-sightless eyes that remained forever fixed on nothing. There was a note on the bedside table and a carefully packed suitcase by the door.

Gone away with Despair, it read, be back soon.

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