William walked through them toward her, hands deep inside the pockets of his black coat while she shook a flotilla of particoloured capsules into the water. They stood in stony dissociation, her refusal pushing his failures and deficiencies back at him as though he had grasped a handful of thorns while the birds chimed all around, urging them toward the use of their own voices.
"At least I'm not fucking crazy." she observed bitterly, glancing down at the bottle in her hand. "How long have you known?"
"I saw you with him by the gate, when you were first here... I knew then."
Lilian took a while to accept his despondent candour.
“So were you just like, shit... it’ll be more fun if no one tells her?” She watched him drag his hands down over his face and let them fall to his sides where they hung like dead white animals, wrung of all their customary expression.
"I didn't know what to say or when to say it, and I was too scared..."
"You told Susan though, right?"
She barely acknowledged the attention he paid to the pair of associate shapes she had left on the grass, her handbag and the little black gun that seemed to gestate within its private confines.
"All this time, you were my boy... you never did me wrong. I felt like such a judge of fucking character..." Lilian took the weapon from his hand and put it to her temple, depressing the trigger three times and smiling darkly before lifting it to his face and working the jammed mechanism again. "You know how this shit goes. When you're born to hang, you can't fucking drown."
Susan shrank from the spluttering shower rose, then forced herself beneath it, rubbing the frigid water over her hair and skin and hoping the white flowers in the soap would kill the stink of the Black Moth and all the cigarettes that she had smoked in William's car. She glanced up in surprise as the head scurled loudly and issued rust-stained warmth, like blood flushed from an open wound, the colour streaming from her nose and hair and ponding in her open palms. William returned as she stepped into her robe, shrugging off his clothing in an abject expression of his mood and taking her place beneath the shower. Lowering the toilet lid and slumping down on it, she sat in silence, watching the water pour from his chin as he stood with his eyes closed.
"Lilian hates us." she sighed.
“She doesn’t hate you, she hates me.”
"Whoever Nyāti is, she hates me..."
"She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth... it stunts your fucking growth. Susan..." She looked up warily at the sound of her name. "I said I would buy you a ticket out of here and I meant it. Take the car, my cards... whatever you need to get clear.”
Her hands closed on her knees as the offer settled around her. It was a while before she could trust herself to speak.
“I don't want to go, William... do you... want me to?”
They gazed at one another until he relented, exclaiming softly as he wound a towel around his waist.
"Fuck, no, I'll have a breakdown." She dropped her face into her hands and cursed his reticence. "I'm sorry... I'm not trying to push you out the door, cloudcheeks, but what I want is the last fucking thing you should worry about."
"All I can think about is Caleb and Annick. Every time I blink I see the pictures."
William looked back at her from the speckled glass.
"My brother didn't have anything to do with that." He could not answer the dread she so plainly attached to the absentee and did not attempt to. "Those dogs at the Moth refuckulated half my baby teeth though, so er... jungle orthodontics... its not really a spectator sport..." he added, clapping the veterinary pliers together.
"Isn't that what you call the ones you lose?"
Susan shook her head wearily as she stood up and came to look at him more closely.
"You've got monster eye."
"Have you ever wanted me more?" he inquired dryly.
"If you ask me to leave you again, I will refuckulate you." she promised, the sweet taste of his blood prompting her to step back from kissing him and pick something from her lip, finding a gleaming point of white upon her finger. “A while ago, I would have rated finding pieces of your teeth in my mouth as very to extremely disgusting, but now it's just... moderately unsatisfactory, and I don't even know if that's good or bad.”
At his request she handed him the knife from his coat pocket and remained, deeply engrossed, at his side while William closed the pliers on a tooth and wrenched it free with a violent downward motion. He used the tip of the blade to prise shards of broken enamel from its vacant socket; the glassy, grating sound of the procedure caused her shoulders to contract though she remained transfixed, and he fumbled, rode the blade over his gum and expressed a string of rueful expletives, glancing sideways at her scrutiny. Susan relented, returning to the bedroom where she pulled a jersey over her damp shoulders and unlocked the doors, stepping out to stare along the hall in both directions. A low, droning hum made her look to the ceiling and a dark mass of bees crawling against the cornice, streaming in from a crack in the water-stained molding.
Dregs of mist clung about the trees leaning over the boundary wall where Edward studied the mud and torn grass of the verge, their details almost dissolved by the overnight downpour; a vehicle had backed off the seal and spun its wheels on the sticky ground before heading back toward the city, but the rest was lost, even to his learned eye. He followed the wall toward the gates before which he stood silently, examining the house through the iron bars. Turning, he eased his body between two black uprights, conforming briefly to their slight diagonal and sliding through without disturbing the heavy chain.
From inside the garage he could hear Lilian lie down on his bed through the intervening timbers, the smell, both sharp and darkly rounded, of burning opium fading with the cooling of the pipe she had abandoned. Susan had left the Jaguar's passenger door ajar in her haste the night before. From beneath the oil-stained bench alongside it he took a small cache bundled in black kid leather and laid it on the bonnet, rolling it out with one hand and selecting components with the other, fitting them together with an efficiency drawn from the carbon-dark machinery of his unconscious.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce