From the multi-award winning author Alessandro Manzetti.

Here again, like a fossil with a still, soft heart hidden beneath its stone, I stand in front of this tomb. You left, Grace. You left too quickly. White skin, thin fingers, inky hair tied off your face. Wings for arms, rubies in your eyes. That’s how I imagine you, down there; intact, but cold. Motionless, but ready to fly—if only you wanted to. Or perhaps you are in fact flying right now, and I shouldn’t point my eyes to the ground, down among tufts of grass and wrought-iron flowers, but instead lift my gaze to look for you up there, somewhere. A black dot that wavers uncertainly in the middle of a flock which forms imaginary circles, ellipses, making byzantine eyes as big as fields. Maybe you have learned to use the lanes and alleys formed by the wind, the feathers and all the beats of an animal heart. But I can’t see you anywhere.

I know you. You’ve always been a loner; you wouldn’t dance with other birds. You did it for me that night, like an étoile welded to a music box, with no Swan Lake behind you, without water and orchestra, without a voice. Because there was no need to talk. Just like now. Even knowing you as a half-shadowed creature, I chose you anyway—there, in front of that altar sprouting sunflowers, the eager arms of the dead waiting beneath our feet. Do you remember that young priest, with his frightened child’s gaze and his suddenly bleached, golden liturgical vestments? He was more afraid than we were of what you would soon find on the other side, even though he was the one who had spent so much time studying resurrections. A bride destined to die so soon suggests that numbers, days and years don’t matter. And that maybe the Great Old One sometimes gets distracted.

Beautiful and pale as your wedding dress, with your back uncovered and a tide of milk attached to the long train, you crossed the nave like a ghost, painted by the play of light from that gothic rose window with its saints in blue, red, green and yellow. Making fearful signs of the cross, my father looked for courage in his trouser pockets. The elderly woman pulled a Tarot card from her breast: a battlefield, a skeleton in armor on a horse, riding out among the survivors who all looked the other way, pretending not to see. And here came you; a bride with too many white blood cells, wrapped in bright white organza fabric, walking on daisy petals: an alchemy of snow, of incoming frost; all thanks to the tricks of Madame Leukemia, who shucks and sucks her oysters of marrow and brains. Raw meals. You wanted to be buried as you were that day, a bride forever—even if now your poisoned blood no longer moves through you; instead it is tattooed on your skin, purple spots like rich mandalas ready to vanish. That’s how I imagine you, down there; hands clasped across your chest, the topazes on your fingers confusing the worms and everything that crawls in that darkness. How can those precious stones sparkle again?

I keep looking up at the sky, counting the birds. People watch me curiously, and then do the same. In a cemetery, where only fountains and memories speak, no one ever looks at the great blue dome overhead, which is the same everywhere, from Avignon to Calcutta, from Tahiti to Jerusalem. Unless it’s night, with all the different geometries of the stars. They think I’m crazy. There is no fire, no plane, nothing new up there—and so they look down at the ground again, at the earth that holds their treasured human shells.

They’re wrong.

A black dot, there to the east, breaks away from this flock that moves in shapes like cages, like the bones of an imaginary whale. Flying swiftly, the dot gets bigger and bigger against the sky. I measure it with my thumb and index finger: one inch, then two, and finally three. It’s coming toward me—is it? It seems to be. Is that you, Grace? You always were better at flying. But then, at the last moment, it veers towards the tops of the three cypresses that rise like jagged blades over the old house that stands just outside the cemetery.

I can’t be wrong. I smelled your special scent, and I suddenly turned around—sure to find you in front of me. Barefoot, dressed in your wedding dress, the organza turned honey-colored, wings instead of arms and the red bites of Madame Leukemia on your neck, scarlet as overripe peaches. Just like I keep picturing you, these summer days. But the mind plays strange tricks when too many dead memories are stuck in the present. In fact, there is nothing near me—only my own strange shadow, which spreads its black arms as if wanting to take flight.

I look like a cross.

I no longer see the black bird, but I know where it’s hidden: among those three giant green knives. I run to that place, and her perfume rises with every step, now mixing with the incense, which brings my mind back to the nave of that church, that day. But now Grace is waiting for me at the altar, and the windows of the old house are colored orange, then red and purple. A different rose window, built by the sunset. The cemetery is closing, this time without saints with gold circles around their heads. This time its only colors, and no frightened priest.

I reach the door with a pounding heart. The house has been uninhabited for some time, and its walls are covered with the thick veins of a presumptuous ivy. It’s like a Van Gogh dream: the Spanish grenade shutters, a thin courtyard of white and gray pebbles on which the shadows of the cypresses draw three dark stripes. These make the imaginary aisle of that church in Boston where I married a woman as I married death, both at the same time. The smell of inlaid wood, from the choir of the small chapel, comes upon me. Then the aroma of ancient candle wax. I’m sure I’m back in that place, even if everything has a different shape now. I kneel near a small fountain, topped by the statue of a headless triton. There is still water inside it; I dip my fingers and make the sign of the cross, hoping that someone will open the discolored door of the old house.

Are you in there, Grace?

A rustle of fast wings; a black spot whizzes past the corner of my eye. I stand in place as a crow lands on my shoulder, turning its head to look left and then right. Two rubies in its eyes, that flagrancy of narcissus and vanilla, invisible fingers plucking the strings of a harp, those gestures she made after making love—naked, always pale as a goddess.

It’s you, Grace, isn’t it?

The crow snaps at my face, twisting its neck and sinking its beak into my eye sockets—first one and then the other, in a sharp, deliberate sequence. I didn’t think my blood was so hot. I feel it dripping down my cheeks and neck. It’s summer, of course. All has become dark, with some red grains still lit, showing me a torn curtain… but I don’t feel pain, because her perfume still surrounds me. It’s like I’ve swallowed pounds of topazes and old memories, and that hole in my stomach is finally filled.

You’re right, Grace, as always. Love is felt, not seen.

Alessandro Manzetti is a three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning writer, editor, scriptwriter and essayist of horror fiction and dark poetry. His work has been published extensively (more than 40 books) in Italian and English, including novels, short and long fiction, poetry, essays, graphic novels and collections.