She keeps me safe in the terrible places. Partly because of her spirit and partly because of the knife jammed into the belt of her jeans; the same cold blade that keeps her grouchy for the first half hour of every meeting until it has met her skin temperature.
We walk down sloganed spray-painted alleyways where rapists fear to prowl, and we stand at the apex between modernity and decay, bordered by a mist that permanently laps across this town like dying tides. On her haunches, wild hair flecked by raindrops and dust, she kisses the nettles flinging themselves desperately out of the concrete until her tongue is blistered white like mould on bread. Planting a triumphant foot on the burned out remains of an old car, we stare down this brick tunnel towards a fetid beige light that hides the brown blood seeping from the disused and dead structures beyond. The only life around here are the black specks that dance around the sickly yellow of streetlights, and the shine in her eyes when there is mischief to be had.
She kisses me, and as her ruined tongue laps around mine I feel the stings still planted in her own. Even as I think about releasing, the warmth around my hips, my chest and my legs draws me in, and just in case I have second thoughts she clamps a hand in the small of my back and presses me closer. As we kiss the tapping grows louder, and soon heavy drops of iron rain, moving on the shoulders of the perpetual miasma, are pounding down on our eyelids.
I want her and I am having her, but I know that I can’t. This is not a chapter reading but a glance at the cover. Releasing herself from me she takes steps backwards, her arms raised out. I feel something warm on my skin and then a sharp itch – she’s slid the knife inside my jeans and left a thin laceration down one buttock. I look left and then right down the alley – empty except for the loud nothingness – as she presses her back against the wall.
The rain gets heavier and behind me, through a chain link fence and a tangle of confused dead trees, the town steams and broils in protest. There are no colours except yellows and browns – even the blackest night skies are coloured in a film of grime. I can smell sulphur and feel the heat through my shoes, as I lick the corners of my mouth and taste the poisons.
She’s against the wall, spread like a crucifix, her fingers splayed out and head thrown back. I go in for another kiss but she plants a firm boot into my groin and pushes me backwards. The graffiti covering the wall is bleeding into her fingers, the faded reds blues and greens now growing bold in the tiny veins under her skin, past her wrist and into her sinewy forearms. Her hair crawls up the bricks, infesting itself like ivy and taking on all the colours around it. She is bleeding the wall dry of its art, of messages and memories. I look her in the eye and I see that they change colour as though flickering through a prism.
I sit down on the floor and cup my hands around the back of my head, because my neck is burning from the deluge above. Her feet are no longer touching the ground but pointed and poised like a ballerina, hovering a few inches above the gnarled path. Colours sap from the wall and bleed through her, processing themselves, and I realise that parts of her are growing fainter. The razor cheekbones are dulling, those shapely thighs less distinct, the hips that shook Paris are now translucent and warp when I move my head. Worst of all, I see that face fading away, the light in those eyes dying out like a pair of lightbulbs coughing and spluttering towards their eventual end. And far from fear or regret, I see contentment in her. I see a person becoming a ghost, becoming a memory, that disintergrates like ancient papyrus exposed to oxygen.