Farewell Delilah

“And she made him sleep upon her knees;
and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.”

– Judges 16:1

I am immured in an earth-cave. In the dream I hear water: as though a fountain or a brook running nearby. Everything feels … green. I have a verdant feeling as I dream. Strange. Today I thought someone came into my room while I was sleeping.  

It is almost Christmas and I still have no word from Arthur. I think he has forgotten me. As I was walking in the garden today, I saw a hawk maim a pigeon. It wasn’t going to eat it, just playing. 

Again, the verdant dream. No cave this time – I was climbing a small grassy hill. I don’t know what was on top, but it was hard work climbing up. Several brooks ran down the face of the hill, like tears. The ground was muddy and trudging through it made me pant. I woke with the creaking of the door; I had sweated through my sheets. I got up and undid the bed. The sheets were changed when I came back. 

Christmas came and went. There were many fine guests at the ball. I sat with some lads from the guard. We chatted a bit. One of them had just had a kid. He was going to name him Jessy. His wife had preferred a more traditional name. Almost got into a scuffle with another guy. “Look, the mistress is making eyes with Gawain.” Dumb bloke. Still no news from Arthur. 

It happened again in the small hours of morning. I remember the red burning behind the curtains. I stood upright in my bed and tried to speak. I don’t know if what I said made sense, I was still half asleep. The visitor made a step forward, hesitated and ran out of the room. Perhaps I ought to speak to the boss about this. These people are different. 

Finally heard back from Arthur. He told me to proceed as planned. This gives me another week in the house – till after New Year’s. I’ve grown to like this place a lot. They have a garden like I’ve never seen before. A strange kind of euphoria comes upon me when I walk in the garden. I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents would take me to the sea once a year – I used to feel this way whenever I planted my toes in the sand for the first time. 

The boss didn’t care when I told him about the intruder. He said he was going hunting next morning and would bring me some game. I protested but he was adamant. He told me I could return the favor with my day’s wages if I wanted to. I smiled without understanding and went on my way. 

I discovered a strange thing about the garden. All the paths in it are forked. One of the statues had been removed from my room. It was a little blind Cupid. 

This morning the lady of the house was in my room. She wore a dress like the one she’d worn at the Christmas ball, but her shoulders were naked. Down the back of her head, waved a silvery veil, like gossamer strewn with tiny pearls. She had drawn the curtain. I asked her what I could do for her, but she didn’t seem to be here on a particular errand. I realized the sun was high up and I had overslept. I apologized and assured her I’d be ready in a moment. She didn’t leave. “I am not here to chastise you, Gawain. I’m your friend.” Her voice came reassuring and sweet like a mother telling her child to stay home for the day. Still, I was hasty to get dressed. “Stay, stay. You will be all right. What a diligent man you are. A true knight.” She said and sat at the edge of my bed. I assured her I was little more than a serviceman for her husband, but she simply smiled. “I know you won’t be here long. You are leaving after New Year’s. Arthur told us everything. You have a very difficult task ahead of you.” She spoke with the same reassuring voice, though it scarcely befitted her words. Again, I explained I had to go to work, but she paid just as little attention as before. “Can you keep true friendship, Gawain?” I asked her what she meant by true. “In our case – chaste. You see, I have discovered some things about you that interest me, but being a virtuous woman, I cannot do anything else than to seek out your company in those hours of the day when my husband is away.” I’d never been offered a woman’s friendship before and it seemed an odd thing, to begin with. Nonetheless, I said I’d be her friend. “Then, let us seal our friendship.” She leaned and kissed me softly on the lips. I don’t know if she should have done that. 

The boss called us all in the evening to the main hall. We had dinner again and he gave me a nice big hare he’d caught earlier that day. “And for your part?” I looked at him puzzled. He laughed and gave me an envined kiss full on the lips. “Your debt has been paid!” He exclaimed and pushed me aside to attend to some new arrivals. 

Once on top of the hill, I’m faced with the rampart of a castle. I cannot enter still. There is something blocking my way – the keeper. I try to go back but can’t. I’m stuck knee-deep into the muddy ground. There is a mist that covers everything, thick as cobwebs. Nothing else happens; it all feels like the prelude to a nightmare infinitely deferred. 

Then I wake up and there she is. She wears a silk gown and her hair in a nonchalant manner. She doesn’t wait for me to rise but comes up to the edge of the bed and stares down at me with her greenish-blue eyes. Her silent smile betrays her fancy. She’s waited the whole night to come to me she says. “How come, I ask, is there anything the matter?” She misses me when we are apart. “You could come with me today to the garden.” I suggest. She refuses and adds that the garden makes her feel nauseous. “How come?” She cannot express it clearly, “a sense of confinement”, is all I gather. I tell her how I feel about the garden and she cheers at me. The rest is inconsequential, our eyes, chests and breaths speak while our mouths but prattle on. Then it’s time for the kiss. As she leans, she touches my cheek. I quiver. She smiles devilishly and runs out. 

Work is scarce these days. I am idle and I turn to thinking. Sometimes I get myself so worked up I start to shake. I can only think of what lies ahead. My trial and the dreams I keep having. Arthur says it’s all worth it: that’s the right way for a man. Thoughts of the mistress creep in. I go swimming in the heated pool near the house and I forget it all. The sun comes up and hits my face. It digs its warm spokes into the pores of my skin and brings out a wincing smile. I’ve given her too much, too much… Tomorrow I will end it. 

I know it will not be so… I again dream of the castle, the veil of mist and the keeper’s shadow blocking my way. I feel vulnerable, exposed. With eyes wide shut, I drink the light of day streaming from the window and my fear leaves me. Then something clogs the stream of light. I wake and see her aquamarine eyes and her halo. Her gown is thin and loose. She does not wait for me to speak but touches my face like she’d done the day before. I quiver. This is so amusing to her; she spins around the room, her gown fluttering like rose petals strewn about by a nimble hand. On the last gyre, she lands lightly on the edge of the bed. We talk a while: she seems kind, understanding, approving, perhaps too kind, too approving. She takes my hand and places it on her cheek, rubbing against it as she goes. I feel like a bedridden, impotent man. 

Then the kiss… I have four more days. 

My body is chaff, my body is dawn, my body floats as a meaningless mote. I see the veil, it comes down from the cloudless sky, down over the glistening walls of the house, down into the water of the pool where my weightless body floats. She stomps in and scorns me for my rude manners. She’s peevish, teasing, insolent. “You must never treat a gentlewoman thus so. A gentle knight’s duty is first and foremost to his lady. He has an obligation to serve her. Now I ask for your full service, Gawain. Yet, you refuse me. I only require what is my due. Will you not give it me?” She teeters forth with her bosom as she speaks, scarcely a gown over her figure. Her hair tickles my arm and I take in its fruity odors. I think peaches. Ripe on the svelte tree. If I knew she was real, I might … No. Arthur would damn me. I cannot. I fight her off with rhetoric. But she offers more, with words and without. She beckons as only flesh can beckon to living flesh. 

I run in the garden. Without aim or caution. I tumble over statues; I fall into vases. I run over the altars of the old gods, dash through their labyrinths, and cut across their forked paths. I care for nothing. I go up against the wind. I come to a parapet wall. I’m out of breath, bloody and soiled. The sea protrudes from the garden’s edge. Something in the endlessness of it strikes panic in me. 

There is a puck comes and puts a crown on my head. My legs don’t move, but I draw closer to the tunnel. Rosemary is my crown. Somehow, I am a part of this place; here did I sprout; here must I bloom. She comes at the moment I am about to meet the keeper. My eyes are stones, and my mind is wood. She comes from underneath the veil, with little nuggets of sunshine in her caterpillar hair, the color of grapevines in winter, the color of grapes… She sits lightly on the edge of my bed: coy, composed and coiled around one of the pilasters. She won’t speak. Am I an innocent victim in this game or am I one of the culprits? I dose off. She makes to leave. I start again towards the tunnel. She won’t let me. She pulls me out, “but I must…”, I protest. “It’s only a dream Gawain.” Arthur knows it’s real, Arthur knows I must. “You must what? You must what, Gawain?” It’s futile to even try. 

I’m a fly on the blue brim of her eyes… 

She comes naked as a flower and jumps in the bed with me, beating me on the chest with both her fists. “You are no man, no man!” It’s night. Her eyes are two glow bugs. I expect her to howl at the moon and break through the window but instead, she tries to uncover me. I defend myself but she is strong. She almost snatches my cover, I hit her in panic. “Come, do it again. Please, were I your dog, were I the dirt at your feet.” She runs crying out of the room. The maids run after her. It’s over. 

Farewell Delilah… I bolt the door and wait. It won’t be long now. Arthur, I have failed you. She’ll tell them what I did, she’ll tell them I was weak. I will sleep now; I will go into the tunnel and find the keeper. He’ll cut my head off and we will live again. All of us: me, him, Arthur. This verdant world will be reborn…

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