Sunday, 4 August 2013

A Great Fire Burns

“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”
― Vincent van Gogh

The wall was cold and impersonal against her spine, like his hand when she had touched it. She remembered the minutes in which she had savoured the elusive artistry of the whole operation, his palm still open is if intercepting a weight, his body straddled across the bed and the knife where she had left it. It shone from his side in its own sick artificial grin, beneath a sluice of red which clogged to pink as it hit the sheets. She thought of how perfect it would have been to draw him then, how the colours were framed in the light, a purity which had never touched his skin – so distant from the affair, and the late-nights and all that. She had pressed her lips to the cold salt of the cheek.

Then she wondered what they would do to her - the new state policing, the regime. For after all, murder was murder. She sounded the syllables with a sickly precision as she called the police.
“I’ve murdered my husband.”

She remembered the irony of her husband’s well-rehearsed words that ‘honesty was the best policy’, remembered how his lips lingered over the words behind a tumbler of gin or whisky as they would sit on the porch, and he would fan himself precisely with the newspaper in an attempt to conceal the patina of scent of another life, another bed. It was at these points Leah would usually excuse herself to the solace of a couple of sleeping pills and sidle off into a preserved insignificance, not wanting to show him the hurt, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of concern.

Sometimes she would plant fruit trees and shrubs in insignificant containers across the porch in an attempt to brood over some kind of life – the satisfaction she gained when it would swell and fall like an injury, like his chest at night – the undulations which had once been comfort had heaved to a broken reminder of some kind of aching injustice. She felt it as she peeled potatoes in the kitchen - the mouth of the peeler breaking skin to reveal angry white flesh, as she undressed and did not have the heart to look in the mirror.

For months she had not known about the affair. She had been disjointed, slumberous; her body strange and distant as if dragged through a kind of liquid; but the source was vague. He would come home late and brood over newspapers and letters, smoking cigarettes as thick as the sinew of a wrist, fill silences with odd aphorisms and drink. He attempted to gaze on her with tenderness but there was something awful about it.
She remembered waking up on her 30th birthday. He had bought her some acrylic paints – staring up at her in little blocks of bleeding colour, yet cold in their concentration. There was something about the extravagance of the act, his gesture, which pained her. Perhaps it was an implicit signal that he was struggling for money and thought perhaps she could contribute to their livelihood through the artistic touch. In retrospect, it was the only affair she could be accused of.

And it was an affair which hurt her incredibly. His encouragement of her practice, his careful almost obsessive watching of her when she smoothed the paint onto the tile with the special steel knife he had bought her. He praised anything she painted rapturously, often standing ornately in front of the fireguard to announce his admiration – of the little landscape, the sea, the strange house with the accidentally broken roof. It was all ridiculous and entrapping, she knew it was, and she hated it.

She hated him when she asked if he would model for her. He consented to be painted. naturally, as if it was within some inhibition of the male pride to always consent to one kind of performance or another. And as she sat, gracing the fine contours of his frame in one of those relentless summer afternoons, that was when she started to know. She could see the guilt fraying his frame – in order to capture the fold of his clothes against his body, she had to move her brush in a kind of deceit. As she painted his face, she had to pile the paint ugly and greasily like sin against the canvas to capture the odd emerging sheen of his skin. That was when she could see it, paint it – thick, green guilt. It was there in a whole shade beneath his skin, of secrecy, of another woman’s work.

This was a model who had sat for too many.

So one night, when he came home late as was becoming customary, she opened her arms to greet him and  on impact, stabbed him. The imperfect, fluid action which fell through the minutes. She stabbed him with a knife which both made him and broken him – had smoothed out the paint of his perjury and travelled thick through his side in his living. He cried once with a horrible puncturing wail before he was silenced in the thickness of his fall, and she sat and stared in the horrible final victory of her hands being the last upon him – she told the officers everything.

She stared up at one of them, at the masked enclosure of an almost male face. 

“Is that everything?” The officer’s voice was cool and calculating as if determined not to waste any inhalation of air, the very sound striking against her cheek in its serrated imperative, moving in the same swift motions as his pen.

She told them that she had said all she could.

 She waited, wondering, not in fear but almost a kind of curiosity – for she might have a life in prison surrounded by inch after inch of cold stone, she might die – strapped to hungry fibres of white hot electricity which would strip her skull and sear the flesh until all memory was lost and only the  bloody body left with its involuntary tremors. Perhaps there would be applause; stranger’s faces hungry to watch what they believed to be a confirmation of justice.

Her thoughts swung to the reality of the two officers in front of her – her body backed up against the wall, her eyes wild and confronted with the hard impersonal sinew of their lower legs and the nervous motions of an apparently untrained rifle. Another officer emerged from the living room, dusting his thick hands casually as if content in the completion of some task or another. His black beard contrasted boldly with the stain of blood across the framing expanse of wallpaper. Red writhed against white like a scream.

It was he who spoke.

“Well, that’s everything, I gather. I’ve just installed an automatic contact point on the wall in there if you need to ask any questions. We shall be going now, we will take the body.”

And they left – uniformed black bodies threaded like a procession with the corpse down the corridor and through the door,  in a clean, almost surgical movement – as if pulling away from the foul tumour of her existence. The door closed with an unfamiliar crack. It had been locked from the outside.

The house felt suddenly introverted in its pressure, and she regarded the familial collection of cheap porcelain in the cabinet, the mass-manufactured beige carpet in the hallway with a kind of wariness as she threaded into the front-room. She told herself she would sit quietly, contemplatively and wait for the detainment van or the firing squad or whatever had been prepared for her. A crease of sunlight clawed through closed blind and cast an artificial sick smile upon the floor in a kind of mockery, a limb of light she approached with the dull shadow of her foot, moving slowly and contemplatively like a child absorbed in a game, laughing manically. Trapped in her own house – for what punishment was that? She could spool over tepid tea with several sugars and imagine in her absorption the fantastic whore who allowed his to happen to her husband. The yellow bitch.

A voice shrilled mechanically, plucking her from all contemplation.


 She gathered quickly that entering the front-room must have activated the contact point the officer had mentioned. Glowering on the wall, the strange chrome-plated box seemed to feign a pitiful kind of self-importance – like a poor stage presence, adorned with flashing red light and a little clock. She was tired and glanced at it with indifference.

‘YOU ARE HERE FOR MURDER.’  It repeated in an identical tone void of emotion, the only focus being pronunciation ‘YOU CANNOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. ALL YOU NEED WILL BE DELIVERED TO YOU.’

The last word lingered awkwardly in the air and Leah waited in anticipation of more. The uncertainty in the air was awful, only nothing came. She slapped the faux-leather chair hard with an open palm in her frustration, letting the sound sift through her own words.

“How long am I here? When are they coming to get me?” She managed.

“YOU ARE HERE.” The voice replied vaguely.

She glared at the contact point with a charged vehemence, before sweeping to check the doors and windows – all locked and barred and blinded. Fumbling, she was forced to turn on the lights, which provided the living room with a kind of sickly suburban pallor. The air felt thick as if her breaths were not dissipating and she was breathing lungfuls of slightly sifted heat.

“Must be making me wait here before they come and kill me.” She said to herself as she went to make a cup of tea, the liquid blistering  at her top lip in a way that was vaguely comforting in its familiarity. She felt guilty. What was letting her enjoy a cup of tea, put her feet lazily up upon the couch and flick aimlessly through the  previous evenings paper when the blood of the man she had killed still adorned the wall in the adjacent room? She thought the contact point would have remonstrated immediately, but there was no sound, no indication – just the regular throbbing of the small red light which glowered, concentrated like a single pustule. She could not finish her cup of tea, her mouth was suspended as the tomato plants pulsed in the porch, swimming in their own effluence.

Nor could she sleep in the room she had shared with him so many nights before. Perhaps she could not face the blood, the strange metallic sheen of it against the uneven wallpaper, perhaps she could not associate the room with any other motion than her twisted grapple to ease the knife between the ribs where it slid sickly like a bow. That memory became the instrument of her torture. She did not sleep that night, nor the many nights after, instead, the faux leather sofa slumped clammily against her back as she watched the unshifting emptiness of the room. There was no natural light. That was the night she realized they had removed the television and the radio, yelling out at the contact point -

“How are you going to kill me?”

It replied thickly with the awful inhumanness of its cue, robotic and rehearsed. “YOU ARE HERE.”
It meant nothing to her - just as she meant nothing and felt nothing. Empty days were filled with flicking through odd articles of paper, watching walls which warped beneath her gaze until they were unrecognisable. It made her wondered what she had done in the house before. Cleaning now seemed like an objectless task – for there was no one to benefit from it, the lack of light only seemed to cover everything in a perpetual dust which would not even move by force. Cooking for one was menial, although food was still delivered . A collection of necessities were clumped in the porch every morning – placed there by some unknown hand at a time she could not recollect, so  she could not decipher whether it was there by kindness or by order.

At first she ate chunks of bread theatrically, smearing them with butter or jam or whatever had been delivered, in the anticipation that they were to poison her and she would die some elaborate death draped over the chair in the eye of the contact point. But nothing happened. Only the contact point flashed in its mechanical wink and displayed the time of  8 o'clock; although due to the lack of natural light, she could not distinguish whether it was morning or night. She recalled, curled embryonic into the living-room carpet, how her husband always seemed to like the time in the evenings – how he would be there now, filling the kitchen with a strange melody of glass striking marble and echoing the fall of ice before the slip of liquid. It was a haunting which crept up her spine.

Now he was gone.

‘’When are they coming to arrest me?’’ She spat at the contact point. ‘’I killed my husband.’’

‘YOU ARE HERE FOR MURDER,’ It announced, as ever ‘YOU ARE HERE.’

Angrily, she cried out in hot insult. She could not deal with it any more. She retreated into the bedroom, stalking away from it, her footsoles burning, whether with anger or the ache of unwashed days and hot indistinguishable nights, she hardly knew. She had slept little, and her eyes ached at the bloodstain on the paper. It appealed to the opposite wall in a blind gesture of panic, and she stole into herself, piece by piece, his scent intensified across the sheets, the impression of his suede shoes still scored into the carpet.

Her own life taunted her – her eyes slow and squeezing shut with very blink, eyelashes alive on her cheek like an insect. Eating became an act of physical resistance – the senses stirring wildly on her tongue, clotting and cloying horribly as she cried out against the notion of food. It arrived with a horrible regularity in the porch, going largely untouched. She knew that her husband would not eat again – for she had denied him, denied him the contact of his lips against any kind of sustenance since he had touched her, the other woman. Any article of food swelled in its reminder of his lips upon another, skin and artificial scent and exposed, slightly discoloured flesh.

She came to know that the most agonizing element of a scream is when it is unheard.

Parts of bodies only seemed to litter about her. The blood sometimes glistened under artificial slight like a reaching hand or open mouth, the glossy faces in old magazines even became peculiarly inhuman to her. She traced the outlines of smiles and clothes in a hasty attempt to remember contact, above the ache, the seizing striking ache which pried beneath her ribs. It seemed to cauterize her flesh in a coil of angst.

For she did not know what she was waiting for. She attempted to define something – some objective, some achievement, some article which gave her the objective of waiting, anything. The food delivery – she decided. The house heaped and heckled around her as she walked for hours enough for the hour-hand on the contact point clock to pass the number 8 twice, or so she thought, she swayed on the edge of sleep – tempted by absence and yet craving for contact. She screamed in the shower so that the walls would reverberate some sound across the cold porcelain, but it was lost in the cloying ache within her chest, externalising itself as she walked with almost fabricated footfalls through the thickening air; cigarette after cigarette stealing sleep. She stalked in an instinctive anticipation of a returning cry.

But never did she meet the person she anticipated to deliver her food– never did she see the intricate threadwork of veins beneath hot hands or even see the rapid crystallisation of breath against a cool window. For all doors, all light, was locked, barred, closed, it evaded her life flushed from a violated body. She thought of her husband fleetingly, dragged his name across the carpet in her hunger and her exhaustion. For how could she eat when she saw no human hand behind it?

Bathing in apparent indolence, the contact point seemed to swell on the wall. It confronted her like the sight she had lost, the hours of endless absorption in self, it struck into the air with a red light of empty reminder, falling in front of her view like her husband’s hands as she remembered them – pink in  the palms when [picking up a paper or a cigarette. She struggled to associate her hands with the proximity of his; now the clammy swollen hands she pressed together as she knelt close to the contact point.

“Please speak to me, please somebody speak to me!” She wept, her fingers plaited in frustration.


Her mouth tasted foul and metallic, how it had done when she felt the knife catch on a chord of his human resistance, how his frame had suddenly convulsed as they both fell. She shrieked, began to remember.

‘Please speak to me, I need someone there!’


‘When are they coming to take me away?’


The savage emptiness of the mechanical drawl haunted her – it was too regular, too precise, trilling as the clock clicked its fingers through the face like an endless artillery fire, short and sharp like his last breaths against the innocence of the bedclothes, breaching and burning in her ears – the idea that honesty was the best policy, that somewhere she had a wedding ring, that the worst part of a scream was when nobody heard –

‘I don’t want to be here!’

With the single fluid movement of a final exertion, her fist  ripped into the contact point, hot and flurried, chilled metal suddenly slipping against chilled metal.

It said nothing.

The officers retrieved her body the next day, plucking the shrunken form from the floor with cold impersonality, observingly casually the strange artistry of her emaciation, how brilliantly the bone gleaned against skin when light finally forced its feeble hands through the door, glanced off the surviving surface of the contact point.

“It always gets ‘em in the end,” An officer remarked, almost sentimentally, through the cigarette thick in his teeth, indicating the crushed metal thick in the vaguely human wrist. “How long was she here?”

Another answered over his paperwork.

“Just over two weeks.”