Nowadays, he almost finds himself yearning to retch at the pitiful, deplorable sight of her, despising all that she does, reviling all those clean and unaware simplicities she employs, all that familiar silk in her words; there are the constant, guileless smiles, and the ways in which she’ll still make careful observances of his weary, trembling condition, bewildered at where it all went wrong and Antonio began losing his mind. How can she possibly come to understand, after all, why he lingers further into the night's dregs than any other man of his age, without alcohol to pry open his eyelids and prolong his stare? How can she understand why it is that he'd rather have the Devil at his throat than her unassuming, excruciating presence?
He has no idea, no singular semblance of a coherent, passing thought that may allow him to begin, nor sufficiently comprehend what he has undergone in the time since he once lived, which of course comes to lead into dread, coupled with terrifying interrogations into the dying conscience he'd much prefer to see go up in flames. Whenever she asks questions of him, always murmured so hideously delicately from her lips (it seems genuine enough that he is partly convinced there is some part of her that acts in consideration alone), in the low, amiable note he once considered to be calming, there is hysteria. There is agony, without suppression.
In days gone by, in the years of golden springs and other frivolous seasons of youth and apathy, he may have merely taken her fingers loosely into his whenever the words came, like the living embodiment of passion and intimacy he once appeared; his limbs would have been drooping languidly in the searing heat of some promising summer, a humid dark. Once, he’d look closely upon her, noting every crease of her brow and stitch of her clothing, without having to fight to fathom every consonant and vowel, churning them through his mind as though he does not understand his own lilt and language. He would not have been asked why sometimes, or perhaps frequently, he collapses beneath his own weighted melancholy, or feels cold beneath the sun.
Perhaps, in those times, he might've led her gingerly forwards into an embrace of heavy, warm eyelids and patient fingers, afraid to indulge, devoid of the ever present fear that what lies beneath him is not skin, but blood not hers and not his own - swilling and spilling into the path to Hell. His eyes might've been a glinting - not paranoid and livid - presence in the light of the wavering candle. Yet now, whenever she still asks questions of him, eyes fixated and so completely certain of themselves, he will only heave a shuddering, unrestrained exhale, and his thinking becomes so that he knows nothing but frigid remorse. Fire sweeps through every deepest crevice of his thinning skull, and he is rendered utterly incapable of concentrating upon the minutest, feeblest distraction before he falls into silence, and weeps without restraint. Sometimes, he (vaguely mirthfully) wonders if the other organs in his chest are struggling to keep the heart alive.
She will raise on her lips inquisitions of his travels, even so, about how he had felt in all the finery of his steel-shell attire and delighted in the wary clutch of his fingers against his musket, where the leaves were thick and the civilisation otherworldly. All he can do to reply, however, is hesitate (discomposed and aghast, staring at his hands, disconnected from this reality), and simply attempt to stem any more of her questions with pleasantries, or promises he believes no more than the ones offered from his own once affable tongue the evening before. Crossing himself, even touching where his skin quavers, does not present ease as it once did so easily, and he senses nothing remotely similar to serenity.
Although, he has to be honest with himself, he understands, at least admitting that it is not merely her that will not have a trace of belief in her eyes (not half of those he knows will, not when they see he's lost his mind) if he somehow brings himself finally to throw forth all these filthy, inconsolable truths he’s concealed for far too many years. He's hidden them well - even satisfyingly, and perhaps effectively - beneath such a mirthful and gayly lighthearted demeanour as she probably considers natural, now. She doesn't ask after his health these days.
Of course, that can never quite be the actual truth of it, but maybe she believes it, still; maybe she still believes he’s the same man after all this time, unchanged by the spectacle of fervent massacres and dark, staring eyes, both dead and living. Maybe, she doesn’t know him at all - at least, not after he returned and took to fitful habits that happen to include paranoia and clumsy, itching movements, reminiscent of a madman.
It’s a steady, thickening lie he’s full aware is still festering in the farthest corners and recesses of his mind, imprisoned behind cages of splintered bone, reaching to thread through his blood to his increasingly erratic heart, but never quite able to strengthen its roots to something that he can understand. He’s tried and prayed to form himself (or in the least attempted to do so) into that man who was so damn oblivious, and unaware that brutality is a price beyond a broken sword. A broken mind seems far more likely, now that he's come to understand that the torture will never die.
Unlike them, he tells himself, lingering at each word ceaselessly, almost laughing at his own torment and how completely pathetic it always seems. Once, he had his own torturer's tools in his fingers, months before he first felt realisation.
Once, he could live contently in such a manner, without the grotesque knowledge of war and of bloodshed (hot and unbearable even now) – he’ll lay awake for hours upon hours at night, these days, flesh sweltering and eyes stretched and glistening, trapped in such a repetitive apparition of truth as he could never have believed could be existent upon the earth, let alone in the confines of his crumbling mind. Is this meant to be Purgatory? Or is it deeper - is it Inferno?
It’s all too disgusting, and too memorable against the torn canvas of his mind, a bright and excruciating painting of gold and red and brown, like torn flesh beneath steel. In the end, he’d eagerly followed the rest with such thoughtless and obedient loyalty, and for what? A murderer's smile and pleased, yet unstable mind?
He’ll never be able to exchange chests brimming with gold for the own purity of his mind, evidently, or explain in words to the other soldiers why it is that he never drinks at night, and hides his weapons and musket in the corner of the room with the handle still scarlet, the blade reflecting the light in a luminescence he readily abhors. Long hours will he waste in the evenings, staring at the thing for minutes at a time with eyes that are vacant with wretched contemplation, only to be distracted temporarily by the sight of his son (bright-eyed and epitomising youth, almost to the point of being as difficult to confront as disease), whom he’ll mindlessly take onto his knee, pressing a kiss to the child’s temple, his joviality deformed.
It’s a gesture toward the child that he almost mindlessly longs his wife to view as cordial and good willed, but even that can only reinforce the undeniable detestation of himself he yearns to cough from his strained lungs and free from his burdened, bloodied mind. Yet he resents that ugly lie - that hidden knowledge of how little truth there remains in any aspect of him, nowadays, not only for the fact it’s always there, but for the fact it’s an unchangeable reminder that regardless of whose face he sees, of whose lips he kisses and who he looks to in the light of day, his eyes will fill themselves with the same dull, deadened light that is perpetually reflected from his blade as it resides against the dust of the wall. Soon enough, he fears, they will be synonymous, both refined to slaughter and both without something even vaguely redeemable and gentle.
No longer is it a possibility to lay such knowledge to rest, to tuck it into bed at night and neglect it even when the sun rises again and it’s turned skeletal, wholly ridden of feeling, akin to his own mind (flesh now dripping from the structure beneath). It’s indefatigable, unfathomable, remaining prevalent, still, in every moment he succeeds in convincing himself it may well be better to forget that he’s a mindless, foolish soldier, and a pet of something greater than himself.
It seems to be an inevitably unimaginable ideal and aspiration that he may, perhaps one morning or fateful night, drive away the burning recollection of how his hands and blades had so readily and recklessly plunged into the shining flesh of one of those painted natives, vivid in the shadows of Tenochtitlan, pulling at strips of skin; he can never allow himself to entirely desert the memories of their inconceivable but startlingly beautiful temples, red against a flat plane of blue and a glorified ball of fire. He will never forget the golden walls with their wide mouthed idols and pierced lips, caked with smattered blood. It’s an all too realistic, all too terrible knowledge of his regrets and haunting resentment; blackened, festering self hatred still continues to eat away at all he knows and still can say he loves, as an honest, credible man. Perhaps his laughter will never be joyous again.
How can he ever allow himself, in these present but agonising years, to boldly meet the eyes of his wife, the one he abandoned to loneliness and seclusion those long months and years of travel, and still bring her knuckles to his lips with the same assurance he had once so commonly, easily assumed? How can he lay comfortably with her at night, or display the same sword he’d once held to the sun, teeth and metal flashing, edge decorated with rotting blood? How can he show the broken musket to his children, talking pleasantly and softly of the skulls he has shattered, and all with the same enthusiasm one usually gives to much more contented affairs? How can he press his hands to the beautiful face of a child he’s not known the existence of for three years, brushing back dark hair from a little forehead, and feeding the child with falsehoods he doesn’t believe, himself?
Nowadays, it’s simply too clear that he can’t stand the presence and venerating words of his wife, nor anyone else that believes they may condone massacre - and Heaven knows, perhaps it’s for a greater reason and actuality of truth than he’ll ever be able to understand.