Book: Black River (2016)

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I saw you in the paper today. Imagine my surprise. No I’m not angry, of course not darling. It’s just a shock, that’s all. It’s been half a month already, hasn’t it? I’m just annoyed that they haven’t left you alone by now. I’m not angry. I’m never angry at you.

But there you are, looking up at me from the cheap recycled pulp, the grainy off-colour photo doing nothing to capture the pounding vitality that I and you both know you truly have when you’re at your best. But here you look like a common slut. You could be any little harlot snatched off the street, forcing a smile for all the gawking, mealy-mouthed faces that must be fawning over you this morning. I can see the strain around your eyes as your lips curl into that twisted Pan Am smile. I can read the violation in your eyes. And ok, I’m furious. I’m furious, but not at you. Hush my sweet, hush now.

I didn’t want to say anything before but for a time you were in a lot of papers, believe it or not you were even on the TV news. Yes I know, I was as surprised as you are. Savages, dumb apes, they all wanted you, that much must be no surprise, though I know how modest you can be. But really, it was understandable. I took you from their midst, raised you up to a level that you truly deserved. No wonder they clutched blindly after what they’d lost, even if they never even knew what that was. But this now, this is too much. I can’t eat my toast when I see you there, like a whore, what they’ve done to you in their rag of ignorance. I wouldn’t wipe my rectum with it, though the way they’ve rendered you is worth for little else. My morning tea tastes like vomit because of it and I throw the cup across the room, where it smashes against the wall into a million porcelain pieces, an ochre stain splattering across the wallpaper as the liquid trickles down to the floor. But please don’t blame yourself, my anger is not because of you.

Ah you are so sweet my love, with your carmine lips and auburn hair. I have never known such ineffable profundity as I saw in your eyes when together we rose. I was glad to give it as you were glad to share. It’s funny but I find it hard now to remember your taste, how your naked flesh felt beneath the caress of my hands. Maybe it’s because you’re no longer with the physical shell that held your spirit, the chrysalis that I so gently and diligently cracked open to release your flame. Now you exist only here with me, but oh how I long to feel your skin again. Perhaps that is my weakness. Even I too in some ways am bound by the chains of muscle and flesh.

I remember the first time I saw you, how angels and devils sang. The whole world stilled for you and I and when you smiled at me I felt alive for the very first time. It’s a cliché I know, perhaps even a false one because of course I am alive and always have been, of course, but I can think of no other way to put it, the moment was simply beyond words, impalpable, divine. And you felt it too, from the very first moment, you radiated your need for me, your need to submit and be made whole again, by me. I in my disguise and yet you alone saw through it, your smile then was nothing like the one in the paper, it was heaven. I breathed it in.

He sat alone in his room, hands on lap and the table bare, save for the newspaper spread out beneath him like the document of some singularly-obsessed detective, poring over a case. Opened on the third page, a third of the way down, there beneath the headline and Brian Hardy’s name, was Emily’s face—a snapshot of the girl who would grow little more than a month or two after that moment had been claimed. Little more than a month or two from that moment and then she would be claimed again, this time frozen forever. She was the one he had taken from the world.

It was early in the morning. He always woke early and would sit sometimes for hours at his table, scarcely moving, his breath so faint and shallow that his chest seemed bereft of any motion at all. Sometimes he would smile, faintly, and other times his lips would curl downwards, never more than a millimetre or two, in a shadow of whatever distaste or repulsion was working its way through the psyche within. For the vast majority of moments that passed, however, his expression told nothing at all.

He was tall and thin, rangy. It was the build of a person who had never borne any relationship to food beyond the necessity of inputting energy into the viscera that carried him through the world. Not once had he ever savoured a meal or held a glass of fine wine to his eye in appreciation of the subtleties and nuance of the flavours within. He had only experienced anything comparable to such bodily pleasures once in his life and he longed with a deep and inexorable ache to receive it again.

Minutes passed, in increments of five, ten, twenty, fifteen. The long black hand of the clock sporadically flicked its way around the yellowed face like a skeletal arm, splayed out and lurching, impossibly re-animated from beyond the grave by the force of some ghoul’s final spite-filled accusation. The time passed from six am up to ten to seven. He sat, pale and pallid, the eyes behind his glasses listless and almost closed, seemingly without any colour in their irises at all. His lip twitched almost imperceptibly as the hand of the clock creaked forward to mark another minute passed.

There are some who say that there’s only one for one in this world, you know, but I believe it a myth—a falsity packaged and sold to the teeming masses by smart but unscrupulous charlatans churning out holiday cards all year round. Yes, a myth I say, but please do not mistake my assertion to be evidence that I am anything other than a fully-fledged and committed romantic at heart. We both know that much to be true. Oh yes, we know that much at least.

But my dear I am also a realist and to say that there are not many souls who carry for one another an inter-compatibility of personality and style would strike me as a grave and even, dare I say it, irresponsible falsity. There are many out there for many and it is really just a matter of trusting the fates to bring us together. And ok, for some of us, those with more refined and advanced sensibilities—those of us who are, perhaps even to our detriment, simply more evolved in our very nature—our fellow kindred spirits may seem few and far between when we long to reach out to touch and be touched. But that does not mean we cannot find each other, you and I are evidence of that. Nor does it mean that there are not many more out there with whom we might equally chime. It may just be that we have to look a little harder than those leering, drooling Neanderthals that surround us at every turn in this tragic, underdeveloped society of ours.

Certainly the notion of one for one seems to fly in the face of the natural human sex drive. Don’t blush my dear! We’re both adults, we can talk about it with maturity. Oh my, you’re so demure, almost prudish even. No I don’t mean it as an insult, not at all. You’re adorable my sweet. But really I know you can be coy too, yes I feel it, behind that smile. After all, we both went there together to the heights of passion and ecstasy and bodily release. We both learned together that the act of sex can transcend the churlish titters of schoolboys whispering in secret hallways or the drunken, lubricious gyrations of those mindless reprobates who nightly perform their disservice to that most holy of all human acts. Sex is a unity of body and soul, you’d do well to remember it, but even still, to say “one for one and one only”, is that really natural?

I say not—and bear with me for a moment. All around us we feel the pressures to accept the model of monogamy as the one and only true way for man to live with woman. The priests shout it from the pulpits, themselves chaste or perverted beneath the dusty black cloth of their robes. The entire modern notion of the “nuclear family” is built around man at the top with woman beneath and her children below. Is that in itself not too much pressure for woman to bear?

On the subject of monogamy, George Bernard Shaw once wrote that confusing monogamy with morality does more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error. I am inclined to agree. Then again on the same subject Oscar Wilde himself had this to say: “Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.” Hush, I say this last in jest, you know already that you are more than I could ever ask for. No, not one too many, never you.

But even still you see how such questions have wracked the minds of men much greater than you my love. It is a question of ages and the reason it persists is because, deep down, in our heart of hearts, perhaps we truly know that monogamy itself is unnatural and never should have been.

I am reminded of my days of youth when I first felt the early prick of puberty take hold. I can see that you enjoy the thought, I’m sure you’re curious and of course it’s only natural. But please transcend any jealousies that may now arise, for you see there is another more enlightened way to conceive of the whole great dance of love and life. It is not a waltz perhaps but a joyous and everlasting conga line, the real music is made not by a pair but by many.

In my time I was quite the Byronesque, I doubt it much surprises you. In my fifteenth year, when I felt the waking ox within, I took to wearing a long black robe tailored from the feathers of ravens and crows. Call it the vapidity of youth but I still say that it suited me and for woman-kind it was nothing short of aphrodisiacal, although that was never my true intention in assuming that garment.

Walking the streets they throw themselves at my feet and genuflect up towards me from the paving stones. They bare their supple white milky-pale breasts and beg me to take them in hand. Glistening lips painted in pinks and purples shine in the cold and unforgiving sun. Eyes cloud over and pupils dilate, I can taste their womanly sex radiating up from all around me. The streets undulate with their bodies, for miles ahead, moaning and twisting, each trembling to their own private rhythm of need. I float above it and see how the whole city has been tarnished with a blanket of harlots, how it trembles like a thing alive! They cry out in the agony of longing for me to take them, to take them all, and I say No. And the ululations that rise then are like the voice of all that was never made whole, every soul and moment that ever rose towards greatness and fate and then faltered, falling like a feather back to the teeming abyssal below.

The black minute hand of the clock clicked into place marking the hour and his gaze flicked towards its face almost perfect in time, as though attached to its arrow by some slender psychic chord. He cleared his throat and then rose from the table.

The bedroom was as bare as the kitchen. A mattress wrapped in plastic and a crimson silky blanket that looked more suited to the floor of some Amsterdam harem than this empty and unfurnished habitat where he lay his head each night. He walked to the closet and opened it on a row of neat and nondescript shirts, hanging like empty skins in a furrier’s shop. He ran his fingers gently through them, one after the other, before selecting a well-pressed purple shirt with some franchise’s nondescript logo stitched to its breast. He dressed slowly and methodically—this was how he moved almost always—and then he left the room.

Out on the streets he walked the city, past the people as they navigated their way around the corners of their lives. As he walked his expression never changed. It was faint smile, pale brow, and eyes that were dead and devoid of anything remotely corporeal.

For his part, he did not see them, those he passed on his way to the daily employment. He could see their shapes, even their faces, but to him they were one and the same. Only on occasion would he register a face—a young woman here or there might catch his attention, for a moment almost waking him from the foggy labyrinth of his mind, before being dismissed once again from all tangible existence. For their part, those who were more perceptive and who happened to look longer than a second into his face were stricken with a brief and uncomfortable dissonance, an uncanny, unexplainable sense of unease, before they too dismissed him in style. Presently he arrived to his place of work, signed himself in with his given name, and began to interact with the world.

No, I never gave in to the call of the flesh in my youth, though I was not above temptation. Instead I endeavoured to keep the temple of my body pure until I had fully matured, until I had attained the wisdom that I knew was the destiny of my youthful potential. Is it a choice I grew to regret? Never.

But now that I have fulfilled that potential, now that I have attained the requisite wisdom to fully engage with the art of physical and emotional love without succumbing to its suffocating nature and being assimilated whole, I feel that I am ready to return there once again. And you, as my truest love, I would like us to take this journey together. You see I think it’s clear now that you can never be enough for me, not by yourself alone, and perhaps I have already been inattentive to these labours of yours. Perhaps you are already struggling to live up to the power of my needs.

By now you can see the merits of polygamy and perhaps, my dear, this is what you wanted all along. Could it be that you thought it would anger me, repel me, repulse me, for you to suggest we bring another to our bed? No, it is no sin, darling, it is perhaps the highest of virtues itself. Let us take this weight from your shoulders, let us share the love again. It thrills me to think of how you two will grow to love one another, how together we will make such perfection complete. A trinity of love. The three of us together.

So it is decided then. Above the mountains three bells ring. Clouds part. Dong. Listen. Dong. Hear it my sweet, take my hand. Dong. The gates of Olympus open and a river of rose water spews forth down the harsh gradient, across rocks and scrub-brush so arid and desiccated that they crumble and melt into mud and mush beneath its liquid absolution. Down beneath the mountain, the people claw and fuck in their huts of shit. They will be drowned beneath the liquid of the Gods. This is blood my love, life’s blood. You know it must be released. This is our baptismal, our communion, our holy matrimony. Somewhere in the sun, too bright to clearly see, an angel takes form. Feel the heat of her golden locks, her eyelids flicker over planets of gaseous fire and heat. From her lips spill forth utterances so celestial and divine that any who should hear is instantly driven insane. Somewhere out there our lover waits, she can feel us near and she longs to find us. She will find us. She will come to me just as you did and when we see her we shall know. The blood pours down the mountain and onto the vale of ignorance, gurgling and filling it, thousands of leagues deep. It boils as it fills the chasm, none escape, no one survives. Above in the heavens our angel smiles and the words of prayer continue to strike forth from her mercury lips. She is burning in the sun and she burns there forever.

He was given a name and now, at the place where he went to spend time each week and do things in exchange for money, it was fixed to his breast on a small, cold rectangle of plastic. It was a name like any other and he had no particular attachment to it beyond its convenience for performing tasks in the wider world, like renting an apartment or purchasing unmentionables online. The name had been given to him but to him it was not his. It was simply a strange and barely understood necessity, a surreal conceptual tool required for life in an irrational universe.

Customers would come through the shopping centre and he would watch them sometimes from behind the counter of the mobile phone store where he worked, his face puffy and pale as though the capillaries themselves were unaware of their manifest purpose and his eyes half-closed and dull, almost serene in their dreamy vacuity. Someone had told him once that he was supposed to smile, that it made the customers feel more at ease, and now he did so constantly for all the hours that he spent there, whether alone or not. To him there was no difference.

His fellow employees avoided him and even grew to dread the days when they were obliged to spend a shift with him alone, but they did not talk about him behind his back or ever share with one another the eerie and unsettling sense they felt around him, that cold radiation that shrouded his person like the aura of a corpse. They did not mention it to one another, but amongst them all it was equally understood.

Of the customers, very few ever inferred more than the slightest hint that this strange and quiet docile man selling them mobile phones and phone equipment over a shopping mall counter was not like them at all, not like anybody, not really human at all. Sometimes he longed to tell them, not with words but with actions. Sometimes he wanted to show them what he was, but instead he continued to politely and persistently push the full package of whatever item was currently on offer. More sales meant more commission and therefore more pay, that much at least was understood.

I hear it between their words, her name. It’s still uncertain to my ears, I’ll have to see it written down or hear it spoken directly, but I hear it nonetheless. It is the whisper that unfolds when their mouths close, I see it in their eyes, the shared understanding, even though they don’t know it themselves. They are only vessels for the message, for the destiny. There will be another, I will take another. She will come to me just like before and she will surrender everything to me, her name, her house, her job and then later even more. Her dreams, her aspirations, her plans, her fear. I will take it all, I will take it and eat it, open my throat and tear it from her lips. Drink it with my eyes. I will. I will. I am waiting now and watching. She has golden hair now and her eyes should be golden too but they might be blue. I know because an angel told me. It was never my idea. It’s all a joke to somebody. It’s just the way life is. Listen to the voices under the bridge, they are wolves’ voices. This is how it is. This is just the way it is.


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