by H.R. Owen

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She finds herself staring, unable to look away even though her heart twists in her chest at the sight. Every part of the body before her is familiar; playground scars memorised like Bible verses, freckles and errant hairs like the Stations of the Cross.

Light bleeds through the curtains as the world outside edges tentatively towards morning. A blade of fragile sun illuminating in gold each narrow curl of the hair on the pillow, finding soft bronze in the sweeping shoulders and rose quartz in the fullness of the lips. She sighs and turns to the figure standing beside her.

I never thought it would be so colourful, she thinks.

The figure’s head tilts almost imperceptibly under the sweep of their hood. They hear her.

Forget it. I’m being melodramatic. The universe has survived worse than this, I know.

Staring a little longer, her fingers twitching as she fights the desire to reach out and touch. Such a simple want, something she’d taken for granted – the ability to touch whenever she’d wanted, take whenever she’d needed. It had never eluded her before, but now it was everything – all those tiny brushes of self against self, skin against skin, breath against lips.

She closes her eyes.

I should have told him. I should have…Whatever. You know all this.

Tell me.

Two syllables echo in her mind, sand in the wind, but she can feel the need in them. The ancient loneliness.

She chews her lip and frowns, crossing her arms over her chest with a shrug. The figure waits for her to speak. They won’t hurry her. They don’t know the meaning of the word.

He’s got this real funny way of talking, she thinks at last. Like you can practically hear him dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. Real precise.

Shifting her weight, she considers this. Grey eyes watch her, implacable, reminding her of a poem about horses in the hour-before-dawn dark. The horses had frightened her too.

Bambi, she smiles. Big brown Bambi eyes like tar pits, they just pull you right in. Got a brain like a whip-crack, and I swear he’s got no idea how funny he is – spits these jokes out totally deadpan and then when you laugh, he jumps out his skin and looks at you with this sweet blushy smile that’s all eyes more than mouth because he’s so surprised…

She looks up, grinning and flushed, falters, and falls silent. A century passes, or maybe only a minute. The person in grey moves and she’s surprised their skin doesn’t rustle. The meaning is clear. It’s time to go.

I should have…

She turns to look at the body on the bed, still hogging the covers, still warm. She closes her eyes against the sight, so familiar and yet so grotesquely wrong.

“I thought I had time,” she whispers.

The hand that closes round her wrist is altar-stone cold.

Everybody does.

©️ 2021 by H.R. Owen

“Temple,” by H.R. Owen, was first published on February 11, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.

Interview with H.R. Owen, Author of “Temple”

What inspired your story?

I wrote Temple after seeing a prompt for “a love story in 300 words”. I was taken with the idea of it being about the love of oneself, of an almost romantic love for one’s own body. Of course, there’s another relationship in the story as well, but that was my jumping off point.

What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?

I saw a reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart” at the Sam Wanamaker theatre last year that really stuck with me. The story is so atmospheric, and hearing it in a crowded theatre in the middle of winter was just perfect.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was kid, but working more proactively at developing my writing for about six years now.

Do you have a theme you return to time and again?

I tend to write a lot about isolation and connection, a lot of my characters are cut off from society or the people they love. In this story, I was thinking about how, in death, we lose that connection irrevocably.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

I tend to cycle through inspirational quotes depending on my mood. Right now I have a quote from Wendell Berry on my wall – “There are no unsacred places, there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

What are you working on now?

Not much! I’m sure I’m not alone in having found 2020 a difficult year to be creative in. Mostly I’ve been concentrating on staying somewhat sane with occasional bouts of well-deserved madness. Otherwise, I’ve been working on a weekly fiction podcast. It’s called Monstrous Agonies, and is a radio advice show for monsters and creatures of the night. It’s been described as “eldritch late-night Radio Four” and “like getting a big hug from something with a few too many arms”. Check it out at www.monstrousagonies.co.uk or wherever you get your podcasts.

What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?

I’m on Twitter at @callmehagar.