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art by Cheryl L Owen-Wilson

How to Love a Necromancer

The first time he knocks at your door, be cautious. Your mother will pluck at your sleeve, hiss at you to come away--but do not feel you have to obey her.
Do not feel you have to open the door either.
Watch him instead through the window. Note the oil in his hair, his newly trimmed nails, the clumsy stitching on his robe's fraying hem. Count the minutes he waits, the number of times he entwines and untwines his fingers.
Count your own heartbeats. Measure this against your qualms, against your fear of his sorcerous, moon-pale eyes. Study the arithmetic of your desires.
Catch his expression as he turns away.
Do the same the second time he knocks. And the third, if you choose.
When finally his knocking and your decision coincide, ignore your mother's entreaties. Shake her off your sleeve, muster your courage.
Invite him in.
Be surprised at the broadness of his smile, the earnestness with which he enquires after your health, the slight blush rosing his cheeks. Lose your breath a little under his silvered gaze.
Do not worry if you fumble the tea tray; he will not mind.
Give him two helpings of honey.
Do not hide your delight when he returns. As you close the door behind him, pretend not to see your neighbors' stares.
If it helps to calm your nerves, prepare conversation topics beforehand. It is safe to ask about his favorite spice, whether he prefers the music of the zither or the drum, his opinions on the war in the west--but perhaps wise to avoid the particulars of his job.
Enjoy yourself; forget that your mother is listening; be the first to trail a finger, with deliberate carelessness, down the back of his hand. Hear his breath catch.
Remember the moment when he asks for the honor of becoming your husband.
Ignore, again, your mother's entreaties.
Marry with as much or as little pomp as you wish. Invite a host of guests, or a select few; either way, try not to be disappointed when the majority decline.
Do not apologize for your choices, now or ever.
When he runs his fingers down the small of your back, try not to think of what other tricks those hands have performed. As he murmurs adorations against your neck, close your ears to the echoes of other enchantments.
Establish some ground rules early on. Suggest, perhaps, that he refrain from inviting his clients to your home. Potions and talismans are to be locked in the dresser when not in use; soil must not be tramped into the carpet.
As for his work robes, he can wash those himself.
Resign yourself to the fact that he will often work nights.
Hang censers throughout your chambers, intricate and gleaming. Learn to love the curling smoke-tails of incense sticks. Place a bowl of dried flowers on either side of the bed.
Never ask what that smell is.
Become accustomed to the eyes that follow you as you draw water from the well or wander through the market. When heads bend together to whisper, hold your own high. Answer looks of pity or repulsion with the same response: a smile.
Do not be surprised to learn that sorcery comes with a price.
Be patient with his worsening tremors. Pick up shattered china without complaint. When his sweat-soaked spasms wake you in the night, get up and open the shutters. Then sit and do some reading while your husband suffers.
Do not touch him if you can help it; it is best not to make a habit of consoling him. He has his own conscience, and it is not your responsibility to assuage it.
If he wakes screaming, leave the room. In the morning, when you are bleared and short-tempered from lack of sleep, do not feel obliged to accept his apologies.
When he talks about his work, be skeptical. The nature of his profession has made him prone to evasion. You will never get the whole story.
Assume it is worse than he lets on.
When others talk about his work, muttering of dark deeds and empty graves, be skeptical. Observe how rumors feed on malice, mutate and spawn new tales, each more wild than the last.
Assume it is not as bad as they make out.
Do not feel guilty about having second thoughts. Argue. End your quarrels with silence or broken crockery or tender kisses. Quarrel again, and again.
Teeter on the verge of leaving. One night, let the incense burn low, then lean over and breathe in the cryptic scent of him. Scour your heart for love and for disgust.
Change your mind.
Remember that he is only a man. Remember that he likes tea with too much honey, blushes when nervous, laughs loudly at the antics of babes. Remember that his breath still catches when you trail a finger over the back of his hand.
Have a child. Two children. Three. Watch your husband tremble as he greets them, here at the beginning of the world. Forget for the moment that he spends night after night interfering with the end of it.
Delight in the children's growth. But as their lips learn to form questions, realize that giving answers will be difficult.
Do not shy away from this. Work to wean the children off dogma, with its obdurate definitions of good and of evil. Do not conceal from them the truth of their father's work, but protect them from the falsehoods that others fling at them.
Sense your husband's gratitude as he balances the children on his knee, eyeing you over their wisping hair.
On the day you double over in pain, tell him it must have been that lamb stew you ate.
Realize that this lie will be the first of many. Know that this is necessary.
Cry if you want to. Quietly.
Teach the children how to light the censers, when to change the flowers, which incenses are best in which season. Make it a game, so that they will remember.
Cherish every instant.
As the cancer takes root inside you, conceal your suffering as best you can. When it progresses, grow distant. Answer in monosyllables, turn away from his touch. Steel yourself against his confusion, the questions mounting in his eyes.
Learn to be cold.
In these hard times, confide in your mother. She has long forgiven your disobedience, and will help you now that you have come to her.
Bid farewell to your children while they sleep. It will be easier for all of you, and there is less chance your husband will hear.
Leave a note for the nursemaid. Of necessity, keep the message vague.
Cry again, if you want to.
The first time he pounds at your mother's door, do not flinch. Know that he will never hurt you. But do not let him in.
Watch him instead through the window. Note his unbound hair, his dirt-encrusted nails, the stains collecting on his robes. Count the minutes he waits, the number of times he calls your name.
Count your own heartbeats, and recall your original calculations. Assure yourself that they remain correct.
Catch his expression as he turns away.
Do the same the second time. And the third. And the fourth.
On the day you see his expression flicker from grief to hatred, take the opportunity to flee.
Your mother will go with you, despite her complaints. Leave the city; find a tranquil place where you can finally groan out your own agonies.
Your mother will say she told you so.
Reign in your temper; hold back your retort. Know that she only ever wanted the best for you. She does not understand that you chose the best for yourself, and that you knew all along the price you must pay.
As the end approaches, do not be ashamed to cry out his name. It is safe to appeal to him, now that he cannot hear you.
And yet, at the last, instruct your mother to cremate your body without delay.
Just in case.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

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