You meet Eden in the afternoon at a Starbucks in Earl’s Court. She’s American too – an expat, hiding out. Ponytail, no makeup. Sorority sister smiles. She says you’d be an Elite, because you’re well-travelled and educated and exotic. Isn’t that nice. See yourself in silks, cherries wrapped around your charming fingers, reading Baudelaire. It’s not so bad. You feel richer already, can’t stop packing your suitcase for Australia.
She tells you there’s this guy who will just love you, who will pay a thousand quid to spend the night with you and he’s young and cute and just wants to burn money with a smart pretty girl, do some blow, maybe not even want to fuck. You say you thought it was just dinner and drinks, you don’t want to fuck, you couldn’t do that. She lowers her eyes and smiles sweetly to herself, touched. Says sure, she’ll find you someone else, but it won’t be as much obviously, if you don’t fuck.
You imagine Australia and slow, dusty days. London claws at you, pulling at your coat, dragging you under buses. Eden looks into your eyes and asks about your family, the broken scattered pieces of what’s left. Asks what you like. Yoga and ice cream and Woody Allen. Long walks on the beach. Is that the right answer? Coffee in the middle of the night. Cigarettes on window ledges. The sound of a red rubber ball against a wall. You like it when people don’t die on sunny days but you don’t say that. When you get up to leave she hugs you close.
Think about it.
She smells like honey and cheap detergent.
Everything changes after that. Try it and see. Try walking around in the world for a day, having decided to sell your flesh. Someone you’ve never met is going to hand you money in exchange for the use of your body. The body your father washed in a salad bowl on the porch of your grandmother’s house. The waist that twirled a purple skirt in circles until you fell nauseous and happy into the grass. The hands that rescued tadpoles from puddles and strung daisies into chains. The neck that first Joe Mason behind the dugout, and later others kissed mostly kindly. The knees that crumpled like tin foil that sunny day you got the call, the ribcage that heaved and threatened to come undone at the final unbearable lowering into the ground. The heart that now is mostly numb, whose last hunger is for salty waves to kiss you mostly kindly.
song by hanne steen. photography by carla richmond.
Bangui, Central African Republic, 1989.
Today is the day you will burn his things. A shiny grapefruit lies lonely on the kitchen table. Don’t look at it, you say. It will remind you of him. It will remind you of his shoulder rising up out of waves of sheets, pink and strong and soft.
Make coffee, burn your tongue. Breathe through waves of morning dread. The suitcase hard and packed at the bottom of the stairs. Full of his things that today you will burn. Don’t look at it, you say. It will remind you of him. All the pieces of him like organs, like cogs that spun his blood, pressed together against the walls of the suitcase. His shirt. No, don’t look at it. His gray shirt with the holes everywhere that you wore to sleep and how he would stick his fingers through the holes and touch your shoulder blades. The card he gave you for your birthday, hand-drawn. His handwriting on the inside like spiders across the page. Spiders saying you’re my favorite human. Don’t look at it. Let the door slam behind you and throw the suitcase in the car.
Today is the day you drive to the desert to burn his things. The city speeds past in blurs of concrete and glass refracting suns and you try to take different roads, but it’s no use, you went everywhere together. Don’t look at it you say as you pass the parking lot where he kissed you in the dark with tacos in your mouths and laughing. Don’t look it as you drive past the drive-in where you always said let’s go and never went. Don’t look at it or you’ll have to wonder where he is now and if his hands are reaching through the hole of some other shirt to touch the blades of someone else’s shoulders. Don’t.
Out in the desert under the blazing sun you build a fire. Sweat is pulled straight from your skin into the sky. Gigantic rocks bubble over from the ground like fat men’s bellies. Don’t look at them or you’ll be sick. The fire roars in the afternoon, reaching up to the sun. Don’t look or you’ll go blind. Lift the suitcase from the ground, leaden with all the weight of him. Swing it up and into the flames and feel the fire heave back at you, singeing your eyes.
Now look. Look hard into the flames. Look at the case dissolving. Look at the layers peeling away, curling over like dry leaves. Look at the crumbling box that held him captive under your bed, when he had walked so long ago. Look at the holes in his shirt catching fire. The holes where his hands used to be. Look at the cards bending and turning black, the books he gave you to read on lazy afternoons, fanning open in the flames, look at the notes, I love you more in spider scrawl, the cowboy hat, the feather he found on Lake Michigan and sent you in the mail, the blanket he wrapped around you when the stars were falling everywhere. Look at it. Look at it burn. Look in the end and how it curls up in smoke and dances away. Look how you burn, and how your walls turn to ash, and how he curls up like smoke into the sun.
my fish is dying. I tried to mend her fins like water wings but I think I failed. all this failing is killing me. all these parking tickets. all this driving on the freeway after all the wine with my phone out of juice and not caring to find my way home. what is home without you. hardwood floors and a dying fish. silence and a chandelier.
at the party I smoked cigarettes and played werewolf. kept my mouth shut. the boys scared me for the first time ever but I killed them all in their sleep. there were plenty of glasses and shadows of you but not the right shadows and nothing you enough. had you been there I would have been nervous you’d shoot someone. I would have drunk too much to quell my fear of riots. you would’ve paid my parking ticket. I would have kissed you through the bars of your cage. you would’ve pulled me close and told me I was your favorite human. the wine would have killed us.
but anyway you weren’t there. nor will you maybe ever be again and I can’t figure out how to swallow that so I try more wine and I curse my god for my dying fish and my parking ticket and my broken heart I broke all by myself. go to bed. strike a deal with god. dream of falling in the ocean with unbroken wings.
this is black friday and the end of the world. this is my head on a chopping block and my heart in the dirt. I don’t know how to stop. if this is love this is the end. this is a game of bullshit. these are your eyes across the table in the cold light. this is you behind your sunglasses saying see you around. these are your hands across your heart. this is your face in my hair. this is my dream of your arms. if I made the world I would tie you around me. this is black friday and everything has failed. this is you in montreal while the rain comes down in LA. this is the loneliness of a dying fish. this is my fury that you won’t do as you’re told. this is everything in wax paper. these are the ribbons I cut and threw away. I doubted everything. this is not the end. this is the end of something.
in my dream your arms are ribbons wrapped around me. I am scissors. I could have given you everything. this is just a dream I made of your arms and I am not here to save any man or fish. I need to listen now for real. I need to hear what you said. if you come back with bright eyes I will fall into them with wild wings and never look back. I cannot bear the silence and the dream. I must stop looking backwards. I must bury my fish. I heard what you said. my wings are unbroken. I’ll see you around.