She didn’t stand out like I thought she would. I thought I would recognize her right away, that some kind of supernatural aura would draw me to her, but when I entered the coffee shop, little bell on the door jingling as I entered, I swept my eyes over the room. No one looked like a monster to me.
I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see her wiggling her
fingers at me, giving me a crooked smile. Her lips were bright red, which made her look all the more pale. She stirred her coffee idly, though it looked as though she hadn’t even taken a sip. I noticed that it wasn’t even steaming any more. How long had she been waiting for me? Walking towards her, I felt my stomach begin to twist, and I was suddenly aware of the rapid pounding of my heart.
I jerked the chair across from her back, the wooden legs screeching against the floor.
“Thank you for meeting me,” I said breathlessly, trying and failing to fix my unruly hair. Her hair, afterall, was so pristine. Two cascades of silky black locks. I must look so ugly compared to her, so . . . imperfect.
“No, thank you,” she grinned. “I’m happy to be of service. Do this . . . counseling, it lets me feel like I’m helping people. I appreciate your willingness to meet me in person. I find these conversations go better when we can be face to face.”
“Thank you, thank you,” I repeated, wringing my hands. “I’m really lucky to have found you, honestly. I haven’t told many people about my, um . . . my situation, since I didn’t think anyone would believe me, but one of my friends . . . well, she gave me your number.”
She didn’t say anything, just smiled sweetly and nodded.
“Should we—um—do you want to order food?” I asked.
She laughed, and it sounded like the tinkle of sleigh bells. “No, I don’t think I’ll be
having anything,” she nodded towards her cold, untouched coffee.
“Right. Of course,” I stammered. “I don’t—I don’t actually want anything anyway. I’m not that hungry.”
“If you’re certain,” she grinned. “So, let’s get right to it, then. Tell me, how did the two of you meet?”
“I— um—” I stuttered, “at work. I work at this, um, this art gallery. Well, it’s not— not a gallery, really. It’s a co-op. Like, you can sell your work there, and in return, you have to work there. It—”
“The details don’t matter,” she cut me off, not unkindly, but it still made me more
“Well,” I continued my story, “he was looking at some art. My art. I make these, um,
ceramics. Like, you know, pottery. Mugs and bowls. Scultputres, sometimes. I went up to ask him if he needed help with anything or if he had any questions and—” I swallowed. “And he turned around and he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.”
She laughed, and even though I was embarrassed I still felt like the laugh was melting me a little, like butter in a hot saucepan. Everything felt just a little smoother as she spoke, the world felt like it lost her sharp edges when she looked at me.
“I’m sorry,” she grinned, “It’s just...I’ve heard that so many times before. It’s always the same, isn’t it?”
“I— um, I don’t know,” I admitted. “I guess maybe it is. But he turned and I was so
shocked I didn’t say anything, and he said, ‘Sir, how much is this one?’ and he held out one of my own mugs to me and I—it was the green one with the purple swirls—and I, I said ‘You can have it for free.’ And he said—”
“You don’t have to tell me everything, you realize,” she said, placing her hand on mine. Her voice was like warm honey, but her hand was ice cold. I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted her touch, but I drew my hand back reflexively.
“The point is,” I rubbed some warmth back into my hand, “he likes the things I make. He said he wouldn’t take one for free, but if I made one just for him, then he would take it. So I just, I just sort of started making things for him. And he started showing up to the store everyday and every day I would have a new gift for him. It was like . . the only thing I ever wanted to do was make things for him. And no one else.”
She interlaced her fingers and placed her chin atop the peak of her hands. “And what did you get out of this arrangement?” she asked.
“I mean, I got to see him. That was enough for me.”
“It didn’t feel . . . parasitic?” she raised an eyebrow.
“No! No, I mean...you do things for people you love, right?”
“Do you love him?” she asked.
“Yes!” I answered reflexively. “I mean, of course I do. I wouldn’t be—there’s no doubt in my mind. If there were I wouldn’t—I mean, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I wouldn’t even be considering this. I want to be with him for the rest of my life.”
“That’s possible, you know, without you making such a drastic choice,” she reminded
me. She stirred the cold coffee and the spoon clinked on the edges of the mug.
“I know, but . . . it wouldn’t be the same.”
“And he loves you, too? Or have your interactions been limited to pottery sales?” Her
town wasn’t derisive, but I could tell she still looked at me like a child. Something in her eyes said, Oh, poor kid, look what you’ve gotten yourself into.
“No, I mean we’ve . . . we’ve been together for some time now.” Obviously I trusted her opinion; that’s why I came to her in the first place. But she couldn’t really know what it was like. She didn’t know him.
“How long is some time?” she probed.
“Not that long.”
“Long enough to know.”
She gave me a crooked smile. “You’d think that.”
We sat in silence for a moment. I waited for her to say something, anything, but she just watched me, and the more she watched me, the more twitchy I felt, so I finally asked her, “So what do you think?”
She sighed, crossing her arms in front of her. “My answer is the same as it always is:
My stomach sank.“No?”
“But I thought—”
“Let me tell you my story,” she cut me off. “I was in love, too. But love was only meant to last as long as humans last. It was meant to die with the people who hold it. And if the person who holds it cannot die . . . what happens to the love?”
“You don’t understand,” I snapped without meaning to, growing defensive. “You don’t know what we have.”
“No, I’m sure I don’t. But there is a reason that wedding vows say ‘till death do us part.’”
“Because people don’t usually have another option!” I protested. “I do! I do!”
A few heads turned in our direction, and I noticed I was on my feet. Blushing, I sat back down, chastened by the stares of the other patrons. She only laughed.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of your relationship,” she admitted, “But you, similarly, do not know what it’s like to live without the promise of death.”
Her words were hard, cold, and I felt them like a cold hand pressing against my chest.
“How...old are you?” I asked. I mean, of course I’d assumed she was old, older than she looked—she’d have to be—but . . . were these ancient eyes staring back at me?
She grinned devilishly.
“It’s rude to ask a lady her age,” she said, then lifted her hand to summon a waiter and ask for the check.
“So...that’s it, then?” I asked.
“Yes. That’s it.”
I swallowed. “Well . . . thank you for your time.” I stood, shakily, and again the chair
screeched against the floor. “I’ll . . . I’ll think about it.”
“No you won’t,” she smiled sadly, going back to stirring her cold coffee. “You made up your mind even before you came to see me.”
I looked down at my feet, unable to meet her eyes.
“I guess I did.”
“Well then. There’s nothing more for me to say.”
Without looking back, I made my way towards the door. As the bell jangled a final
farewell, I could feel her gaze on me, and I knew that she was right, right about everything. But I also knew I was going to do it anyway. I couldn’t help it. And of all people, she should understand. She couldn’t help it either.
Alex Kingsley (they/them) is a writer, comedian, and game designer based in Madrid. They are a cofounder of Strong Branch Productions, where they write and direct the Audioverse-Finalist sci-fi comedy podcast The Stench of Adventure. Their writing has been published in The Wallis Studio Ensemble’s Ensemble Arts Exchange, Sci-Fi Lampoon, ASPEC Journal, and soon The Storage Papers by Rusty Quill and Strangely Funny IX by Mystery and Horror LLC. Their short story "The Strange Garden" was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and their play "The Bearer of Bad News" will soon go up at Hollywood Fringe.
You can find him on twitter and tiktok @alexyquest