A Kind of Atonement

Marion rests her head against the pillows of her bed, fatigued and deflated at the thought of another night alone. Her friends say it should be easy for her to get a date, but she is in search of a very particular kind of lover. He must play a role finely tailored to her personal taste. He needs to embody all that she desires, to the nearest extent that this is possible. She points her remote control at the television, scrolls through the list of her recorded movies. The English Patient. The Notebook. The Scarlet Letter. All gorgeous works of exemplary literary fiction come to life on the silver screen. 

She finds what she’s looking for and sighs, her throat aching at the very thought of the beauty she is about to admire. Atonement. This is what she wants, what she absolutely craves, a love like Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in Atonement. A love that manifests in the clenching and unclenching of a fist, a love that is war torn and forbidden, a love that is worth dying for. She begins to watch the film, and just when she’s at the part where Robbie (McAvoy) is typing the illicit message that will seal his fate, she gets a text. It’s Rob. Not Robbie from the movie, of course, but the Rob who her cousin set her up with last weekend, Rob who cancelled their date an hour before it was set to commence. Her eyes linger on the scene where Robbie realizes he’s sent the wrong envelope to Cecilia (Knightley), and she is so overcome with loneliness that she decides to give Rob another chance. 

Meet me tomorrow night in the park beside the fountain, she types, but there is one tiny catch

Name it, he replies.

You’ve got to guess my favorite character of all time and dress up like him, and I’ll wear something to match. 

Rob is eager to atone for his previous sin against her, and so he asks for clues as to this intriguing persona who has captured Marion’s imagination. 

Think James McAvoy, she tells him, in his most highly acclaimed role

Marion finishes her solitary viewing, and tears slide down her cheeks as Robbie and Cecelia succumb to their respective untimely deaths. A sob escapes her as she contemplates her future. How will she ever find such a love, and would it even be tenable? She knows that what she is truly in love with is fiction itself, and that true love itself is, in fact, fiction. 

The following evening Marion drapes herself in an emerald-green silk gown, sculpts her chestnut hair into finger waves. Studies herself in the mirror, hoping that she has done Keira Knightley, and the 1930s, some kind of justice. Hoping that Rob is clever enough to follow the trail of cinematic breadcrumbs, if not to her heart, at least to her bed. 

Beside the fountain, Marion waits, oblivious to the couples strolling the path, the cyclists, dog walkers and roller skaters. She stares into the water where copper pennies shimmer and makes a wish. Wonders if she should go as far as to fall in, to emerge for Rob dripping, hair ruined and gown clinging, to further the plot of this fantasy. And then she hears his voice. 

She turns to see him standing under the glow of a lamppost and covers her mouth with her hands in surprise. He is shirtless, his neck wrapped loosely with a red knit scarf. False pointed ears protrude from either side of his head, and he shifts his stature so she can see his poorly

constructed tail. “Did I get it right, oh daughter of Eve?” he asks, his eyes two pools of expectancy. 

Marion’s mind travels back to childhood, to the magic she immersed herself in, the worlds she inhabited when this one made no sense. She smiles at this misunderstanding, quickly deciding that if she’s being literal, he did successfully transform himself into a James McAvoy character, and a British one during a world war at that. She hesitates for a moment, and the fingers of Rob’s right hand curl into a fist, then unclench and flex. “Indeed you did,” she answers with a small curtsey, “and I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Tumnus.”

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her work has appeared in various places around the net, and you can follow her on Twitter at @sbdobbie, or on Instagram at @sbdobwrites.

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