He brightened suddenly, his relief at her assertion undermining it immediately. Knocking a knife from the table with his elbow, he excused himself and stooped to retrieve it; when he did not immediately reappear she leant out with a frown until a hand snaked from the linen and whipped away the piece of paper on her knees. William reversed and settled back into his chair, spreading her page of notes beside his plate and smiling at the questions she had overwritten and underscored, tucking his hair behind his ear.
"Am I a species?" he laughed. "Do I have children? Putain!"
Susan shaded her gaze with her hand.
"I crossed that one out." she whispered.
"A species? Er... pass. Illegitimi? I've been warned that it's technically possible, but it's all... you know... perihelion, blood sacrifice, and I'm pretty sure I would have spotted someone cutting the head off a buffalo while I was fucking their sister. What?" he laughed. "You asked..."
"No I didn't..."
William studied her script again.
"Did it smell bad?"
"I mean the past! That's what we're told at school. Can I have that back, please?"
"It stank pretty bad, actually... people, baggage trains, clothing... living in a town was like being wedged in a fucking feltbeater’s armpit. It's not like that in the mountains. But soap is good... I was happy to see it." Turning the page over, he selected another inquiry. "Did women really think men were superior?” Susan’s nose wrinkled as he spoke. "Er... I'm not really a man, and when I think about it, I can't say I've ever felt especially appreciated in a god-like fashion by girls... I run with a bad crowd, though." William's hand went to his pocket before he remembered he was not allowed to smoke. "People haven't really changed. Same shit, different d..."
"What about Hitler?" she interjected. His eyes roved slowly until it became clear that he did not understand the question. "I mean... did you see that coming?"
"Oh... yeah. They're all one guy really, the horde-mongers."
"How do you mean?"
"Vertically challenged, romantically declined and fashion-forward. Whenever I see three hundred people dressed the same way, I pack up my shit before the screaming starts. Except with the Xiongnu... the first you ever heard from them was a hundred fucking onion planters bolting past the front gate, closely followed by fifteen thousand mounted archers. But er... what was the question?"
"What it was like to be a girl, before you could vote or get divorced..." she pressed.
"Like being gay these days. Fine til someone stabs you to death while people stand around chanting that you had it coming.” He refilled their glasses. “Everything came down to location... something that was hilarious in one place got you dunked in pitch ten miles down the road." Scratching his chin, he shrugged, looking for some meaningful summary. "You’re lucky you were born... when was it? Yesterday?”
The sound of her laugh relieved him, though he struggled with his tie, loosening the knot against its unaccustomed enclosure.
"You can take it off." Susan grinned.
"I haven't worn one since the fucking boat over here. Frost keeps putting them on me... says I look less feral."
She stowed it in her handbag.
"Where were you coming from?"
"France... lived there on and off for a while, Paris, Gévaudan... hence the parler."
"There aren't that many of you about, are there?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"It's... the way you are, and with your brother. Like there's no one else."
“Well, there's Ed and me... Bede, you met... Nyāti... that’s his better half..." William looked up from his plate as he came to the end of the slender demographic. Her gaze was drawn back to her scars.
"Was this any of them?" she asked, turning her wrist toward him. He took it in his hand and passed a thumb over the pale striations regretfully.
"Honestly, no... I don't know who did that, but when I do, they'll wish they hadn't."
"I don't want more trouble, William, so just... promise me you won't overreact." His difficulty committing to her stipulation prompted her to pick up his hand, transfer it to the carafe and pour for them both once more. Its task complete, she smoothed his fingers out across the linen and employed the vase of flowers to seclude her surreptitious exam. "The first thing I thought to ask was how you ended up like this, because I don't believe you evolved or anything..."
"Christabel, that's a very... somethingist assumption." he complained, wincing faintly as she subjected his digits to a series of arduous mechanical appraisals until she discovered that his nails slid from their beds into thick, hooked curves; they retracted smoothly as she let go and pressed her own hand to her mouth. Their waiter stood clutching a fresh carafe. "Do you want to eat?” William asked. She took up the menu.
“I’ll... I can't um... I'm having trouble thinking..." she admitted. "I'll have the... what is that?” She leant across to point out an item on the list, shifting around the table to sit inside the arm he lifted to accommodate her.
“Three kinds of wild mushrooms in... ah, cream sauce, and some sort of noodle.” he explained, perusing the french terms.
“Is it very big?” she asked the attendant. “I’m really hungry.” Glancing around, she saw to her dismay that baroque presentation took precedence over portion size. “I’ll have whatever that was, and... do you have trifle?”
“Sort of... a cake in a bowl with jam...”
William shared the man's dubious expression.
“We have a very fine Tiramisu.” the waiter offered.
“Is it very...”
“No. It is not very big. But I will tell the patissier of his mistake.” he hissed.
“Tell him how you lost your fucking tip while you’re there.” William mused. “Nasturtiums and figs. Thanks.”
“You want... flowers?”
“On a plate, with figs.”
They watched the man walk, stiff-necked, back to the kitchen with their orders.
“I’m going to get a gob in my pasta.” Susan predicted, glancing over her shoulder; as soon as he was gone she dragged William's hand out from under the table and resumed her examination, singling out his extraneous finger. "Does it have a name?" she asked of it.
"So go on, then..." she urged. "About why you are."
He emptied his glass again.
"I've heard a hundred stories, but I think the oldest is the one I believe... I will tell you some time." Flecks of glitter had fallen from her lids and settled on her lower lashes. Her smile and the inescapable compulsion of her stare forced his gaze toward the ceiling and he rolled his eyes. "When I first left the mountains and went to live in my brother's house, there was a khampa girl there, and she said to me that in Kham, her people knew about us... her grandmother had been a witch and told her how we were created." That he had lowered his voice to preserve discretion caused her to frown over her shoulder at the clatter and susurration from the surrounding tables. "In their stories it was said... before words were written down, all the lands around the Mother Mountains were held by the Nāga... women who wore the black hood and had thrown off all other names for what they were, declaring themselves witches, and feared by everyone who knew the word. They held the highest valleys and lived as self-made queens, treading down the dharma and the rule of princes and the common people as though they were stones to be cracked under their feet..." Slowly, as though lowered by a dial, their neighbours' conversation fell away into a silence that obliged his confidences, adjacent strangers laying down their knives and forks and sitting in abeyance; when he spoke again, the words arranged the shapes of black-swathed women gathered in a vale of nodding poppies, felt-leaved and welkin-blue, the hard grey taste of meltwater pooling in her mouth.
"It was said they commanded the air and flew like great black crows, that they stole the shapes of wolves and tigers and wore them in the darkness... that even the rivers drew back their water at their word, to offer passage. Beasts of the forest took their decrees into the palaces of kings and spoke them with voices they were given for the purpose, so that the prince of Mahājanapadas might be tithed or directed by a bird or spotted deer before his people, and humbled... if any nobleman or priest said words against them, even in their dreams, the Nāga would cause the sky over their land to stare down like the white eye of a demon of the waste, until the crops were scorched and blown like ashes and their children and their animals lay down in the streets and died like fish cast out of water. And in lamenting them, these kings and nobles earned for their dearest kin a white bolt from the sky that cleaved their bodies into smoking ruin."
"And it was said that the pride of these witches were the sadhaka... familiars they had created, to serve as the pillars and ornaments of their art, creatures assembled from three principles... from men, so they had tongues to speak and hands to perform the tasks required... from beasts, for their strength and instinct, and shapes more pleasing to their creators than the common run of man... and from elementals, the spirits of the ice and stone, so they could prosper where no honest creature might, and would stand apart from all else, as is the wont of primal spirits. The Nāgas'magic stood on the shoulders of these creatures, who were tempered against ice and flame, and wise in all that they were told and nothing else."
"At first it was said the Nāga raised them only in the female shape, and were happy to be answered and reflected. But some found in the half the greater promise of the whole, and raised up the male, thinking that with this race of slaves they were inviolate, and pressed their subjects into tenfold penury, caring nothing for their fate. It was this way for so long that none living remembered any dead who could have spoken truly of a time before the Nāga."
"Then, a summer passed without their emissaries appearing in the courts to give the terms of tribute, and the people looked toward the sky in dread... but rain came as it had once done, like a forgiveness, and no word fell on them. From every kingdom, parties travelled into the mountains seeking the will of the Nāga, more frightened than relieved by the silence, but when they came to the great houses of the eldest witches they lay empty, dripping gold, and only a few who might have called themselves Nāga and been believed remained, so reduced in circumstance that many would not credit their story. These women said that once the sadhaka were both male and female they had woken from servitude and deplored their fate... that they destroyed the lore of their creation and those who held it, and had gone away to some unknown place, desiring nothing but themselves. The Nāga fell without their familiars, and were left to scrabble in the ruins of their greatest works, and all around them limped and howled and stumbled the miscreations they had raised with their half-remembered words..."
Stood before the witches' forsaken houses, Susan gazed up at the lintels deeply scored with dread maxims and felt the sun, fierce and unclouded, on the back of her neck, her shadow on the paving stones rendered in the blues of the night sky. Gold charms, couched as grinning demons' faces, hung from the blackened cedar and tilted with the wind, clattering against the wood as though restive at their abandonment. The sound was taken up and replayed, almost uncertainly, by the diners seated around them as they emerged from their hushed, unconscious observance and resumed their meals.
"Those stories are told all over the mountains..." William admitted. "There are a thousand versions, but that one sits in my ears like water and won't go away." Susan picked up her neglected glass and pressed its beaded surface to her cheek, blinking concertedly to clear her head. "I would say more, but I just don't know... it’s been a while since they kicked us through the swing doors. Ed got his buttocks exiled, I went with him... we haven’t phoned in since."
She bit the end from her breadstick with a redoubled frown at the mention of his brother's name.
“He’s got yellow eyes. Yellowy-orange. I always try not to stare, but he sees me seeing them, and I see them even more. And now you can tell me why there was blood all over his clothes. What's wrong with him? Was he abused as a child or something?” Their meals arrived, Susan’s steaming with fragrant cépes, William’s plate unceremoniously stuffed with the brilliant orange blooms that he had requested, three glossy glacé figs standing alongside the mass of flowers. She began to trowel deeply through her pasta in her intoxicated enthusiasm; he watched her shovel huge portions onto her fork, mashing them against the wall of the bowl and lifting them quickly to her mouth before they toppled from the tines, washing the meal down with liberal swigs from her tumbler. Pausing to chew and deliberate, she watched him address his more ethereal repast; he ate each flower with the decorous modesty of a geiko, eyes wandering to hers.
“Is that good?” he inquired. She nodded, and ate another mouthful.
“Delicious. So that’s where all the flowers went... I thought I was going mad. I knew you weren’t bloody macrobiotic.” she scoffed, recalling his original contention. “Is this too minging for you?” she asked of her pasta, drawing it back from him.
“You can’t freak me out with food. You wouldn't believe the things I’ve seen people eat. Do you want to know?" he added without looking up. Her fork slowed in the midst of her plate.
"About your brother?" Susan shook her head and shrugged. "Honestly, I wouldn’t ask, but... I think it might be easier if I knew why he's like that. He's not the sort of person you want to get the wrong end of the stick about.” she confided. He guarded his reply from anyone beyond their short circle of lamplight.
“A lot of it's just another story... it came to me in pieces, from other people. My mother told me he was born under a red-tailed star... a comet, probably... the worst of all signs. It's always amazed me how so much comes down to your birth, when you're the least you'll ever be. Usually the priestesses would have taken him away and that would have been the last anyone saw of him, but... I think now they needed someone to make an example of. You probably weren’t raised by crazed eugenic matriarchal fundamentalists, but I can tell you, they like uniformity. And obedience. A lot. There is a saying that we have... y’li is’thle veh ah’na siith... be always what you are.” William watched her repeat it. “Sounds lovely, but it means you’re supposed to be what someone else has already decided. Fucking everything was set in stone... your name, who you talked to, who you married... everything. We weren't allowed to create, because it’s il'si'sith, against nature, but they would catch my brother drawing pictures in the dirt... we weren't supposed to go into the water because it was sacred, but no one bothered with him so he went off and swam in the lakes. Then the priestesses would find a kala'ashase, a blackthorn tree, cut the summer branches and beat him with them, until he couldn’t stand or speak." Memory raised the faces of the Sthali'sātva as they stood over him, demanding his brother's whereabouts.
"If you don't want to tell me this, I..."
"No... I do. I want you to know, so you don't take it personally. When I was very young he'd walk with me and show me things, animals and plants... I suppose because he had no one else to talk to. But when they started in on him he went quiet, slowly... the words got smaller and further apart, and after a while he stopped talking altogether. One day I realised I couldn't remember the sound of his voice and it scared me, so I went looking for him. I found him sitting on a stone on the side of a hill, after a beating... I knew it was bad from the way he was sitting, as though he'd been cut up and put back the wrong way... and I asked him why he did the things that made everybody hate him. He looked at me, and a sound came out of his mouth... not words... the sound of one animal being eaten by another, something helpless as it died. I was so fucking scared I ran away." His hand spanned the glass before him. "This went on and on, until he even looked different from the rest of us. I knew what they were doing... if you didn't think of him as wrong before he was covered in scars, you did afterward... you couldn't help it. No one used his name. He was just the kala'amātya, the blackthorn orphan, and I was my mother's only son." The gall that coloured his account spilled into his expression and he shook his head, still unwillingly immersed, before looking at her again. "But you can't beat things out of anyone... you beat it into them, and one day the priestesses realised they’d made something that knew more about terrorization than they did. I know it's easy to write my brother off just as something you cross the road to avoid, but you have to give him props for surviving the kind of shit that would've pounded someone else into the ground. That’s what I tell myself when he’s pouring petrol over something I own. But, to cut a long story short, he put it all to good use and now he’s a property-speculating professional assassin.”
Susan choked as she swallowed.
“Oh my god... he’s going to bury me in the garden...”
“Avai’sahdi...” he murmured fondly. “Just promise me you will never, ever tell him that you know. About any of this.”
She stared at him.
“He’s going to know."
"He'd never believe I had the guts to tell you."
“You’re lucky I’m this trolleyed.” she sighed, emitting a small belch into her hands and frowning back at him as he drank the vodka in her glass. Suspicion made a brief return to her demeanour, then dissolved amid the inebriety that allowed her to hear his replies without sliding beneath the weight of them.
“Go back to picturing me naked.” William suggested.
“Will you please stop saying that? I’ve only just gotten your knob out of my head!” she exclaimed, to the dismay of the tables within earshot. "But... so, you're all that's left?"
"Most probably. There are others. Other others. Not like us, more like... what you might expect. More traditional.” He could see that she was not following him and struggled for a some more illustrative proem. "The people who came to the house party, Étienne and Luc... I think Caleb was there, but that’s sort of hazy... anyway... they’re loupgarous.”
She leant over to reply to the pronouncement.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“You know... full moon, empty head, hormonal... itchy... scratchy... furry?” He covered his mouth with his hand and continued. “Werewolves. They get pissed off when you call them that, so don't.” He watched her sit with the term resounding in her head, like a gem plucked from a mosaic, suggestive of the whole and yet hopelessly partial.
“You mean like... what? Changing into things? Really doing it?”
“Really doing it. Fais-moi confiance... there's nothing more real than a simpering tweaker turning into something that wants to fuck your brains out your nose and eat your organs. You don’t er... seem shocked.”
“I just... like the way you say fuck. But no, I’m not really surprised... I sort of always imagined they existed."
"There was a strange man on the bus when I went to middle school, always sitting at the back in a big blue tartan coat, even when it was baking... I used to think he was a werewolf. Or a pedophile. You can be both, I suppose.”
“That’s... amazingly disturbing. But er, whatever you do, don’t use the wuh-word. They’re alujha, in their own language."
"Is it really a curse? That does sound stupid."
William shook his head.
"It's a manly-testicular thing... hereditary. You're born into it. The girls are all witches and they never get fur. It's all very... close, if you know what I mean. En famille."
Susan pulled a face.
“Are they alright? To be around?”
“Well...” His head fell back as he pondered the question. “Depends what you’re used to. They were the first freak friends I ever made, but I wouldn't call them easy. They’re...” William's eyes narrowed as a list of defects suggested themselves. "Twitchy, sneaky... thrifty... cliquey. The old-money families... cartels... none of them would piss on you if you were on fire, so there's a lot of douchebag fund bunnies with yachts and villas. At the other end there's the er, banjo alujha... the ones that drink out of fishbowls and panic on travelators. They're all better company than vampyres, though.”
She shook her head emphatically and tipped vodka down her throat.
"You're having a laugh now. People turning into things, I can believe. It could be genetic or something, and I can deal with that, for some reason... but once you’re dead, that’s end of it. I’ve seen dead bodies... you can’t come back from that.”
"You don’t come back. It’s like Uzbek baggage claim. And don't spout that incrédlité too loudly... you’ll start getting sunset courtesy calls... glossy, slightly soiled brochures. They’re like used car salesmen... show the slightest fucking interest and they’ll jump the chain and before you know it you will absolutely believe the best way to see eternity is from the inside of a dead body.” She looked back at him with an accusing grimace; he smiled at it. “If I was going to curse someone, it would be to condemn them to their own fucking company indefinitely. That’s how it is for vampyres. It’s you and your clothes and your flatlining genitalia et c'est tout." He let his gaze direct hers. “I can see two right now."
"Toupée lizard, twelve o’clock, chulo Rolex... undead. Nine o’clock by the wall... gated community queen, pearls, cashmere. Undead. She probably volunteers at shelters so she can eat homeless kids.” Susan glanced between the nominated pair for as long as she dared, unable to decide if they were innately unappealing or merely victims of his suggestion. His gaze conveyed his enjoyment of her skepticism. “Neckfuckers. Easy to spot once you know how. And they smell like a dead cat on a hot fucking day, but you don’t get the full nosal experience.” He shook his head at her. “You can't just squint away the evil dead, poupée... you have to be careful. You're sucré to them."
"You mean they like short, pudgy spotty girls?" she laughed.
He reached around the table and lifted her handbag, withdrawing her powder compact and holding its mirror so that she could appreciate her own reflection. The lamplit colours of her face stood in solidarity with his assertion.
"Think how you look, to someone who loves only blood." She accepted his suggestion, stare sliding toward him as he sat back. "Vampyre heaven is full of pretty girls and rohypnol daiquiris. You’ve already come this close.” William held his thumb and forefinger together. Her blank look persisted. “Opal’s art thing. She was going to jump you in the cool room.”
Susan’s rebuttal tailed off as the night returned to her in its entirety.
“That was you who knobbled her?” she exclaimed, lowering her voice self-consciously. Her hand slipped down under the linen and squeezed his appreciatively. “Very brave.”
“Orgasmically satisfying... she launders Ed’s income, so she’s got him in this heinous fucking headlock, but, hey... who doesn’t want a bloodsucker swinging from their dewlap?” His bitterness surprised her; she looked again at the people he had pointed out.
“Where are their fangs?”
“They don't have any... their teeth start falling out after a while, and these are just the last to go." he explained, indicating his own cosmetic canines with his tongue. "They have their own dentists. That’s where I get my daywear grille."
"Take it out." she urged, clapping her own teeth together in unconscious anticipation. William sighed and slid the slender veneer from his mouth, at which she smiled delightedly, forced to distract herself by brushing breadcrumbs from her lap.
"Anyway... my vampyre advice is to watch out for PVC-faced space invaders, and if you’re going to pass out somewhere at night, make sure it’s in a dyke bar. Vampyres and witches are like oil and something that’s going to tie oil up and set it on fire and dance naked while it’s burning.”
"Do they not fancy you?"
"Apparently, to a bloodsucker, I'm about as appetising as a giant green banana."
"You talk to them?"
"Er... yeah. They're sort of everywhere." he grinned. "The emergency exit's over there, Christabel, don't worry... but before you lose your shit and flee, can I just say, now that I’ve got this much vodka onboard, that it feels great to tell you this stuff so thanks for listening.”
“I’m too scared to do a runner now.”
“I’m always pessimistic. It helps with... you know... reality.”
“Must be depressing being pessimistic for three hundred and seventy six reverse dog years.” she laughed.
“Meh... the pessimists survived Pompeii. They’re still excavating the positive-thinking types, all crispy in their yoga poses.”
Susan burped gently and covered her mouth, sparing him the sight of its contents.
“Well, I already know that beating the shit out of people for money is what you’re doing at the moment... but what did you do before that for a living?” William rolled his eyes expansively. "It's probably better to tell me while I'm drunk." she added, reaching for her glass; he had surreptitiously placed a nasturtium in it, and the orange flower floated atop the vodka like a thirsty butterfly. She plucked it from the tumbler and consumed it. "You’ve got until the tiramisu to give me some sort of... mission statement about yourself or I’m going home.”
He grimaced in distress at her requirement.
“Mountains... I like mountains. Love them. And bathtubs... you can't take me to a plumbing showroom... if I see anything porcelain and freestanding the blood drains right out of my fucking head. I’m... sort of partially religious. I don’t like to offend elephants. I judge livestock. Sometimes I bite my own toenails. I’m... ambidextrous, double-jointed and built to scale, but erm, ha ha... you knew that already...” he laughed as she scowled.
"You're not a bloody buddhist, are you?"
"No no, hell no... I just can't with that stuff. Enlightenment sounds like something that should happen to teeth." he laughed again. "I'd rather be a prawn or a donkey than a buddha to be totally fucking honest. Why piss away all those saṃsāras humping nothingness when you can blow your porchlight in a crack house and fucking get it over with?"
"A lot of people would say it's not the same thing."
He spread his arms in a theatrical yawn and settled one behind her, letting it slide to the small of her back.
"Well, the sun's going to explode eventually, so why stop at dessert with that adorable drunk stranger?"
"I haven't decided if I'm going to." she replied. The course in question arrived, three times as large as had been served to the other diners, on a giant white plate dressed in crumpled gold leaf and a crisp, outré praline; they stared together at its almost portentous magnificence, and though daunted, Susan picked up her spoon and excised a generous portion. "Were you ever on, with Lilian?"
"No, never. Amis sans avantages." The assurance survived her skeptical amusement; devouring her first taste of the dessert Susan nodded to herself, then took another, frowning conscientiously through the process. With the spoon she picked the gleaming leaf out of the cream and lifted it to his lips in a slightly infernal spirit of inquiry. “You want me to eat gold... and cream? Do you have any idea what could happen if I swallow this?" he asked.
"No." She held it to his mouth with a bright-eyed smile and he relented; still smiling, she slid her legs over his own and shuffled onto his lap, where she felt his hand in the warm crook of her knee. “What does it taste like to you?”
“Like a cow sitting on a throne.”
The other diners began to frown once more toward the sight of them but she abandoned the tiramisu, chuckling while her fingers traced his smooth chin and wandered slowly down his neck, which she kissed, chastely, until her lips parted and her teeth closed on his skin, incited by its inviting texture. It sent a small, galvanic shudder through him.
“Christabel...” he whispered.
“Why do you call me that?”
“Because I fancy you.”
“You fancy everyone.” The hand she dropped out of sight between them descended past his belt, discovering and wandering over the condition her attentions had already begun to rouse.
"Young lady, these are my best pants, and... nom de dieu, if you don't stop that I'm going to have to tip the dry cleaner again." His phone began to vibrate in his back pocket, buzzing through their chair.
“See who it is...”
“She might need you for something.”
“She’ll want me to pick her up.”
“Don’t make her wait...” Susan urged, her arm around his shoulder and her warm breath in his ear. “I should say, though, if we go home now, I definitely will probably sleep with you, because I’m so drunk... so that’s sort of... something. But if I get a taxi, when I wake up I’ll be sober and I might sleep with you later on, but... I don’t know... I might go back to thinking you’re too strange. But I would be sober and... you know... that would be, probably...”
He pulled an anxious face at her wandering proposition.
“Susan... you’re making me choose between ice cream that’s melting right now and ice cream that's on the horizon... that’s what Satan wants you to do... don't encourage him!” She made a series of small, low noises as she resumed her intemperate exploration, and William sighed again. "Frost better be trapped in a lift by radioactive whore-seeking zombies.” he complained, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as he glanced toward the door.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
I broke out my jar of Tongan vanilla pods and performed a side-by-side comparison.
Tonka would be great in heavy cakes, sticky date iterations (there's a definite date affinity now that I think about it), my orange and ginger pork belly and syrups for Malaysian sago pudding, for example- anywhere that fat, slutty caramel is already on the cards. Which is why I'd hesitate to include western milk-based desserts in that substitutive laissez-alter; their flavour profiles are too sheer and precious. A panna cotta made with tonka is going to be a pretty different beast to the trad vanilla pod version.
So to cut a lot of wank short, tonka is nice but not really a vanilla analogue and its distinct properties deserve their own consideration.
Below left: a third of a large bean's worth of grated shavings. Right: 15g of tonka beans.
The Lovely R snapped this newly-minted piece of Lepidoptera on the ivy wall outside our front door.
Large butterflies like these Monarchs seem to defy physics with the swift, deliberate nature of their flight; I have no idea how something that weighs nothing can have so much power to command the winds.
It's R's birthday today. Love you, boo.
I'm perfectly aware that this shit will come; I mean, it's not like we're a stranger to violent fuckwads and their homicidal delusions. The view below looks out toward Aramoana, a small coastal town and the site of a mass shooting by a disturbed local gunman who managed to murder thirteen people, including three kids in 1990. He went to the school down the road from our house.
He didn't have three heads or horns. He was by all accounts a thoroughly average guy without much in his life who went a bit fucking crazy.
Young men with few real prospects are a bad risk for any society and this has always been so. We used to thin them out with tribal conflict and incentivise the survivors to confine themselves to discreet familial terrorism with the perks of absolute masculine privilege. Today they're marinated in the toxic expectations of that privilege without explicit routes to its attainment, so they console themselves with punitive porn, mental and physical idleness and existential vacuum and er, yeah. I think we can call off the search for the root cause of all this externalised hostility.
I don't know if men are intrinsically violent or just raised in that expectation and driven batshit by modern life. I'm not even 100% convinced that violence is intrinsically unethical; the defensive imperative takes a dump all over the pacifist paradigm no matter how you look at it. Whatever. Something I am absolutely certain of is that if terror-type violence is a shitty B movie, mental illness features heavily in the credits. Call me crazy but I just don't think you're in your right mind when you're running over children in a lorry.
And that is not what the average punter or their administrative masters want to hear. They'd much rather it was evil foreigners, incomprehensible zealots or some other simple psychosocial projectile. Because everybody's mental these days. Junkies, overeaters, cutters, starvers, hoarders, depressives, the anxious, self-loathers, narcissists, cinema snipers- all fucked in the head to one degree or another. As a chronic depressive, I'm mentally ill too so I'm not just shit-talking about other people. You're probably a bit fucked up yourself, or you know someone who is, and we've all been conditioned to expect that to end badly.
Picture a society that offered comprehensive treatment and support to everyone who needed it. Can you even begin to imagine what that would feel like? Me either. We're a long way down the road in the wrong direction and reorganising civil agencies to provide care instead of hunting and punishing the afflicted after they explode in everyone's faces is a big ask. But the bumfucks in charge want us to think that the solution to this crisis looks worse than the disease.
* Selected Ravings * Ethnographic * Kitchen Bitch * Photoessays *
“I never thought I’d get to say this out loud, but if you don’t stop remembering my nakedness I’m going to drive into the back of a catering truck.” William assured his passenger. Susan's involuntary laughter vindicated him immediately.
“You don’t know what I’m thinking!” she exclaimed, reaching down to claim the bottle of vodka in the foot well as the Jaguar slowed into a backed-up lane. “That’s not what it was anyway." she lied, unscrewing the cap. She tried to decide if it was the vehicle or William’s driving that had altered in her estimation, not allowing herself to consider his proximity as the sole source of her distraction. Their association had changed pitch, transmuted from curiosity into the warm, entailing drag of an undertow that pulled ceaselessly toward him, its force augmented by every piece of conversation, private glance and moment that she sat beside him, watching his strange white hand on the gear stick. It seemed disembodied at the end of his sleeve, the dark, shaggy mantle of his black coat suggesting the skin of some alien fruit diametrically at odds with its contents. What she had already seen of those contents in the darkness of the garage returned with disconcerting frequency in spite of her denial, inspiring a smile that she kept toward neighbouring vehicles as they entered the downtown grid. "There is actually something I'm dying to ask you, but I don't know if I should..."
"Who's El Resto del Mundo, and does he wear a mask?” she spluttered as the question broke into a fit of laughter. He ran his tongue over his teeth, gripping the wheel with both hands as he shook his head.
“I’m going to fucking kill Frost.”
“Don’t blame Lilian...” she sighed. “She was only trying to warn me.” Tricolor lights changed over the heads of the pedestrians crowding the corner; they watched her check her eyeliner in her compact mirror then take a long, oblivious draught of vodka, as though she were some spectacle arranged to expedite their boredom. Susan grew conscious of the attention and set the bottle down, but not before someone addressed her from the footpath.
“Hey baby, you wanna suck on something, suck on this shit here!” the stranger recommended, his hand thrust down the front of his red velour pants, to the ebrious amusement of three companions who slapped his shoulders and smirked at her expression, chuckling over the brown paper bags at their chins. William's gaze slid from the tall flame at the end of his cigarette toward the heckler, who lifted his hands and swung them out into a swaggering gesture of contempt. “What, fool? What?” the latter demanded. Before his challenge was concluded William had leapt up onto his seat, across Susan's legs and stood on top of the passenger door with the telescopic baton in his fist, stare full of retinal flash as the offending party stumbled backward into one another. She sat with her arms folded, scowling up at him; he blinked down at her and dropped his arms to his sides in a wordless adjournment, murmuring only as he stepped back over her and sank behind the wheel.
“No mask, then?” Susan inquired dryly.
“Sometimes...” he admitted. “I overreact. Sorry about that.”
"Why didn’t you just blow his head off with your stupid gun?”
“You made me leave it at home.” He smiled at her scowl and took the bottle from her, swigging and then dropping it behind the door panel as they passed a police car. “El Resto wears a patent gimp hood... silver, with lightning bolts. It gives your marks a false sense of security. Frost’s idea.”
They drove south into a more gracious, tree-lined quarter where Georgian columns, artful topiary and wine-coloured awnings imposed an entirely different, but no less insistent atmosphere. Susan watched them slide by with a hand pressed to her frowning forehead as she divined William’s intent.
"You're not trying to take me somewhere nice, are you?" He swung into a private park outside the classical facade of a restaurant infamous for its exclusive policy and she sat unmoving, loath to disembark. “Everyone who works here says the owner is a gobshite and the kitchen's horrible.” she asserted, looking over at him. The valet hesitated at his post then came forward to greet them, reluctance visibly retarding his advance. William intercepted him with a neatly-administered gratuity and held Susan's hand while she untangled her heel from the strap of her handbag. “They won’t let us in...” she whispered, unsuccessfully resisting his attempt to sweep her toward the doorman. “I look like a bag lady and you look like... a gothic wookie.”
“I found this coat at the Hellfire, en fait."
“The Devil probably left it there because it was freaking him out!” she laughed, leaning out from the arm he closed around her waist as though attempting dissociation. “Bondage muppet... let me go! They won't let us in..."
The doorman belied her assertions by admitting them to the foyér, accepting the tip William conveyed without comment. Beyond the guarded portal the décor attempted to preserve the dignity of its antique fundamentals within thickly-lavished luxe, resulting in a stagnant, gold-choked ambiance, oxygen supplanted by gruesome fragrances fuming from the trophy wives and editors awaiting tables. Like stooping falcons they marked the maître d' with dark-ringed stares, subjecting him to their leaden telepathy. The grey-blonde man approached Susan and William in his heavy white shirt as though testing river ice, addressing them in a voice like cold water issued through his nostrils.
“Mr Lamb, I’m afraid we cannot seat you and your guest tonight...”
William interrupted confidentially.
“Let’s skip the shit... this is all Opal La Rue, right?”
The man pursed his lips, turned his back to the other prospective diners and leant from the hip to reply, abandoning his modulation to a low drawl.
“My hands are tied... she says she’s going keep her top shelf clients out of here if you get service.”
“Where’s the owner?”
“Oh he’s in Malibu, trying to dick his ex-wife out of child support.”
“So there’s no real problem...”
“His bitch GF could walk in here at any moment and she is hell in a handbasket before she gets to twisting nutsacks in the kitchen.” the man assured him. William nodded sagely and bestowed another generous token of his appreciation in the act of patting the man's arm. The latter quantified the offering with a quick glance, smiled momentarily and led them into the dining room. “If Opal shows, I can’t have any drama.” he warned, calling in wait staff with a flick of his wrist and seating them toward the rear of the chamber. “You can eat the venison, the pasta won’t hospitalize anybody but the ravioli... not so much. And the amuse-bouche is super cute, but don’t put it in your mouth.”
Susan sat down slowly into her thickly-padded chair. The room wore ponderous doubled drapery and clusters of rotund vintage jardiniers crammed with mounds of coral and ivory peonies; the tables sighed under their lamps and smothering linen, flocked papers and spongy wheaten carpet sealing every surface seamlessly. Against the stew of lukewarm colours William seemed like an artifact transposed from an alternate reality in his narrow black shirt and tie, and she guessed correctly that Lilian had imposed them in an act of promotional sophistry. She brushed the skirt of her melon-pink dress from the sides of her chair, the set of her mouth holding unspoken apprehension. Their waiter appeared at her shoulder.
"Um... can we have vodka, please? A bottle?" she said quietly.
"Perhaps you've seen the wine list, we..."
"I don't really drink wine... just some vodka... whatever you've got thanks. In a carafe." As he retreated she murmured to herself and looked down into her lap, then gazed around the other patrons. For the first time Susan saw the scowls and stares, the half-conscious expressions of suspicion William dragged in his wake, the attention that had followed him to their table outstaying its welcome. “Do you notice people looking anymore?” she whispered, reaching for the carafe when it arrived and pouring for them both. “I think the lady behind you is choking on her breadstick.”
“Not really. I suppose it’s like being a girl and getting used to people staring at your breasts.” he volunteered, downing the glass in one.
“You don’t get used to that.”
"Really? Oh... je vous prie officiellement de m'excuser."
She addressed her own liquor with similar determination. Silence descended as they sat behind their glasses, gazing about themselves and fidgeting; she coughed, surprised to see that he enjoyed no more ease than she did, reminded again of something she had meant to tell him in the car.
"I'm sorry, for what I did with... the um, knife... I'm not the sort of person who goes around stabbing people, usually." Susan leant over the table to convey the verb discreetly. He bowed his own head in reply, keeping his voice low.
"Just so you know for next time, there's an etiquette... anything deeper than the first knuckle and it's two dozen lilies and a cheesecake, minimum, or it's on... blood feud." Her stare persisted beyond the intent of his remark. "Me make joke." he added, at which she sighed; they glanced down at their respective scars, then at each other, the unwitting unison exacerbating their discomfiture. "I'm thinking that at this point we should just get fucked up." he added. They drank together, their smiles returning with the first flush of spiritous relief. "Don't worry about the arm, cloudcheeks... I grabbed you like a crazy gorilla." The vodka's gratifying burn eroded something of the bounds imposed by caution and Susan looked down again into her lap as she composed herself.
"Why don't you have a beard?" The query broke down into a giggle that she was forced to wave away. "Sorry... sorry..."
“I don't need one. See... this is why I don't tell anybody." he sighed. "I don’t know where to start and it all sounds completely fucked when it comes out... I need a montage.”
"Shhh... I can do this..." Susan insisted, waving her laughter away. "How about how old you are? That's an easy one." He hunched his shoulders in a gesture of disinclination. "You must have some idea..."
"I really don't."
"How can you not know?" William looked back at her pensively.
"I couldn't read until the twenties, and I can hardly write my own name now. I can't add up past my fingers and toes."
"Oh for god's sake... so what are you, then? A hundred? Two? If you won't tell me I'll just assume you're... three hundred and twenty six."
William folded his arms across his chest and gave a short cough downward.
"In dog years."
"Reverse dog years..."
"How do you mean dog years? That's one year equals..." Her gaze wandered while she attempted the arithmetic. "No, that would be seven times three hundred and twenty six..."
"Honestly Christabel, my entire life is eighty percent dirt-coloured blur... sitting on a horse waiting to be somewhere else while someone pounds on about banging their cousin at a cherry fair for twenty fucking miles and wondering how sand got in my fucking apple.”
"William, that's a massive lie. So much has happened to you that I can see it poking out your ears. But you're not that old." she assured him, returning to the point that continued to exercise her. "You can't be. You'd be the smartest person in the world."
He brightened suddenly, his relief at her assertion undermining it immediately. Knocking a knife from the table with his elbow, he excused himself and stooped to retrieve it; when he did not immediately reappear she leant out with a frown until a hand snaked from the linen and whipped away the piece of paper on her knees. William reversed and settled back into his chair, spreading her page of notes beside his plate and smiling at the questions she had overwritten and underscored, tucking his hair behind his ear.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
The past retains its unfiltered texture, odour and mouthfeel, a precious insight in this era of slick, self-conscious edits and boring over-curation.
The site in all its former climate-fucking glory. Not all structures survive, but efforts to
recognise and preserve what remained came, just in the nick of time, from local enthusiasts.
Victorian engineering is a peculiarly concise representation of their society as a whole- feverishly inventive, horrifically blinkered, psychotically exploitative, endlessly aspirational.
But I sort of felt sorry for them. These old relict engines are like living hearts shorn of their vessels, earnestly pumping and shunting away to no real end. There is a weird pathos to their amputated inutility. That being said, anyone desiring to know something more about mechanisation in general should come and just stare at the things while they operate, because the observer can certainly absorb ambient understanding. The movements are the sort of orchestrated code your synapses can relate to.
SEAL GLAND LUBRICATION grease at nipples provided once in each 24 hours of running time
Lol, you can pull your fingers out of your ears now. I'll stop.
These shots were taken with the old pocket Canon and represent only the crappiest little
fraction of the photographic possibilities onsite; bring your camera and a couple of spare hours.
Both R and I thought the Gasworks Museum was value for money ($5 admission per adult, currently open Sundays). That's high praise coming from a pair of impecunious luddites.
Notice how I didn't say shit about Turkey or Nice or X Lives Mattering? You're welcome.
Perhaps you'd prefer some good news. Iraq's vast and ancient Awhar marshes, home to the Maʻdān 'Marsh Arabs' and a considerable amount of wildlife, has started recovering from Hussein's attempt to drain and destroy them in the '90s. This gives me tremendous pleasure, especially since I coincidentally bought an old Maʻdān blanket the other day (I'll blog it later). Also: the fucknuckles in Tasmania who were hoping to log some of its last pristine forest have been cockblocked by UNESCO. This happened a wee while ago but I only just found out. Does that make you smile? It should.
I will say a word about Ocho handmade chocolate for the Dunedin-adjacent and crown it with my highly-coveted personal seal of approval. The Salted Caramel (above) is a perfect union of bristly saline, crispy chunkettes and sourish floral nocturne. No I don't get paid or comped to say that.
* Read more idle verbal flatulence * Pictures don't speak- they always have that going for them *
Aloe rupicola, as promised; the spike progresses and I am content.
This is an easy species for me, so it should be a doddle for everyone else. No idea why it's so hard to find.
Below- sassy old Aloe arborescens doing its lurid thing at the end of the driveway. They're particularly bright and uniform this year, perhaps due to the extra warmth and dearth of frost.
The Bellbirds love them.
This week will be more photacular than tentextual so you'll just have to reconstruct my spitting and raving from memory.
“I've got a taxi coming." she admitted, voice hollowed by their cavernous surrounds as she glanced down at the object in her grasp. "I tried to leave a note.” Easing herself from the chair, she walked to the car and stood beside his door for a while, taking the time she needed to show him the old photograph curled in her hand. William closed his eyes and lay his head back on the rest, a great black coat of Afghan lamb obscuring his shape amid the darkness of the car's interior. She slid a penlight from her bag and examined the image herself, scouring again what she could see of its faded detail in unconscious earnest. "I wanted to ask... but... I didn't know how."
His silence was amplified by the suite of incidental sounds around them, the small, random remarks from beneath the hood of the car as the engine cooled, her breathing and the soft creak of her coat as she dropped her hand. When he waited too long to oblige her with an attempt at explanation she turned the small light into the car, passing it over his face in her want of any other measure. It burnt the mitigating character from his eyes and struck their strange colours like a match, his pupils closing into slivers of carbon black against the glare. William spoke and pushed open his door too late; she shied from it and backed into the wall, the tools depending from it clattering and swinging against each other.
“Christabel...” he sighed; Susan shook loose from her stare, clutching the bag around her neck as she pressed past the car and ducked beneath the garage door. He called after her again. Out in the garden the driveway seemed to yawn into another version of itself, twice as long and steeply pitched toward the gates that were some newly distant and forbidding station. She stumbled over cobbles that tilted under her boots, streetlight throwing the gates' curlicue shadows out along the dappled ground toward her while the cul de sac waited, glowing vacant, farouche orange beyond the black iron. From the garage William looked on in the knowledge he would have to stop her, stripping his coat from his arms and throwing it down into the car. She glanced over her shoulder at the emergence of his distant shape and broke into a run, cutting across the drive's meander through the overgrown lawn, the crickets falling silent at her tread, sliding on the damp stone once more underfoot and ripping back the chain binding the gates. Though the links flew in a puff of rust she found them padlocked in a circle; throwing them down, she prised the panels apart, ducked her head into the gap and forced her shoulders between them. The burred metal tore at her coat and snagged her hair and she twisted sideways, pinched between the groaning iron, redoubling her frustrated efforts at William's approach. Curlicue shadow overlaid his hueless features and she struggled angrily, dragging her trailing arm out through the uprights.
"Christabel..." he insisted, closing his eyes against her dread as though she had turned it on him like the torch beam. He caught the right side of the gate and braced the left with his boot so that he could extricate her, but Susan threaded her hands through the bars to anchor herself. "You can't run. If you go now, like this, you won't make it into town..." When he worked her left hand free she jerked it backward, slipped out of his grasp and dived onto the grass, where he reached down for her, earning a fierce flurry from her boots.
“Fuck off!” she cried, curling up and punching at him wildly, drawing her knees against her body even as he lifted her so she could not be made to walk, then sliding through his arms toward the ground. He caught her again and held her so she could not strike out and for a moment she grew still, as though acquiescent. “Fucking let go of me." Susan hissed, drawing in her shoulders. He shifted his hold twice in a wincing effort to balance the strength required to retain her against the prospect of cracking her bones, fighting all the while the seismic desire to comply with her demand. A sound escaped her, a growl that rolled into a snarling little shriek, blown white hot by rage despite the fright that pounded through her body and moved her sides like reciprocating machinery. William set her back down on her feet; as he released her, the flash of silver in her hand and the cold burn of a flesh wound struck him as much with surprise as anything else, Susan lurching forward and turning to stare at the plastic handle of the vegetable knife she had planted in his forearm.
It had been driven backward by the impetus of her escape, the olive-green hilt lying close against his skin. William murmured to himself, sitting down on the grass with the arm in his lap then leaning sideways with his eyes closed, reaching into his pants and tossing a key onto the lawn. He nodded at it when she seemed uncomprehending.
"That's the gate. You left your suitcase in the garage... don't go anywhere without it."
"You made me do that!" she shouted, wide-eyed. Her militating stomach forced her hands onto her knees and grasping them, she disgorged at some length onto the grass. He watched her wander on across the yard amid shades of sunken blue endowed by the ascending moon, toward the pale corner of the house, where she struggled out of her coat and turned the garden hose on her face. Water streamed from her chin as she doubled over.
Susan trailed a long shadow as she returned, lifting a hand to shield her gaze from his injury.
"Please, just... pull it out..." she whispered. William used his left hand to slide his wallet from the back of his jeans.
"Take some cash." he sighed. "Find a hotel... go straight to the airport in the morning. Fly home... don't stay in town, and don't go to Opal. If you need more money, I'll get it to you."
He did not spare her the sight of the knife while he worked it from between the long bones of his arm, though he wiped it quickly on the ground in a manner that struck her as oddly, selectively furtive; she dropped to her knees and reached around him, leaning over the arm he used to fend her off. William thwarted her increasingly exasperated inquiry until she sat back and regarded him with a look of reproach, at which he shook his head, unable to refuse, and handed over the knife, watching her grimace at the substance she discovered on the blade. It possessed the telling density and texture of her own blood though it seemed a pale frozen blue, even in the darkness, other, more allochromatic hues suggesting themselves when she turned toward the street light. Susan looked back at him while the cogs of revelation clicked and crawled forward; still on her knees, she beckoned gravely for his wrist and he allowed her to examine the wound. Its punctured margins revealed skin that graded subtly into a flesh that like his blood held no fixed or definite colour, but seemed to alter with the angle of her view like labradorite. She glimpsed silvered articulation and screwed her eyes closed, exclaiming quietly.
Lifting the blood on her hand to her face, she discovered it was the source of the verdant, perfumed notes attending him and thoughtlessly pressed her finger to her lips.
"It's sweet..." she whispered furiously, wiping her mouth on her hand.
"What were you expecting?" he sighed, watching her catch the fifty dollar bills that had flapped from his wallet in the breeze and replace them, slowly and absently. "Finished wigging out?” William ripped up a fistful of lawn and used it to wipe his arm. "I know this is fucked. You don't have to look at me like I'm a velociraptor."
Behind the gates the taxi she had ordered slowed, its lights sweeping through the figured iron and swinging toward them. Susan sat, staring silently, until the driver struck his horn, causing her to start; the impatient summons made little impression and she left the car to roll away without her. In the lawn the crickets raised their courtship ode once more and the darkness settled between them as a patient and conciliating intermediary. A thousand orphaned, severed notions floated in her head like petals shaken from a branch while dew soaked through her dress where it was pressed to the ground by her legs, joining the water that still lingered as a dark stain on her breast. He reached behind himself and took the handgun from the back of his trousers. Her jaw fell at the sight of it.
“It’s a nine... it won’t drop me, but it'll rip me a new one and I hate being shot.” he assured her. Climbing to his feet, William took her hand and set the weapon in it, but Susan let it drop into the turf.
“What are you still doing with this? Throw it away."
“I can’t, it's Ed's. His Glocks are his children. There’s stuff you need to know, and after that... wherever you want to go, I’ll buy your ticket.”
Her dark eyes fell to the weapon, then rose to survey the house.
"If I come in, you have to do as I say. Exactly as I say." He shrugged wearily and she picked up the gun, allowing her rigid, almost gauche grasp of it to ornament her warning. "I mean it... don't touch me, don't try to stop me going... and speak English." William nodded, glancing down at his wound again, and picked up her bag until he saw that she was jealous of its custody and gave it over to her. "Not inside." Susan insisted, nodding away from the porch. "The garage... we can sit in there." Small bats dived from their diurnal roosts within the sagging eaves and fanned out over the garden; she heard the patter of their flightpaths overhead but did not look up, following him closely toward the unlit house. The pistol's weight and small, dull shape dampened the anxiety attending its possession; she stooped beneath the garage door and looked from it to the back of his head, slowing to a halt. “Sit down...” she told him, indicating the chair. He did so, letting his arms rest on his legs.
Susan came forward to stand beside him, a careful, critical absorption slowly submerging her stiffly-held suspicion, untroubled by the creeping stink of the oil infusing the concrete or the hunched shapes of the antiquated mower and grounds equipment sulking in the corners. The streetlight divided their surroundings, its wash of dim sard red lying beneath the floating plane of shadow cast by the garage door. She picked up her torch from beside the car, and standing at his shoulder allowed her hand to select a length of his hair, finding it cool and heavy, like unworked silk, letting it slide between her fingers as she drew it back from his ear and the white length of his neck.
"This could be a dream. I don't feel awake." she confessed.
“It’s adrenaline... you get a spike, then a hole. You’re in the hole.”
“You sound like your brother." She frowned. "Is he your brother?”
“Do you think I would put up with his shit if we weren’t related?” William mumured, surprised by the nature of her reservations. Distraction kept her from challenging the assertion but she took the torch from under her arm and trained its beam on one side of his face, sparing the other when he grimaced slightly. The pupil of his left eye contracted once more in its disquieting fashion and she repeated the process, watching its movement with the passage of the beam until he closed his eyes against it. An idea offered itself suddenly, like something flushed with bioluminescence.
"Are you..." The question almost twisted out of her grasp, its implications pinned beneath a flimsy syllable. "Good?" She grimaced herself, closing her eyes. "As in... good or evil?" He replied with a glance that might have preceded a smile until he saw that she was utterly intent upon his answer.
"Less evil than a snake, slightly more evil than an owl."
"Why are you like this?”
“I don't know, I'm not a scientist. Ed can probably tell you... put a gun on him.”
Almost before he had stopped talking she put a finger to his lips and lifted the uppermost to peer at the row of shell-white teeth behind them, pointed like those of some oceanic predator, marveling at the way in which they became his features so much more than the counterfeit he had always worn. She touched the tip of one tooth, turning her hand and drawing her fingers down over his cheek, discovering which aspect of the sensation pleased her most.
“You don’t have a beard..." she remarked, incredulous. Though they seemed composed of the same elements, he was like a work begun with fidelity as its intent that had wandered into glorious and subversive deviation in the absence of an exemplar. The ear behind which she had pushed his hair was both like and unlike her own, its shallow fluting gently backswept; she picked up his right hand, its supernumerary nature naming her an agent in her own deceit. When she passed her fingers over his nape she found that his hair ended in a narrow little mane shaped like the peak of skin bared so knowingly by geisha. In the wound on his arm no dark, contrasting pigment conveyed uncomfortable carnality, the site impressing no lasting taste of the knife. It had closed almost entirely and referred her to her own arm, which she shook in an attempt to dislodge the sense of surreality still adhering to the scars. Susan murmured, then walked backward, looking behind herself. “Take your clothes off.” she told him quietly. "Everything."
William glanced at her, then leant down to unlace his boots, eager to preserve the small degree of trust he had regained. Rising slowly with the same concern, he pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it onto the chair; her gaze followed his hands, then rose to his face while he unbuckled the belt slung round his dark jeans, using the brilliance of the torch light to shelter her expression as he shed them. There was neither pride nor swagger in his lack of modesty; he wore his own flesh with the ease of something blessed with a form that obliged such tranquility. Nothing of his dissipation was evident in his body, the hard, utile condition formed around his height and spacious structure conveying instead a provocative and almost sinister impression of strength. His ability to consciously reserve this formidable aspect was undone by the torch, its beam erasing all such diminution and bringing him into alignment with his fearsome brother. He was crossed with a scattered wealth of spectral scars and cicatrix, largely faint and faded though densely hatched in places. Lost by day, they were unaccountably evident in darkness, the fading seal of the brutality he had both meted out and borne, like the line that descended his back. She let the pistol fall with her hand. For all the difference and adversity written over him like scripture, to her wondering gaze he was as beautiful as something made to please her, his flesh answering so many tacit notions that they were satisfied before she could name them. Susan spoke again to herself and moved closer, playing the light along his arm and down his side.
"What are these?" she asked, touching a finger to a scar on his waist.
"Wear and tear." He struggled obviously with elaboration, and she closed her eyes, inquiries sabotaged by the rush of physical association and the willow-green smell of his skin, by the acquiescence she had so easily commanded. His voice held the softest qualities of weariness. “I don’t have a birthday or a passport, avai'sahdi, but everything else is pretty much in order." He smiled briefly. "I checked this morning.”
She set the gun on the hood of the car and sat down in the driver's seat, keeping her gaze on the ground while he pulled his clothes back on.
“Lilian... does she...”
“No, and you cannot tell her.”
"How can she not know?" The question answered itself quickly. “Who else does?”
“Others know, but... I’ve only ever sat one other person down and spelt it out, and he had a head start anyway.”
“So... but... why me?”
Frowning slightly at the question, he looked down, buckling his belt.
“You asked me. And I trust you.”
“I just stabbed you." she reminded him, lifting a hand to her face, filled with whelming regret as he sat beside her on the car. As though reversed within reflection he was returned to her as the stranger in the orchard, still nameless and shaded by the pear trees but completed. William reached out and touched his thumb to her lip, drawing it down over her chin in a gesture of tender, reconciling affinity. She felt his hand slide beneath her own, his fingers aligning around hers in an oddly comforting enclosure. His wound had fused into a nacreous souvenir.
"Il niir si'vai'isha." The sound of the words made her look up again. "I am sorry."
"I'm sorry. You shouldn't scare me... I take it badly."
"Don’t leave, Christabel. What would I do?”
“Weren’t you doing it this morning?” she murmured. The alignment of his natural teeth made his smile intensely risqué and threw its clemency awry, but she returned it slowly, still holding his hand.
"You can't leave anyway. You might not believe this now, but I'm really not the worst thing you could run into." he promised.
Susan caught the slim bole of a wilding fir, then William’s arm, using both to negotiate the last stretch of darkness before the crest of the hill overlooking Commoriom Drive. He passed his hand before his mouth, requesting silence, and indicated a small hollow, halfway down the slope amongst the sunbaked scrub beneath them. Standing beside him on a fallen log, she leant out in her effort to perceive what he had attempted to delineate, watching him manually emphasizing its position in the shadow of the cloud-caught moon. Where he could see the long, dark vehicle, the tracks worn into the lank grass by its restless occupants, and the pale little flecks of their discarded cigarettes upon the ground, she could find only the vaguest suggestion of solidity. But when the wind had freed the moon, its cold light crept in a broad front along the road and hillside, stripping out the shadows; the Range Rover was revealed, the reflections in its window glass a hard and telling white. Someone inside the vehicle had lit a cigarette.
"Shit!" she whispered, ducking down despite their seclusion. Susan sat with him beside the log upon the dry pine needles, bringing her knees up to her chest as she frowned to herself. William took a flattened packet from his jeans, gazing into the darkness that had welled around the feet of the surrounding trees, all the questions she would ask him laid out like the down-turned cards of a mnemonic game. She accepted a crooked cigarette, almost relieved to see that he enjoyed no more of a grasp upon their circumstances than she did. “What are they doing?” she asked.
“Yanking their junk while I tackled you on the lawn. Freak police... they would have probably picked you up on your way into town. Governmental."
"I thought you said I was the only one who knew."
"I said you're the only one I've told."
"Then how do they know?" He shrugged. Susan frowned again and glanced back toward the slope, incensed. "You'd think they would have done something to help me, the bastards."
He smiled blackly as he lit his cigarette.
"That's not their job."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
Madoka Ikegami did a great job capturing these beautiful scenes. See more here.
MAC Dubonnet is a stick of pure old skool grungy goodness. I always remembered it being so, despite wildly varying internet descriptions ranging from 'blue-tinged scarlet' to 'classic red'.
Scowl. I hate to see a great shade being traduced so let's untwist this shit; Dubonnet is neither a blue-based nor a classic straight red. It's one of those deep, warm, complex, dirty brownish reds, and if you're having trouble trusting that description, check out the squiggle swatches directly below. That's Dubonnet on the left in each of these natural-light pics, next to Urban Decay F-Bomb (Revolution version). For context, F-Bomb is a warm, clean, brilliant red/red. Dubonnet- not the same thing.
I think the confusion may spring from the fact that some peoples' faces eat either the red or the brown in shades like this and render them more one or the other on the actual lip. My own face tends to play down the red in Dubonnet. This natural modification almost always works in your favour, so whichever way Dubonnet pulls for you is probably ultimately for the best. Hoping that makes sense.
Or did I lose you at brown?
I wear a lot less foundation since hitting 40, am enjoying getting reacquainted with my natural skin tones, lol, and in that process I've gone back to some of these super-wearble earthy retro reds. Dubonnet is queen of them all, really, a cousin to things like Nars Golshan and Cruella in its utility and complexity. It has a beguiling chameleonic quality, an intriguing depth of character missing from some of its more pure-toned contemporaries and is such a beautiful companion to both warm pale and deeper complexions, freckles and green/gold/brown eyes.
The MAC Amplified formula allows smudgy sheer to full coverage; I find it streak-free, very comfortable, non-drying and quite non-staining. Patting Dubonnet on lightly with a fingertip uncovers all its secrets, exposing those brick and ochre undertones and yielding a muted baked earth shade that's perfect for a conservative daytime situation when you're sick to death of low-IQ neutrals.
Building it up gives 100% coverage and a glossier satin finish; my partner called it 'dark blood red' when asked his opinion of an opaque application and didn't mention brown at all. He said it reminded him of Omega plums (which are a rusty oxblood red rather than the purple you might be imagining). Oxblood isn't too bad a descriptor, actually; I hesitate to use that word because it is so widely abused, but Dubonnet is pretty darn oxbloody, to be sure.
Like Moroccan leather, stained red.
Urban Decay F Bomb, Lady Danger
I'm really enjoying Dubonnet the second time around. It's one of the few lipsticks I ever wore down to the bottom of the tube when I was younger and I'm glad to have it back in my regular rotation as an older bitch. It's ageless, like most good things.
These two swatch pics were taken in coolish winter daylight without flash so they tend to minimise the earthier aspects. You might be able to see what I'm talking about in the 3rd and 4th images. Nars Golshan is earthier still, and I thought Dubonnet would be closer to VGI than it is.
Urban Decay F Bomb, Lady Danger
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B L A C K T H O R N
O R P H A N S
What is freedom, when it is
all that remains to you?
In exile two brothers pursue an anarchist's trajectory, from an old world into the new, from East to West, subject always to the pleasures & horrors of an enduring flesh, to the ironies of karma & impunity. Love bears thorns, the lost return & the dead are haunted by the living.
E P I C D A R K F I C T I O N
T H E
B L A C K T H O R N
O R P H A N S
O N S I T E
celebrating glorious deviation in the land of the long white cloud
- New Zealand -
exaltation semicoherent speculation
& raw ingredients
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