When I told her about the endings, of how they spilled out of me like feathers from a burst pillow or rather, like an exploding bag of nails, she shot me that look of outrage that I know she will never express in words.
I guess it’s because I dare to tell her story, I dare to speak of her broken marriage with its catastrophic end – an ending which somehow is not an end. I dare to tell it as an unravelling of knots and snarls, laying it on the page in rows of crinkled threads any one of which she could pick up and say yes, it was like that, or laugh and shout about how terrible it seemed, but wasn’t. In the midst of a vast humour as dark as that dreadful night, as deep as her loneliness, maybe a door could open.
But I don’t write the story of her marriage, of the years of her slow departure, or the night of her final desperate betrayal. I don’t write about him consuming dangerous quantities of medicine in toxic combinations, and setting fire to the house. I don’t even mention his shambling recovery or the other smoking ruins. I just write about how she still can’t choose, how from unknown distances he reaches into her life and extracts from her like a starving parasite. About how she can’t imagine her own escape, or what freedom even means.
I’m writing about what it looks like from here, as if stories really work.
It’s a beautiful machine, the motor so hot it leaps at his touch. The dark glamour of this bike suits him like a true story about sin. He’s driving home, fast. He’s just scored a good quantity of his drug of choice but is starting to sweat. With his teeth clenched in ferocity, he throws the bike round corners barely in control, and roars past the school. The children are already inside and the mothers have all gone home or into cafes and supermarkets.
She anxiously tidies the kitchen, waiting to hear the familiar roar in the driveway. She senses without calculating how long it will take him to make his connection and get home again, what state he will be in by now. She’s gone through her ritual of solitary pleasures, finishing with that small arrangement of flowers that she will paint later, when he’s sleeping. She keeps looking out the window but he doesn’t come.
The phone rings. A truck took him out at the intersection. He’d gone right underneath it, bike and all. The bike is a write off. He was…
Locked in the dark world inside his head, he’s thinking about his father, his mother, his ex-wife. He’s remembering all the things they did to him. He’s counting up all the failures and causes, knitting them into a glittering net to throw up over his life so that no grain of hate can escape and no particle of love can penetrate.
He texts her. She brings him cigarettes and doesn’t talk about the fire. He tells his own story again, it’s all he has to share.
After she’s gone, made heavy again, he smokes a joint and washes a handful of pills down with a glass of ale. It’s getting dark outside when suddenly the air begins to pulse, and a strange discordant hum reaches him from the other room. Casting aside the blanket, he gets up and staggers towards the door. As his fingers reach to open it, the door bursts open.
The small, dingy motel room is flooded with white light as if from a thousand suns. His head is filled with intense sound pounding in his skull, booming in his ears. What is it? He’ll never know. He’s blasted to ash in less than a second.
One morning Jesus comes into his room. He looks up and Christ is standing there in his robes of white, with his wavy brown hair softly falling round his face, his eyes gentle, his hand extended in offering. He knows this is the son of God and Mary. He was brought up a Catholic, his grandma had those pictures on the wall. The red heart is pierced and bleeding, and seems to flood out towards him in some kind of warm invisible balm, washing around him like all the love he’s never felt.
Suddenly, shockingly, he forgives everyone and everything. Jesus picks him up and cradles him like a baby. Weeping with incredulous relief, wholly taken up by something so huge there’s no room for denial or doubt. That small corner of his heart that still wants love is filled with it, the sudden rush better than any drug he ever took. He melts into it almost without knowing, so overwhelming and real it is, so inviting.
They don’t find him for a week, but they can still make out the smile on his face.
The district nurse has been warned. But she has to come and change the dressings. She knows he burnt himself trying to light some fire, and the petrol had soaked into his sock, unnoticed till the flames caught him. He has a shot of morphine before she arrives, so he’s nodding in his armchair with that foot propped up on the footstool in a ridiculous balloon of gauze.
The sight of this gaunt stranger in his shabby flat arouses her pity, but more than that, reminds her of someone. With a start she realises she knows him from another life, when she was living wild and partying. She saw him play that night and he was so sexy in his black clothes, his intensity like a magnet, belting out those low notes on his guitar in a riff that reached right into her guts like something hot, more exciting than she’d ever dreamed of. God, she had wanted him! And now he’s come to this; and she’s found him, and he needs her.
It only takes her three weeks to persuade him to move in with her. She does the packing and arranges everything. She imagines what it will be like when his foot is better and he isn’t on so many painkillers.
She starts to worry when she hasn’t heard from him for two weeks. Breaking her own rule, she texts him. A moment later, the phone rings. A woman‘s voice tells her to fuck off, he’s hers now. Dazed, she hangs up. Looking out the window she notices that the rain has stopped. Instead of gardening like she planned, she gets into her car and starts driving. She drives all day and half the night until she comes to the place she has always wanted to be. Ahead of her the sea sparkles, and the sound of lapping water fills her mind. She can see somebody walking towards her along the beach but she can’t make out his face.
There is a knock at the door. It’s her sister.
“Guess what!” she says, her face alight. “You know that someone won the jackpot this weekend? Well it was me, I’m rich and I’m going to share. Let’s go!”
Out of the corner of her eye she catches sight of him, for the first time with his guard down. He leans into her neck, and in that moment before she is overcome by a kind of languid blood-red darkness, she thinks he really might be a vampire.
He’s in the shower when the electrical storm hits. Massive bolts of lightning shatter the sky in the worst storm in living memory, breaking right above the city. Trees are split open in fiery crashes, buildings are torn asunder and scorched to the ground. And so is he. As he reaches for the soap, lightning strikes the house and surgesthrough the pipes, shocking him with immense voltage.
It’s a miracle he lives. He’s shocked and exhausted by the experience, but suffers no real damage. However, one change is immediately clear. From a wasteland of despair and madness, he’s somehow animated into a whole new way of being, thinking and feeling. He’s calm. He’s likeable. He’s interested in other people and listens, wants to understand, and his cruel edge is gone. He forgets to medicate. His health improves and he sleeps better, rising early he brings her cups of tea in bed. How can she not love him?
She can barely believe the transformation and sometimes feels she doesn’t know him anymore. So it isn’t hard to part ways, and she feels only relief.
The dark planet rolls on its elliptical path, capturing moons and satellites and shadows in its immense gravitational embrace. The hostages are doomed to orbit through long purple nights and brief days of faded orange, like a sonic poem with a baseline hammering fresh bruises on her heart every time she begins to heal.
Fate frees them at last with a sudden rupture. After decades, a wild asteroid strikes with such force the hostages are detached from orbit, hurtling off towards some other powerful attractor.
In that cold corner of the universe the dark planet breaks into uncountable particles, each charged with such obsessive energy that they are condemned to mutual disintegration. Then its only dust and after a while, just a smudge.
She rolls on through space, hugely warm and vivid in the light of a younger sun.
It only takes one quick phone conversation, and nobody ever knows who made the call. The police come the next day while she’s at work. The scale of his basement growing operation is serious enough, but the stolen guns and explosives, the high speed chase and the violence of his arrest guarantee he won’t get bail. Months later when his case comes to trial, he looks for her in the courtroom but she’s already left the country.
The path is lined with trees, their bare, slender trunks reaching up into dappled canopies, dark against the white sky. She follows the path as it dips down into the fog, enveloping her with damp and the smell of undergrowth. The mist clings to her, swallowing her footsteps as they crunch the gravel. Wrapping her so closely she has the sensation of being lost, the mist makes her dangerously invisible.
A bird calls somewhere up ahead, followed by a flurry of wings. She feels she’s not alone. As she reaches the crest, she can see the road winding up other small hills, rising like islands in a milky sea.
On one small island she sees a tiger. Enormous, powerful, vividly striped in that cold white morning, it turns its head and looks straight at her.