He loosened her hair from its topknot so that it cascaded over her shoulders in a torrent of black silk.
"No, don't," she protested halfheartedly, her glowing face wreathed in smiles.
His eyes glided over the sheen and surface of her mane. A fragrance wafted upwards as he ran his hands through her hair. A scent of anonymous blossoms, a scent from a foreign land. He longed to learn its language.
If he had to pin it down, if he had to set a name to the fragrance, he would say that it was a mixture of cinnamon and gardenias. Spices that cried of fire, flowers that whispered love. A glorious marriage of scents. He closed his eyes, inhaling it in. He said her name. He breathed it into her raven locks. Catherine.
"What do you like best about me?" she asked one night as they lay in bed, pulling away so that she could look up into his eyes. The vanity of lovers. Wanting him to put into words the very things she prided in herself. She was young still and her years were not fully ripe on her yet. Not quite woman but not fully child, she faltered on the edge of maturity.
She was in that stage of youth where one is in love with their physicality. Unknowingly infatuated with her body, she had the habit of twining her hair through her fingers, and as she did it now, the lamplight caught the glowing embers that hid in her mane of black. He watched, mesmerized.
"I can only pick one thing?"
"Yes. Tell me what you like most about me."
"Well, if I had to pick one thing..."
"Yes, yes, what would it be?"
"Your hair, of course."
"Because it ... it holds your beauty."
She giggled, suddenly abashed, and lowered her head to hide her face, her curtain of hair falling over scarlet cheeks. He leaned forward and immersed himself in it, sinking into its weight.
It was difficult to put into words what he loved most about her. It was beyond language, beyond all common sentiment. What he loved most about her hair perhaps had more to do with him than her; he loved wrapping it around his wrists, he loved when it got in the way of kisses, he loved how it seemed like an entity all to itself, when she was asleep and he lay awake, watching her. His hands tangled in the endless vines of her hair. It almost seemed to breathe in those moments.
He kept his eyes open that night to watch the tiny fireworks of static electricity dance within her hair. It was past midnight, when lovers are either bending forward in frantic embraces or sliding down with gravity and exhaustion into their beds of goose-down. Still he kept his eyes open, watching the theater of expressions that played over her face during slumber. Her mouth moved to silent words, her eyebrows rose upwards as if in argument. But her hair was what was most alive about her in those moments, more than her features, more than her unconscious limbs. It seemed to move in that half-light, stretching out over the white pillows like a dark tide.
He drowned in it almost every single night so that a month passed and he was pale with lack of sleep. But he kept this hidden from her, and she could not understand why he was sluggish and exhausted during the day, nor the reason for the blue half-moons underneath his bloodshot eyes.
"Did you sleep well, my love?" she would ask, and soon her asking became routine, always followed by the echo of his reply:
"I slept well, my love."
Night after night it was the same. Sometimes they made love, and the shadows stretched along the wall in synch with the pulse and tremor of their bodies. Always at the climax, he would grab her hair, pulling her neck back in the moment of his arousal so that she could not breathe. Always after love, she would sink into sleep, her head at his stomach, and his eyes would remain unclosed, unblinking, watching the seasons of night pass over her hair.
One night during love, he pulled her hair back rather viciously, with more strength than he had intended, and the cry she had ready to let loose died within her throat. She fell backwards, hitting the wall with a dull thud, her neck at an impossible angle. Her blue eyes staring to the side, staring at nothing at all.
"Catherine." He said her name. He breathed it into the night to make it true. But she did not respond.
He raised her head and looked into the face of the woman he loved and saw that she was dead, and he knew he was the reason for it. Already her lips were turning blue.
"Catherine, Catherine!" And then, in a hushed whisper that was almost inaudible, "What have I done..."
He knelt on the floor next to the bed, watching the last ounce of warmth and breath escape her body, willing her to come back. But a final shiver coursed through her, and a sigh like a dark bird flew out from her mouth. Her soul had winged away from him too, and now he was alone with his grief and his guilt.
Mad with his grief and guilt, he got into bed with her, pulling her limp arms around him, forcing her body to respond to his. He held her in a cold embrace and her hair fell forward over his arms. It was warm still! Wonder of wonders, he swore he could hear it breathe, he felt it move. Only her hair was alive now, and it ran on nimble feet into his hands, over his arms. He laughed out in delight as it reached forward to touch his face, stretching out like a paw.
His laughter turned quickly to a gasp of shock as her hair moved up past his arms and closed vise-like around his neck. It tightened its grip until he could no longer breathe. He struggled to free himself but he couldn't, and he felt the strength waning from his body, he felt his eyes grow dim.
With the last breath he had left he said her name: "Catherine." Then he sank down into the bed next to her, into the stillness that comes only after the last filament of life has left one completely, as the first rays of light stretched out like starfish fingers across the sky. They lit up the room, changing the shadows to colors, chasing away the dark, making it seem like her hair had caught on fire.