And so they gather, each member of a trembling audience come to see the magic man, the shaman beast within me. I stand backstage alone, the nerves creeping up my spine from a place just under my balls, and look out at the unnumbered mass which in the dark makes a sound like a single Great Animal, the thrumming huff of it’s breath in hushed and expectant whispers, and the throb of its heart the movement of two thousand shuffling boot soles.
The backstage area is cool, blown with breezes that come from high above, where fly the angels of lighting engineers and electricians who have lashed each metal can to a rigging so intricate I could fool myself to thinking I’ve arrived in a place only God sees; the workings behind the universe which would make possible seeing the future.
Once I step forward, I will belong to that Great Animal completely, a medicine man before my adversary, and I will bow, and it will silence, and I will play it a song. I will recite for it a memory, and try to charm it to remembering with me the life we once led together. I am charming it always, to remember with me.
Remember the red-haired cherub girl.
Remember the rose which encircled the garden gate.
Remember the afternoon light which slipped through the fall of her pale hair.
I remember everything, after all, for I am the memory of the world.
It’s this memory for which the Great Animal is hungry. It feeds on heartbreak, and tragedy, and acts of grand generosity and heroism. It roars as I step into the light to face it, it’s voice quieting to falling leaves into silence, and I begin to sing it’s prayer, one made of my own blood and bone.
“Stain your handprints on the black sky twin gold,” I begin, and the Great Animal sighs, content with my offering, and lusting a little less for the time being.
The temperature of the concert hall raises fast as the Animal feeds, and roars, and feeds again. I can smell it’s sweat and terror mixing with my own. I command it to sleep, and it resists, roaring another applause, and I command it with a second prayer to sleep. This time the rage is grateful, and I slip from the stage a shadow of myself.
In the dark labyrinth of the concert hall’s backstage, I wander through pools of spare safety lights and look for the knowledge I was certain was here before, which God might show me. I smoke a cigarette in the stairwell of lower level, my arms embracing the weakness of my knees.
What the Great Animal gains from me is memory, yes, and what I gain from it is the chance it might look into my face and know me, at long last, for who I really am, which is not a magician but a man.
It’s in this quiet moment that the Blonde American finds me, her denim too tight and cutting into the meat of her hips, which swing on her arrogant approach. Her eyes are light enough to appear without pigment in the white light of the stairwell painted flat black. Her mouth wears the same smile it always does, when she wanders near; half raised in malice or sarcasm.
“I liked the show,” she kids me, leaning against the wall so her thinning yellow tee strains over her breasts.
“Thank you,” I reply to what I know is the thin air of her, this ghost which follows me waking and sleeping.
“I’ve started looking for you,” she informs me, and takes my cigarette from my mouth to possess it for herself. She climbs into my lap as if she were a child, and presses the spread of her ass against my stiffening cock.
“That’s nice,” I reply to what I know is the echo of my own breathing. We share a kiss, slippery and full of her smoke, the texture of her tongue soft and her mouth hot.
“I’ll be seeing you, Nick,” she assures me, and takes my cig with her when she goes, the air she once occupied now perfumed with a sharply green scent resembling the unripe apples discarded in an orchard.
Matthew’s scent slaps me hard as I ease the door of his room open. While I packed up most of his personal items after his death, his hairspray and the sweet cloy of his tears seems to have permeated the plaster. It wrenches my stomach, and I gag sharply upon entering.
The shadows of his bed and desk hulk along the empty walls, barren of art. The putridity of him, the mess of him, was scoured away with an efficient speed by Clyde just after the last fall of my axe, which severed Matthew’s head from his neck. It was an unclean decapitation, as unclean as the air which I moved through to get to him. It took something like ten blows, but no one was counting. I think we stopped counting that sort of thing long ago; the number of strikes it takes to kill Matthew.
The surface of his desk is littered with small items such as nail polish and razorblades caked with his dried blood. His tarot deck, wrapped in navy silk, rests in the drawer. I sweep the surface clean into a box with my forearm, and spill the drawer’s contents in after it.
Grunting, I shoulder it from the corner it occupies to the space just behind the door, and it’s the last shove which jars the letter loose from the place it was pinioned beneath the drawer.
Son of a bitch,
You woke up to that horrible clunk-clunk-clu-clunk again this morning. No horse ever gets where it's going in time to let you sleep anymore. You thought you had a way out after her screams burnt the backs of your eyes but the coals are waiting to rest. My fire has died and I don't wait for the reversal of chemical reactions.
These guts are not mine but the glory in these bullets could shake heavens.
If you knock on one more bleeding door, Leech, I'll strangle you where you stand. No one is home.
Son of a bitch
I stare at it and try to orient myself to time and place. While I know the language, and even dimly recognize the hand, I know Matthew didn’t write a letter like this. Running my hand along the edges of the page, I see text lost to the fading of the margins, but no dates, or markings of post. It must be a hundred years old or more, and yet hidden here in Matthew’s room.
Of course, he had his secrets. It was those secrets he kept from us which led us to murder him, this last time. I let my eyes rest on a single line.
You thought you had a way out after her screams burnt the backs of your eyes but the coals are waiting to rest.
So this is a letter to me. A letter to me, perhaps from myself, long ago.
It is the bounding steps of Brad entering behind me which tears me from the note.
“Adam, Jesus, it fucking reeks in here.”
.I tuck it away into the pocket of my slacks as the sounds of him fill the quiet space. He drags his cigarette, his newly-painted lips popping effervescent around the filter, and theatrically sighs smoke from his nostrils as he scrapes the heels of his Keds against the bare floor.
“Well… welllll… he muses, his heavy brows raising in increments higher upon his suntanned forehead. “Not so bad. You and Evie are going to move in? Nice. That’s real nice.”
He stops in the geographic center of the room, but it might be in his nature to do so in any room. His shirt is unbuttoned at his neck, and flexes over his athletic shoulders. He brightens the room, in this moment, his cool stare levelling me with his derision.
“It’s so fucking weird that she likes you.”
I ignore him, and change the subject.
“I was thinking there’s no need to get rid of the bed or desk, they’re solid pieces,” I suggest to him, and he squints, and lowers himself onto the bare mattress, which giggles beneath him, the springs full of teenage humor. .
“I’m just saying, you’re you,” he persists, his disbelief lacking irony, his denim crisp, his hair bleached by the sun.
“Yes,” I mutter, and shove my hand into my pocket, feeling the antique weightlessness of the letter, like the skin of an old woman against my palm.
The Violinist has graceful hands which stretch the fabric of his white cuffs as his wrist bends to hold the long finishing note of his example. I am aware at first only of his hands, here in the cool light of a gray afternoon. His last note plays, accentuating how young I am, and how inexperienced are my hands.
The dream is wrapped in the stale air of a school day, stirred only by the quiet introduction of the news hour from the television in the other room. The Violinist hands my instrument back to me, and it’s suddenly too big.
“There, now, Evelyn,” his voice speaks, and rests, and speaks, with the cadence of the music. “You try, now.”
I try to run at least the bow across the strings, so I can produce something close to the sounds he made, but I find I’m holding fistfuls of my dress instead. I hesitate, embarrassed, and he sighs, exasperated.
“I forgot my violin,” I explain, and his faceless form broaching the light of the window so he is framed in silhouette only.
“That’s enough for today,” he says, folding his hands in their white cuffs behind the back of his black suit.
I want to leave, but I find I’m swimming through the dense fabric of my wedding dress, which I can see has become too big, because I’m not old enough to wear it. I can hear the Violinist snort.
“What’s this?” he asks me, lifting a fall of satin from the floor, and letting it slither through his fingers. The sheet music is knocked from the music stand, and I realize I’ve come to the wrong house; not the house of my violin teacher at all, but some other man, perverse in how he would pretend to be someone he isn’t, if only to see me blush while embarrassed.
“A wedding dress?” he asks, his tone darkening as if I’d suggested something I haven’t. “Do you like cages?”
I know through the wisdom carried through the arteries of dreams that he means to imply marriage is a trap, and one in which he would enjoy ensnaring me. Suddenly his hands are larger, and more calloused, and the white shirt once immaculate is smeared with a black soot and torn at the seam.
“I have a cage for you. And chains,” he drools, taking a step closer, his fingers clutching at my skin. He starts to shake me as if he’s trying to make me understand something I don’t, and I fight him.
“Let me go,” I yell, and his face comes into focus quickly.
“Evelyn, you were dreaming,” Adam says, his voice stern, and the dream dissipates around the features of his concern, brown-eyed and alert, his expression flat in the swollen beds of his tired eyelids.
“What?” I ask him, and he repeats himself, his voice exhausted.
“You were dreaming.”
He lets me go to rise from our bed and shuffle to the coffee pot in the corner. Our rooms shows the hallmarks of our new occupancy. My clothes are still in boxes in the closet, and his records are still packed into the crates he brought from New York. His things elbow awkward my things along the top of our dresser, his masculinity so unused to my encroachment and crowding into itself, his cologne eclipsed by a photo of Brad and I as children. The writing desk where the coffee pot is housed is blanketed with pages from his notes, as well as discarded ideas from my journals, my handwriting spilling over pages and over his own.
His naked skin is pale in the new morning, and his hair is disheveled. He measures the coffee carefully, and avoids my eyes.
“Was it about Clyde?” he asks the wall, and I look at his bare shoulders. His voice is carefully even, and missing both the fear and contempt I know he feels about when I dream about Clyde.
“N. No,” I admit. “It… it was about… someone else.”