"On that day hearts beat painfully."


With an unexpected show of penitence (?) gratitude (?) anguish (?) grief (?); Franchone cannot name the sentiment gripping him, enclosing him in a fearsome hug spontaneous, though oblique, unsure if Zahra's soggy grasp connotes affection or despair, inclined to bear it irrespective, glad to proffer his support, aware of dampness in the crush of breasts and saturated clothing, of the heat her torso generates in proximity—flush with his—her face turned sideways, cheek and ear against his well-developed pectorals, pulse a touchstone, settling down, resuming steady, measured beats...

... a blessed, pacifying metronome to this woman, overwrought, her nerves in tangles, shoulders trembling, limbs unwilling to release a man she would not have predicted could be selflessly receptive in a situation lesser men might callously subvert. Her strength, sufficient unto holding him, is waning, giving in to wave upon wave of sheer exhaustion; she grows weak, arms cease to squeeze, mouth semi-slack distractedly muzzles Franchone's adumbrated shirtfront...

... like a newborn blindly groping for its mother's swollen teat; a sort of nursing, gnawing motion he is helpless to identify, in that Zahra's crop of rain-drenched hair obstructs his view. She weeps? A breathy salvo of pathetic sobs, unleashed from somewhere basic, centered deep within the confines of her troubled soul, resounds, incites constraint in him whose urge it is to pamper, to console, concerned lest pats progress to strokes, his clasps of comfort to caresses, chaste compassion, pure, uncompromised by her humid press of flesh, turned into ardor—loathed if forced, if unreciprocated. Best behave: provide whatever aid is warranted, try to share the other's plight, without imposing or presuming. Simply be there, meet her need, allow the eyes now blinking up through pools of post-traumatic tears to signal 'hold me' 'let me go' 'forgive or blame' 'accept or spurn me' as the meaning of her pained expression adds to his befuddlement. Is she searching for some word or phrase, expecting him to fathom all the anguish, all the violence of her shock-afflicted state? Her form is dwarfed by his whose broader spans are powerless to suppress the plaintive cries that strive to stanch their flow within his firm embrace, her pangs absorbed as by osmosis, Franchone sensing her distress in ways both humbling and ennobling. He feels useless; he feels honored that this woman, whom he scarcely knows, would let herself take refuge in the arms of one whose motives heretofore have been profane. Or does the look on Zahra's face express distrust?