“You don’t lisp.” he chuckled.
They sat on the parapet and chair respectively. A ceaseless wind, cold and bone-dry, blustered over the edge of the yard under the midday sun, its distant solitaire lost in a sky of insuperable, gaseous immensity, snapping through the clothes and strips of hare meat on the drying frame they had improvised from branches. It curled against the hill and swept back toward them, dosed with the smoke still rising thinly from the remains of their laundry fire. Below the forest formed a sea of undulous shadow green in which the bald peaks rose like desert atolls, thick skirts of snow still lying, topaz blue, amid their shade. She looked up, the sun flooding brightly-veined crimson through her lids, then returned to examining his peculiarly toneless expression, an effect of his devotion to his task; Sachiin's colours were favoured by the light that dramatized the landscape and her gaze enjoyed him in the same leisured and impersonal way. The thorns he cut free left behind a shallow, sapid burn, relieving the pressure of their intrusion. Susan closed her eyes; in her pellucid mood the sound of him leaning in his chair to discreetly address the tin of condensed milk secreted beneath it did not move her to active intervention.
"You'll get diabetes." she murmured.
"I don't care. This shit is incredible. It’s...”
“Ten years past its use-by date... sickly and disgusting?”
"Sans déc. It’s the Hello Kitty of food... like someone dipped a cow in gur. What's caramel?" he added, frowning at what he could make of the recipe printed on the tin.
“Stop eating it! It’s not even ours.”
When she swatted impulsively at the can he rose with it and walked some distance from her, leaning over the edge of the roof to vomit the substance into the void beyond, the polka dotted fabric of her underwear sagging on his hips.
“There’s fucking miles of it down there.” he assured her, referring to the aging cache they had discovered in the alcoves below and taking another from the portion they had requisitioned, peeling off its lid with an ecstatic murmur. His small porcine devotee squealed impatiently at his feet and danced in anticipation as he bent down and offered the treat to its questing snout.
“Give that one to him and get another, for god's sake. And put some pants on.” she complained, easing herself from the chair and crossing the yard to take his jeans from the line; cognizant of her intent, he stepped up onto the parapet and used its broken length in a leisurely evasion, scooping what remained from the tin.
“Hey, if only the black helicopters could see me now. I dare you!" he declared, shaking a fist at the sky.
“They'd have to fly back to base and bleach their eyeballs for an hour, so stay up there.” she observed, feigning resignation before lunging sideways at him. He walked over the chair and took refuge behind the fire where she cornered him, Fyodor dashing after them.
“You can’t forcibly re-pants a spirited ch... child of...” The protest was interrupted by the re-emergence of the second tin of milk, which he bent over to eject. "Nature... is that caramel?" he inquired, nodding down at the ground. As she kept hold of his wrist and shook out his trousers he lost his elusive verve, standing tranquilly and smiling at her as she hauled the garment up over his legs. “While you’re down there.” he grinned, enjoying the slap to the rear that his remark inspired. “I can't help this, you brought more underwear than I did.”
“So did Kermit the bloody frog.” She buttoned his fly and shook her head at another of his new scars, a wide, slightly corrugated crescent on his hip that he twisted to see for himself.
“Well, at least I didn't get it in a tranny fight at Taco Bell, though that would have been a fuck of a lot more glamorous.”
“We should have let your brother turn them into kebabs when we had the chance.” Susan muttered, walking back to the chair. He paused to douse his head in the bucket of water.
"Alas no, my bloodthirsty petal... an alujha death feud is a game nobody wins."
"Aren't we in one anyway?"
"Technically no... they started it, so if we don't do anything else, it's not on." He consulted the tin in his hand once more. "It says... caramel happens when you heat it up." he added, gaze shifting to the cans that formed part of Susan's rations and equipment, the former assorted into daily allowances, the latter cleaned, examined and laid out to dry. Sachiin edged one toward the coals with his foot whilst dipping a finger in the can and applying it languidly to his neck and chest. She let her head settle against the chair.
"If you're going to do that, your name has to be... mmm... Richard... you have to be new in town and just looking for a place to stay, and you're going to be passed around a lot of strange... I think this time... strange firemen." she informed him, smiling at his groin's gentle and intermittent conjunction with her ear. He rolled his eyes.
"Your name is the least pornographic part of you... I can't help that. How can you have ants in your bloody pants? We just washed them." The narrow shadow in the corner of her smile granted it a strangely endearing quality.
"Les dents du bonheur." he contended at the sight of it, touching his thumb to her lip. "And it's happiness. I have happiness in my pants."
"I know. It's poking my eardrum. Sit down... if you don't stop eating that rubbish I'll have to tie you to something. Have a go at the back of my head."
Susan knelt over the stone and he sat on the edge of the chair to work the tangles from her hair, searching out the thorns that had lodged in her scalp. The stroke of his hands closed her eyes; he leant down to set the tin on the ground for Fyodor, who nosed it greedily.
"Do you ever think about how strange you are?" she inquired.
"How do you mean?"
"I mean... do you feel it?"
He looked out toward the mountains.
"Parfois. Sometimes I feel... loose. Like the parts are rattling around... talking about me behind my back."
"You have parts?" she laughed. "How many?"
"Three. One at the back, and one behind each eye. The left one has a creepy voice... go platinum blonde, drink a case of Pernod, light curtain fires..." He adjusted his intonation accordingly. "I try not to listen but he's very persuasive."
"How can you be three things at once? Who am I talking to now?"
"My threefold shit is all up in your grille, poupée... every part likes you. Je suis désolé."
From looking at him she took another measure of the encircling horizon, resting her chin on her hands.
"If I'd known you were this creepy I would never have slept with you in a million years." she smirked. He ran his tongue over his teeth inside his own smile.
"Now you're stuck with me in a place where there's absolutely nothing else to do. The very heart of darkness."
"Yes, and I'm not overly fussed about staying.”
“Give it a couple of weeks."
"You’ve got some carbs to suck down before we take a run at the border. You’ll have to walk behind me when we do, though... Gévaudan’s gone straight to you arse and it’s giving me a special feeling.”
“Make the most of it. It'll be fit and sporty by the time I’ve hauled it back to civilization.”
“Don’t say that, Christabel... rub some butter on it.” he exclaimed, edging the chair forward so that he could enjoy more intimate contact with her posterior. She reached back in a futile attempt to deter the attention. “What do they say... starve a cold and feed a booty? An arse in the hand is worth two on the dancefloor? A hot rack is silver but trunk junk is gold? A double-down donk is a man’s best friend?”
“It’s speaking is silver but silence is gold. Silence. And stop that.”
“I can’t.” She shook him off and climbed up onto the parapet to lie on her stomach, taking advantage of the meagre warmth afforded by the stone; he let himself down on top of her, blowing a rolling purr on the back of her neck and watching her ears turn pink. "Un petit coup en vitesse?"
"You have to say it slowly." Susan complained.
"It loses its charm." he laughed, settling beside her with his back to the drop and his head propped on his hand. His eyes shared their hue with the distant trees behind him so that they seemed to have commandeered his gaze, his stare undermining the quietude that she encouraged by closing her own. “I was going to tell you something, but if you don’t want to hear it... alright then."
Sachiin maintained his threatened embargo for longer than she anticipated, though he began flicking his teeth with a fingernail.
"Tell me or I'll push you off.”
“I just wanted to say that I was worried... you know, that Ed had done the right thing... the grown up thing... by letting Frost go. I’m glad I was too needy and pathetic. So... thanks, for not running off screaming.”
“I did run off screaming.”
“Thanks for not running off screaming from me specifically.”
“I’m not planning on running ever again.” she assured him. "But... I would hate to be sitting in bloody Hackney right now wondering what you were doing and realizing I'd just made the most sensible adult decision ever."
He clapped a hand to his heart.
"My left ventriloquist is having an erection."
Susan accepted his kiss with some hesitation, wary of its nebulous, luring gravity and pushing him back onto his side when he slid an arm and leg across her.
"I hope it doesn’t cost anything to get wherever we're going because I’ve about ten francs and change left. What've you got?”
“Fifty lei, in my good pants. I dropped my last US on Azeri single malt in the Nizami küçəsi."
“So... we're skint?”
"And you're not bothered?"
“You sound like such a rich kid."
"Is that good or bad these days? I don't know, Christabel, I just can't get all bent about money. It comes and it goes... we just have a casual thing."
"I don’t know if I can go from tooling around in a Jag to... panhandling, probably, in eastern Europe...”
“No prise de tête. Auberjonois’ll sub me whatever we need. If there’s something he loves more than pulling thirty percent for sitting on his hairy fucking arse eating cheese, he's too ashamed to tell me.”
He groaned as he sat up and let his legs hang over the drop, and she curled around him.
“Your walking away from a Jaguar is a lot sexier than driving around in one like a dick.”
"It took me forever to find that fucking car. I was trying to impress you."
"Do they not come with a key and matching doors?"
"I asked my inner lady what she thought about the guy who drives a minty XJS and she said she just couldn't imagine wanting to fuck him."
"Your inner lady should buy some underwear." she laughed.
"Well, first we'd have to hit the lending arm of the international bastard bank of Kala'amātya, but that's cool... he’ll pay me to go away in a fucking heartbeat.”
Her frown returned.
“I don't think we should leave him alone at the moment.”
“It’ll do him good, the sulky prick. You're the first person to survive calling him a sadistic mental case in the last two thousand years, though... that's progress now that I think about it."
"I wish we could send him to counseling."
He laughed, its strange sound falling over the wall and booming down the slope.
"You girls and your Jesus complex... he's just not a modern guy, Christabel. Skullfucking, unsolicited amputations... it's all ikebana to him. Leave him to the expert."
"She left him."
Sachiin issued a dramatic presentation to the gorge.
"Kala'amātya in therapy... what seems to be the problem, Mr Lamb? Why are you such a creepy, twisted fuck? I don't know, but I start stabbing clinical psychologists if I can't find my skull bag, and what the fuck did I say about eye contact?" He made a splattering sound between pursed lips. "Clean up in cubical four."
Having wiled his way into the narrow space between them and under his arm, Fyodor set his little hooves against her to complete his usurpation.
“That pig is in love with you.”
“I’m in love with him. But I’m not in love with my brother, and there’s something about the way he was grazing me with small arms fire the other night that tells me I’m getting to the end of what I can do for him in his present state.”
They remained in their respective silences for a while, Susan biting at a fingernail.
"I really do not want to stay here. Petrouchka's avoiding me, and when she isn't, she's giving me looks. I'd rather sleep under a tree."
"I don’t know the technical shit involved in the whole undead conversion thing, but I do know the human brain probably isn’t designed to be flogged five hundred years past its use-by date, especially when it wasn’t your flashest feature in the first place. She's petite noblesse... she can marry well and find veins and that's about it. Don't take it personally.”
“Stop trying to make me feel superior.”
“You are superior.” he assured her.
“What, because I have a pulse?”
"Give it two weeks, cloudcheeks. Fourteen tiny little days. Pour moi?"
Muttering, Susan set the pig down on the roof and sat up alongside him, pushing a hand into his hair and attempting to derange it to her satisfaction, only to see it slide back in its sericeous disregard.
“I never thought I’d miss midnite madder, but I actually do. If we can go pretty much anywhere, I fancy India. For Diwali or something."
“Long walk.” She groaned but he remained resolute. “It’s lo-fi pedestriation until we lose the heat. You get safety or you get convenience. They don’t hook up.”
“But I like convenience...”
“I like not having the door of my condo kicked in at three in the morning by black op freaks or roidy bloodsuckers." He glanced at her fondly. "And I love a feral pants-optional destination so what about Holi, somewhere backwards and country... I'll trade plumbing and florists for not having to worry about you so much.”
“Having me around must be like this nightmare egg and spoon race that just keeps going.”
He shook his head at the exoticism of the activity to which she referred.
"If I had known you were this weird, I would never have slept with you." Sachiin smiled, lurching perilously at the shove she applied to his shoulders.
“About your brother...” He put a hand to his throat and commenced a doleful choking but she persisted. "When I think about it, he's probably the smartest person I've ever met, so he must know if he stopped sulking and got on a plane he could actually be with Lilian.” she insisted.
"He's smart enough to know you can't fix a fleshwound with a fucking machete. Frost cut him a break... I never thought she would... if he jumps the rope and goes after her it'll end in a smoking hole in the ground and I'll be the one who needs a fucking shrink."
"Everything ends badly." she observed. He stepped over her and walked back toward the remains of the fire.
"Trust me, it's a matter of degree. Christabel, I know what you're saying... a year ago, all this was me. I was the one humping his leg trying to get his attention. He told me himself, over and over... get off my dick, Sachiin... no really, I prefer my own company... strictly no romanticizing my evil, Sachiin. And he was right. He’s the scorpion, not the frog... don’t get it twisted.”
She murmured something toward her chest.
“I said they both drown.” she sighed at his insistence, lowering her voice as he leant over the shifting red glow of the coals as though listening to something obscure within them. As she opened her mouth to ask, a cracking report sent a spray of caramel bursting from the can he had left upon the coals. Wiping a hand over the streak of browned milk decorating his midriff, he murmured to himself and licked it from his palm.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce