The tilt of the mattress roused her a second time, the structures in William's shoulders hissing faintly as they rotated, allowing him to bend and press his lips to either of the half-moon dimples in the small of her back. He lay down on top of her, setting his head in the crook of her neck.
“Get off me or I'll wet the fucking bed.” she groaned, unwilling to relinquish her pellucid monopoly. “My arse feels like a mashed banana.”
He moved his hips against the afflicted region, enjoying its tempting, cushioned amplitude.
"Seems perfectly normal.” he smiled. Susan rolled over beneath him, though she kept her pillow to her face to exclude all possibility of daylight, complaining when he pushed it back over her forehead with his nose. Her dark eyes enjoyed a smoky margin of fugitive mascara. She squeezed them shut, pressing her lips together to contain a smile while he licked her chin.
“You’re not allowed to look at me til half past ten.”
“It’s half past two.”
Glancing at him finally, she reached back for her pillow, sighing through it.
“Why don’t you look all seedy and hungover?”
“I thought that’s how I always looked.”
“You look like a virgin... baby... daisy.” she told him wearily, lifting handfuls of his hair over his head, daylight falling through it in glowing, rose-red fractions. “What are you going to do now there's no icecream on the horizon?” He replied with an indolent kiss, drawing on her tongue then sliding back onto his knees, his mouth dwelling on her breasts, either side of her ribcage and navel in a descent that concluded between her thighs, which lay in careless dissociation.
“I think it starts with C.”
"It should start with F for fatal, because I'm going to have a heart attack if you do that one more time..." She sucked in a breath, feet curling tightly on the sheets as she covered her face with her hands and then lapsed into inertia, his attentions possessing both the private comforts of her own hand and a stranger's unimagined expertise. It took a long while for a distant noise to distract her, intruding intermittently between her whispered exclamations until she opened her eyes. “William..." she murmured. "Something’s overflowing.”
He turned his face against her leg and listened, pondering her enigmatic statement before rising to his feet and hurrying back to the bathtub that had begun to disgorge water onto the white floor tiles.
“Stay in there.” she called, lifting her arms together and laying them back on the mattress as she listened to his immersion, the aqueous notes rippling along the ceiling like reflected sunlight and tipping the balance against her boneless sloth. Slowly she rolled to the edge of the bed, groaning all the way, a quick survey of the floor reminding her that she had left her best underwear in the Japanese garden.
The bathtub barely contained his louche entirety, its water threatening the lip of the enamel; Susan grimaced at her own reflection in the cabinet mirror, sitting down on the edge of the bath at his insistence and warning him sternly against temptation though the water flew up over the tiled wall and slopped onto the floor as the caution was disregarded.
"It's freezing!" she shrieked.
"I know." he laughed, winding his arms about her until she swore softly and grew still, forget-me-not blue bleeding from her hair into the water. Its cool acceptance of her weight began to ease the grainiest aspects of her hangover, and silence settled, her body warming a shallow gradient around her, the surface rising and falling slowly with her breathing. William touched his toe to the spout to prevent the drip intruding on the hollow, peaceful rhythm until she turned to lie with her face against his neck, closing her eyes. "Christabel..." he said quietly, after an interval. "How do you like strange?"
"It's alright." she murmured. Her fingers found and followed the figures on his back, the water an intimate liaison, allowing a new appreciation of the work that was so strange a marriage of art and living flesh. "It tastes nice." she added, contemplative. He felt a question move her before she had drawn the breath to ask it.
“My name is Sachiin.” he confided, smiling at the sound of it in her mouth as she lifted her head, her inability to correctly direct the sinuous vowels drawing her gaze to his and soliciting guidance. “Two syllables is perfectly alright.”
Susan spoke both of his names twice over.
"Which one should I call you?"
"Ça m'est égal. I'm used to both."
"I think you're still William to me." she confessed, growing still again. The pheasant peered through the doorway and strutted over the tiles to sip from the puddle at the foot of the tub, tipping back its head to swallow. "How do you like normal?"
"That wasn't really the word I was thinking of..." he smiled, sucking in a breath as she bit his neck. "It's magnificent..." he added swiftly, squeaking tautly when she reached between his legs. Chuckling, Susan wrinkled her nose at the sight of the skin puckering the ends of her fingers and tapped her toes against his shins, signaling an impatience that eventually hauled her free of the tub. With a towel tucked around her waist she stood before the basin, pulling out its single drawer and rifling its contents, finding a bundle of strange, pale, withered roots, a bar of clove soap, a silver veterinary implement and a heavy-bladed knife, selecting the first item and holding it beneath her nose.
“Licorice roots.” His reply did nothing to mitigate their mystery. “For cleaning your teeth.” He mimed the action to clarify their mystery. “You chew them.”
“This?” William pulled a reluctant face, and she waited, examining the implement herself.
“Orthodontic pliers.” She shuddered and returned them to the drawer. He slid beneath the water briefly, looking back to her as he re-emerged with eyes swept by the action of their glassy haws.
“There's that thing... god, that’s well creepy...” she observed as she bent down at the side of the bath and scrutinized him with a conflicted fascination. His fingers emerged from the water and slid up over the edge to touch her chin in his peculiarly affecting way, a hundred words enfolded in the gesture. "You do look like a Sachiin." she sighed, letting the word slide through her teeth. “And you can start teaching me the rest of it. I hate not knowing when to butt in.”
“You don’t want to go round talking like a hillbilly snakeface Christabel, believe me. We don’t win popularity contests.”
“Really? A lot of people seem to want to do things to you.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“Well...” she sighed again, looking around. “I can’t deal with the sight of myself for much longer so I think I’ll go back to my room and have a bloody lie in.”
“I’ll come up later and help you move your stuff.”
“Move my stuff where?”
“Here. I’m moving you down here, in there, with me." She set her hands on her hips, and William shrugged. “You just bought the cow, cloudcheeks. You fucked me, now you have to marry me. It’s in the bible... Colostomy ten, verse sixty nine.”
Susan laughed and leant against the door frame.
"I was sort of thinking that I might just want to um... use you for sex?” she suggested. “You only want me down here so I’ll clean up after you.”
“I’ll hire a maid. Know anyone hot?” He laughed at his own drollery. "Poupée... I can do monogamy. I've been practising."
"Monogamy reminds me of mahogany which reminds me of sideboards which reminds me of shrimp paste sandwiches and lollies stuck together in a bowl." she smiled. "And promising never to have sex with anything else ever again is the easiest thing in the world after fucking your brains out for twelve solid hours... my brains are as fucked as the rest of me, and yours probably are too, so it's not really the time to be talking about it."
"You're not... into exclusivity?"
She folded her arms in reply to his diffidence.
"William, you're a slapper. I don't actually mind that... it's sort of part of your charm, and I don't want to be the girl who bottles you in nightclubs because you've got your tongue stuck in something else."
"I think we should keep it biblical." he asserted, examining a thumbnail.
"How about don't ask, don't tell?"
"Biblical. For now. We'll review the policy going forward." She rolled around the doorframe into the bedroom. “You’re losing precious packing time.” he called after her. Susan marched to the bed and flung herself down, dragging the sheet over her head.
On leaving the bath he discovered a fresh article of clothing and crossed the hall to Edward’s room, where he padded past the bed and whipped back the curtain. Lilian lavished bitter curses on his person and rolled away from the window, curling up beneath the counterpane. William stooped, peeled the piece of blackened tinfoil from his damp foot and sat on the side of the bed.
“Drugs are bad, mmmokay?” he told her.
“What the fuck. You better be wearing clothes..." she groaned.
“I’m so far ahead of you it’s practically futuristic.” He indicated his jeans with a lush wave of his hand. “Frosty, if Ed was my boyfriend I’d probably want to kill myself too, but I wouldn’t do it playing ghetto roulette with other people's delicious morphine. Just ask him for a payrise... he’ll dig a nice big hole for your body and everything.”
“Christ... will you just get the fuck away from me? I’ll pay you.”
“Does he know about this foolishness, or are you still blanking each other on the stairs?”
She emerged slowly from beneath the quilt and reached for his cigarette.
“He knows. He came home last night, rolled my ass into recovery position and everything. I kept thinking there’d be a screwdriver sticking out of the back of his head. I wasn’t trying to do myself... I was trying to get some fucking sleep.” Something about the way he was composed, like a smiling Madonna, prompted Lilian to sit up, frowning at his complaisance. She pushed back her hair and kicked him through the bedclothes until a likely cause presented itself and she sighed, leaning back against the wall. “Don’t just fucking sit there, drop the dime. Was she conscious?”
“She nailed my arse to the wall. Like a tiger.” he laughed, running his tongue over his teeth. Lilian shaded her eyes from the window as she considered her companion’s felicity and the small things that had so contented him.
“All those dirty ways..." she murmured. "She’s gonna smack them out of you.” He shrugged, picking at a fraying thread on his knee, and her stare narrowed. "She already hit you with the slut kryptonite, didn't she? Oh baby, I don't wanna shut you down, just don't bring it home." Lilian laughed. "Your fucking brother does me that way, and you can't unhear that shit. Before you know it, you're turning down total strangers and coming home early with takeout."
William smiled faintly to himself.
“For her, anything. I don’t care.”
She shoved him with her foot and he rolled slowly sideways.
Susan stepped back into his room on hearing someone ascend the stairs, thinking that she would wait, in the interests of discretion, until Edward had returned to his suite. She counted to ten and walked out into the hall, dragging the dress up over her shoulders with her free hand, but to her dismay he stood at the head of the stairs with a paper, dressed with uncharacteristic informality. His gaze descended to the scars upon her bare arm, and she pressed past him quickly, glancing back to find that his frown had followed her in an unsettlingly owlish manner. Edward’s expression darkened again at the sight of his brother’s garrulous communion with Lilian. He unfurled the newspaper and tossed it down onto the bed.
“Why is the housekeeper fleeing your burrow in a welter of shame and confusion? And you will respect the rhetorical nature of that inquiry.” he muttered while Lilian cast an eye over the front page. She preempted his explanation with a string of incredulous obscenities.
“Fuck me, you got lucky like you would not believe last night.” she told William darkly, turning the paper toward him. “Someone eighty-sixed your hosebeast. And took a picture so it’d last longer.”
William’s eyes had always disassembled halftone images into their tiny composite elements, making it difficult to perceive their content at a glance, and he took a while to put the shaded pieces of the cover shot together. Rachelle Whateley’s naked back was ringed by floating bottles and plastic shopping bags in a stagnant oxbow of the city river, pendant arms and legs blurring away into the drab green depths beneath it, long hair lapping at its shoulders in a loose, stained tangle, as though she had been dropped out of a black sky. The text beneath eschewed detail of her injuries in deference to her influential connections and satisfied itself instead in flensing local law enforcement for their ineptitude. He could find no consoling finality in the wretched spectacle, recognizing far too many of its jagged little aspects. Lilian scanned the article, shaking her head at the triteness of its speculation.
“Here’s me hoping you were gonna make her chain-fight your new piece.” she muttered. “Check it out... they’re trying to make this fit that freak who drains pier girls... fucking morons."
Edward subjected the picture of Rachelle's body to a dispassionate examination from his remote vantage, its empty flesh reminding him obliquely of Hindu conflagrations, of the chants and screams of widows and the smoke rolling from the low, sooty pyres with their oily orange flames and stench and suffocating black heat. He felt the weight of a horsehair swat in his left hand, and heard the infernal whine of fat, sanguine blowflies.
“I’m only going to ask once if anyone here has anything to say about this.” he informed them. Lilian shook her head.
“Faceplant... ladyland.” she mused, manually referring to herself and her preoccupied companion. “If I’d done Rachelle, I’d be on the horn with a voice mod, skullfucking those Homicide douchebags with my batshit manifesto.”
“I was with Christabel all night.” William agreed. “We never saw her.”
“Think that’s gonna stop them taking a run at you for this?”
The trio exchanged looks of varying type and intensity until William broke the silence.
“I was with Susan, you two were here... it happened in the city so... none of us are good for it. Let’s just leave it alone. Maybe she’ll rest in peace.” he suggested. “Hey, you’re reviewed...” he told his brother as he took up the paper and folded it in two. “At the... blah blah... Lamb’s forté is clearly the drama inherent in the purest visual mechanisms, the vexed, penetrative anatomy of act and consequence, his savage chromatic vocabulary underscoring the lack of human scale, of comforting textures, these things excluded as if they do not exist for him. Jesus fucking wept... These troubling decisions inform our reactions without delineating new perceptive boundaries; they are an introversive commentary, leaving us to negotiate with our own collective absenteeism, the tragedy of our commodification. His works hang like a judgement on the walls of the Aldrich Gallery, shrewdly juxtapositioned against it’s language of excess, a token of reform conspiring with the vernacular, using... blahdy blah blah... He insists where others intimate, and many will find this certainty, this overtness challenging, even unacceptable, and for that, perhaps, we should be grateful... there's more, but I just can't. I think you have great success, but I’m not sure. I think I’m going with dramatic absentee textural clusterfuck. What the putain is introversive commentary and how do I tell if it's happening?" He looked to Lilian.
“They’re totally skinning their dicks on your awesomeness.” she told Edward, who smiled back at her sarcasm.
“There’s something here just beside all that awesomeness about the Aldrich Gallery getting smashed up by gatecrashers who then er... battled police, and set fire to vehicles outside the building...” William leant over the paper, squinting as he continued his narration. “Until someone in authority agreed that the art was eye-raping rat scat, and they’d been overcharged to see it even though admission was free...”
“Aprés moi.” Edward explained.
“Opal’s going to rip you some sticky new ones when she’s done choosing caskets.”
“We no longer enjoy a professional relationship.” he admitted. Lilian looked up, absorbing the news in silence while Edward stared at his brother. “You left something in my car."
His gaze returned to Lilian as she alighted from the bed and walked into the ensuite bathroom, where she pushed the door half closed, her shadow cast in elongate detail onto the floorboards by the mirror light, disrobing with her. William switched to their native tongue to address his brother in her absence.
“Opal probably did Rachelle, for fuck’s sake. I hadn’t seen her for weeks... I don’t even know who she was running with.”
“Clear your voicemail, get rid of your phones, say nothing to the maid and get that body out of my car before I shoot out your knees.”
"That’s like bitching because someone left a bottle beside your glass recycling plant.” William told him, rolling up the paper with both hands.
"I saw the girl's arm."
"Don't stare at it, blaireau. She already thinks you're some kind of daywalking goatsucking maniac."
“I find your savage chromatic vocabulary unacceptable.” Edward stepped forward; William rose from the bed. "Pet's here." he called, making an exit under his own steam.
In the shade of her apartment, Susan peeled off her weary dress and scrubbed at her head with her hands, watching tiny maple leaves fall from her hair onto the floor before the window. The sunlight delineated a cherry-coloured mark on her right hip, though William had left no other aides memoires beyond the placid, emptied weariness she wore beneath her skin. She sagged at the sight of her bathrobe, loath to shrug on its dead weight but even less inclined to look beyond whatever came to hand, drawing it over her arms and shuffling into the crowded little bathroom. It was oddly dark; having tugged the light cord, she found herself blinking down at a shape in the white tub. The soignée Russian vampyre lay stretched out upon her fox coat in its cool depths like the body of a sacrificial virgin. The little leadlight window had been blacked out, a pillow stuffed into its square frame, her red-trimmed suitcase jammed between the taps and the adjacent toilet suite.
Susan stepped back against the wall. At first glance the creature seemed like some enchanted archetype, but her exanimation was a profoundly pervasive agent. It smelled of ice and grave dust, sucking the colours from the light and casting out the vernal spirit of the day, replacing oxygen with a destitute ether. She ventured forward haltingly and leant over the lip of the tub, peering more closely at its occupant. The vampyre’s eyes were closed, hands turned against each other on her breast; the digits of her right hand lacked three dainty nails, and blank skin had replaced them. She took a great step backward, retreating quickly and drawing the door shut as silently as she were able, holding it fast with both fists.
“Is there a spider in the bath?” William whispered over her shoulder, bending beside her to peer through the keyhole. Exhaling in her redoubled fright Susan released the handle and shoved at him, before clasping his neck and pulling him lower.
“There’s a...” She pointed through the door. "Vampyre..."
“One we know?”
She nodded, grimacing slightly.
"Will she wake up?"
“You’d need a five foot gong, a Boucheron credit or a loudly sobbing infant." He nodded slowly, and then narrowed the darker of his eyes at her. “I don’t see any suitcases. I could always bring my stuff up here and we can fight over your bathroom.” he suggested. Susan took the newspaper from under his arm, sitting down on the bed and glancing over the front page.
“Here’s me thinking you were so bloody desperate to get me down there because you couldn't live without me.” she muttered. “When it’s really about you not wanting another dead girl floating around and making you look bad...”
“I’m not asking because of Rachelle... yes, okay, now I’ve seen the paper there’s no way you’re staying anywhere on your own, but that’s not the point."
"What is the point?" she demanded. William slapped his hands over his face.
"Christabel... look what I've become.” He gazed around the room and found her suitcase on top of the wardrobe, pulling it down and dumping it on the floor before her. “I had to wait all this time to find out there was a birthmark on your arse that looks like Luxembourg and that you’re a biter and you snore and drool and like to squash me into the headboard because you're a mattress nazi... I fucking hate waiting and I've waited so long and now I'm a whiny needy freak, so please... just be my fucking girlfriend so I don't have to come up here and use your clothes to masturbate while you're in town.”
Susan folded her arms and gazed up at the ceiling.
“I’m not a biter... you just make me want to bite you.” He sighed violently. "Oh for god's sake... alright, yes, I will nag you and use all the towels and throw half your clothes away. But you're doing the packing. I'm off to find a shower."
Grinning, he pulled the top drawer from the dresser and tipped its contents into the suitcase.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce