You take my hand on this hot day and drag me up onto the concrete plinth and we can feel our backs burn. When you are blistered, you roll into the shade and you pretend the wind rushing through the long grass is the hiss of your cooling flesh. Do you remember dancing around the gravestones, all crooked and drunk like so many tired old heroes? I cannot recall why, but I know we beat the boy who opened himself up and urinated on a long-dead mother of six.
We sprayed lighter fluid and hairspray on sticks and set them alight. We surrounded him even as the piss still dribbled from his shrivelled, terrified member. We drove the sticks deep into the ground in a circle and we beat him until he wore the crimson mask. We fractured many bones and he spat teeth over the grave of an old child. So we beat him some more. When he regained consciousness, you made him shake your hand and say sorry.
We apologise to our ghosts, like it makes any difference. We look for gods in the strangest and most desperate places – in attics and cellars, in bedrooms and wars. We nail our partners but can only stare at the wallpaper. You fucked me cowgirl, moaning like an actress, and couldn’t wait for me to finish so you could tell me about the cobwebs on my bedside lamp.
I’m convinced you never meant to destroy me. I know enough about your character to accurately guess this. But I know you are curious and that is more dangerous. You pick endlessly at every loose piece of plaster and you jam your fingers into every crack in the stone you can find. Do this for long enough without maintenance and even castles will eventually become dust. When you take my hands you examine them for loose folds of skin and you fingertip them with your nails and pull. When I wince or cry out in pain you stop, and then go more slowly with a smile that burrows into my chest. You kiss my blood.
I wrote you a letter and left it in the hollow of your favourite tree to climb and smoke in. I said you were more dangerous than heroin. You just laughed. You’d lost your best friend to heroin and it was a letter sharpened into an arrow to pierce you. I wanted to hurt you. But, as usual, I missed with my shot. Or perhaps you felt it but it was nothing more than a stinging nettle, a minor irritation. You hid it well. Then you found a hangnail and you tore it from me without even looking into my eyes.
From that point on the destruction stopped being random. I told you about my favourite painting and you bought a book of prints just to tear out the picture and deface it with crude words and illustrations, “to improve it.” I gave you an old photograph of me aged six playing football and you rolled it up, stuffed it with weed and attempted to smoke it. You managed a single, orgasmic puff before it disintegrated and the loose leaves tumbled onto your thighs like so many suicides. When I wrote you a dreadful love poem, you folded it into a small rectangle and stuffed it into your knickers during your monthly cycle. Then you gave it back to me.
I keep coming back because I know I am a terrible person and you are my last chance of contentment and happiness. I miss the contours of your naked shoulder-blades pressing into my chest. I remember your smell when you hadn’t showered for a day or two – a pungent musk of cigarettes, sweat and dust wrapped up unconvincingly in perfume. I exhale deeply from your hair and fake a pollen attack to disguise my bloodshot eyes.
One time, we sat in the middle of a deep forest and I watched, twitching and fidgeting, as you allowed a dozen midges to effortlessly settle and nibble at your body and drink you blood. I’ve never been so jealous of insects. You’re poking at the remains of a dead rabbit we found, torn apart by foxes. We’re definitely not eating it, although I’ve been unsure for a while and unconvinced by your explanation that it deserves a proper burial. You tell me that you’d like to be cremated because you’d read somewhere that ashes are more fertile. You tell me that you’d rather help plants to grow than to simply become a little ecosystem for worms, maggots and bacteria. This is your afterlife, your life after death, no interventionist God but The Great Chain of biodegradable objects melting into the subsoil.
You tell me that one day society will become so numbed by the endless news reels of suffering, so battered by spin and propaganda that every country will support and practise the death penalty for the most trivial offences. You lie on your back and you explain; the rights of prisoners and families to their own bodies will be forfeit at the moment of extinction. Instead of the option of burial or cremation, the bodies will be liquidised and the gases and fats used as fuel delivered in tankers to petrol stations everywhere, to be pumped nonchalantly into cars all over the world – so many businessmen and busy mums on the school run, so many childish racers and snail grandpas leaning against their cars as they squeeze a dozen corpses into their tanks. Thirty miles to the cadaver, you smile.
I tell you this is horrific but you shrug and describe it as dreadful progress. Then you roll over, leaning your head against your hand, and you give me a rare and serious look. You tell me that death is a selfish act beyond our control. You blame nature and gods for allowing it to happen. You tell me – we have a duty to continue the cycle. Then you lay back down and point up to the burning globe above us. There is no master or mistress but that.
I grab your hand tightly, so fiercely that you look genuinely alarmed for the first time in the years that I’ve known you. I tell you to carry me up into the sky and beyond the fragile atmosphere. I order you to throw me into the sun; and maybe all the oxygen and hydrogen in me, all my atoms, might keep it burning for just a few more nanoseconds.