[www.myspace.com/htrk2 for the preferable soundtrack to this piece of writing]
I staggered out the front of The Pit, immediately noticing a bald woman sitting on the outside steps. She was wearing a cheap black suit and tie. Her shirt was soiled with bright blue fluid. I heard her whisper something. Something about bad television signals. At least those were the words I heard. I walked away, across the vacant lot, through the vast support system colonnades, beneath the roaring highways. The pylon billboard soared; a mechanized Babel of electric sugar. The slipstream screams of the cars echoed overhead, crumbling down like an endless barrage of reckless, low flying aircraft. I found the car where I’d parked it – behind a row of abandoned, truck sized dumpsters. I climbed in, started it up and drove off.
I stopped at a petrol station and entered the seven eleven to buy a carton of cigarettes. Rows of cartoonish, migraine coloured bottles made me dizzy. The smell of frying donuts hit me like a wall. I moved down pillbox sweet aisles in the sanitized light, trying to find something cold to drink. I was still numb to the scene in the bedroom. But it disturbed me that I might have cut that girl and not even remembered. Bright neon stuck like glue to my retina. Refurbished bodies leered down at me from shiny magazines like dead undersea creatures. I slowly realized that the cashier was staring at my hand. Two droplets of blood had fallen on the counter top. Vivid as miniature crimson jellyfish on the gleaming white linoleum. I saw them inching slowly over the edge with soft sucking noises looking for the bloody shorelines in my palm. Digital counters beeped and loomed monstrously. I paid for the cigarettes and left.
A day passes. Then another. Then three or four more. I am still thinking of the girl in the bedroom. I start on the first series of glazes. I find that I have been washing my hands too much. Despite the cuts. I wash them thoroughly with soap and antibacterial dishwashing liquid and then ten minutes later I find myself scrubbing them again in case I missed some dirt under my fingernails. Dirt breeds bacteria. There are microscopic kingdoms. The first glaze I prepare is a rich copper-rust coloured sepia tone I have mixed out of pear and apple green oils combined with a fair amount lemon yellow and cadmium orange. Sometimes I find that I’m washing my hands four or five times every half-hour. I have been watching one particular French film over and over. Constantly rewinding and replaying my favourite scenes. I feel like I am in some form of active cryogenic suspension. I am able to operate, but I am falling through a slow, sustained stasis. I can’t really remember how long I’ve been feeling like this. Time seems to speed up and slow down for no apparent reason. I darkened the glaze with a burned umber primer and diluted it with thinners, which I feel works much more effectively than linseed oil in this case. I discovered that I have difficulty in distinguishing the day from the night if all the blinds and black curtains are closed. I think time carries little or no meaning for me these days. Like an hour of high resolution tape that is being constantly looped. The same minutes. Replayed over and over from different angles. I wear surgical gloves when I paint. I feel like I’ve stopped aging, and the prospect of this looped time frightens me more deeply than any other aspect of this limbo I’ve found myself in. The film I’ve been watching and re-watching is about a young woman living in a futuristic Paris tenement who discovers that the man she has been living with has been dead for over twelve years. Constant usage of the thinners leaves me often very light-headed and disorientated. I am sometimes unsure of my exact surroundings. Evocative high resolution shots of high-tech stainless steel elevator mechanisms and penthouse views of highways shot through a blue filter. The French girl has a futuristic Cleopatra haircut and masturbates under a deep blue light with a sleek, chrome handheld device. I am still thinking of the girl in the bedroom. A tiny red light blinks along the chromed side of the device. Slow shots of cigarette smoke behind tinted glass and long airless corridors. My hand is healing nicely. I use the glaze on the details of the cross. The cross is intricate and vaguely Coptic. I have used brassy ochre accents against dark, metallic bronze tones. Blackened yellow-gold highlights run like scars of light. The constant washing has left my hands very antiseptic, and the cuts on my palm have remained uninfected. The cross contrasts exquisitely with the creamy fleshtone image of Manon’s body; which I have elongated unnaturally. The hot water stings in my cuts. The expression on Manon’s face as she is crucified remains serene and dark. Like she is sleeping with her eyes open. Red rims and a blue mouth. I fall asleep now and then without noticing that I have. I am thinking of adding ornamental wings to her cross. Large black wings, ragged as sails. The thinners leaves me extremely light-headed. The French girl smokes behind vast panels of polarized glass overlooking a system of highways. My palm didn’t need stitches. I think I’m running out of vermilion paint. I light another cigarette. The cross contrasts beautifully with Manon’s long bare stomach. The room’s starting to get stale with them. It disturbs me that I might have cut that girl and not remembered doing it. Feels like weeks ago. I wash my hands with…overlooking a system of highways. Ten times an hour. A slow, sustained…smoking near the. Deep blue light on the chrome device. Bronze highlights. Constantly rewinding and…Washing my hands with…Then I am not… High resolution dirt under my fingernails. High resolution. Burned umber. Minutes. Different angled…I use the glaze on…
The phone started ringing. I woke up and slid off the kitchen counter where I had been sleeping, moved jiltingly into the lounge and found the phone. I answered it. The line was very bad and it crackled and hissed.
“Hello?” I asked in a voice as dry as paper.
There was a hollow electronic silence. Filled with crackling.
“Hello?” I asked again, softer this time, sensing something I couldn’t describe
I listened and could make out the faint, faraway sound of someone crying. Slow, suppressed painful breathing. A terrible and desperate sadness filled the hollow, crackling void of the phone line.
“Manon..?” I whispered. “…is that you?”
The line cut off sharply and my ear was filled with a piercing disconnected tone. I slowly replaced the receiver. Frowning and trying to wake myself into a cognitive state. I went and brewed myself a cup of bitter coffee. The phone rang again while I was making it. I went to answer it, but it stopped ringing before I could answer. I’m thinking of buying an electron-relay phone. Then I can be reached anywhere. Even at the bottom of the ocean.
A day or two dissolved before I decided to go back to the Pit. The phone had rung again over the last few nights. Once or twice I think. But I couldn’t get to it in time to answer. I needed to speak to Manon about that night in the bedroom. Who was that girl? The one she had introduced me to. I needed to clarify what had happened during the night. I needed to know what she had done to that girl. I needed to know what I had done. I took a few boxes of cigarettes to put in the car. I put on one of my black jackets and a clean pair of black pants. I then retrieved my car keys from one of the black paintboxes. I sliced some cold octopus out of the fridge and ate parts of it. Then I moved down to the underground garage and into the car. The lift to the garage had moved with the deep electric hum of heavy machinery and I got the unpleasant sensation of being inside one of the moving components of a vast video camera. They say that an octopus is five times more intelligent than a dog. I hadn’t driven the car for a week or two, but the engine caught like a blade and purred deep under the sleek hood.
When I got back to the Pit, a regular called Moll was in the kitchen making tea. He gave me a vague and vacant look and poured sugar mechanically into his plastic thermos. Moll was constantly working on highway schematics for some technical book he was writing about the road systems. He used to design road structures for the government, but now I wasn’t sure if he did anything other than work on his book. He looked shabby and unshaven in his grey overalls. I went up the spiral stairs but hesitated outside the door to the room. I thought I felt a charge of mild electricity, like static, in my stomach as I turned the handle, but it passed so quickly I was sure that I’d just imagined it. The room was empty. Manon was conspicuously absent. So was the whip thin girl. I was so sure that they’d both still be entangled on the bed, still frozen in that unspeakably insectile moment. Like a film left on pause. But they weren’t. For a moment I couldn’t believe that they weren’t. Manon wasn’t there. Neither was the whip thin girl with black lipstick. I had the frightening feeling that they’d been erased somehow. Recorded over. The bed was stripped and all the sheets and bedding lay scrunched into a soiled heap in the corner like badly bleached skin. The worn striped mattress was askew atop the rusty spring base. A scattering of used syringes and a cold molten mess of candles lay on the floor. Near the bed. A pellucid underwater light filtered through the window and cracked walls. A heavy fecal animal smell contaminated the room. Cigarette butts lay around the floor like iguana droppings. I could also smell faded make up and the lingering ghost of perfume below the rank stench. I closed the door and went downstairs. I considered the possibility that Severance was in one of the other rooms, but I knew from past experience that this was unlikely. I went back downstairs to the sunken lounge. Moll was crouched down over some highway blueprints he’d spread out on the floor. He was scribbling illegible numerations and footnotes across the translucent paper. The top of his balding head was burned pink and flaky with wisps of grey like fibrous fungus. Baxter was sitting on the couch nursing a cup of coffee. At the sight of me he leapt to his feet and beamed broadly in a fast and shaking smile. There was a shining red rim around his bulging eyes, which vibrated behind elegant and expensive prescription glasses. He was wearing a stained silk tie.
“Yes oh yes it’s you its you hello my friend..” he said in a fast burst of code.
“How you doing buddy pal my friend huh?”
His designer suit was soiled and crumpled. His triangular bone of a face was unwashed and hadn’t seen a razor in a while. He grabbed my limp hand and shook it hard. The dim lights caught his glasses like oil as he nodded his head furiously.
“Have you seen Manon?” I asked him, my throat dry.
“Fucking bitch wouldn’t give me head she’s out be back in a while I think you want some devil dandruff some coke?”
I shook my head and sat down on the couch. I noticed a fly inching slowly across low tabletop. It sidestepped the glutinous swampy crescents of blackening coffee stains and crumbling hillocks of ash, trawling the greased surface with its segmented tongue. Baxter sat down and was quiet for a while. The sound of Moll’s scribbling pen sounded like moths dying in an electric trap. The fly finds a miniscule pink splatter of candy glued like excrement to the table. It unfolds its origami tongue and vomits buckets of anticoagulant. I feel sick and on edge. Baxter’s going to start talking to me. Any minute now. The candy dissolves into the vomit like melting plastic.
“So I was what was I doing I was riding the monorails across town cos see I can’t simply can’t drive the fucking…no more it kills me and I was riding the trains and shit…” Baxter says.
“…And I’m eating junk and mini donuts and drinking diet cola and eating candy tots and sugar out of the packets and I’m doing coke in the trains I mean monorails.”
He stops for a long second and seems to be staring at something.
“I’m moving in here permanently.” He says to me slowly, annunciating each word.
I look at him.
“I’m doing an experiment you know an experiment on myself so I can…so I can…do something to myself…so I can…do something.”
He gets up and takes hold of my arm.
“Come see.” He says and pulls me up.
I stand there looking at him. The fly buzzes into the air and crawls over his face vomiting candy over his face.
“Come see.” He says and ushers me up the velveteen spiral staircase. He leads me to a previously disused room down the passage and up some more rickety stairs. We go into the room. The walls are filthy and the stained floorboards are covered with plastic sheeting. A naked bulb swings from the ceiling. An expensive waterbed sits before a huge black television set. There’s a neat pile of antiquated videotapes stacked near the set. He walks in before me.
“Beautiful.” he says flinging a dirty sleeve motion at a pristine vintage television. ” 20 inch screen dual tuners stylish design it’s a Sony a KV-214 VU dual tuners videoplus plus PDC timer programming teletext…”
He waves a huge remote control in front of his grinning face.
“…front panel auxiliary input sockets NTSC format playback auto/manual tuning on/off timerautomaticheadcleaningautorepeatandoptimum pictureadjustment and all the extra facilities youcouldwant except long play…” he trails off staring at me with his bulging spectacled eyes. He rubs them behind the lenses and blows his nose on a silk handkerchief. Long blackened loops of mucus stick to his nose and glasses. He looks at me.
“A 14 inch single tuner version was also manufactured….” He says sadly.
Then he sits on the bed and regards me solemnly.
“I’m trying to eradicate my sexual responses through mastubatory therapy I’m trying to get to a stage that I hope when I can spontaneously ejaculate when I see this particular advert on television…”
He points the remote control at the television and the inbuilt video comes to life with a subdued click and hum. I have the unpleasant sensation of being caught inside one of the moving components. The screen flickers to life. A smooth doctor voice-over comes on. ‘There are unseen microscopic bacteria living and multiplying in your toilet’s cistern…’ I hear Baxter mouthing along with the voice-over and close up shots of bacteria under a microscope flash onto the screen. Synthesized danger music. The garish pink bacteria writhe and blossom like alien life forms in amniotic fluids. ‘They are in there and they are dangerous. You must defend yourself…’ A toilet flushes in slow motion.
“I’m jerking off to this advert one maybe two hundred times a day only this advert I want to be in control of my impulses I want to be in control and get to the stage where I can spontaneously come and no fucking cuntheaded cuntfaced smiling bitch can get me by the balls and I can only jerking off to this advert no other sexual stimulus I ca…”
Bacteria multiplying in the sick soup like atomic amoebas. Then it cuts back to a shot of a pristine white toilet bowl and a hand holding a bright blue lozenge comes into rapid focus with triumphant electronic music.
‘..just one of these in your toilet’s cistern and you..’
Crystalline blue water floods the basin in slow motion. The bacteria fill the screen. Pulsing villi shiver and gibber madly. They wriggle and die in the protoplasm and fade to a white screen. The picture skips and a smooth doctor voice-over comes in as the advert repeats itself. Looped tape constantly replaying the same moments. High resolution bacteria blossoming across the screen like atomic mushrooms. Blue lozenge.
‘…are unseen microscopic bacteria living and multi..’
I become aware of a wet frenzied flapping noise. I turn my head. Baxter has unzipped his fly and is masturbating frantically on the edge of the bed. Weird pseudopodia warp and melt. His eyes are glued to the screen and his legs are pressed tightly together, Italian loafers pidgeon toed as his hand flies up and down the skinny shaft of his fish coloured member.
‘They are in there and they are dangerou…’
Blue water floods the screen in slow motion bacteria slipping and self destructing in the anaesthesia.
‘..just one of th…’
Fades to white and a smooth doctor’s voice-over comes on as the tape loops over and ov…Baxter ejaculates all over his designer crotch with a stifled splutter. He gasps in harsh, sharp sucks and falls jerkingly back onto the rolling liquid bed.
‘..living and multiplying in…’
Bacteria gibber and quake in the spew of their internal fluids. Slow motion blue water. Baxter rolls over. His back to me. Rising and rolling sickeningly on the waterbed. Blue lozenge and triumphant electronic music. He is saying something. Garish video bacteria exploding mutant jellyfish in contaminated oceans.
“..just just just…just…” come his stifled grunts.
I go down the rickety stairs and into the cramped yellow room. I can hear Moll scribbling furiously on the crinkling blueprints. Moving on his knees. I can hear the flies vomiting on sugar in the kitchen. I can hear the smooth doctor voice-over. I lie down on the worn striped mattress. Bacteria dying in slow motion inside of me.
I dream short sharp video bytes of flat plastic hamburgers and chocolate wrapper tamaguchi and radiation tested mineral water. Television satellites in blue sanitizers dissolving in bright red neon frequencies and slow motion skeletons like spider husks dying in the chemical light. I wake up and it’s night. Dead flashing neon glare burns dimly into the cold room. My head is filled with tightly packed cottonwool. Manon is lying next to me. Watching me from the shadow of my head with colourless, neon glazed cats eyes. Her hands move over me like snakes in the darkness. The slow flashing neons strobe her long slender underwater body as it uncoils softly against me. Her mouth opens like a hot soft scar and closes over mine. Chilled limbs enfolding me like a thin many limbed anemone. Her legs butterfly in the drugged strobe flashes and a small volcanic aperture sucks me into her like a leech. And as she pulsates around me I can feel myself mortifying in stop motions, the blood turning to rust in my veins as my muscles atrophy. I can’t move as she writhes and flutters soundlessly in the halogen light like an injured moth in fast shaking edits, and my nerves oxidize and petrify as she kisses me in soft deep anticoagulant penetrations with her soft pointed origami tongue and fucks numbing insect narcotics intravenously into me. She blossoms up my spine like slow-acting venom as my mouth dissolves against hers like melting plastic as she slowly swallows my melting face like sucking candy. And I fall through the safety net of paralysis, through the caving mattress and the rotting floors and the echoing sub-basements into a rapid-eye-movement ocean of mortified video byte images. And as I slip and fall she wraps herself around my frozen form like a soft bodied virus. Falling with me into a soundless black vacuum of slowly fading afterimages.
I stop on the side of the freeway, on the verge. Sheer faces of concrete and twisted wire barriers barricade the world. A deluge of cars screeches past. Heavy, aerodynamic flashes of compacted metal and glass; like uncontrollable escape pods. Flashes of empty eyed passengers like partially exposed silver nitrate images. The air conditioner vents breathe out silent gas-cold air. Filtered windscreen skyveiw and gamma radiation. The cars roar past perpetually, in constant deafening bursts. I light a cigarette. Manon unbuckles her safety belt and slips it off. She raises a bare leg, resting the wafer-thin black lacquer sole of her shoe upon the gun-metal grey dashboard. The satin on her divides, collecting in smooth scrolls. The axis of hips exposes glowingly, like a negative. But the alabaster limb is marred with a tattoo of tiny pink holes. These pucker like spiracles along the smooth curve of her inner thigh. Like the vestigial leavings of some unspeakable evolution. Melancholic orchestral arrangements loom behind the slow crackle of the tape. Her snakeskin purse snaps open on her lap as she trawls the safety belt up, past her raised foot and between her legs. Till it lodges against the inside of her thigh, locking into the stripe of her underwear. The black nylon weave wraps around her thigh again, geometric and bloodless. She stretches out the buckle and I hold it to keep the strap from retracting. Cars flash past like shuddering cruise missiles. Their fading reverberations trembling through the road and door hydraulics and crashcouch infrastructures. Sunlight glints off the sleek black chassis and refracts in the sunfilters. The filters cast a subdued greenish chemical glare over half of the capsular cockpit. The leg is a bright, overexposed whiteness in all this diffusion. Crackling analog clips in. Extractor fans suck cigarette smoke through sharkgill vents. She extracts one of the disposable, pre-prepared syringes and taps it neurotically. I wind the seatbelt in slow, hard turns, spreading her limbs against the taut pull of the black nylon weave. The wide loops of the seatbelt-tourniquet carve reddening ridges into the whiteness. The foot arches. A black needle heel locks against the dashboard while thin toes hover like fingertips against a spotless windshield. My knuckles are growing white around the metal, quivering slightly. She locates a marble blue vein with probing fingers and slides the needle in smoothly. It hooks into the soft wax of her inner thigh like a limbless mosquito as she slowly depresses the plunger. As the cars rocket violently into a mechanized tarmac limbo. The plunger tacks soundlessly against a plastic hilt and I release the seatbelt. The buckle slingshots sharply, catching her hard across her jaw and snapping her head around. Her skull cracks loud and heavy against the window, the strap reeling her legs closed, whipping tight against luminescent skin. She lolls against the safety harness as her insides liquefy in slow, electric plasmabursts of hot mink syrup. She raises limp wrists against a convulsing throat. Expressions rivulate and settle, setting in automatically before shivering out. Fingers clasp like skeletal flowers against this melting wax face. Nerve reactions blossom like bullets under cling black as the overloaded spine arches her to breaking point against the tangle of straps. The syringe still waves in her loose fingers. A chaotic stylus tracing abysmal gradients in the enclosed space. The needle accidentally pierces her cheek at an oblique angle. It sinks in, to the plastic seal and I hear it scraping against the inside of her teeth. The raised foot slides slowly across the vista of a windshield as her ankles loosen from within. The needle of the heel scrapes slippery glass as she forgets her grip on the syringe. It hangs from her face for a second before sliding out, falling between the seat and the handbrake. A garter of red reptilian ridges fades slowly from existence as I start the engine and drive off the verge. And glide into the speedlanes all look the same. Like looped tape. Moving back into a stuttering fast-forward.
A day slips past. I think three days have past. I think we’ve been driving around on the freeway for three days. The stainless steel lift is airless and silent as it moves up the dark shaft. I must arrive at my home. The pressure recedes as space slows and the heavy airlock doors hiss open. I think I left her lying on the side of the freeway. The long white antiseptic corridor stretches to both sides. I move down its lunar silent length to my apartment door. I think I left Manon in a seven eleven eating red lollipops and amphetamine. I needed to stop to wash my hands. My head hurt and I felt sick.
My door comes into view and I stop suddenly. There is a small black envelope lying on the carpet outside my door. I glance around warily. Long white tubes hum in regular subdued light niches. I approach it and lean over to pick it up. There is nothing written on either side of the envelope. In fact it is utterly featureless. I enter the apartment and sit on the couch. I put the envelope on the low table and stare at it. Someone left this outside my door for me to find. This makes me feel paranoid and violated. Something very bad is happening. I smoke three or four cigarettes and vomit before I could open it.
I think I have been hallucinating. Last week I thought someone sent me the skin of the girl from the pit. I hallucinated that someone had sent me a portion of flayed skin from the girl I was afraid I’d cut and not remembered. Someone left a package of bad meat outside my door and I hallucinated. I thought that it was the skin off the girl’s torso. It was veal I think. Rotting veal. Of course I have no way of knowing now. I think I put the meat in the incinerator. It’s not in my apartment anymore. Either way I can’t seem to find it. It’s gone. I must have done something with it. Something is happening to me. Something very bad is happening. I light a cigarette. I am slipping. I am…they are in there and they are dangerous. I must defend myself. I must pull myself out of this limbo I have found myself in. I ate some cold octopus out of the fridge. I hadn’t eaten in days. I went down to the underground garage and started my car. I hadn’t driven it for days but the engine caught like a blade. I drove to the Pit and found Manon naked and comatose in one of the corners. Cockroaches were crawling over her thighs and stomach. I couldn’t find her clothes so I wrapped some clear polymer sheeting around her inert form and pulled her up to her knees. Her eyes were rolled back, settled like oysters in their sockets. A thin webby tracer of drool leaked out of her open mouth. I got her down the stairs and outside. I had to support her with every step and almost dropped her on several occasions. Her limbs were those of a marionette and her doll’s head lolled sickeningly. The sheets billowed and collapsed like a shroud. I dragged her across the darkened lot as cars slashed deafeningly above. If I could just get us back on track. If I could just get us out of this hole then maybe I could…maybe I could… I pulled her into the car and she sprawled corpse-like across the crashcouch. I climbed in the car and started it up. The smell of burned plastic and internal fluids vapoured off her, filling the capsule. I drove back to the apartment in a numb haze. I managed to get her out and into the lift. One of her ankles slammed against the door frame as I was pulling her out. I saw a purplish bruise begin to slowly develop as I heaved her across the concrete. At one point while the lift was ascending, she slipped out of my grasp and collapsed heavily to the rubberised floor; like a puppet whose strings had been all of sudden hacked. I gathered up her limp limbs and insinuated my arms around her hollow torso. She wasn’t very heavy, but I felt weak and bilious. I got her up as the airlock doors hissed open and dragged her down the white and silent corridor. Her chin bumped repetitively on her breastbone, and the sound of her clashing teeth made irregular clacking noises. Her long bare legs trawled lazily across the carpet like the tendrils of a bluebottle. Once we were inside, I dropped her on the floor and went into the bathroom. I turned on the shower faucets and went back to fetch her into the bathroom. Her head cracked heavily against the toilet bowl as I let go of her to turn down the faucets. Steam filled the reflective room. I stripped off the fetid sheeting and manhandled her into the mirrored shower cubicle. She lay curled on her back in the cramped shower. Twisted in a backwards foetal position in the mirrors. Her skin pinkening as hot water bulleted and gushed over her stomach and face and slopped onto the floor. I threw the sheet into the bathtub and arranged her head so it was above the gathering waterline. I could see my reflections moving in the corners of my eyes, yet I could not meet my own gaze. The movements of those reflections seemed incongruous and disconnected from mine. The shower drain sucked and gurgled near her mouth. Steam clogged my eyes and face. I sprayed liquid soap over her and slid the glass shower door shut. Then I walked into the lounge and walked back to check that it was she who was naked and twisted in the shower and not me. That it was me who had dragged her across the mirrors and stripped her and not the other way around. I stared at her but couldn’t look in the reflections. I went into the lounge and collapsed onto the couch and lit a cigarette. I smoked it down to the filter and then moved to do what I had been dreading for so long.
I went into the bedroom and opened the secret drawer and got out the black box. I moved to unlock it, only to see that it was already open. My mouth was dry.
I stared at the empty envelope till my eyes hurt and I fell into a dreamless sleep in the dark. I could feel the memories straining against me and coming back like as I fell asleep in the dark. I felt myself being fish hooked momentarily out of limbo; up one level into the buried misery I had been forced to exhume in order to save myself. I woke up hours later, swimming muzzily into focus to find myself sprawled in the dark. The distant sound of the shower ebbed into my ears from faraway. I realized that I had forgotten about Manon. I stumbled to the bathroom and opened the shower door. She was still lying comatose in the gushing jets of now icy water. Her skin was pale, bluish and marbled. I had no idea how long she’d been lying in hissing cold water. I quickly turned off the faucets and got in to pick her up. Her skin felt squidlike and pebbled with goosebumps. Her lips had turned purple like faded bruises and her long thin fingers were stiff and bloodless as shrivelled wax. Her nipples were hard as stones. Little purplish pink stones. Hair hanging in short, jet coloured swollen strings. Her eyelids were slightly parted and her eyes were rolled back to the whites. I dragged her out onto the floor and pulled a towel down off the chrome bar. Her open lips and cheek were pressed coldly against the tiles, in the long glassy puddles. I pulled her out into the hall and dried her off. Her skin rashed pink and hypothermic under the rough towel. I turned off the lights and sat beside her immobile form. And in a tiny flaring second, for a luminescent moment, I actually feel nothing whatsoever. I feel nothing at all.
Then the walls come crashing down again.
And I’m back in hell.
I woke up in the morning light, blue-grey and warm through the curtains I’d forgotten to draw. I climbed out of bed and her arms and legs slip away from me. I rubbed my eyes and looked at her. She was sleeping peacefully beneath the sheets. I felt as if I’d accomplished something. She looked clean and innocent as a sleeping child’s doll. She had felt warm under the blankets, pressed against me. In rare moments like these I felt that there was actually a chance. A chance that I could be a real person. That I might actually become real again. I went and made myself coffee. Then I came back into the room and slowly pulled off the blanket till she lay exposed in the glow of the morning. Then I started to draw her with Indian ink on a sheet of smoked glass. And when I was finished, I looked at the glowing naked figure I had drawn. I felt my sense of accomplishment begin to slowly falter into an oily neutral as I saw the completed picture. As I saw that I had accidentally drawn my own corpse. I drop the sheet of glass from an open window and watch it the image fall to the systems of highways. It shatters soundlessly in the world below.
Manon is sitting at the black and glass table in the lounge. Her eyes are quite dark underneath but she wears her recovery with chic abandon. It’s late afternoon, I think, and I have cooked her a small plate of steak fajita and nutmeg seaweed grilled in grapeseed oil. I have made her some bitter green tea. Gunpowder tea from the Kwong Sang province. Not the best. Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant. I am making things normal. If used in conjunction with selenium, vitamin E doubles its effectiveness. She smiles at me and I try to smile back. My mouth feels like its full of sawdust and guilt. I have put her into a soft white toweling robe. Her hair is mussed like a French prostitute in a cheap Paris detective story I watched last week. The prostitute was stabbed to death in her face halfway through the fifth scene. I have sat her down and she looks as if she’s somehow decreased in age. I make her eat some soft gel vitamin E capsules and three pecan nuts. I pull the blackened fajita and crispy seaweed out of the oven and set the baking tray on the stainless steel sink. Hot juice runs like stale steak blood into the faucet. Oil like melting mammary matter. I catch myself. One pecan nut contains enough selenium to last a person several days. I pull off the oven gloves and take out a stylish black plate and some designer cutlery. Maybe it was walnuts I was supposed to give her. I’m…not…sure…I slide the steak and seaweed onto the plate and sprinkle some pine nuts over them. I pour out a tall glass of tomato juice and carry everything into the dining area inside the large lounge. She looks up from inside the oversized robe and gives me a hangover smile. I have the unnerving sensation that I am about to feed a cat or some type of household pet. I set the plate in front of her.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
I think that she is wary of my mothering. By my looking after her. She likes it. I pour antioxidants down her thin long throat and watch her eat. She eats the grilled steak so slowly. Like she is chewing tinfoil. It hurts to watch her eat. Feeling her mouth divide the salt from the oil. The rosemary from the carcinogens. The protein from the saturated fats. The fork never even touches her teeth. I sit down and light a cigarette.
“How is it?” I ask slowly.
She gives me a photogenic smile through the chewing.
“Its delicious,” she says.
I force out a response-smile. She eats with small movements of her wrists and neck moving side to side as her mouth pouts over the meager forkfulls. A constant chain of tiny bites. Like a praying mantis eating a spider’s head. I feel sick. I keep expecting her to open double jointed jaws and vomit over the food. Unfurl a long, hollow butterfly tongue and suck up the dissolving meat and the partially melted plate. I think I am losing my mind.
“You should drink the tomato juice,” I say with a dry mouth. “The V8 factor…it…its isotonic and provides a rich source of…vitamin C and…beta…carotene…”
I trail off.
“Are you all right?” she starts quietly and then stops, taking my hand in her smooth, cold fingers.
Her fingers feel like polished bones. Like delicate sea creatures. I want to retract my hand but it feels paralysed. She blows me a kiss and goes back to eating. I watch her drink the tomato juice. For a second I panic that I accidentally filled the glass with blood. She looks like a French vampire. Stale steak blood. Whip thin girl blood. She sprinkles in some black pepper. She is eating the blackened steak fajita I don’t remember buying. Wrapped in plastic in the back of the fridge. It looks just like veal. I need to wash my hands. I get up and go to the bathroom. I can hear her swallowing the thick cold red juice all the way. Small sips. Her tongue divides the pectin from the monosodium glutamate. The worchester sauce from its constituents. The iodised salt from the ferrous traces. I wash my hands over and over and over and over and ov…
I live…I live in the smoking ruins. I live in the smoking ruins of myself. I turn everything over on itself in the dark. She breathes softly at my side in the blackness as the words tumble like falling bricks through my head. The closed window blinds slice out deep blue slivered reflections of underwater light but everything else is in shadows and colourless syrup reality. She moves against me in her sleep and sometimes I forget that her hair is dark and that her eyes are mandarin green. Sometimes I am almost sure that the hair like frayed silk on my shoulders is burned honey blonde, and that she is a stranger I picked up while sleepwalking who watches me while I dream of nothing. I live in the smoking ruins of myself and I get up in the dark and it feels like I’m not moving. It’s difficult to judge the dimensions of the room. And although I move in a blackness that is silent and complete, I know that my shadow cannot be far behind me. Moving free in the dark, crawling along the walls and ceiling like a girl sized spider. Pacing me in catlike leaps and bounds with each faltering step I take. I fall asleep without noticing. I wake up in its webby arms. Her legs wrapped around me like a dead or unconscious spider as the blue slivers of aquatic light peel away the black like a dissolving scab. And her hands snake over me. Almost like a lover. But the dreadful sense that something vital is missing overwhelms whatever comfort there is in her soft reptile caresses. And when I sink into her, I become sure that I am dead.