I. Circles

The sunlight catches on the celestial edge of my father’s gold earring as he paces, forth and back, before the bay window. He’s just been told he’s dying, and I can only sit in the plush cup of a chair while watching him unravel. As I cross and uncross my legs, waiting for him to say something, the crunch of glass startles me. My father has clenched the drink in his hand, glass shattering in his palm, and from his fist green liquid drips like a strangled heart. His shoulders are heaving, his jaw tense and trembling. I know his anger; this isn’t it. His anger is cool and cunning. His anger has moved men to reverence as much as it has isolated him. If I were a child again, I’d take his hand and kiss him because I know--as sea creatures know their paths of migration through labyrinthine currents--the nature of my father’s fear. “Vatra?” I say. He stills. He takes a deep, hissing breath and turns to me, running a hand over his shorn hair. Confusion passes over his face like an insect obscuring lamplight. He forgets, sometimes, that its lengths are gone although he’s kept it short since I was a child. Others don’t see these moments, the minutiae of discordances that flicker through the man they call Emperor. It hurts, inexplicably, to consider this. “Forgive me, Ira,” he says, joining me in the adjacent chair. Glass falls to the floor in a chiming shower as his fingers unfurl. When he sits, elbow on the velvet armrest, he pinches the bridge of his nose with his clean hand and works to steady his breathing. He looks up after a moment, begins plucking crystal shards from the meat of his palm, and nods toward the mess on the floor. “You should clean that up, darling.” A sigh escapes me before I can help it, and he cuts me a grin. The scar that bisects his lips at a diagonal smiles with him in duplicate insult. My instinct is to tell him to go fuck himself, as is our way of affection, but the depth of indigo beneath his eyes and the sharpness of his cheek bones stop me. He’s dying, and I hate that this fact moves me to gentleness. I should not be so sentimental. Like a mountain range refined by the violence of wind, my father’s entire life has been characterized by proximity to death. But this is a different death. I know he must not be afraid of dying itself, but the thought of slow decay rather than a proper warrior’s end makes him pale. The illness is terminal and aggressive, his physician told us, a gradual failing of the nervous system, which eats away at the reflexes and muscle control like fire to oiled cord. Deterioration of memory is imminent; heart failure is the final blow. “What now?” I say. He runs his tongue over a long white canine then says, “We wait.” “That’s awfully passive for you.” “Would you rather I throw a fit?” “Oh, so your drink was just that bad.” He slides his gaze over, unamused. “What should I do, then, Vice Minister?” Acid drips thick from those final syllables, and it astonishes me that even in this moment of vulnerability he has the energy and mind to be petty. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of my frustration, so I persist. “We could look properly into treatments.”

“And delay the inevitable.” “It may give you more time than you think.” “Yes,” he says, rolling his eyes toward the vaulted ceiling. “I am sure I could live long enough to become incontinent and then you could spend your visits to Feyiv wiping my ass for me.” “Do you not want to fight this?” “I never take a fight I know I will not win.” Bullshit. “I don’t think you have a choice.” Dropping his gaze back to me, he straightens up in the chair. “I will not forfeit my dignity for time.” “Why not kill yourself, then?” He doesn’t respond. “You’ve already considered it,” I say, my voice weaker than I want it to be. He rolls his head on his neck, working out some knot of stress clenching in his shoulders, and his earrings swing, casting shadows of light across his throat. I lean forward in my chair, elbows on my knees, and look up at him, direct so he can’t avoid my gaze. I want to say: I can’t lose you, too. Don’t leave me willingly. What I say: “You’re being irrational out of fear.” He levels a glare at me. “I’m glad you think you know me so well.” I know you better than anyone. “I’m just trying to help you reorient.” “Precious,” he says, reaching over to pat my hand with calloused fingers. The brushed gold band around his wrist slips over my skin, electric cold. He rises from the chair. So far, little has changed in his movements in spite of the illness, and the lasting strength of his body from decaphoebes of combat disguises any tremors or awkwardness in his gait. It was the shortness of breath, an inconvenience more than hindrance during a recent series of diplomatic meetings, that brought him to this distant moon for rest and examination. He’d been characteristically belligerent about taking leave of the new Daibazaal stronghold to convalesce. After succumbing to a violent coughing fit during his regular workout on the palace’s training deck, however, he agreed to visit the physicians on Xoterion on the stipulation that our preparations for the looming Arusian Summit would continue uninterrupted. When we arrived, the sheer black mountains were subsumed by fog, the sea gray and restless below the plain. Neither of us had bargained for his death sentence. I sit back as he takes up a throw blanket from the sofa, dropping it on the floor to mop the mess with his boot. “You don’t have to handle this alone,” I say, a final olive branch. After a moment he stills with his boot on the mound of cloth and glass and liquor, suspended in time with a corona of sunlight effusing from his hard silhouette. “Ira,” he says, without turning to me. “I love you. I do. But I do not want your help.” I’m an adolescent again, imploding under the weight of my own indignation, but I measure myself. I've learned that most battles between my father’s ego and mine are losing ones. I stand, smooth out my coat. “We have a dinner this evening, if you recall. Should I relay your absence to Allura and the others?” He says, “Do you not understand when you have been dismissed?” Taking a moment to breathe, I swallow my pride and bile at his condescension. It hasn’t always been this way between us; my father loves me, has always loved me. I love you. I do. His voice climbs up the back of my skull, swirls then dissipates like steam. With a bow more reflex than respect, I say, “Acknowledged, My Lord.”

© 2023 by MICHELLE MEIER ARCHITECT. Proudly created with Wix.com