Silver

He bends over me as I lie on the bed, gasping for breath: a dark-haired youth, thin and intense, but even through my panic I feel his shy charm, like one of the rarer gazelles. His hands on my throat are healer’s hands, long-fingered, gentle, fiercely precise. My breathing eases; the detached compassion of his gaze relaxes into a smile, but his face is drawn.

When we stand before the village for our handfasting it is only a year after our meeting, but there are white threads in his dark hair. He looks at me fondly, the pain of others already lining his eyes. He is difficult to love, but I have loved him from the first. I’m not sure he reciprocates, not in the way I feel: it isn’t in him. I don’t expect it.

Two winters later there is the fever in the village. He goes from house to house, his hands cooling and stilling the hectic blood of the sufferers. When it’s all over and most are saved, there are silver wings over his ears. He looks distinguished.

I am still a young woman when our daughter is born. As he holds her, his face alight, his hair has lost most of its dark. When the mayor’s son was dreadfully trampled by a horse he put him patiently back together, but he staggered from the room silver-haired and spent.

Now our daughter lies in the darkened room, five years old, fading fast. My love will go in to her, a white-haired old man. I will wait outside. She will come out to me, cured, and we will go on together, mother and child, without him.

All gifts have their price. He is happy to pay, but I find it hard.

8 thoughts on “Silver”

  1. I like the idea behind this story – for the record, this is about a healer who heals by giving his life force, the years of his life, to others. It’s beautiful in the way of fairytales.

    But on the whole, the way it is told did not quite work for me. I found it somehow difficult to grasp the character of the healer, who flitted between different images for me – the first paragraph gave me vampire, not healer, and somehow I found him cold and distant ever since despite his wife’s obvious devotion to him.

    I also understand the focus on his hair greying as it answers to the theme, but did find the constant reference to the colour of his hair – and never to any other sign of ageing – too repetitive.

    The phrase “silver wings over his ears” did not quite work for me – maybe its because the story is otherwise quite plainly told, but it evoked (and resonated, natch) actual wings which was a bit jolting.

    The last sentence “He is happy to pay” also seemed slightly out of place – I did not think he was happy to pay. Resigned or prepared, but not happy.

    It’s a good story but the voice was not quite right for me and the emotional attachment did not quite form.

  2. Well, I did say I hated everything I did this month… this one was another one that was sunk by the word limit in terms of subtleties and layering.

    On the whole the lack of emotional attachment is precisely the intention – you shouldn’t be connecting with the healer. I was trying to suggest that he is effectively isolated by his gift, and by his accelerated aging. He doesn’t connect with people, including his wife, who loves him despite the detachment. He is definitely happy to pay, because his gift is more important than anything else to him. He’s a single-minded idealist, basically, and not quite human. I don’t even like the speaker much. She’s one of those mutely suffering torch-bearing women who should be kicked early and often. I’m sorry I didn’t get all that across, but I do take your point; I really wasn’t happy with this either.

    I probably overdid the silver hair bit because it was the theme, although to be fair there are other aging signs there (drawn face, staggering). And your problem with “Silver wings over his ears” is probably another idiom thing; it’s a fairly recognised and common phrase for the aging pattern which starts with the white hair over the ears. Like Philip ;>.

  3. Hmm… I interpreted ‘silver’ for hair as well. But obviously differently :)

    I agree with Jo in that the last sentence about being happy did not fit with the rest of his actions. I got the feeling that healing was something he did, he didn’t really think about what it was doing to him. People needed his help and so he gave it. I also got the impression that he does love as such. He cares and is compassionate and would not harm anyone but I do not think he loves.

    Strangely, I kind of liked him for it.

    1. I think he’s more likeable than she is, certainly, but I agree, he’s very much defined by his selflessness, and not capable of what Andrew accurately calls a “deeply personal love”.

      You and Jo are both right, “happy” in the last line is not quite right, it should be something like “content”, perhaps. Or simply “He accepts that he must pay”. Hmm.

  4. I thought this was great – the portrayal of the two characters – him the fey healer endlessly compassionate and therefore unable to love in her intensely personal way ; her deeply personal love able to comprehend but not quite accept his altruism.

    A very beautiful and very tragic story.It reminds me strongly of your ‘White Ships’ piece – a love fraught/powered with differences in basic beliefs.

    I really like ‘He is difficult to love, but I have loved him from the first. I’m not sure he reciprocates, not in the way I feel: it isn’t in him. I don’t expect it.’ : this is the crux of the story for me.

    Also I think the end is a great summary of the two characters: He is first and foremost a healer happy to give all else (life,love etc) to that cause – she is first and foremost his lover, unwilling even for the life of her daughter to sacrifice him.

    Beautifully constructed and paced.

    1. I’m really happy you saw that as the crux, I do too. Very glad it works for you, and your summaries encapsulate exactly what I meant to do, so I’m suddenly a lot happier about this piece :>. Thank you.

  5. Our Hero marries a healer. As the story progresses, The Healer ages unnaturally as he seems to spend portions of his own life in order to help others. It ends with him entering a room to give his life to save their daughter.

    What I like most is that this isn’t the idyllic relationship, and feels all the more real for it.

    > He is difficult to love, but I have loved him from the first.
    When I first got here I wondered in what way he was difficult to love, and why Our Hero loves him, especially from when they first met. The first question is quite plainly answered, and maybe the answer to both of those questions are what the story is about. It’s never made clear why she does love him, but we can find our own answers.

    I had a little problem with two things: the description of “silver wings”, which made me wonder about actual wings (mostly because I didn’t recognise the term, I think), and the word “hectic”, which made me think of SA slang: “It was hectic blood, bru.” 😛

  6. I loved this. I thought the healer who gives of his life was a very powerful character, and I liked the way he was different to others. I love the way you use his hair changing to show how he ages with each healing – for me the repetition was just right and made the story more folktale/fairytale-ish. The present tense also worked very well in this regard.

    For me, even though he did perhaps love the narrator less deeply, he was still a warm and compelling character. I understood her love for him, because he seemed such a beautiful creature to me. Her acceptance of his ways, tinged with a slight bitterness, I found beautiful and also understandable. She fell in love with what he was – she had to accept that it was going to kill him.

    I also really liked the juxtaposition of the healer who cares for everyone else, and his wife who is perhaps the only one who cares for him – in the sense of counting the cost of his healing.

    Thanks.

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