Filly and Kol
by Alyssa Turoczy
“Life and Death have been in love for longer than we have words to describe. Life gives countless gifts to Death, and Death keeps them forever.”
A footpath of smooth gravel wound its way through Filly’s garden, past the three-tired fountain and a quaint bench for two. She perched on the stone, hands wrapped around a cup of tea; the curls of steam caressed her nose. She closed her eyes against the waning sun, washing the evening in an array of reds and oranges. Waves of dark hair spilled down her back, and when she heard her stones starting to munch under familiar yet unexpected footsteps, it draped over one shoulder as she tipped her head to the side.
The rim of the glass touched her softly-smiling lips. “Good evening, Kol.”
“It’s night.” The smile skewed at his tone. He lingered in his immaculate suit, arms stiff at his sides. Beside his fingertips, her rosebushes seemed to gray. Kol saw stars glitter in Filly’s green eyes as she opened them. There was such life, such childlike wonder and energy that Kol neither appreciated nor envied, but wondered in return, how? How could one be so optimistic in a world like this?
Filly sighed and unfurled herself. She took Kol’s hand away from her roses and held it palm-up. She met his near-black gaze; how could one be so pessimistic in a world like this? With a sweet smile, she set her teacup in his gloved hand and twirled out of his grasp. The glass started to squeal in his fist, but she gave him a stern look. He ground his teeth before reining in his temper and setting it on the bench.
“You owe me many gifts today, Filly.”
Her toes were light as she flounced down the path. He rolled his eyes and trailed after her. “Gifts indeed, but must you be so dismal about it?”
“Are you saying that I am dismal because I do not wear a dress that looks like a tulip?” he asked flatly.
The contents of Filly’s garden were as diverse as people, all part of the earth. There were white carnations (innocence and pure love), chrysanthemums (truth, cheerfulness), daffodils, and dahlias (respect, dignity and elegance), a plethora of irises (faith, wisdom, friendship, and yellow for passion)… Filly’s fingers hovered, unconsciously, over the monkshood (beware, a deadly friend is near). But Kol plucked a primrose; although that, too, seemed to sadden at his touch, he offered it to her with an attempt at a smile.
“A primrose? I cannot live without you? The prince of the dark is more of a gentleman than I remember.” Filly reached to take it, but he snatched it back with a scowl, which she matched with a pout. “What went wrong today?”
The scowl deepened. “Damn doctors—five saved within the hour. Why do you keep stealing your gifts?”
To irk him, she took the flower and tucking it behind her ear. “My gifts have minds of their own, Kol. Once they exist, I have no control. You should be used to this by now.”
“You’d think I would be,” he grumbled.
They traveled often, and sometimes one was gone longer than the other. Once in a while they met in a neutral area. When not in their suitable environment, tempers were tested. It was hard to imagine elegant little Filly’s cheeks warmed with something other than a blush. Kol, on the other hand, in his cold impeccability, seemed to draw himself higher and broader. That was why they tended to not spend longer than a day together.
It had been five years since they had met last, and it had been snowing then, too. But it had been a snowstorm that worsened Filly and Kol’s already foul moods.
“It can’t be that hard,” Kol had growled as he met her at a sidewalk corner in a lonely town. There were too little people for either of their liking.
She had shot him a look. “My gifts are not easy. Do not mess with what you don’t know.”
They parted ways almost immediately. As short as it was, it was no less powerful. Filly remembered this—the look in his eyes had been the same: impatience. And with impatience came ignorance. She considered him, and then grinned. “You’ve never seen me work, have you? Let me show you! Maybe I can—and you know I don’t condone it—offer a few gifts that you have been denied.”
Kol’s lips pressed together. “I’m not fond of the idea.”
“Of course not. Come on.”
But he would be a fool to not follow Filly in her flower dress. As they stepped into the flurry-filled outside, it was draped by a long spring-green overcoat with a matching floppy hat. Her fingers skimmed the brim and beamed at Kol, who rolled his eyes before he drew up his hood. Striding down the sidewalk, they received a number of stares: who was the looming black figure beside the tiny woman with a bounce in her every step?
A winter breeze bite their skin. They looked up in unison as the snow began falling harder, and then to each other. He raised a groomed eyebrow. She caved. “I was hoping to get hot chocolate first.”
“I hate hot chocolate.”
“I hate you.”
She said it with little conviction, and he replied, “You love me.”
Filly nodded. “I love you.”
Filly was determined to make today not like that day five years ago. This was a lesson she was more than happy to teach; it was a lesson Kol would gladly ignore. Filly wanted Kol to see what she saw, to feel what she felt—to prove that her gifts were not so idly conceived.
The hallways smelled different to each of them; the rooms emitted different auras. Today and always, this environment suited them both.
“There is no vibrancy here, Filly. I will never experience what you do; it’s against my nature.”
“That’s because you’ve never tried! It’ll be easy, I promise. If you hate it that much, just remember you get the gifts anyway. It’s a win-win situation. Look—isn’t that sweet?” She pointed at the gift shop, where a father and young daughter were searching for the right teddy bear for the girl’s little brother.
“It is superficial,” Kol said.
She shoved her hat at him. “Step one: agree with me.”
He plastered on a smile, all gums and too-white teeth, that made a woman behind Filly stumble back. “It’s adorable.”
“Perfect. Come along, student.”
“Hold on.” Kol stopped short when she tried to tug him by his sleeve; she nearly fell over. “It is only fair that I show you my view as well.”
Filly recoiled. The green of her eyes seemed to flare bright and then flicker a sickly color.
“We deal in balance, Filly,” Kol said with a genuine smile—a wicked smile. “Would you dare disrupt it?” She crossed her arms and wouldn’t meet his gaze that was as equally edged with wickedness. She mumbled something. “I’m sorry, my love,” he purred, “I didn’t hear that.”
“Fine!” Filly retorted. “You go first now because I don’t want to leave here with a heart as dreary as yours.”
“My pleasure. Right this way, student.” He guided her forward, hand at her back. It both soothed and annoyed her. “I promise to show the essence of my profession.”
“No, no,” she said too lightly, “I’m okay with the bare minimum.”
“Ah, too late,” he said under his breath as they weaved through the people in the hallway, didn’t make a path for them so much as Filly and Kol seemed to pass through them. A small crowd gathered outside a room, whispering and crying. Faces were buried in crooks of shoulders, tissues pressed to noses, mouths muffled by palms. Kol’s presence pounded while Filly’s shrank, starting to quiver at the despair. She smelled it—what he smelled: sadness, anger, all of it part of the sublime. “You have to go inside, Filly,” Kol murmured as she dug in her heels.
She didn’t want to see the opposite of everything she knew. It was the same room—same wallpaper, same bed, same nurses and doctors. Life lingered here, yes, but it was the ebbing of it, not the flow.
“I thought you were all about embracing new experiences or some shit,” he growled. For someone so small, she was resiliently strong. But with one more shove, Filly was in the middle of the room standing at the foot of the bed.
An old man lay beneath the tucked-tight sheets. His eyes were closed and his breathing was artificial, generated by the machine. The heartbeat monitor and its sharp green peaks—sharp, and short. Filly hated that shade of green. There were so many tubes… She lurched forward, but Kol grabbed her by the collar. She whirled. He only shook his head, dark hair falling into his eyes. “I don’t want to give a gift like this.” She almost couldn’t get the words out.
The man was dying; she had to let him go. She had given him life, and it was not her job to take it back. In all the time she had existed, she had never experienced this. Now she knew why.
“There is life here,” Kol said from the man’s bedside. He leaned over his prone form as if inspecting what might come from him. When she had snapped, Where? he gestured a hand toward her.
Not toward her—behind her. The crowd of people standing outside. Of course they were family. They were here to say their goodbyes. The heartbeat monitor beeped; that single note, as if different from the others, triggered one of the women into motion—she ran through Filly, through Kol, to fall to her knees and take the old man’s hand in her own. She sobbed his name, sobbed, No, over and over again. Filly felt her heart swell enough so she couldn’t breathe. She watched people trickle in or drift away down the hall, too overcome to witness what would come.
Filly stood there and watched it all. Eventually, the man died. A piece of Filly wilted; she was a garden, and some blossoms were no longer green. Kol watched that youngness of hers grow up a little.
He took her hand. When she looked at him with her green, tear-filled eyes, he saw dying stars. A smidge of guilt dampened his mood, and Kol sighed. “Let’s go.”
Filly wanted to run, but Kol kept a firm grasp around her shoulders as he guided her toward the lobby. They sat down beside an anxious-looking man. Filly seemed torn in wanting to swear at Kol and hiding her face in his shoulder. She was repulsed by neither him nor his occupation, but today…today she just felt sick.
“I can’t believe you enjoy that. Is that what becomes of my gifts?”
“Don’t be so condescending. I don’t like it, I just… It’s what I do. You are the one that gives those gifts.”
“We grow older,” Filly whispered suddenly, reaching to touch Kol’s cheek. He winced, but he allowed her fingers to trace the lines of his face that hadn’t been there minutes ago. She then considered herself; her girlish appearance had become more defined.
Adrenaline sluiced down his spine. Kol had always wished for Filly to be a considerable amount less obnoxious, after so much time being more cheerful than songbirds on the first day of spring, but in this moment he realized that he would gladly choose that over who sat beside him now. He’d seen shellshocked men before they died, and they had worn the same haunted look that Filly wore now.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he grunted.
“Who are you to know?” But she had turned her head to the man beside her biting his nails. “Who are you?”
The man started, nearly falling over in his chair as if he hadn’t even noticed Filly there. He recovered quickly at the sight of her. Calm seemed to settle over him. “I’m waiting,” he said, “for my sister—”
A doctor strode briskly into the lobby, gesturing to the man. He leapt up and followed him, and Filly pulled Kol to his feet. They drifted behind until the door closed at their backs. This bed was the same as the dying man’s, but this one held two thriving lives. The crooning of the new mother soothed a piece of Filly as she nuzzled her baby’s nose. The father and the brother were just as teary-eyed as they beheld the miracle before them.
As quickly as it had withered, Filly’s spirit soared. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she breathed as the parents of the newborn girl rested their foreheads together for a moment. No one in the room could stop smiling. Except Kol, who would not even try.
“Thank the world you’re back to normal,” Kol said, giving her a once-over.
“Don’t focus on me, you bastard, focus on life.” He huffed. She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Next stop.”
Kol, new to the experience, found staring at rows of stranger’s babies through a window to be off-putting. This was a normal thing humans did? While the sight of all the white and the small stripes of pink and blue on the blankets made him curl his lip, Filly was lost in a dreamy state. She pressed herself up against the window as if her own child was beyond the glass sleeping away. She purposefully squeezed between people to tell them how precious everything was. Then she yanked Kol from where he lurked across the hall as a nurse hurried over when a little boy started to cry, and held the bundle in her arms. She looked hopeful that he might have some reaction to such an a connection of two souls; he just shook his head.
Filly pouted. She wished he would just find something worth marveling over. Did this truly not touch his sheltered heart? She supposed it wouldn’t; in the same regard what did touch him touched her heart too hard and too cruelly. They were just too different to see eye-to-eye.
But then he murmured, “So this is what your gifts start off as?”
Filly turned to him with a soft smile. “Yes,” she said softly. “As vulnerable as when you receive them.”
She searched his face. It was as distant as ever, but there was something in his voice that gave her hope. When he looked at her, however, she felt a twinge of guilt. They were balance—she needed to see the way he saw his profession the way he saw hers now: peaceful, pure.
Filly took a deep breath. “I need to see again.”
So Kol brought her to another sickbed. The old woman was days from fading, but she seemed accepting of such a fate. It was an acceptance Filly could acknowledge even as she started to shrink in the presence of Kol’s domain; it wasn’t resignation, but a greeting. She looked to him, and his expression was the most equable she had ever seen. Then she heard a different sort of crying. A couple slipped into the room, a newborn baby cradled in the mother’s arms. The little boy was transferred to his grandmother, whose eyes filled with tears.
“There is life here,” he said again.
Filly exhaled. What a sight—the cycle was right before her. Life at its beginning and its end. And just as she saw the beginning as beautiful, she saw that its end wasn’t as tragic as she had believed. As the murmurs of the family grew distant in their ears, Filly and Kol looked at their counterparts with the realization dawning in their eyes. They saw the juxtaposition between young and old. Kol now understood the gravity of the gifts he received. He realized that he was never taking a life, he was given one. Given many, time and time again. Filly didn’t like him taking what her efforts had brought, but she understood now that her gifts were not wasted on him, even before they showed each other their worlds. He didn’t just take her gifts, he welcomed them.
Kol accepted Filly’s gifts, and he kept them forever.
“I believe you take good care of them,” Filly said suddenly as they walked once again down the street with the snow swirling around them.
The passersby found a different couple now: a man and a woman in their late twenties, seeming for all the world content in their lives. Ease smoothed their snowflake-dusted shoulders.
Kol glanced down at her. That ridiculous floppy hat covered her face. “I do,” was all he said.
“Will I see you again soon?”
“Do you want to see me?”
Filly twirled in front of him. “Do you want to see me?”
They were both waiting for him to take the kinder route, but neither was surprised when he didn’t. “No, not really.”
They stopped outside Filly’s garden. “Come inside,” Filly appealed. “You could offer me a different flower, and we could end our day not in the snow.”
Kol lifted the hat from her hair, and she held his black gaze lit by the streetlamp behind her. “This is as far as I go.”
He didn’t say it unkindly, but still Filly sighed. “It was nice to see you.”
“How rare this is,” she tried for conversation, “to be content.” When he only kept looking at her, she burrowed further in her overcoat. She no longer felt small. In fact, she was invigorated. She had accomplished her goal in showing Kol a new world—and in turn, she learned his. With this knowledge, she would cherish her efforts even more. Yes, her work could be sad…but she trusted him.
In turn, Kol considered her. The absurd green hat seemed to hold a piece of her, warm in his bitter hands. He thought back to five years ago when she had looked at him with an expression nearing outrage. Now her mouth was a petite smiling bow and her eyelashes fluttered from the snowflakes. Content. Yes, he supposed he was. He would never admit to her, but he truly did appreciate her gifts—he appreciated her.
He didn’t say anything in return, so Filly left her parallel on the threshold. “Goodnight—” she began, but Kol took her wrist. She turned her star-filled eyes to him once more, and the words dissolved on his tongue.
But he plucked up his courage and said, “Thank you. Filly.”
She beamed. “You are welcome, Kol.” She rose on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. For a moment, pink bloomed on his pale skin.
Perhaps a blush, perhaps life brushing against death. With her final thank you and Kol placing her hat back atop her head, Filly returned to her garden. Kol watched the door for a moment before touching his cheek. How odd. Drawing up his hood, he returned to the snow-filled streets and continued on his way toward the future, where more gifts would await.