Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Writing You

Now that you are dead, we will write you a love letter.

It was Achmat’s idea. He worries that in our loneliness, the two of us will become like parallel mirrors, reflecting upon each other an eternity of grief. You were the strong one, he says. Our centroid, he calls you.

I disagree. You made us strong. That is why we will write you a letter. Perhaps it will make us strong enough to bear your passing.

We will observe the forms, of course. Though you were not born here, you died here and you deserve a proper funeral.

Tomorrow.

Tonight I will stir the soup-pot, numbing my mind with the tedium of rhythm. Perhaps Achmat will kiss me after dinner, seeking an anaesthetic. Maybe we can rut the pain away.

Tomorrow we will call for the Mourners. They will have their night to rid the community of the troublesome emotions that cocoon us after every death. They will wail into the small hours of the night, and beat heavy drums, and sing songs of melancholy to cast out sorrow. Songs like birds, rising ever upwards, buoying the carrion of your absence up into emptiness.

No doubt Achmat will weep into my chest, and I will hold him like you promised you always would. My bones will feel him shaking long after his sobs expire. I do not yet know if I have absolved you of your promise.

Once the Mourning is done, a procession of Mortuarians will carry your body to the Bindery, where they will flay it with sharp, silver knives. The Mortuarians work methodically. Death is no foreigner to them, and their knives will blur in the dull, everyday labour of the expert workman.

Care will be taken to preserve every wrinkle—every blemish, every imperfection—for each mark on one’s skin is another moment in one’s story.

Your story. Our story.

There, the wound that never fully healed etched upon you by the Beast, which Achmat slew out of protective fury. There, the scar that I stroked gently on tender mornings, that I suckled ferociously on frantic nights.

Over six months, your skin will be washed in oils and fragrant unguents. Over six months, the Mortuarians will build a bulwark against the assaults of time and age. Even as we grow old, as Achmat’s lithe muscles begin to sag, as my wits murmur less keenly, you will remain as fresh as the first time Achmat kissed you under the apple tree, when I laughed at your new-born blush.

The blushes I coaxed from you were never as rich as that one blush for Achmat.

Once the Mortuarians have scrubbed away every ounce of potential for decay, a Master Binder will cut and shape your preserved hide into neat pages. The remaining fragments will be fed to the river, so that the waters, too, may know of your passing.

I do not know what to tell your family. The letters accrete in your study, layers of the past you would rather let lithify than excavate. You did not tell them of me, of Achmat. Am I to unearth your secrets for them, like some grave-robber from a foreign museum, ignorant of the intentions of the buried dead?

An apprentice will braid the longest hairs from your scalp into thread, which the Master Binder will stitch into the pages. Using glue pressed out of your cartilage, these pages will be bound in your bone and sinew. Excess hair will be woven into a page-mark, to be sewn into the binding.

With dry, papery politeness, the Speaker of Memory will invite us to some dusty corner of the Grand Mortuary to probe us for details about your life. Apprentices will scrabble around like carrion beetles on a roadside corpse, scrambling to memorize the words that spill from our mouths until we are hollow.

What will I recount? They say suffering awakens the artist, but I am stricken feebleminded. Do I wax indulgent about the first night we invited Achmat to our small bed, how you clung to him, worried he would fall off, and how we laughed over breakfast about the need for a separate bedroom? Will I be able to paint with sufficient poetry how you pranced in the sitting room to the music of a neighbour’s unknown celebration, how you fumbled over the perfect steps, how the silliness of the moment had you determined to choreograph the perfect dance? Can I eloquently describe the stretch of your neck as Achmat arced against you, the twist of your mouth as you penned into your journal, the lazy stretch of your naked form as you grumbled your way towards your morning ablutions?

I fear Achmat will go hoarse with the telling of you.

A Master Linguist will translate our words into the Unspoken Tongue, adding rhyme and meter where there was none. Then, in the Scriptorium, a Calligrapher and an Illuminator will work in concert to complete your book. In bright inks and gilt, they will adorn the pages of skin with colour, light, and movement. You were always a work of art, but now you will become more.

Shelved in the Library-Catacombs, your life will then be open for all to peruse.

Except . . . Achmat cannot read the Unspoken Tongue. Like a sculpture of ice, the grand artwork of your life will remain cold, alien, and desolate to him.

This is why we will write you a letter. Once the pomp and ceremony are finished, Achmat and I will sit in the shade of that apple tree and together we will pen you a letter. No grandeur. No flourishes.

We will tell you simply that we loved you, that we love you still.

I hope that will be enough for us.

Sharang Biswas

Sharang Biswas

Sharang Biswas is a writer, artist, and award-winning game designer. He has won IndieCade and IGDN awards for his games and has showcased interactive works at numerous galleries, museums, and festivals, including Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. His writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Baffling Magazine, Eurogamer, Dicebreaker, Unwinnable, and more. He is the co-editor of Honey & Hot Wax: An Anthology of Erotic Art Games (Pelgrane Press, 2020) and Strange Lusts / Strange Loves: An Anthology of Erotic Interactive Fiction (Strange Horizons, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @SharangBiswas.