It feels wrong to take the lead, makes me blanch, though I have always depended on that kind of strangeness. We ride the midnight trams, the street grinding by under phosphorescent lamps. Home in time for collapse, her crumbling and distracted, agitated in drink. She looks like the Stanley to my Stella, pensive in deadbeat denim and tight black jeans, white wife beater singlet and lean silhouette casting just the right kind of dark. I lift her up and she grumbles into my chest, a far cry from desire, nothing but background rhubarb in the lounge-lit sepia atmosphere.
She squirms against my body with an eagerness that belittles the character I’d sketched and starts pulling back slightly, not disengaging but subtly leading, so I push her up against the wall. It’s exciting and empowering and only a little staged. I work my hands over her hips, looking for zen in the curves. The awareness of my self detaches into third person with disquieting swiftness and I close my eyes, imagining I’m still me in this moment and not just an arbiter of impulses. From behind my lids I watch everything I’m doing and look for something more.
Every evening as I trudge homewards there’s one window that reminds me of you, always lit with a starry night hung behind its pane. There’s such majesty in its strokes, even through its printed ink facade, a beckoning reminiscence captured in reproduction. This luminous forgery seems so apt in the darkness, I find myself beguiled by its solicitations and begrudging of its evocations. I want to celebrate the truth of its existence but the fact of it makes me love hating the knowledge of the lie, breeding such swirling conflict that the piece is now my favourite ruined thing.
Finishing all but one bite, she pushes her plate to the centre of the table and says, ‘I think I’ll probably explode.’ Yet, half done with my tart, hunched against my posture, I catch her feasting with her eyes. ‘What’s it like?’ she asks, in a salivating lisp. ‘Mine was pretty rich.’ Fine, I tell her, and slide my plate towards the gape of her reply. ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly,’ she says, but the dessert fork is meagre in her hand, silent as its dainty tines are wedged into their purpose, neither of us with the will to object.
I’d like to be different, but I’m just an average rat watching smarter tails slither further up the maze, chasing their shadows into cul-de-sac, where lead against a wall, I beg myself to turn around, don’t, and claw heedlessly at the mortar, hard scrabble hoping it’ll eventually give, knowing behind it will only ever be another aimless scramble of corridors, scratching out a worn down life, tired to the point where I stop looking for either prize or purpose, sitting finally in place, fettered with options, lamenting that the hardest thing I ever did was take the simplest path.
I feel so fucking crazy that I worry it seeps out of my skin. People stare at me a lot, I think, or glance into my vicinity with a specific casualness that feels broadsword worse by way of bamboo splintering, and I worry that my insanity is showing. Did I wipe it off? Tuck it in? Brick it up? Excrete a social sin? But really, I know nobody is looking. If they ever do, it’ll be from an angle I forgot to vet, because the quantum law of averages is buttered side down and I always end up toast.
I spent a long time looking at your chat icon and thinking of the right type of veiled nonsense to say, hoping for something magnetically inductive, some kind of magic I guess, the type of words I could believe you might imagine me saying but in a transcendental way so that they became my own and met the promise of your imagination in a shape that would absolutely fulfil the purpose they never existed to create and thereby satiate the need to say them by not being needed. I wanted words like that and never said a fucking thing.
I’m worried that Sammy is getting fat, he’s been looking kinda plump about the guts. Maybe I’ve been feeding him too much. It makes me feel terrible but I can’t deny that squishy face, pucker-lipped and pouting, I just want to make him happy. It’s probably good that there aren’t any mirrors nearby, I wouldn’t want him seeing what my weakness is doing to him. I mean, I didn’t think fish even got fat, I figured they just metabolised it. Man, I hope he doesn’t have issues with his body, I’d feel less guilty if he just died.
When Laura looks at me I can tell that it’s over, no matter how long this goes on or whatever either of us says, we’re done. Sure, I’d like it to be different but there’s relief built into acceptance. There may even have been something different to be done, who knows? Our time is poured out now and sets beneath our feet, all we can do is keep walking or get stuck in the past. It’s sad information to have. When I tell her I don’t know what to do anymore, she says, ‘Maybe we should just get pizza.’
She trips a little while we walk and I get a flash of her falling onto the road, lying with her arm stretched out and a desperate look in her eye. She needs me, but I don’t help her. Traffic blooms over the horizon with the sun’s darkening fate and in a moment I picture my whole life without her. Then she recovers her balance and so do I, falling into the familiarly paired empty stride. ‘Almost lost you,’ I say, and she pirouettes behind me, dancing in the blind side and singing, ‘You’re never going to lose me.’
Caleb calls it satire, a piece of dry reportage on the subject of animal farming lensed by its social implications, saying the key to elucidating its humour is in the specifics of its objectivity. I wonder aloud whether it’s alright to make light and Caleb clucks his tongue. ‘Light,’ he says, again, ‘is defined by its darkness and deceptively perceptual.’ Orwell, apparently, was alight. ‘The spirit of the times boiled inside that man before he splashed them on the page.’ I really wish I cared but I’m too engaged by all the animals to monitor his thoughts right now.
I push my hand into her hair, coarse but yielding, shaping my fingers around her skull in a basketball stance. She stiffens from the neck down and I feel it in the molecules of the couch as they separate between us. Nothing gets said and the music plays on, anachronistic sludge pop slitting at the atmospheric wrist. I try to sense her through my fingertips but nothing gets through, all signals blind firing at a wall. My joints ache and I start to lose my grasp. I let it drop and my hand falls, still full of empty wants.
That was the moment I loved him the most I ever would. Drenched in his own sugary cynicism, with just enough smile eroding the sneer to make him seem beautiful. Things would get difficult later and I knew it, but the future was something that happened in Blade Runner and I didn’t much care to see it. All the times I’d ever need fed into each other like film moving through a pinhole camera. I would have loved myself back then if I could’ve been me now. And him, if I saw him, I’d know there was no future.
I click my fingers at Laura, telling her to get the legs. The guy doesn’t look heavy but moves like a bureau, dead stained oak. We roll him into the tub and close the curtain on his face. Laura sighs with the effort and not the regret, her blood splattered chest ballooning with a sparrow’s slender plumage, flecks of the man’s red sparkling in her ash blonde hair. Preening back a lock, her burgundy hand leaves its mark upon her temple, consecration of the sweated brow. Glowing with the honesty of effort, smiling, she tells me, ‘I hate cleaning.’
Fucking Damien, with his skin stinking like cigarillo pale ale and day old pork crackle, wreaking sweat into the bed. Fucking Damien, throwing me down with juggle clubbed hands and thickly mallowed fingers making clumsy fumbled passes. Fucking Damien, ploughing witless, greedy furrows in the dirt, clotted ruts and too much traction. Fucking Damien, channeling away, an inept oarsman throwing stroke after stroke and grunting, gormless with the effort, racing trials against my ghost upon the swell of my repentance. Fucking Damien, as if I hadn’t already said yes, he has to take the joy out of it too.