Acclimatation

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

This is an older short story of mine (the original version dates back to 2014). I’ve re-edited it a little, but the style is quite different. It just goes to show how writing evolves with time. It was born from the expression “he/she took my breath away” and was meant to be a fun exercise. The romantic involvement is a little ridiculous but then again, love is often irrational.

Let me know what you think!-

The first time they met, he died. She literally took his breath away.

They met by accident while he was on holiday with his fiancée and their friends. They had chosen to hike in the French Alps; it was the hottest summer on record and everybody seemed to be fleeing from the heat. Up in the mountains though, it was cool and they had managed to get a good deal on two-week stay in a quaint B&B.

They had taken to exploring the mountainside, trying to discover new valleys and bathe in secluded pools. It was on one such excursion, that he had wanted to reach a specific viewpoint. Moving faster tthan his fellow hikers, he had climbed the trail and followed the path a round a sharp bend overlooking a cliff.

There she was, waiting for him just beyond the curtain of rock.

One glance, one contact and all the air fled from his body, his soul following not far behind. Five minutes later, he was clinically dead.

Two hours afterwards and he was back. The people at the hospital said it was a miracle; his friends all gathered around him, as tears fell from his girlfriend’s eyes.

“I was so scared, baby! I thought I’d lost you!”

He hugged her back, but didn’t say anything. All he could think of was a pair of pale blue eyes.

Their second meeting happened a few days later. He had been out of the hospital for two days and was chilling on the hotel’s sundeck. His girlfriend had gone to town to do a little shopping, Ted and Evan were hiking to the dam and Jules and Mike were probably having quiet moment in the Jacuzzi.

He heard someone walk past him, towards the railing that offered a wonderful view of the Alps. He lazily shaded his eyes, opened them, stared and for the second time that week, died.

***

“A heart-attack this time it seems Mr. Smith. We don’t know what is wrong with you, but we intend to find out. I don’t have to tell you that two such incidents in such a short period of time are not a very positive sign…” The doctor rambled on and on, but John couldn’t take his mind of those two eyes and the wondrous face and hair that framed them.

They returned to London a couple of days later, where he underwent endless tests, all to no avail. The doctors had no idea and he wasn’t about to tell them.

He felt distant, but not unhappy. He broke up with Caroline: he was sorry, but he hadn’t even had an asthma attack when they were making love, let alone die from a glance.

He got on the Tube at Blackfriars, and sometime around Knightsbridge, he began to feel poorly. He started sweating, his breathing became heavy and he felt terribly dizzy. A man offered him a bottle of water, which he readily accepted. It didn’t help. He staggered off the Tube at South Kensington and there he saw her, getting off the same train. He briefly glanced at her and waited until she had rounded a corner before looking up. He had learned his lesson. As the footsteps of the hundreds of commuters tapped away, he felt the weight in his chest easing up. He didn’t let it fade completely however. Rather, he used it.

If the pain diminished, he went in the opposite direction, keeping himself on the border of discomfort, but following, always following.

She hadn’t gone far. He made it out of the South Kensington station and partially across the road when he realized she must be in the small coffee shop opposite from him.  He walked back across the road and waited. As he waited, he noticed his discomfort waning a little; odd, she wasn’t moving -he could see the back of her head-. This made him think.

She walked out of the coffee shop and he quickly averted his eyes.

He shadowed her for most of the day, the pain and discomfort slowly decreasing, as he formed a habit to her presence. He followed her all the way to her home, so he was certain to know where to start the next day. He felt a little bad about being a stalker. Nonetheless, he persevered; he wanted to learn as much as he could about this mysterious woman and her fatal hold over him.

The next step was even harder, but equally as critical. He knew that if ever she should look at him straight in the eyes, he would be a goner.  It was quite a puzzle, really. As he sat in his office on the 23d floor, typing away at a draft for some insurance contract, he kept thinking, his mind devising outlandish solutions to the problem.

After three weeks of following, scheming and preparing, he was ready.

He followed her that day all the way to the museum of National History; the only feeling he felt as he stepped behind her in the cue was one of profound excitement. He had prepared carefully: contact lenses, sunglasses and if things went south a bottle of a product his eye-doctor had told him was used on fire-fighters when they got their faces too exposed to an open flame. But he didn’t think that was enough, so he waited for his chance.

It came when she stopped to look at the glass case containing the skeleton of a dodo. He sidled up next to her, and, taking a deep breath, looked at her reflection in the glass. His eyes began to burn a little, but he bit his tongue and resisted; it was worth it. Her eyes were the same color as the sky on a sunny day, like sapphires taken from the heart of the sea. They broke his heart a little, but only metaphorically this time.

He was elated with this first success and so he began to work in earnest. Every chance he got -mirrors, shop windows- he would stare into those eyes. At first, he used disguises, but then, fearing she might recognize him, he tried other means. Photographs, binoculars and even pretending to take a picture through his camera-phone once. To his knowledge, she suspected nothing and his impromptu getting to know her continued for another month.

Finally, one day, he looked at her for the first time. The wavy hair, the sapphire eyes, the laughing smile, the white teeth, the funny little chin –everything-, was contained in his eyes and he felt no pain.

It was obvious that he was bound to make a mistake. He was feeling so elated by his success, that he felt it was time to meet his would-be murderer.

They had both been drinking at the small South Kensington coffee shop (one of her favorite haunts). His heart swelling in his chest, John rose from the table, threw his cup into the bin, and confidently strode over to where the deadliest vision of his life was sipping an orange juice and reading a book.

“Hey, hi. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in France, and I saw you over here and well, I was wondering what your name was.”

(He admitted to himself later that he’d been less than smooth, but that didn’t matter.)

She looked up and gave him a dazzling smile, her eyes making his heart beat slightly faster.

And then, she spoke.

He woke up in the hospital a day later. He couldn’t move and his vision was blurry. The room he was in was dark and although he tried to get up, he immediately felt dizzy. He lay down again, trying very hard to fight the urge to throw up. Hours later a doctor came in; a nurse accompanied him and smiled encouragingly.

The doctor held up a whiteboard, on which he explained that both his eardrums had suffered a terrible injury and it would take him some time to recover his hearing. Until then, he would have trouble keeping his balance. He spent the rest of the day watching TV trying to guess at the words, the stories, the dramas.

The unexpected happened the next day. While he was resting, he noticed movement and felt the chair next to his bed move. He opened his eyes and there she was, a small worried smile perched precariously on her face.

For the first few times she came to visit, they didn’t speak, but just looked at each other, trying to say only with their eyes what their voices longed to give shape to. Later, he asked the doctor for a whiteboard and he wrote her stories and poems. She loved them. He wrote her jokes later, for the sole purpose of seeing her laugh.

Slowly but surely, his hearing began to return and as it did, he trained it to resist her beautiful voice.  At first, he whispered; she whispered back. Then he increased the volume of his voice; one week later, his therapy was almost finished and he could laugh heartily with her.

He felt he was nearing the end of his journey of discovery, but -he reasoned- there was still one major issue to overcome. So, he began to date her.

He took her out to dinner and the movies. The parks, the fair, the museums, rides to the countryside and skiing. And as he did, he began to initiate physical contact. In the beginning, he used latex gloves (“I have a condition which flares up every now and then, nothing serious); later, as the burns decreased and he stopped breaking out in hives, he dared more and more.

The most critical moment was their first kiss and although he had been waiting for it ever since she had killed him the first time in France, he was a little afraid as well.

He needn’t have worried.

It was two weeks after they had begun dating. They had just had a wonderful dinner and were walking along the river; underneath the moon, inspired by the light in her eyes and the smile on her face, John Smith kissed his fair lady. The first time he had seen her he had died a little, forever. When he kissed her, it was like coming back to life after centuries of dust and oblivion. Never had he felt more alive; never more himself.-

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