10 Months, 2 Days (ibid.)
"It all looks so beautiful."
"Sir, you flatter me too much."
There was no compliment that I could give that would be deemed 'too much' when this unicorn was concerned. Her voice was a comforting symphony to me. It sounds abstract to say that, but the natural rhythm of the world had always proven itself to be of great interest to me. Music, or indeed particular pitches and tones, had forever been a great indicator of how I would come to feel about somepony. An oafish-sounding ruffian-pony would receive little of my time and less of my patience; a savvy-businesspony of a crystalline complexion and voice would leave me feeling cold and resentful. When this unicorn spoke, however, her dialect and diction denoted something incredible to me; it was a voice that one could fall in love with, and a soothing rhythm if ever I heard one.
It must sound ridiculous to the untrained ear that I would spend such a long time fascinating myself with the dalliance of the unicorn's voice. I partially blame my romantic aspirations, and otherwise view my obsessions as having been influenced by the great writer-ponies that had so nibbled away at my own linguistic form. Sentimentality often eluded me quite consciously, and it was nothing short of perplexing that I had crossed such stimulating paths with this delicate mare, especially as my intentions in being within Ponyville had never initially involved this purple-maned object of desire. I still, to this day, ask myself why I had chosen to make it my familiar locale. To rationalize, my main reason for going to Ponyville in the first place was in order to escape pretty much everywhere else. In Equestria, when you want to lose yourself, there are three destinations that one can seek: the outer shanty towns, Manehattan and Ponyville.
Those shanty towns are as unappealing as they sound; the locals are cowpokes and bandits and other unsavoury types. That was a world for country-folk, and certainly not for one as refined as me. I was born in Manehattan, albeit the Cheapside, but it did not take me long to get out of there. To most, I am a Trottingham pony; the sort of pony who stands by his convictions and carries himself with grace and humility. We may not be the most emotional of ponies in Trottingham our hubris and stiff upper-lip is world-famous - but we make up for our stoicism through our dependability and rugged constitutions. If ever a pony is in need, they go to Trottingham. Which, as I say, is a far more desirable location than the shanty towns of the outer-realm, and one would have to be mad to try and find solitude among the tumbleweed. After all, if one wishes to desert, going to a deserted place is a rather foolish conception of wit; indeed, it is the equivalent of drawing a red mark on an otherwise blank sheet and asking somepony to locate the irregular spot. Truly, if one wishes to escape, they must go somewhere populated, else they stick out like a sore hoof.
Which brings me to the second location for leaving Equestria behind; Manehattan. For obvious reasons it may seem odd to attempt to escape by going to one of the largest cities in Equestria Canterlot finds itself in the same situation and yet, given my previous reasoning, it is, in fact, the perfect place to lose oneself. After all, who would find a pony among a crowd of thousands, and what pony would waste their time looking for one in such a tempestuous mass? In Manehattan, one could disappear behind a group of clerk-ponies and stay there out of sight for days, sheltered beneath the incessant waffling that so aptly leaves their serpentine tongues. For, you see, this is why Manehattan is not a place that I would personally choose to escape to, for the population, although vast, are vacuous and prone to thriving upon nature's most illicit inhibitions. Manehattan must be the only city in Equestria where one can speak with the native population for hours on end and actually lose information from the brain; it leaks out, as if their very words make the listener less intelligent by the second. This is no doubt due to their ruthless obsession with gossip.
It is not all bad in Manehattan; of note is an old companion of mine by the name of Gazette who works for a very specific branch of the Manehattan Media he is a journalist for the Rococo Report - that would never print lies and resort to shaming others. They are a satirical paper run by wits, and Gazette had made his name in attacking preconceived notions about the secondary monarch, Princess Luna, disguised as a pornographic series of lithographs but in fact consisting of anything but. It was a humourous article of witticism beyond the common rabble, which is arguably why it had become so popular; so many had stumbled into the obvious pitfall of believing it to be a true account of saucy bedroom-shenanigans. If they had requested a refund, Gazette would likely have made more money and fame by writing a mocking retort about how they should have known better than to sexualise royalty. For him, no story was too risqué and burlesque to print.
Alas, the Rococo Report makes up very little of the Manehattanite community, among which are the most lamentable ponies imaginable. Old Manehattan, my unfortunate birthplace, remains a disgusting hovel, abandoned by contemporary regulations for sanitation and not only allowed to stagnate, but actively encouraged to do so through shameful neglect. In its natural state of poverty, those living within its confides are stunted by an understandably myopic world-view; that everything outside of their immediate sphere of influence is in a similar state of disarray, and thus making a conscious effort to improve conditions would be a worthless exercise. There are no physical barriers between Old Manehattan and the Manehattan published in the papers; the gravity pulling one back into its murky depths is a social constraint rather than a preventative wall. I found the strength to leave; others should as well, or else they should avoid complaining about their dire condition for fear of hypocrisy.
Those of the greater city are no better, for although they have wealth, they have not been educated in how to spend it wisely. When one has money, the correct thing to do is to use it sparingly, when one finds the immediate need. 'Expenditure when necessary' should be the manifesto of the wealthy elite, and yet one cannot walk the streets of Manehattan without being trampled by a portly stallion, an entertainer of many mistresses, who has fallen foul to the meat-market hooves of gluttony, vomiting onto his lady's diamond-encrusted dress due to his over-indulgence. And she, no better, would have thousands of perfumes on hoof to spray herself with to rid her of his repugnant odour, and a cleaning apparatus in her petticoat that could remove any stain within moments. The root cause of it all is, of course, living by excess.
So no, Manehattan is not a place that I could find my escape without wishing to kill myself in the process. Which, naturally, leaves me with only one option; Ponyville, the small hamlet prone to lazy evenings and even lazier nights. Very little is written about Ponyville; the locals are regarded as being neighbourly and inoffensive, yet lacking in refinement. They do not acknowledge fashion in Ponyville; they wear what they can find, and more often than not nothing at all, which is seen as being grossly uncouth to outsiders. The first time that I saw a bare pony in Ponyville I found myself strangely appalled, and yet the bestial side of me wished to know more about their ways and to bask in their celebratory nakedness. Modesty is not a word in the Ponyvillian vocabulary, or, at least, that is what I had come to believe prior to meeting the unicorn standing before me.
She was a lyrical sort and certainly not a typical resident of Ponyville; she seemed to subconsciously emulate the social elite without adhering to their flaws. I found her uniqueness to be spellbinding, especially as she was an inarguable beauty. Although she carried herself with the poise and eloquence of a cultured pony, she had not yet been tainted by the outside world. And that was, hoof on heart, why I likely found myself becoming so interested in her. There is an innate beauty in seeing somepony as wonderful as her having not yet succumbed to realising how wonderful they are. There is a humble innocence to it that is lacking elsewhere. By walking the streets of Manehattan or Canterlot, you could find ponies as beautiful as this one; but beneath the exterior would beat a heart that palpitated only to the rhythm of a bank statement and a flank that had been mounted by countless stallions. This mare, as far as I could deduce, had not yet been punished in such a way, and I was thankful for this.
The unicorn had a scent, or rather, a fragrance that clung to my body the longer I remained in her presence. It wasn't from a bottle, but rather a natural aroma recalling the sweetness of honey and the nostalgic subtlety of a book-pressed lotus leaf. Her mane had been curled, and yet I saw no curling device in the room, and of greater importance was that she did not stop every minute or two to reflect on her reflection. Rather, her work took priority I had been told this much from Twilight Sparkle and her friends and she was the most devoted artisan that I had ever laid eyes upon. A mere glance around her home would unveil secrets of the most wonderful variety: lovely patterned dresses woven with silk and lace; scarves of maroon and earthy greens that would embrace one's neck in a most delightful way; and, most impressively, luxury items of topaz and opal and baby-blue sapphires. I could not contemplate what may have been in the back-room, for the shop floor was already a veritable paradise. To those that would pooh-pooh Ponyville, I say away with them! The fashion in the town, even if it was exclusive to this one location, remained the most regal and ornate that I could have imagined.
Beauty and style, this pony had, and she was blissfully unaware of it. I gave my name and she liked it as much as I would have expected; it was not the sort of title that one would normally hear within Ponyville. I had heard her name from Twilight Sparkle, but I did not consider it to be real until she uttered it herself at the end of our lengthy conversation.
That name changed everything for me. The pony that I would become after having heard it may not have been the same pony that had received it, but I am not afraid to admit that I was changed irreversibly in the wake of that encounter. My escapism became linked to her own; I had sensed a lamentation in her voice that was just dying to break free to a pony who was willing to listen. And although time and investment may have been required to learn of the true intricacies of this pony, the simple fact of the matter was that she was worth committing to. In this life, there is nothing of greater importance than loving those that deserve to be loved. In that moment, within the old converted loom with the creaky floorboard at the top of the stairs, it dawned upon me that it would be a mistake to allow her to become just another face in the crowd. If I had left Ponyville after that chance encounter, I would regret it; for no such unicorn had ever left an impression such as that upon me, and I was of the belief that never would another since.
As changing as beliefs may be, I don't regret the change that she invoked in me.
For a brief few months we were undeniably happy, images of which now comprise my memory.
0 Months, 27 Days
It's difficult to give a fuck when you don't give a fuck, I've found. I was in trouble again with the staff of the hospice, and as much as I would like to say that I cared, I truly didn't. Taking Rarity out into the grassy meadow a few days ago still hadn't blown over; apparently I had deprived her of necessary sustenance and now she was all the weaker for it. For the last couple of days they had been thoroughly reluctant to even let me see her, perceiving me to be some sort of antagonist in Rarity's tragedy, although they really couldn't keep me from showing up at the doors and making my way through to her bedside. The security pony didn't understand what we were going through. Had he ever lost anypony? Had he ever hurt anypony? Sure, he may have thrown a few choice ponies out of that place during his shift, but had he ever, truly, hurt another pony? I did not believe so.
The doctor was back in business, throwing his weight around again until Rarity regained consciousness, during which time he would take his leave of the room, only wishing to associate with her when she was dying and thus when his job demanded it. Her words to me were becoming harder to really make sense of; I'd never seen her this inarticulate and weak. Opening her eyes had become a strain, so much so that the blinds were now permanently closed and the only real light came from the monitor that checked her heart rate. It was still running at a steady pace a prolonged wire of digital green that encoded her life achievements within a machine.
Rarity could tell that I was still there by my warmth. Her body was always cold now. I think it was probably due to her loss of weight and body fat, but possibly due to the thinning of her blood from the various toxins being pumped into her body. The blankets and sheets within the hospice weren't enough to keep her warm now. Even going to our boutique and finding the biggest wool duvet that I could find hadn't helped; she complained that the cold came from within, and so no amount of layers could help her. She needed warmth inside of her, but she was too fragile to take anything that I could offer.
Mealtimes were a cruel joke, as she lacked the strength to eat without extensive supervision, which she clearly detested as it embarrassed her to be fed like an infant. So quick had her descent into destruction been; not two weeks ago we had been eating carrot cake together and she had spoken of a hungry appetite returning to her. She had been recovering, but now she was worse than ever. Her lips were coated in a crusted layer of dead skin, the likes of which had cracked and bled. Her body had become so frail that it pained her to sit up in her bed, and the rusted banshee-cry of the mechanism itself was enough to make her whinny in fear. She had a scent, still, but it was a bad one; a grotesque combination of sweat, tears and blood, garnished with whatever fluid passed through her. The greatest offender, however, was her inability to open wide those once-beautiful blue orbs, that had always punctuated her every action and given meaning to her madness. In the dark she could still find the strength to do so, sometimes, but these occasions were becoming less frequent.
I believed that Rarity was sleeping. She was doing that a lot now; a lack of consciousness made the pain go away for a while. I guess having your eyes closed for a long period of time helps in the sleeping process. What's the point in even waking if you're in the dark when you do? But immunity through sleep was only a passive remedy, for nightmares had begun to plague my fair Rarity. She had never been one to experience malicious sleep, but she now awoke in cold sweats that demanded that she weep. And through those tears poured countless fears, none of which could be quantified by her tongue. Her lyricism was failing her. Everything felt wrong.
I decided to get some food and water, for I still had the ability to eat. I had not caught Rarity's infection, and my stomach had resisted the untimely process of corrosion. I sat up, but Rarity's hoof gripped onto mine. She was awake after all, or just responding to base instinct; whatever the cause, I could not leave now.
"I didn't know you were awake," I said.
"...You didn't ask..."
I suppose I didn't ask that time because there would have been nothing to respond with should she have been awake. Asking if somepony is awake requires a follow-up question, but conversation had now become arbitrary and horrible. A question asked without interest in an answer given is a gesture ultimately devoid of value.
"Do you want some water?"
I looked around for the jug. It was on the other side of her bed. I attempted to get up to walk around to it, but she refused to let go of my hoof, only gripping tighter.
"If you want some water, you're going to have to let go."
"...Then leave it."
I fell back down into the small chair and felt her hoof relax. There was no danger of her losing me now. I remained with my hoof there for a few minutes, feeling a tickling sensation against the tip. It was the white band around Rarity's hoof; she had been given it the day that she had arrived at the institution. Now it had fallen down her leg and hoof to touch against my own; no doubt her hooves had thinned in harmony with her body and blood, and the band to signify her time here was nearly falling off. The band itself signalled that she was a dying patient, and carried various symbols upon it that formed an exclusive medical identity for her. I also had to wear one of those bands, but only during visiting hours. Mine was slightly different; it had a similar digit code but lacked the impending eulogy above it that read 'Emergency'. I guess I still had some time left before the hospice would claim me.
Time continued to stagnate and I knew that Rarity was asleep, for she was making a disgruntled breathing noise that implied that she was snoring with a painfully parched throat. Still, I could not let go of her hoof for fear of waking her, so I remained there as I was in a static position, becoming part of the furniture that Rarity could use. A while later the door opened and the doctor came in; he performed his usual routine of checking if Rarity was dead or just asleep and then turning to leave after finding out her heart was still in beat. He must have timed his comings and goings with utter consistency, for too often did he enter when Rarity was out of consciousness so that he could slack off from helping her. This time, however, he didn't leave, instead looking towards me.
"You should go home," he said. "It's been two days since you've slept. I think that Rarity will still be here tomorrow."
"You think," I responded fiercely. "You don't know anything."
"I know that her condition is worsening," he replied childishly. He paused for a moment. "-You should rest while you can," I heard him say, not quite understanding the meaning of his words.
"What are you talking about?"
He sighed and approached me, pulling up a second chair from against the wall. He sat opposite me, closer than I would have liked. His eyes seemed bloodshot and he did not appear anywhere near as well-kept as he usually did. There was a deranged look in his eye, as if he had also been avoiding sleep for some time. No doubt he was trying to appear just as worried about Rarity as I was.
"I don't know what to tell you," he said earnestly. "We're just...counting down the days now."
Days seemed awfully short! I had not slept in two days, as the doctor had rightfully pointed out, and the time had drifted by without any substantial acknowledgement on my part. Days were short and meaningless; they were for sleeping through and barely recalling!
"You can't be serious," I said bitterly. The doctor shook his head, looking down to the ground beneath my hooves. "-Look at her," he said woefully. "There's not much time left."
"Two weeks ago you said you had no idea how long Rarity had left!" I spat, a familiar lump thrusting against the inside of my throat. "You can't now tell me that our time is almost up! We haven't had time to prepare!"
I saw a trickle of a tear leak down the doctor's cheek. "The hospice is preparation," he said, shaking his head. "It is where all good ponies go to die."
Something odd happened then.
The doctor began to cry.
He cried in a way that I had never associated with stallions. His tears, rather than retreating, openly fell with increasing longevity, smattering against his hooves as he buried his head between them. I did not know how to respond to him, but found myself intoxicated and less judgemental towards him during the ordeal.
"How do you watch your loved one die before you?" he asked me bluntly. It seemed so surreal to have the doctor seeking advice from the patient; I had none of the expensive education that he had received under my belt. I was unsure how to respond to him, but I knew that soon my tears would be falling, answering the desperate rhythm of his own calling. "I have never felt the loss of a loved one," he continued, "but if I was to lose my young colt or my wife, then I would just..."
"-You would cease to function," I said, and I watched as the doctor nodded in time with my words. "You would feel as if nothing else mattered."
"Do you feel that way?" he questioned me. If this was all just some elaborate test, then I was falling for his ignoble module.
"...I do..." I found myself mouthing. "I have no idea what I'm going to do when this is all over. I can't even begin to predict what will happen next."
"Do you think that you'll be able to live with yourself?"
I thought upon his words rather awkwardly, for they carried greater meaning to me than the doctor could have known. I closed my eyes tightly to restrict the visible leak from within. Instead, they sought to drown my sockets. "After this, I don't think what remains will be considered living."
This doctor knew now of my greatest weaknesses. But, like I said, it's difficult nay, almost impossible to give a fuck when you just don't. And hell, maybe I deserved somepony to talk to about all of this. Whatever this doctor was going through, he could not entirely relate; and yet, by taking a moment to put myself in his hooves, I felt as if I could see the world from his depressing angle. In his job, he must have seen the death of many; not only those within the hospice who wore bands of burial, but also those in hospitals who may have been getting better, only to fall foul of fortune. Being surrounded by death, one would think, would immunise a pony, and yet, perhaps from time to time, genuine emotion managed to get through. By the looseness of his emotion, this doctor was clearly not of Trottingham; but, as I sat there with him, crying and snivelling before our sleeping Rarity, I could not help but acknowledge that neither was I.
"I've seen ponies die," he said. "Some deserved it, most did not. Seeing you here with Rarity just makes me realise how much you care for her. You have invested, even in the absence of hope."
"There was hope when we met," I insisted to him. "An absence of hope is the source of neglect."
"And you could never neglect her," he replied softly. "I have seen the way that you show her love and respect."
He took a deep breath, drying old tears away with his hooves. "How did the both of you meet?" he questioned me. It was a long time ago that such a life-changing event had transpired, and yet I recalled the memory vividly, as I could with accounts of many of our earlier days together. I did not know why I had chosen to remain engaged in conversation with this doctor, but his presence somehow appeared as less of a threat to me than ever before during that interim.
"Did Rarity not tell you this already?"
"She did," he said, "but her recollection may differ from your own."
The thought that Rarity could feel differently about the grace of our meeting was all but fleeting.
"I was in Ponyville for no real reason, really," I found myself saying. If it was weakness to give in to this stranger, then I was understandably of ill-health that day. "I had no intention of staying but I stumbled upon Rarity by my own volition."
"Did you know any of the locals?"
"Not really," came my admission. "I thought I did, but it turns out that I was incorrect."
"What happened next?"
"Rarity and I spoke at length, I must say. She seemed inspired by my interest in her. She told me about her desires to become famous and her brief flirtations with popularity in the past. As undesirable as some of those attempts had been, she believed things would be different next time; that judgement would be reserved and that the claws of criticism would be put away." I found myself smiling as I spoke of our bonding. "She had great aspirations that she set in rhyme: her motto was a dream of shining and of making others shine. Her generosity floored me."
"Her good nature is, indeed, a rarity."
I put my head back upon the chair and chuckled a little to myself. "She had this order that she needed to fill," I continued. "It was for some local enterprise, nothing at all important, and yet she couldn't bring herself to fall behind on it. She shooed me away as I browsed her collection, purely so that she could devote her time to her calling. She worked to a tight schedule. Time was always so important to her. But before I left, she gave me her name. To me it sounded like a natural marriage with fame."
"You predicted good things for her?"
"I wanted her to realise her potential," I sighed. "-But to do that, I've done terrible things. Through my good intentions, I have cheated and lied."
"It is not my place to judge you," the doctor replied. "We've all made mistakes."
"Meeting Rarity was no mistake," I confirmed to myself. "It was my greatest accomplishment. And when I returned to her boutique the second day, and the third and the fourth, she soon realised that we belonged in each other's company. I worked for her, and we became fast friends; I helped introduce her to the ponies that would become her mentors. We moved in together, and we become closer still. And when her health began to show cracks, I did my best to protect her from herself."
I squeezed her hoof, finding the tears returning. I looked to the doctor once again; he had been listening intently to my words and appeared humbled by our tale. But as I began to cry once more, and Rarity's hoof pressed back against my own, I realised that our earliest memory together was a lifetime in the past; a series of perfect visions that were fading fast.
"What will happen?" I found myself asking suddenly, my lip trembling. It was such a stupid question and utterly out of context with our previous discussion, but it was one that I had to ask. "-How will she die?"
The doctor rubbed his hoof across his face, drying his bulbous eyes of tears. Perhaps he had realised once again that he was still a professional, and that his duty to other ponies was as an informant rather than an emphatic companion. As pained as he was to explain it, he owed me that much. "-You are asking me to describe it?" he questioned, and I nodded slowly.
"You said that the hospice is a place to prepare," I spluttered. "I have spent a long time denying the truth, but very little preparing for it."
He took a deep breath, looking towards Rarity. I wondered if she was still asleep. It would not be right to discuss this with her present. The doctor placed a hoof on her side and whispered her name, but she did not respond to him. He took that as the evidence that he required and spoke, his voice cracking on almost every note.
"Given her condition, Rarity's body will, in the simplest of terms, begin to shut down," he said, sounding as if he was reading from some monotonous list. "Her lungs will seize up, making breathing difficult. Her heart will ache and strain and fail. Her brain will be unable to communicate with her organs..." He took a deep breath. "Then she'll die."
"Will it be painful?"
"We'll do what we can to help her with the pain," he said. "Medicine and anaesthetic."
"Will she know that it's happening?"
"Yes," he said gravely. "She'll know."
Counting down time to an inevitable conclusion is far more difficult when such an end is described in such graphic terms. I am not afraid to say that I wept then more than ever before and for some time after, and I wanted to vomit, but my stomach was empty and I had nothing to wretch on. The doctor remained there with me for the entire time, saying nothing but somehow helping me. I guess it was just his presence; having him there somehow made things easier. I sniffed, my hoof still numb from holding tightly onto Rarity. The doctor walked to the other side of the table and poured us both out glasses of water from the larger jug. He manoeuvred a glass into my free hoof and I drank it down, burying my muzzle into the cup until my face almost became stuck inside it. When I finished he poured me out another glass, and then a third, which was enough to quench my thirst.
"You're welcome to go and check on other patients," I said after some time had passed. "I'm looking after Rarity just fine now." My momentary weakness in the company of the doctor was something I could overcome with time.
"Actually, I finished work almost two hours ago," he said, glancing at the watch on his hoof. He had his own band above it, just like Rarity and I. I found myself strangely impressed, although I didn't tell him so; he probably knew it already. He looked back towards Rarity and gave a little smile, standing up from the chair. "Will you be getting any sleep tonight?" he questioned me, but I shook my head. "-Not tonight," I replied. "I can't bring myself to."
He didn't pressure me to sleep. He just nodded in an understanding manner and walked towards the door. "You're both lucky to have one another," he said. "Never forget what she means to you."
"Thank you, doctor," I said to him earnestly for helping a pony in need; from then on I would remember his name as Tawleed.
He left the room on his trip home, closing the door softly as he went. I respected him more, for some reason, and yet I still found myself viewing him with scorn; for he had a wife and a colt a family and I had a decaying unicorn. When he left, the form beside me stirred. Of everything that Tawleed and I had discussed, she had been a witness to every word.
There was no chance left for Rarity to shine.
Now she would break and rip and tear.
And I'd be the first in line.