You never did find out that they had poisoned me, did you? I guess it is safe to tell you now that they are well outside of the reach of your rage… What were you told, I wonder? A sweating sickness? A failed pregnancy? Why did they fear me so that frigid summer, when you went riding off on Caesar’s orders and we were all left to await your safe return?
Cornelia had always hated me; I’ll give her that. But what of your own sister? Did they conceive in their aristocratic minds that you, a Patrician of noble birth may ask Cornelia, a Senator’s daughter, for a divorce in order to marry a Pleb, a freed-woman, a common harlot, as they had often called me?
How did you take the news? Do you remember rushing to my house only to find my slave-girl weeping by the door, her hair gray with ash? Or did they buy her, too? Was she the one to slip the potion into my evening wine? She had good cause, the poor wretch – my will would free her.
What did you do next? Gallop home, storm through the villa with your sword drawn, tearing up draperies, tossing vases to the floor, clawing at the frescos? Did Cornelia crawl after you, pale with fright, begging you to stop? I would’ve liked to see the sight. I truly would’ve. Did you mourn for me, drowning your brilliance in wine? Did you take slaves and strangers to your bed to fill the emptiness that my absence left? Did you regret the manner in which we had parted?
I never will forget your last brief visit to my bed-chamber. You came in, unannounced and unexpected; briefly surveyed the room, as if you expected to find another lover hiding behind the crimson drapes. Your jaw was set into that stubborn line; your eyes burned. You didn’t say a word. You merely placed your right hand between my breasts and sat in silence for a while, solemn, as if you were giving me an oath.
You sent a letter from the road. Then another. Brief non-committal accounts of your well-being. The very act of writing to me was scandalous, and so you were always mindful of the words. I cursed you – cruel, unyielding man, too proud for tender nothings. Yet still I kissed your letters, oh Marcus, how I kissed them! They smelled of horse sweat, of the road and of moist soil. The smelled the way you smelled after riding in the country.
Then the letters stopped. There were only the rumors of Caesar’s successes. I had assumed that you were too far away, too preoccupied. You were not dead, though, of that I was sure. I would’ve felt your death…
Days turned into months.
Your only two letters had come to decorate my altar. So did the silk wrap that you had given me.
At night, I clung on to my pillow. I would bury my face in its velvet richness and breathe, hoping to breathe in your scent. I listened for the hoof-beats against the pavement outside my door. I had believed that you would be back any time now.
I didn’t know that I would never see you again…