(Originally published September 2016)
The boy’s breath smelled like a shipwreck. Despite this and many other handicaps, I found him to be engaging. He told me, “you don’t know her like I do” and his nose began to bleed, a thin descending ribbon that ran slow and straight to his lip.
“When she sings, she sounds like Christ crucified.” I wondered to myself – does the boy’s blood smell as badly as the rest of him? Would I die if I shivved him, jarring a blade between his ribs and watching the foul red stuff blossom from his mouth? It wasn’t tempting.
The boy began his conscious life as a gifted pianist, but his fingers were now rotten from knuckle to tip by fetid designs. She’d broken one or more of them on six different occasions and he’d never bothered to trouble a doctor so now they jostled for space, swollen in his fists.
I looked at this boy of twenty six as the blood made a softly rhythmic pat pat pat on the toes of his trainer. His eyes were deranged with lust and I felt sure I could hand him a toilet roll holder filled with diced beef and he’d fuck it. To step back would be to show weakness, so I clenched the blade I had in my pocket and held my thumb over the release. The boy’s eyes rolled into the top of his skull and he gently sank, folding his legs delicately underneath him so he ended up cross-legged on the floor at my feet.
“I want to hear her sing” he began to moan, mournfully, grabbing at stones in the dust. He may have been crying; I was trying not to look. When I finally did, the boy was staring up at me with a sewing needle pushed through the palm of his hand – the skin raised into a little tent on the exit point. Tears were streaming down his face as he repeated the cry, I want to hear her SING.
She was dancing on the railway sleepers, playing hopscotch with the slimy, cracked planks. I awoke to the sun throbbing on my face, drawing my skin tight. I opened my eyes slowly, lifting the red curtain. Everything is in black and white when I open my eyes, and I have to wait for the colour to drain back into everything. The last object to fill was her red dress, as I blinked the dead cells drifting across my vision. My pupils dilate and narrow. Like a beating heart.
“Oh good.” She looked over her shoulder mid-bounce, one leg cocked aloft. “I was just deciding what to draw on your face.” She reached inside her dress and pulled out my knife from the hip elastic of her knickers. She was on me in an instant, pouncing like a Huntsman spider, straddling me. I felt the scratch of her unshaven legs through my thin trousers. She waved the blade over my eyes. “I thought about a cat. Or a labyrinth. Or snakes and ladders.” She kissed me and I kept one eye open to watch her wrists. She stared one eye deep into mine and I saw it prickle with moisture.
Later that afternoon we relaxed under the canopy of a thick oak tree. I lay nestled between her legs, resting the back of my head on her breasts as she picked aphids from my hair. I asked her why she was so intent on destroying the boy and she smiled her gappy grin, one front and one incisor missing from her last big fight in which she’d destroyed a woman half a foot taller and twenty pounds heavier. The teeth were lost not in a strike but from a mistimed headbutt. She’d spat the loose canines into the woman’s face, freckling her with blood and gums, and levelled her with an uppercut that simultaneously tore the clouds in half. As she stood over her fallen opponent, a steady stream of rain fell and the vanquished began to sink into the waterlogged mud.
I can’t remember what her answer was. I wasn’t listening. Too busy looking at that smile. At the scar that ran from the corner of her mouth to just below her jawline. The girl terrified and thrilled me. When we fucked, it was survival of the fittest. You didn’t feel accomplished in making her arch her back and moan as she exploded. You felt accomplished if you made it out of her bed alive.
She leaned in and bit my ear. It was a gentle nip but I braced myself as best I could without alerting you to the tension in my muscles. I knew that if you sensed my unease, you would rip the damn thing off. So I waited. I held my breath in check. I even had the nerve to let out a little chuckle and a stroke of her stubbly knee. She breathed in my ear and let go. “You don’t need to worry about the boy” she told me. “I’ve told him about us. He’s weak and you… you are strong.” Her hand ran down my forearm and the nails dragged back up my skin to my elbow. In an instant, she clamped her thighs around my waist. I felt my diaphragm struggling against the lack of pressure. Her ankles clamped over my groin, and with the strength of a python she continued to squeeze. I couldn’t remain relaxed any longer. I began to struggle and then to panic as she started laughing. “Be strong. Be strong!”
I found the boy on wasteland, strung up to a tree by his neck and barely moving in the breeze. He’d obviously been gone a while so I sat on the abandoned washing machine he’d used to leap from and lit a cigarette. He smelled clean for a change, but his lop-sided head glared down at me, so I didn’t look up. Instead I brushed the ash onto the sole of his shoe, still with dried spots of blood from our last meeting a week or so ago. I told the boy that it was too bad. He should’ve stuck it out. My ribs were still bruised and I struggled to get in and out of the bath. Waking up every morning and lifting myself out of bed was an ordeal. People told me I looked stoned but it was the burst bloodvessels in my eyes. I noticed the boy had odd socks on, and his ankles looked like marble – pale with cracks of purple.
“Sometimes” I said, taking a deep drag and blowing the smoke away from him, “I think she’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
I glanced up briefly. “Well, I suppose you’d know.”
Tapping ash onto his toe I looked across the wreckage. Everywhere was debris. Shit that wasn’t wanted anymore, just left to decay on no man’s land. Even the overgrown shrubs, the trees and the long grass looked artificial. I realised I may be the only thing alive here.
“I just wish I knew how to contain that spirit. I wish she’d shave her bush. I wish…”
My words tailed off. I looked up at the boy and he looked back down at me. He’d had another nose bleed either before or after strangulation.
“You’re a mess.”
I got out my phone and dialled for the emergency services. I tried my best to sound distressed and alarmed. The operator was very soothing and pleasant. As soon as the call ended, I stubbed my cigarette out on the ankle of his jeans, throwing it inside the washing machine.
Thanking him for the chat, I waded out of the long grass.
I asked her if I was a bad man. I kept being jumpy around distant sirens. I couldn’t look at police on the street. I woke up around dawn every day imagining my door being beaten down.
‘I mean bad. Not just making mistakes or being a bastard. I mean… am I beyond any kind of help or salvation?’
She laughed and wrapped her wrists around my neck.
“Baby, you are totally beyond salvation. Of course you are…” She bit her lip coquettishly but then clamped down harder, breaking the skin, staining her tooth red.
“…why else would I keep you around?”
“Why else?” I pretended to laugh, silently praying. Please don’t see the lump in my throat. Please don’t see the lump in my throat.