At first, I didn’t believe that it was her; it couldn’t have been, not the girl I’d seen drinking champagne on a balcony overlooking the sea, her dark hair running through the sky like a crack in sea glass, smelling of cinnamon and salted breeze. Not the girl that had held me with hands soft as anenonome, and had kissed me more softly still.
But then, after a dozen newspaper reports, after glimpsing her, one night, crawling backwards up some black shelf of tumbled rock, I knew that it could be no one else but she, but Giada.
My Giada, who I had loved, and loved still with a certainty I’d never sense again.
Yet it seems I’d known she had it in her from the beginning. Who else would have clawed so ordinary a face as mine from a crowd and pressed it to a wall behind an ice cream stall, her red lips, against mine—which were, by contrast, pale, and thin —but a killer, one who wanted more of the flesh than flesh itself? A killer— in every line of her slenderness she was capable of that, for all that she walked barefoot across white sands in daylight, wearing only a chiffon-banded sun hat to fend off the light, although her teeth were small and without vertices upon my tongue, although, when we clung to one another in soaked white dresses in the coiling sea, she was as as supple as a seal in my arms.
Ah, but seals are killers, too, all muscle and molars behind their soulful eyes. So Giada was, also, her breath hot with the filth of blood under vanilla, had I only thought to savour the taste.
“We must be careful,” I whispered to her, one afternoon, as we boated through the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a cave submerged half under sea. “There have been some young people washed up dead, around here, these past few weeks. A shark, they say, far from home, killing out of hunger.”
“So sad,” Giada had said, her voice—always lyrically beautiful—quite cool, and remote. Yet I watched bright emerald shadows dapple the hollows of her face, and thought nothing of this comment, for often she would say such abstract, cunning things, and turn cleverly from interrogation into another subject so that I would forget that brief moment of strangeness. It was always easy to lose my thoughts, in Giada, who was as abrupt and mysterious as the wind, carrying my mind wherever she thought to take it.
In the long afternoons we would lie in a crisp hotel bed, or in the cabin of an expensive cruise ship, and slumber long, my hands in a tangle of her ebony hair, her lips touched to my throat. By night we danced at any of a thousand parties, or ran up unimaginable buildings to watch lights spark their electric brilliance far down below. There was ever an adventure, ever a dream to chase in the balmy night, until—having scarcely half the energy of she—I would submit to my bed again, letting Giada go free wherever she would.
In the morning she would return, untouched by the ravages of the evening, if anything only more aglow.
“My love,” she’d whisper, at my ear. “My love, my love, where shall we go today? Who shall we see?”
For she knew so many people, each more eccentric and fascinating than the last— writers, painters, socialites, billionaires who would say nothing of their wealth, and yet spilled it plentifully upon us both, for, at Giada’s side, I developed something of her starshine. Once, I had been but a humble student, stammering my way through balding Italian on a gap year that never seemed to reach its end. Suddenly I was a poet of some success, my inspiration being the fathomless well that was Giada, that was our life, our love.
Before her I don’t know how I even breathed.
But then more deaths along the coast came thick and fast, most of them accidents, drunken youths drowning at sea, but others murders, undeniably, throats gouged out, blood drained to a mere crimson dust, impossible, and yet medically proven to be so. I became afraid of those bustling towns with their endless tides of beautiful young people, their dwindling number scarcely felt as tourists came day by day to replace the loss. Giada was untouched by terror, or by sorrow; although I’d never known her to be dismissive, or even cruel, she was an unpinnable spirit whose enigmatic sympathies were entirely her own.
Yet, one night, I was angered by this, repulsed that I could not strain one word of human feeling from her in regards to those who had washed up on the beach that day like the corpses of some poisoned shoal.
“What do you care about, Giada, beyond stupid, shallow things? For whom do you care?”
And then, for the first time, I saw tears in the capsuled night of her eyes, and she spun away down the stone staircase from our apartment in a swirl of diaphonous kaftan, her sobs ringing down to the cliffs below. We had never argued before, but then, of course, we’d had no reason to. It was true: Giada never spoke of anything of genuine depth, or else stepped away from it before anyone could fully grasp her soul. The realisation struck me with a sort of fear, for I understood, then, that I scarcely knew who she was.
I couldn’t sleep for the lack of her, the puppyish warmth of her lithe body against mine gone away into the anonymous dark, where I might never find her again.
In a tangle of half-dreams I saw her thrashing on a fisherman’s spear in some cold ocean, her face no longer a woman’s, but sleek, and wicked, and sharp. Each time I awoke in a salt of my own sweat, crying out for her, my wits wrung dry by the spell of her name.
It would not do. I had to take her back, find her before whatever creeping devil had slaughtered a hundred beautiful women and boys that summer came for Giada, and left her floating like a selkie’s skin amidst the sopping foam.
Down to the little private beach I ran without shoes, cutting my soft feet on a dozen treacherous rocks. The sea beat its arms like an onyx titan against the mounting cliffs, and in the smothering night everything was black, even the sand that had gleamed like the sweat of mermaids that very same afternoon. I called for Giada over the wind, thinking, for some crazed moment, that she had weighed down her pockets with stones and gone out into the waves.
For the little she spoke of herself I had this certain impression of Guida: if she were ever truly hopeless then she would be definite and immovable in her bid for a tragic death.
And then. Then, caught up in a ribbon of seaweed I saw the hump of a broken little body— a man, scarcely twenty-one, thin and fragile with the European sort of youth, drawn from scant daylight and too many Russian novels—bloodless and contorted under another figure, this one dark and jagged with a thousand edges, although it was as human as he. It sucked at the boy’s gaping throat with Death’s own sallow thirst, nursing at the frail parchment of skin until it birthed another stream of blood that came away black as silt under the moonlight.
I must have made some sound, a guttering cry, for the spirit raised its head to look at me, and for a moment I saw nought but the pebbled eyes of something born in subterranean deep. Then its cramped form staggered backwards, crab-like, up the vertices of an impossible cliff, and I glimpsed from the pathetic flap of its white dress against its diminishing form that this was the very fiend I so loved.
Human, suddenly, those glinting eyes, and although still she hung with scratching hands from precarious rock I knew that she recognised me, that she was not lost, although her hunger had half-taken her from me.
Had I been afraid, then, and run, or made some fool’s attempt to strike her I might have found myself splayed out in a dull pool like the beautiful stranger, and known no more. But my empathy touched the Delphian heart of that night animal, for down she came to me, smelling of copper and the sea, on all fours, like a feral woman raised by witches on some foreign coast. She nuzzled into my chest, my hair, all weakness and affection, and so I took her up to our room again, and bathed her, and waited for her thirst to withdraw again.
The following morning we did not speak of what she had done, and have not, still, in such plain terms as you might wish me to define. Yet I did urge Giada, through many subtleties, to take rather less substance in her feeding, so that those she leapt upon might think themselves only heatstruck, or else bitten by some wretched fly, knowing nothing of her mouth upon their throat. It seemed that she had not conceived of such a trick, before, had perhaps only thought herself a monster, damned, and bound to a frivolous half-life with no one no care for her, but she.
Now, there was I.
We trod the silent pews of churches, after midnight services, or slipped through quiet bars where some fey patron keeled beneath our silhouettes, often quite willingly so. I had determined, at first, to merely be her keeper, a watchman to observe that Giada never be discovered, or else fend off a killing that might come, were hunters of her ilk as true as she was.
But, like many things I had once thought of Giada, I had falsely seen myself through her eyes. One day, as sunset broke like a crimson egg over the horizon and poured its liquor down upon the city, she kissed me on a veranda, and slipped a ring of gold upon my hand.
“I bought this, long ago,” she said, “in a little shop, in that first town, where you tasted of coconut oil and ice cream. I knew it, then, what I wanted. I knew.”
I laughed, then, a sound hoarse and unlovely for the beauty of the moment, but I saw, in her eyes, that she did not think it so. Then down upon my neck she pressed her cutting kiss, and like an envelope she tore from me my life, lovely in its torrent of vermillion.
We danced that night with a dozen of our glamorous friends, down on the beach, our feet untiring, our eyes, reborn for the night, perceiving not the damnable blackness of human sight but the colours endless in their sublimity, going on forever, through the fathoms of the stars. We felt beneath us all the very sand had observed, so many fleeting lives running, as we did, across its grains, and in the booming song of the ocean against the shore we sensed our future, and the possibility of things we had not done, and that those we loved—though merely human—would do under the coaxing of our eternal hands.
But what we saw most clearly was that we were Gods, and death was nothing to us, and would never be again. And though we have kept to the habit I begged of Giada the night I glimpsed the dying boy in the sand there is a claim that I must make, to you, if only for the sake of my integrity, a so very human ethic, I know.
Giada—my love, the toothed wind, beloved darkness—is a killer, and if, one day, the ebb and flow of my thirst sweeps me beyond what even I can bear then I may be a killer, too.
Until then, I am but a shadow dancing by the water, or else merely a poet, however you should find me. These things are much the same, now I am changed.