I sat down on the remains of an old dream and watched her snort a line of concrete dust. The blood ran thick and maroon from her nose, as I broke the seal on the fourth of the day with the loudest escape of air. My shoes are rotten, as are my legs, but my shoulders still have enough bone and sinew and hope to carry us through the dead plants and vicious eyes. I can smell people; as I walk through the crowds I can hear their prejudice and taste their awful choices in partners and pornography. Everything is sour, and everything leads us to numb our experiences.
The sun is hot enough to melt a bank vault and we recline across the monolith of grey in this wasteland; like a mortuary without the building, like a coroner without the science, as loved ones without the care. The stones sizzle and burn into our weak flesh, and in response we fill those gaps in the tissues and veins with sex and rust and disobedience. I can’t remember the last time I ate food, or smelled a flower, or watched a sunrise. I only remember the darkness, oozing across our shoulders and knees like an oil slick across a coral reef, as we blinded ourselves in a deep blue we will never reach.
I drag a pen over her bare thigh and write all the things I want to do to her. She laughs and grabs my wrist, crossing out the ones that will never happen.
I am irritable because I am hungry and I don’t know what I am hungry for. It’s not food, even though I wouldn’t mind, but something else. Maybe I am hungry for the blue of skies past or simply for raw flesh.
When I am like this, he gives me his arm to bite. I sink my teeth and suck at his skin and my own saliva. He shudders, but not from pain. I only bite to leave marks on him, to brand him as mine. He watches them fade with a smile on his face. We kiss, spit merging like rivers sweet and destructive.
In this place of cell blocks, marble gardens, police cars and strangers, we are wraiths playing with explosives, starting a thousand wars against normality.
While people are slaving away somewhere, we break into their apartments. We put on their clothes, wear their slippers, sit in their armchairs and call each other “darling” and “sweetheart.” We treat ourselves to bites of food and shots of liquor. We have some favourites we often go back to, so after fucking on their beds we make sure we leave everything as it was before we sneak out again.
In the beginning, he asked what would we do if someone returns home to find us there. I said they’d better not. I am irritable when I am hungry.
Cuddling each other in half-constructed buildings, monuments to petit-bourgeois ambition forever destined to remain naked brick and concrete, we talk about what our dream castle on a hill will be like. A castle of iridescent stone, with black ebony window frames and everlasting roses climbing its walls, overlooking our realm of flowers and sunrises. In such a place, even life may fit somewhere in our embrace.
As a moon of elf bone rises, hunger grows into a scream. We are the night searching for a meal.
Lighting a cigar, I let the tobacco hang in the air before planting the wet end deep inside a ruined candle. I’m wearing someone’s shirt, someone’s shoes, and none of their dreams. When we can find them we use their old bank statements as firelighters; we grind up their old family pictures and snort them up with much hacking and coughing. She tells me; this is memory rejecting against us. I’m not interested in memory anymore. Nostalgia is just an old man with terminal masturbation.
I sit down in an old wicker chair and feel the burn down the back of my throat as another gallop of Old Brandthrick trundles and fusses into my veins, obliterating anything with forward momentum. All points reset to zero, all rails set to the buffers. She walks across me, one foot taking the place of the other, and lifts her autumn dress to let in the air. I am nothing in this and yet I am everything; a flat piece of meat observing the opening of a rare flower.
The Moon rises and cries to a symphony of two legged jackals. I have her courage and she has a knife. She drags her finger through the remains of our most recent bonfire and pushes the tip under my eyelids. With a kiss smeared down my cheeks she runs her tracks over the wet bones, the soot planting deep in my pores. I look into her eyes and she smiles and shakes her head. This is not a night for heroics; this is a night for being the night.
When I breathe out, my ribs rattle like wind-chimes in a spring breeze. My eyes search the swaying yellow grass for any unnatural movement. Behind me she swills an expensive tumbler full of cheap whiskey in a black ball-gown too big for her, hanging like a defiant flag from her shoulder blades. I know what seethes underneath but I need to concentrate now. My veins lift from tissue and bone as she sings a gentle song, rustling in tune to the dead field.
I sit on his lap, wrap my arms around his neck and look him in the eyes. Is he ready? He says yes, but not without the face this place has given him.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul,” I say in all seriousness, and we both burst into a mocking laughter that could make the rising moon crack.
“Why so sad?” I ask, and he looks at me as if he’s close to tears.
“Don’t be mad,” I say, and he gives me a scowl worthy of an unworthy parent or a saint.
I want him to be happy, and happy he becomes, a trendy buffoon drinking his favourite soda in a commercial. And when I lift my dress, his eyes open wide in vestal innocence.
I paint his eyes with soot, burying them deep into stinking shadows. See? The windows to this soul are shut. Then I trace my blackened finger over his lips.
“Bring out your dead,” I say.
We’ve been watching her ever since we saw her run over a couple of pigeons. She clapped her hands to congratulate herself, golden rings and dyed blonde hair gleaming in the sun. They had crapped on her car hood once too often – fucking flying rodents. We watched her speed down the road, leaving a mass of bloodied flesh and dirty feathers on the asphalt.
We buried the birds in the field of scorched grass, digging holes with our hands, saying a prayer for flowers to grow over their grave.
She unlocks the door to find him sprawled on the sofa.
“Darling,” he says, “you’re home.”
Her hands are tied, her mouth is gagged. I can see the back of her shoulders rise and fall with her muffled sobbing. He apologises if his actions caused her any distress and messed up her makeup. In a soft, crooning voice he tells her how anger and bitterness have left tell-tale lines on her face.
“Life is not as the romances promised. All these false ideas you swallowed without question led to disappointment, didn’t they? Now you take it out on those who can’t stand up to you.”
He takes a Swarovski bird miniature from a display cabinet full of refined useless objects. He holds it against the pendant lights, pretending it’s flying across the room, the colours of the rainbow flashing out of its open wings. Then he makes it land on the floor and crushes it under his foot.
“Once you had another face. Do you think you can find it? Promise me you’ll try, and I’ll leave. You’ll never see me again.”
She nodds, furiously, and I expect there are more tears running down her cheeks. If I were her, I’d cry too if he told me I wouldn’t see him again.
“There is a number you mustn’t call after I leave. Promise.”
More nodding, more passion into the gesture. He looks into her eyes.
“I can believe many things,” he says. “But you… sweetheart, this is where I draw the line.”
But it’s me who draws the line. A perfect, straight red line across her throat.
Sitting in an old armchair, a new rain thick and glutinously falling through the holes in the roof, I carve slices of apple from a bloodstained razor. The sweet citrus mingles with the dark iron of oxygenated red and I cannot work out if I like this taste or not. I see her washing her hands in the trickle of a paste waterfall, the drizzle coated in dust and ash.
She dries her hands on her already stained dress and pads over towards me. Backlit, the sun illuminates her hair like a neon Medusa and I stare and I stare because if I cannot live for the blood of others running over my own, I wish to be made of stone. She sits in my lap and flicks my nipple through my t-shirt.
We hole up in the old shack because the sound of sirens is too loud for fragile skulls soft from fetal-alcoholism and a lack of calcium. Downstairs the living room is rotting; upstairs all the walls are just faint traces on the floor and the only monuments are a lonely sink, a single rusting bedframe with the mattress now just a black stain on the floor nearby. Above, a single light fixture hangs sadly, ashamed to still be clinging on despite being powerless.
Ushering her off my lap I stand up. The sudden violence of the situation disturbed me, and now I feel high after the hit, my soul now spinning wildly like a ship caught in a whirlpool, caught up in a flashback of an event that is already in the past. Taking the ribbon out of her hair, I tie her wrists together and fasten them to the ceiling light above us. My heart thuds and echoes around the empty walls around us as I take another slice of bloody apple.
A line drawn, a line crossed. A first time for everything.
First time I saw him, standing in this room on the windowsill, shifting his weight back and forth. If he was a painting, he’d be called blackbird on a seesaw. I could have let him fall, because he had intruded on my solitude. I pulled him back. I didn’t save his life, I told him, and the flicker of anger in his eyes died down. I saved his death. It wasn’t a long fall down; no one would carry his broken ass to a hospital. He’d pass some very long last hours on earth, calling himself an idiot. He ought to find a taller building if he was serious about it. And make sure he was alone in there, or another lady might save the gentleman in distress.
He is eating an apple.
That same night I tied the knots for the first time, the rope once around his wrists, twice. His body passive, his eyes urging me on. They blazed like the fire burning where the sirens went, the one that cleansed that place from our presence. He had said “kill me,” but meant “fuck me.” Every time like a better first time, until we performed the ritual to perfection.
This is the first time we part with tradition. A first time may be the last time.
He is eating an apple. Not washing his eyes.
He says I must have been conceived underground; I’m bound to earth and she gives me my strength. As for him, he feels disconnected, only half aware of his surroundings most days. I shook my head the first time he told me what scenes he played behind his closed eyelids to soothe himself into existence.
He is eating an apple. Not washing his eyes. The knife in his hands.
Maybe I should have taken him at his word and killed him, or let him fall. He fed me his hunger seed after seed. It’s an irritating taste burning at the back of the throat, unable to say itself, coming out as a growl or a scream.
Another slice. The windows to this soul are shut.
I cross out the things he wants to do to me. He always writes them back. He isn’t one to forget easily, no matter how he claims he’s not interested in memory anymore. He is good at self-deception. What do you mean does he know it? Of course he does. Of course he doesn’t.
It’s getting hard to think as my wrists go numb. Perhaps it’s getting late too. Late for castles, flowers and sunrises.
I gave him what he wanted. So now what?
I place the tip of the blade against her breastbone, but then drive it slowly down opening the dress and revealing those familiar contours. All the violence of late has been so much empty vapour, and I struggle to breathe these days. Here in this fetid shack so rotten as to allow all our dreams to escape through the cracks. I turn my back as she flutters and dangles in the breeze like a flower with some of the petals plucked away and sit down on the floor.
She once told me; there are none more cruel than those who believe themselves to be righteous. I’m not sure if I feel righteous but I feel cruel and I feel the force of it bleeding out of me from my shoulders down to my knees. Once I scrambled in a dark room at night, and now I find myself in a dark room with no windows and no hope of sunlight to one day illuminate everything. I need fire and nothing in this fucking place, this fucking town has the guts and the soul to burn.
Throw a few more bones under the mantelpiece; the dry crackle might just show us what we have left. I stand up, knife in hand, and stride over to her. It would be so easy to end everything now but I can’t bring myself to deprive the world of such depravity. I slice a lock of her hair and place it under my tongue before cutting the ribbon down around her wrists.
If I can’t escape the darkness, at least I’ll have the black.
He is drooling. Beaded strings hang from his chin, breaking, falling on his t-shirt. It’s mesmerising; a slow, fluid metamorphosis. Then the smell hits me: something metallic, something burned, like a nervous dog shooting the glands. It seeps through every pore of his body with such force it almost pushes me back. I slide a hand around his waist and pull him closer.
“You are a god now,” I whisper in his ear. “We are. We had nothing else. We’d be gods or nothing. We agreed on gods.”
I catch the beads with my tongue, lick them off his chin. His saliva is a sharp, straight aphrodisiac of apple, blood and doubt, streaming from his mouth to the rhythm of his thudding heart.
“Breathe. You were just born.”
I drink; my heart quickens. Finally, he spits that strand of hair on the floor and we kiss like rivers.
I don’t want to take the knife, but he makes me, squeezing my fingers around the handle. The temptation to push it in his belly is tremendous. I’d hear the sound of his skin tearing; I’d get to see what his disloyal insides are like, while he’d be waiting for me at our castle on a hill, warm and new. The idea almost makes me come.
I shake my head.
“I won’t choose how this ends.” Bringing his hand to my lips, I sink my teeth in his flesh. He shudders and finds the knife in his hand again.
I have a handful of her behind as she straddles me, pounding down into my lap with so many gasps and creaks that I don’t know what is human, animal or just the weak floor underneath us. Her hair cracks around my face as I feel the warmth in my lap, leaking onto my thighs; moans, shrieks and ice deep in my stomach.
When I open my eyes, it is already grey around the edges. She continues to pound away bur everything is dying and I am staring at a clenched fist pressed against my own stomach with a knife somewhere inside it all. Her sex mingles with the blood now pouring out of me, but still she maintains those furious eyes on mine, daring me to pass out before she is done.
My vision fades like the ripples of a pond in reverse, contracting and drawing everything in. My hand slides away from her buttock and finally lets go of the blade hilt. With this release I suddenly feel sharp pain, as though the knife has become this destructive object in that moment. She still slams down on me but it is useless, just a pointless slap of flesh on blood. The groans turn to growls, the moans into a seething frustration as I slip away beneath her like winter mist as the sun breaks through.
We’d agreed on gods. I am no god, but neither would I ever want to be mortal. This made sense to me. My eyes narrow to a single circle of fading light; of shiny gritted teeth and piercing white eyes. She’s slapping and punching my shoulders but I can’t feel it anymore. I feel weightless but I’m not flying to the above. Our kind – my kind – we only slide down, just so much water trickling between the gaps in the floor and growing putrid where there is no light.
Time to sleep now. No gods, only monsters. And truly, for a short time, we were monstrously magnificent.
Photography by Jimmi Campkin
Jimmi Campkin is a writer, photographer and creator of SANCTUARY. If you’re not familiar with his work, you’re missing plenty. Go to jimmicampkin.com to read more of his writing and see his complete photography gallery.
© Jimmi Campkin & Basilike Pappa, 2019