“I am listening, but I’ve been punched in the head fifty times by a chernozhopyi." William admitted.
“I said... tell your rubbish alter ego not to let a giant idiot batter him like that in future.”
“We only communicate through lawyers and El Resto's always alienating his legal team.”
Susan shook her head, plucking a packet of Scottish shortbread from the shelf and balancing it on top of the baked goods already teetering in her lap.
“Nutella... the big jar..." she urged. "Did you have to bite him?”
“You probably couldn’t see it, but he was going for my dingaling with his overbite.”
“You were humping his face.” she laughed.
"In self defence." he promised, smiling at her as he swung them around a corner and parked before the sloping banks of produce, standing with his arms slack by his sides in an attitude of almost metaphysical receptivity to the mirrored array of imported and tropical fruit.
“Is it... fun?”
"Too much like work, but I'm not good at anything else, so, you know... c'est comme ça." he yawned, reaching on her behalf for the best hand of bananas. "You don't like it, do you?"
She paused as she leant over the cart.
"It's not that I don't appreciate the effort... it's just that I've never had a... a violent boyfriend before." Susan admitted. He frowned, rolling an orange in his hand, then smiled brightly.
"So I am your boyfriend..."
"Yes." she groaned.
"Say Sachiin, you are officially my boyfriend." William urged.
"I'll dump you if you're not careful." she laughed, gathering lemons in the crook of her elbow; he took them from her and replaced them with Tahitian limes. Behind them a skinny youth with silver glitter pasted around his eyes and naked plastic action figures dangling in a spangled corsage from his neck hovered as though anxious for some item in the display before them. When they stepped out of his way he looked up from his heavy, level stare in bright suspicion of their motives, then darted forward, seizing two handfuls of tiny mandarins and stuffing them down his trousers before dashing away in an attitude of frenzied triumph.
"It does explain a few things, you being punched in the head so often." Susan remarked.
"Hey... I was born this way."
"It looks incredibly painful."
"You only really feel the first one. I had my pain threshold kicked into orbit back in the good old days anyway." The pineapples attracted William's attention and he rolled half a dozen into the cart. "The only thing I like about the cage is being up against some fucking huge industrial piece who thinks you're the bitch they’re going to floss with. You can see it in their faces, when they’ve tried everything and nothing’s working, and they realise there’s something wrong with you... that never really gets old... I don't know why. I suppose I am related to my brother.”
Susan raised her brows at his interpretation, lifting a waxy purple ball dressed with a strange quatrefoil brooch of leathery remnant petals to her nose and finding herself stumped.
"What is this?" she demanded.
"Manggustan. Glad you asked." he replied, lifting the entire box from which she had taken it and setting it down into the trolley, along with two crates of ruby-blushing pomegranates. Their expense began to trouble her intrinsic parsimony and she glanced down into her purse once more in a visible expression of it. "I can book some more gigs if you like." he added.
"No." she said swiftly.
"Five grand... that's a shitload of Nutella and manggustans..."
"Don't... not for a while." The gravity of her expression inspired a small frisson that he allowed through the width of his shoulders. "What?" she inquired, lowering her voice self-consciously.
"Your caring what happens to me feels like someone licking the back of my neck." he confessed.
They smiled at one another and studied the vegetables together.
"Is there a special word for what vampyres... do... when they bite people?”
“In alujha, it's dujju la isdr... red into grey.”
“I think Petrouchka dujju la isdr’d someone at the fight. Is she really your friend?”
“She’s always liked me... we lend each other money. She plaits my hair.”
“She drinks blood.”
“I know, but in all honesty, almost no one gets taken by a neckfucker who wasn’t wearing a big dumb eat me sign on their forehead.” She seemed patently unconvinced. “Tell me you’d get into the back of a car with Pet or fucking Opal.” he insisted. “I’m not saying they’re not good at what they do, because they can suck you out a mile before you even know you’re in the water, but vampyres still need you to be stupid.” Susan wheeled them into the next aisle, its shelves stocked past head height with a hedonic profusion of breakfast cereals; the smell of bleached, sugar-drenched corn and printed cardboard prompted him to commandeer the cart and hurry onward. “I couldn’t snow you, and I wasn’t even drooling and hanging off your neck.” he added.
"All that much." she smirked. "I'd probably still be running if I hadn’t been tackled on the lawn, though.”
“Poupée, if you’d been running any slower you would have backed right into me.” William laughed, inclining his head to kiss her. An old lady trundled past with her two-tiered trolley overstuffed with tins of catfood and jelly crystals; Susan leant back from him, grimacing and scuffing her tongue on the back of her hand.
"Don't ever gargle liquid soap again."
He shook his head resolutely.
"I’d wrestle drunk gorillas for you Christabel, but I’m not putting toothpaste in my fucking mouth any time soon.” William told her as he pressed on. “You can have mint, or you can have me.”
Laughing at his strange aversions, she emptied his grasp of the fruit that he was surreptitiously consuming and dropped it into the trolley, climbing back up to her former station and sucking in a sharp breath at the importuning hand that wandered beneath her skirt. Susan called another halt before a wall of feminine appurtenance and chose hair clips for herself from a bewildering array of configurations, reaching up to sweep his hair behind his ears with a diamanté-studded headband and sitting back to admire the effect.
"My god, that is absolutely terrifying... wear it to your next fight." she smirked while he picked out a packet of applicator tampons.
"I can't help but think these are a disruptive influence."
"Can you slow down please?" she complained as he wheeled her swiftly past the rows of candy-hued deodorant.
"That stuff makes girls smell like they arrived by UPS and don't have a name yet but are possibly already ribbed for my pleasure. I am willing to... er... forego all death matches, for as long as you agree to smell as nature intended." He leant over her, sliding her hair from her nape and inhaling the warmth that rose from the neck of her dress. Shrugging her assent, she allowed him to steer them away from the meat counter before contesting the measure.
"I just saw you bite half of someone's face off so don't start with your vegan bollocks." Susan scolded as they halted before the display, looking over the various cuts until the shudder passing through his body was transmitted to her vehicle. "What is so bad about that?" she demanded, gesturing down at the neatly-primped arrangements.
"Il s'ylth nais sa'ama." he murmured, turning his face from the counter. "Sha'a'inii'tra... everything is wrong. Everything."
They stood for a short while in an impasse that grew from the inarticulate nature of his objections; in response to the depth of her own sentiments he placed his hands flat against the protective glazing, absorbing its damp, leaden scent and grim stasis before closing them on her cheeks. Her gaze fell to the frosted glass, the carnal shapes beneath recanting their blinded and attenuate passivity, becoming limbs and lost effects, the cabinet a shallow morgue, her perception of it rolled almost prismatically toward his own. She took his hands from her face and warmed them under her arms in silence, and did not contest their removal into an aisle devoted to convenience food. Still immersed in the implications of his elliptical communique, she chose an item from each category they coasted past and presented it to him, concerning herself closely with his reactions.
"Mmm, trash barge..." William grimaced to the rustling packet of pot noodles she held to his nose.
"Are you not worried about Caleb and his mates?"
"No... I love Cay." Her favourite brand of coffee exacerbated his expression. "Angry millipedes." he declared. Peanut butter fared no better. "Arse grease." he laughed, turning his head from the pottle. She lifted a brightly-coloured jar of raspberry jam from which he at first leant away as though avoiding some innominate peril, succumbing only as she pressed it on him, clasping it to his cheek and rolling the bottle across his face with his eyes closed. "Mmm, paradisiaque... savoureux... sssexuel... not as good as yours, though."
"I don't know how I feel about you eating two kilos of sucrose in one sitting. You don't even know what that is, do you?"
"It's fucking delicious, I can tell you that much. Take it away... I'll get the jar stuck in my throat."
"You're a bit of an addict, really, aren't you?" she laughed.
“It's low self esteem.” William assured her. "Just so you know, if at some point you do decide to leave me, my fragile sense of self worth would suffer such a fucking blow that I would probably find it preferable to return to an abusive relationship than to face the world alone.”
She pushed her foot into his groin.
“I would tell you to shut up but since we're on that, how long was your brother actually with this Helaine woman? And if she was as bad as you say, what was the attraction?”
“Ten long years, and come on... when you’re as likely to perforate someone for queue-jumping as he is, your boo's muti trade is all just part of life’s heavily-soiled tapestry. They're two evil peas in an evil fucking pod. Domestic evil peas. She bought his shoes."
“I know. Things might have been different if it hadn't been the Thirty Years War... but then again, probably not... everyone in Europe was going hard... catholics, lutherans, Swedish freaks, the fucking frogs... crazy Dutch people... Gustaf and Richelieu was paying us to stay home at one point, which was awesome, I have to say. Helaine's place was never more than a few days ride from whichever bloodbath was paying out, so the oversharing devil on Kala'amātya's shoulder was eight hundred pounds and fused to its fucking chair by the time that shit was over. When he wasn't depopulating Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, he was home with Helaine practicing facial expressions. It was a perfect perverted storm, if you were a bloodthirsty pervert."
“When are you going to tell them about all this?”
“When I stand still it sounds like you said something about just letting sleeping logs lie.”
“It's sleeping dogs.”
“The sleeping dog that rips your arm off when you tell it things it doesn’t want to hear."
"Who is that calling you all the time?" Susan sighed, reaching down and extracting his phone from his pocket.
“Avi'ashān...” he said quietly. “Bede." She read a few of his plaintive messages; her expression prompted him to sigh an explanation. "He fucking knew about Rana being here... they might have even brought her with them."
Her mouth dropped open.
"It's his wife, Nyāti... she’d love nothing more than to padlock me to Rana’s arm because divorce plays havoc with her seating plan.”
“Are you close?”
William held up two adjacent fingers.
“Like this. Always... always. But he knew she was here all along, and I asked him, and he said nothing.”
They passed through the checkout and walked down through the car park, sitting together in the humming silence, the glowing signs over the bunker's exits painting the mottled slab walls a sickly, dream-like shade of green. When she looked at him again he was made to wonder if he had ever seen her face more clearly, despite the gloom, her person limned entirely within it as though by the hand of a determined artist.
"So... you're the last to know?"
"Looks like it." he sighed.
"How does it feel?"
William stared up at the concrete ceiling, its ponderous suspension conspiring with the ineluctable nature of her logic.
"It feels like I should be talking to Frost about something important." he conceded.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce