The first thing I see of her, are the serrated edges of a broken heart. The necklace is half a whole, implying the same of her. The edges gleam with the dull glow of false teeth, false hope. A ragged wound, worn as if denial were a totem, some symbol that could ward off future hurt. It is impossible to retain anything more immediate than this.
We get through the necessary ritual of small gestures, token words. Emptied of these empty things, we sit. The restaurant is modern, bright, full of the sort of unrelenting bustle that only leaves you feeling hollow.
She orders her chicken boneless, then eats in silence, her broken heart swinging with every rending motion of her mouth.
Those were kisses, once, I think.
I am a poet judging a broken heart, we are carnivores both. She infers later, she’s been keeping the necklace so she can use it one day on her wrists. I don’t know what to say to this, other than that the imagery startles me. I think of the leering smile left pressed into the pink flesh, imagine them closing the lid while it continues smiling. I ask if she wanted to leave him with that image.
Her, she says.
I rephrase the question, but she still doesn’t answer it. I guess it’s difficult to negotiate the thoughts behind a haunting before it’s even begun. She wishes to conduct the echoes that will linger, compose the after images that accompany the very thought of her. I wonder if she expects a crescendo of tears. Can she hear them already? I ask, but these metaphors mean nothing to her. She seeks her own, no doubt.
She orders wine, but sips only once. It’s too familiar, and tastes of someone else, she says. I contemplate that, finding unexpected kisses in the world around you, that betray another life.
How intimate pain becomes.
I look away, I do not wish to be indelicate. Instead I study the diners around us. The dull ones. Ebbing with pale liquids, cream and claret. Decanters, unpoured. Mouths moving, exchanging fruitless banalities. The trivia of their work, their flirtations, their base diversions.
I see through it, to the subtle horror of their appetites. Carnivorous. Omnivorous. They would devour each other if only their society was more permissive. They were deeply mundane, and all the terrible repressed things that implied.
They are all crucified to their own skin. And they love it. At night they were entwined, like snakes wrapped around each sensual act as it came. They surrendered lurid noises on the back of each breath, while their children slept in the next room; themselves totems of shame and want.
Old lives. Faint. Less tangible the more and more I look. I could still smell the sweat though. Still anticipate the taste each life contained.
I imagine bite marks dancing around goosepimpled flesh. The kneading of skin. The indentations of the thirst. The want. The amorous abattoir of the gaping wound. I try not to watch too obviously as a woman swallows her wine, throat moving with the passage of fluid. Her mouth is a wet red O, words tumble out of nothing, about nothing. She is meat eating meat. Her throat bobs more, and I imagine the taste of all her lips.
Turning quickly away, I tune out the waves of flesh all around us. More perceptive than I am, she has not looked away from her food.
Indeed, she savours it.
Her cutlery is silver, he willpower exquisite. It feels like we have brought our demons, but they did not sit long.
As our overshadowed dinner winds down, we agree to split the bill, and I ask her if she is still open to the possibilities of life? Her response is mummified upon her face, has been for some time. I turn from the scowl, and open the door. She steps into the dark, its cool embrace does not startle her.
I ask, softly, if she would like to meet another time.
She fingers the heart around her neck. Her face is drawn, as if she’s just found Cupid upon the cross. She has, of course, but I do not intend to frame these thoughts so honestly. It is her night, let her own it.
I wish her well, and the scowl briefly softens. While it does not become something else, for a moment at least it refuses to define her. She pauses to wish me the same. I thank her, and she turns away. Her footsteps are full stops on whatever more could have been said. She is stamping out the options, I think, curtailing the distractions as and when they appear. With this, she sinks into the night, returns to it. I am aware that it welcomes her, though I could not easily convey how.
This is her anniversary. How many years since the night first devoured her? She could not say. We are empty, those of us filled with darkness. It walks inside us, leaves its prints upon our bones. Sometimes shadows linger, cross our own, but it is foolish to expect anything more. Whatever becomes of them, people will always want for more.
People? No. Reflections, shadows, ghosts… Night walkers of old, who go by many names.
But we are no longer people.
Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Firewords Quarterly, Bare Fiction Magazine and Popshot Quarterly. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in Gyroscope Review and The Linnet’s Wings. He has a blog at http://barrycharman.blogspot.co.uk/