In the first hour I’m awake, I do nothing you would call anything, just read news feeds and drink coffee, smoke a handful of cigarettes and calculate the minutes already bequeathed to the strictures of my life. I feel compelled to do it, acclimatise to the day the way a diver avoids the bends, though I hate it and spend masses of time reviewing the way in which I waste it. I repeat this scene at night, before I can stand to put myself to bed, rueing the natural cycle of renewal as a child laments a parent’s directive.
‘Grab one of those,’ caleb says, pointing to a little plastic basket like the pharmacists put their meds in. The thing bristles with thumb drives, a scaled mountain of information built by an avalanche of bytes. I ask why there are so many and he makes a cadent sound in the back of his throat, an I don’t know with the consonants removed. ‘It’s a breed of social dissonance, people validating themselves by feeding media to others. USB’s are just the latest mix-tape.’ I take one at random, wondering how much thought went into all that discarded data.
While Laura looks for something to carve with, I sit by the meat and think about my last conversation with Dylan, saying he needed us to be more open. I thought he was talking about honesty, not that skank from the coffee shop. Then Laura turns up grinning, with an electric knife and a derelict hacksaw. I let her have the power and take the antique. Truncating a leg I hear cuts of his speech, the teeth sinking deeper with every repeat. I ask Laura if she’d mind stopping somewhere after this, I want to start seeing other people.
Finally found a rhythm and she pushes me off, curls up and goes dark. Still hard, I say, what? limply, shocked not confused. She mutters, ‘doesn’t matter,’ but it does. I am sticky now and absent from two spaces, unable to move forward. When I touch her it’s wrong, like sanding marble, bringing out the finish. I say okay without question and lay back into silence, sarcophagus pose. Pictured from the ceiling down, I see us in tableaux and want to carve it into something, a relief, though nothing ever tuns out as I see it in my mind.
I like watching her on winter nights, matching her cigarettes with the frost in my breath, undone by the thick grey ribbons that spool from her lips and wrap themselves about the air. All the machines read three degrees. A record breaks somewhere. ‘There is always worse,’ she says, voice still clouding between puffs, ‘but we have each other.’ I breathe into the woollen netting of my scarf and try to catch some warmth. Wood smoke rises in the distance, wisps over suburban hills, and I wonder what it feels like to watch a thing burn itself to death.
They’re nothing until the bitch walks by, just two old dogs lying in the street, one an abandon of rumpled dirty bath towel, the other a tumbleweed grown out of landfill, barely the strength between them to wag the one tail. But she’s so lithe, that bitch, and pampered, unburdened without the weight of days burred inside her coat. Such untapped vitality, they can smell it on her, well enough to raise their grizzled muzzles from the gutter and whine. Just two broken homeless puppies begging after youth, panting time paupers. They’re still nothing once the bitch walks by.
Even with my back turned I can feel her burn into the room. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks, a newspaper roll over a dog’s nose. I keep stirring the pot. Making Bolognese, I say. Now at my elbow, she takes the bottle from the counter and sniffs roughly at its hole. ‘No,’ brandishes it against my periphery, ‘what are you doing with this?’ Good for the body, I tell her, builds character. ‘My “94 Grange is giving this shit character?’ I lift a spoonful of the thickening red into her eye line. I don’t even think it’s trying.
I killed a Huntsman today, pressed it flower petal flat with an austere edition of Ulysses I often call to service. I’m certain yet more linger within the walls, cultivating secrets behind countless sharpened eyes. I left the body exposed in case they harbour any fellowship of species, a warning, scant fluids and broken spindles painted on hardwood, good work if not a little gauche. Though, I linger now upon the message and the meaning of its interpretation. For if I’m understood, surely retaliation must not be ungraspable. I fear the plots I have incited in asserting my dominion.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to be nothing. I try to imagine what it must feel like, digging myself into a well of black emptiness. It’s cozy there, where absence forms a wall, a cushion between you and the real of reality. Such a comforting lack of promise. Of course, in simpler times I would simply meditate, but the routine ruined it, the practice, rote, and knowing the route only made it charted territory, unsavoury. I found that you can’t get to nothing through something, so I stopped. Now I want nothing to be everything I am.
Penny puts her free hand on my cheek. I can feel the tremble in it, though her eyes are still and somehow darkened, their militant olive occluded in rumbling grey and seductively poised to storm. I lie carefully, telling her it won’t hurt, turn my cheek and smile into her palm. ‘I don’t want to do this,’ she says, but I promise I won’t be mad and plant a kiss inside her hand before it slips behind to bury fingers in my hair. She pulls my head back gingerly, says, ‘I love you monkey,’ and slits open my throat.
All that blood and fat and bile wrapped in translucent shower curtain skin like a poorly rendered sausage casing, he already looks like meat, now Laura wants to cut it up. ‘It’ll make him easier to move,’ she says, dismissing the effort of severance, ‘then maybe we can feed him to some pigs.’ Doubtless she imagines that somewhere in the city is a poorly guarded piggery, full of famished swine with a stake in ironic justice. I run my hand across the bath’s enamel lip, the perfect porcelain craftsmanship, and tell her, babe, there ain’t anything eats the teeth.
Before the little death takes me, I look down and realise, the other girl, she’s just a fuck-toy now. I run my eyes around the flesh puzzle, trying to untwist its kinks. Dana looms above the girl, enraptured, one hand clutched upon her breast, artisanal fingers masticating greedily, the other, thrown behind her, dug into the sheets, a sutric pylon. I trace my hands within the decadence of skin, finding them grappled to hips like rubenesque gymnasium rings. My thrusts are parried with expert riposte, sweat covers us all and as I shiver, the girl is truly lost.
This is the best mask I could find and still it won’t quite fit. Other people have been wearing theirs for years and it seems like second nature to me. I know some folk never take it off, wearing it to bed, waking and walking around the day fronting fatty tissued grimaces rendered into appropriate composite sketches; contorted, really, to suit a social whim. Suffocating, I should think, the wearer dead like an inside-out puppet, the mask gasping to blend into the atmosphere, exposure a faux pas. I struggle just to put mine on and regurgitate the lines.
‘I know the scale you’re sliding down,’ she tells me. ’I have a metric for your happiness.’ I imagine her with callipers placed gingerly upon my person while I sleep, little tickers and a digital graph pinging astutely from the eaves while she nods with satisfaction. You can’t annotate my soul, I say, but she smiles, winsome and detached. ‘It’s all just data, infinite numbers and floating point existentialisms.’ Magician’s jargon dripping from a pipette. Guesses strapped uncertainly to truths, I tell her. ‘More, inductive plotting.’ So, tell me how this makes me feel, and she consults her notes.
I’m almost done preening when Tenielle swoops over dramatically and perches beside me. I can feel the bough bend and sway as she ruffles herself in a perversely uncomfortable way, making irritable clicking sounds in the back of her throat. It’s with the self assured certainty of the wilfully ignorant that she chirrups bluntly into my silence. ‘If you ask me, there’s a reason for all those blackbird stereotypes.’ I bury my beak into the underside of my wing, imagining how very occupied I must look, knowing you couldn’t drown an ant in the depths of that girl’s mind.