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.
It’s worse because she looks right at me and says ‘I can’t see you anymore,’ with an anvil weight that would be comedic in a cartoon scenario. Little pressures build at unused points within me, acute punctures that target and release specific amorphous emotions. All I can muster is a lacklustre why? From inside emancipation she tells me, ‘I don’t own you, I don’t want to, but the need is overwhelming. Knowing you exhausts me in a way I can’t commit to anymore.’ I tell myself that I should cry but I don’t even have the moxie to submit.
Apparently his footprint was too big, so Caleb closed his Facebook account and started using mine. I’ve never been so popular. ‘You got forty new likes from that post,’ he tells me. ‘Something about cat videos they can’t satiate.’ I don’t sign on anymore, Caleb does my digital accounting and CC’s the reportage to my phone in case of real world enquiries. ‘Can you take pictures of your food?’ He asks me. ‘People love knowing what they’re not eating.’ But I haven’t eaten in days, so he says ‘Forget it, there has to be something tasty on the net.’
The shames I feel from the things that bring me joy are not exclusively limited to pleasure, every action I take elicits some guilt or another, yet, I feel no hand in choosing this struggle, the daily contention with the singular challenge of simply being myself, though, I do truly despise the constant battle with vanity, the pain in presumption of knowing anything at all, the uncertainty at the periphery of the certainty of any fact, being driven by the doubt written in my programming. The whole thing makes me want to die so bad I could kill myself.
Charlotte keeps spinning that Lana del Ray album, telling me it’s stuck on repeat. It’s great in the same way that getting the Borg Collective to chair a symphony orchestra produces a rich emotive sound. There’s no throbbing but the pounding is relentless. It’s making my skull feel wrong, put together so that the space without the pain is causing the distress, like being headacheless, an awareness of black absence, the third degree fringes of burn victim skin on a universal scale. I beg her to make it stop but she just shrugs, throwing more nothing onto the void.
We never stayed in touch but communicate absently over time, drawn messages in obscure sigils that must be deciphered, yet can’t truly be. Occasionally I take out the memories of us, turning them over like scarred souvenirs. Dog-eared and dirty, speculative relics, there’s very little value left behind, the lessons in each given over to history and all consumed by the past, their meanings beholden to the era of crafting, once chiseled implications lying chipped and dated, faded inferences in disconnected states under laminated strata, artefacts garnered to show that, now as then, still I know such nothing.