Slow down that moment. Look again.
The rain makes you bow your head and you’re not focused on him but on the shallow incline of the pavement to the road, neon lights opposite reflected in growing puddles, fracturing in to indiscernible splashes of colour as cars speed past. You don’t really register the nervous glance he gives you just before he reaches for your hand and tangles his fingers in yours in one shy, tentative movement.
Slow it down, think back, look again.
The feel of his palm colliding with yours, the look in his eyes as you turn to him and the relief which softens his features when he realises that you’re smiling. The sound of his laugh, short and unhindered. The gap in traffic which causes him to break in to a run across the road with you still gripping his hand like a lifeline, his refusal to let go even as you reach the pavement on the other side and he turns to look at you again.
Slow it down, think back, feel it in your bones. Look again.
Notice the racing of your heart that makes your blood thump in your ears, fast pace echoed in the skipping of your breath. See the soul in his eyes, desperate, wanting, waiting. Watch as he leans closer to you, feel the world around you get duller until all that’s left is the two of you. His lips on yours,
His lips on yours,
His lips on yours.
The air smelled of early morning sweetness, crisp and somehow optimistic. I always felt like that when I woke before 5AM, when the sun was still out of sight in the lightening sky and I could see my breath hanging in the air in front of me for an instant. The sight hitched a memory to the back of my mind, childhood laughter echoing and the innocent mocking of adults with candy cigarettes.
You know when the city is only just waking up and it actually feels quiet? Trains sliding up to the platforms in a whisper like they’re afraid of waking those still slumbering behind misted windows, the tapping of heels from that one early morning commuter echoing from wall to wall as she hurries past, cars murmuring along open roads without the mid morning roar of traffic to break its stride. It’s so odd to live in a city so large and experience that, so hard to forget that there’s a regular intake of breath as mechanical lungs unfold and start to work again. Like a daily reminder that there is always calm before the storm, the heavy silence of electricity filling the air, thunder rumbling in the distance.
Do you really want to stick around to watch the world burn?
Imagine this; your body is filled with the dark liquid sky. As you sleep, stars bloom in your fingertips and expand to cover every inch of your skin, breaking bread with the sun as it rises from your toes each morning. Storm clouds roll across your pupils, lightning carving momentary tree branches of light through your veins as outside the window the rain mimics the rumbling of thunder in your throat.
You move with the seasons, you see. Flowers carpet your arms in the spring, lending bright colours to the pale pink pallor of your skin. In the summer you shine bright with the hungry, all-consuming fire of the sun, dulling to the glow of embers in the hearth as autumn leaves begin to settle over you like brittle clothing. In the winter, the cold permeates your soft demeanour and though that roaring sun still burns through your core, it relinquishes its hold to the ice forming exquisite patterns on the smooth canvas of your back.
Are you seated comfortably? Listening closely? Is your heart beating faster, is the light in your eyes? Have your pupils dilated? Are you having fun?
Were you late to the station? Did you smoke that last cigarette? Is what you’re saying relevant, what you’re hearing agreeable, what you’re seeing just and fair? Did the poison reach your veins yet? Do you still have long to live?
Did you meet him? Did you fall for her? Did the air around you set alight? Did your bones break, did your eyes dull, did the blood stop coursing through you? Did you tear the world to pieces? Did the ash get in your mouth?
Did it hurt? Did it satisfy? Have you had your fill? Did you hate him? Did he love you? Can you cry? Can you laugh? Does it scare you? Does it make you want to run? Do you feel the need to dance?
Have you ever been in love?
As we stood there, the world around us began to disintegrate. Windows shattered, glass dancing through the air as my eyes met yours, as our hands touched and our fingers tangled. The pavement broke apart and spiraled upwards, mixing with the debris as buildings started to shed their granite shells. Water droplets rose from the ground and mixed in to the tumult, hanging like jewels in the half light, shreds of paint peeling from the walls to encase them in a delicate embrace. We kissed and the air around us darkened, slowed, fragments pausing to frame our glowing forms. As we parted, the fire under our skin broke free and burned beautiful patterns of our time together in to our minds, consuming us in the slow moments afterwards when we were alone. And I never wanted it to end. I wanted to be stood there with you, embracing you, encapsulated in time forever.
He pointed up at the night sky, pinpricks of light breaking through the clouds as the stars fought to be seen through the lights of the city.
“Do you ever wish on them? The stars, I mean. I used to wish for love every time the first one appeared in the evening. It’s meant to be lucky, you know? And I wonder if there was always another one I’d missed which broke that luck, hiding behind a building or something. I think of love all the time, write about it, feel it, but any love I think I’ve found starts to break over time. And it hurts, but I still wish for it. It’s like a habit now. It’s become second nature, something I think of without even pausing. There’s magic in the stars, magic in wishing. Maybe I want it too much and it becomes suffocating, and I shouldn’t wish so hard. But I can’t stop”.
The tears started to track their way reluctantly down the curvature of your face, hanging for a moment in trepidation before giving in to that final, irresistible pull towards the floor. As they hit the marble glowing flowers began to bloom, gaining momentum as they reached up toward the ceiling with an almost tentative curiousity. The stone beneath them cracked, pulled apart, and began to float lazily in to the air as if drawn to the brightening canopy forming above. The deep sigh that left your lungs after such a tragically short breath turned to feathers, stark white in the half light.
You made a beautiful thing from your sadness, you see. Something which was astonishingly heartbreaking and breathtaking in equal measure. That was a rare thing to do in itself, really. Sadness took many forms, but in your experience beauty was not often one of them.
We were sat on the edge of a fountain, surrounded by the noise of the city, people talking, laughing, encompassing us in to those brief little moments of their lives. He hadn’t stopped looking at his hands, lacing his fingers around one another continuously. He paused, delved his hands in to each pocket of his coat in turn, picking out tobacco, then rolling papers, filters one after another, never once stilling his hands. I realised why when he started to roll his cigarette, and the concentration slowed his hands until they started to shake. It wasn’t enough to hinder his actions, was barely even noticeable had I not been looking straight at them, and when he put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it his hands started to quicken their movements, cupping his mouth for only an instant over the click of the lighter and the first trace of smoke. One hand gestured with the cigarette as he started to talk again, his words faltering as he mechanically withdrew his hand from another pocket and started to scroll through the menu of his phone, eyes following his thumb as he flicked open one icon after another.
Lock that armour around your heart, brazen and suited for war. Sharpen your sword, clean your arrows, test the strings and find your target. Run headlong in to the crowd and cry out in anger, let loose, break free, pick your battles and pick them well because once you’re on the field there’s no turning back. Fly on wings of gold and white, twist in the air to feel the wind enfold you in its biting embrace. Conquer whole armies in the blink of an eye, slice the chains and bend the bars. Throw out your arms to catch the blaze, fold it in to yourself and let it devour you from the inside. Jump from mountain tops, swim through oceans, escape in to shadows and stare directly in to the light. Flirt with life and kiss death, feel the sweet taste of his lips on yours as the blood on your tongue turns to ash. Let the stars escape from your body, exploding outwards with such force that the whole world rocks on its axis.
Magnificence becomes you. Don’t ever forget that.
And over time you become familiar with the complexities in people, the way that their individual minds work. You catch glimpses of the galaxies they hold within themselves. Pain is easy to read if you learn where to look for it, draped like flawed gems over collarbones and nestling in the crooks of necks. Happiness, lust, love… It shines through in the pitch black of pupils, makes itself known in the turn of a head or the placement of a hand. Don’t you see the beauty in that?
Understand this; they don’t care about you. To them, you are a marketing ploy, an enigma, a mystery, an ethereal creature to be gawped at through bars, a puzzle to be splashed across billboards and solved by the masses. You are the mirror for society, the reflection they want so desperately to see, perfection in the face of every flaw they display and yearn to cover up. You are selling lust, love, beauty, sex. The answer to every question they ever asked is hidden in your eyes, the replacement for a soul which was stolen away in thousands of pieces by countless camera lenses.
Look at me; you’re a doll to be played with, a marionette dancing to the pull of hundreds of strings. You are the face to blame, the lips to kiss, the smile to have. Your elegance is legendary. Walk down scarlet carpets, sip from crystal glasses. Drip with pearls and diamonds, feel the weight of them nestling in the crook of your neck.
Listen to me; will you sell? Is your image genuine enough for the campaign you’ve been pushed in to? Are you turning heads? Can you slip in to any skin, step in to any shoe, wear any mask? When does the younger, better version step out from behind the curtain?
Believe me; you are you, and you are nobody else. Take back the control you had when you started out. Re-invent yourself over and over because you want to, because you can, because even if ten minutes ago you were a different person you can decide to change that at any point and dear god, it’ll be spectacular. You were never an object to be played with until they dulled your eyes and doused the fire inside you. Take it back, baby, take it back, because as soon as you do you can burn this place to the ground and build a new world from the ashes.
I realised then, quite suddenly, why he closed his eyes so very often. It always coincided with a slowing of breath and an achingly beautiful look of longing. I think that he was trying to find the root of his sadness. Burrowing deep down inside himself to reach the bottom of the pit that seemed to have permanently settled in his stomach.
So lay the world to waste and cradle whatever rises from the embers with maternal arms, eyes of violet pouring molten steel down the marble carved contours of your face. Blow broken lashes from your fingertips, make a wish as they’re caught by the wind and spiral through the air like dandelion seeds. Clear your mind, still your heart, reach the border and tear down the fences because then you’re home free and honey, nothing can stop you when you start running. Prove to everybody but yourself that you can survive because really you always knew, always felt the wild animal caged in the rush of your blood, the howling scream in the back of your head which only made itself known in the dark, warm moments before you slipped quietly under waves of sleep.
Feel your teeth loosen and fall from your mouth one by one, tongue replaced by razor wire. Spit out hollowed truths like silver coins, prick skin with pins to let the light spill in and flood out the darkness. Caress, carve, cultivate, kneading until gold blossoms just below the surface, precious bruises mottling to cover detailed maps of raised veins. Work in harmony or don’t work at all, play all the instruments until your chorus rivals that of angels. And above all, try and avoid that niggling little question which is hammering its way back in to your thoughts again and again.
Don’t you ever want to fall in love?
The moonlight was so bright that even with the shutters closed it played a slatted shadow across your naked back, covers torn down as you tossed and turned in your sleep. As we lay there and I listened to the shallow, steady sound of your resting breath I realised that in that moment I could reach across and shake you awake, or plant light kisses on your skin until you opened your eyes. I could tell you that I loved you more than I had ever loved anyone before, that all of those little worries I’d had about loving anyone again had disappeared the moment you reached across and took my hand for the first time without a single care in the world.
But I didn’t. Instead, I watched the moonlight inch its way slowly across your back, watched your muscles tense and release as you shifted and murmured nonsense words. And when the dark gave way to the weak, inevitable light of dawn, and long after the first bird had begun its lilting, broken song, I closed my eyes.
And so I stood there in that city of mirrored glass and unforgiving concrete, clinging on to the memories of the lingering kisses we had shared, mouths hovering lazily close to one another just so we could feel our breath break the gap between us, hear our heartbeats in the dark. Nothing felt close to that, the stirring which music brought to my heart a mockery in comparison, rich, exotic foods turning to dust in my mouth. I turned, and my movement was mimicked in thousands of windows as I spun faster and faster in an effort to forget you in the blur.
I watched as he sat down, pulled out a laptop and started to type, his fingers flying over the keys at a fast but staggered pace as he faltered and backtracked over the document he was working on. I found it so easy to just sit there and watch the grace with which he worked, each key tapped delicately and with determined purpose, the repetitive sound of a soft clicking verse filling the otherwise silent room.
Are you sure we can’t manufacture some sort of a happy ending?
And then it’s 2AM and you can’t remember what kissing him felt like even though you’re trying so hard that your eyes are screwed up and your head hurts from the effort. And you’re gripping your hands together so tight that you’re scared that your fingers might break but all you can think is that as long as it hurts less than your heart does right in that moment then maybe it won’t be so bad at all, maybe it will distract you and bring you back to yourself just for a little while, excuse the fact that you’re not sleeping just for a little while, maybe even get him out of your head, just for a little while.
He smelled, rather oddly, of teenage desperation; clumsy kisses with too much tongue and an uncomfortably rapid pace, summer evenings spent loving and hurting in equal measure.
They saw so much beauty in our simple forms that they immortalised us in marble and bronze. Stone crept through our veins, skin hardening under our fingertips, and eventually we found that we could observe, and we always so readily had, but no longer interact. We felt nothing, but it was not a sad loss; one day we simply woke and found that we were completely alone, our thoughts untouched by those we had once valued so highly. We became ghosts of our former selves, drifted through the world without looking until we tripped and started falling for so long, in such darkness, that we forgot who we really were. Our names peeled us away from us, letter by letter, our looks melted away as we gazed at ourselves in countless mirrors. One day the ground beneath our feet stopped holding on to our prints, and even the bare soles left no trace of our passing. I saw eyes settle on my face for an instant before sliding right through me, and separately we became the stories which never quite found their endings, never had a set path to follow. And then suddenly, there was no us. We vanished from our lives, left everything behind, and the most important thing, the company we had clung on to for so long… it slipped out of our grasp, hands opening and dropping to our sides as we forgot what we were holding on to, staring so intently at the white skin of our knuckles and the crescent shaped cuts in our palms.
I think that even while we were young, we craved the longevity our bodies offered us so readily. We made it a point to live so fast that everything around us became a blur. But that was common for us, for so many people we had met, to never slow down enough to see anything but ourselves. We had put on masks, and after so long a time they fused to our faces and we became them. Shallow like them, uncaring like them. Emotionless like them. Our lips no longer moved, our eyes no longer smiled. The light we had once so readily carried went out, smothered by clumsy finger tips and careless words. What happened to us? The optimism we had been able to summon started to die on our lips, never reached our ears, and we retreated so fully in to ourselves that any opinion we had once had lost its value almost immediately. We were ghosts, singled out against the veil of the world until we found an opening and slipped straight out of sight.
You became the ghost of every broken heart I’d thought I’d had, echoes curling around my arms and clinging to my back, the traces of smoke which never quite faded.
We didn’t sleep at all that night, dancing until the sun came up and then smoking cigarettes on the pier. One after another the strung up lights became harder to see and then turned off completely, sensitive to the sunlight which was already warming the exposed skin on our arms and the toes of our bare feet, naked on the warped boards in front of us. I looked at you, raising my arms against the light filtering through your hair and smiled as you lit another cigarette. I could taste salt in the air, and I breathed in deep so that the smoke mixed in and sharpened against my tongue. Seagulls drifted on invisible strings, cut away as they dived in to the water lapping against the metal supports of the boardwalk, sea as blue as the sky on the horizon. I could see us reflected in the glass of the café opposite, pale and trashed, broken and beautiful. Sometimes I wished that it could always be like this, so that every day I would find myself somewhere else with you, breathing in that tainted air and wishing the world away.
Even the flies had trained themselves to fly quietly. They whispered through the house like ghosts, simple black specks in the air, dying stars drifting in a dusty sky.
We shared a love of beautiful things. I think that it was this which kept us sane, kept us together, because without beauty we would simply split apart at the seams, drifting away on the breeze in tatters of hope. We would still be together, twisting around one another in an intricate dance, maybe even give others the illusion that we were joined for an instant and for us the entangling of our souls made it a reality. We were happy, I think, quietly joyful in those moments of shared solitude.
For both of us it was a means of escaping the world for a while, losing ourselves in the comfort of another’s presence. We would rarely speak, constantly daring ourselves to break the silence in our heads but never uttering the thoughts out loud. We would read to each other, passages from books we found which transported us in to their pages, merged our worlds with another. It was in these words that we spoke to one another; they voiced our feelings, lent us the courage to take another step in to the unknown.
Occasionally there were the moments where we would laugh just to hear it shatter the silence. Then we would watch the walls around us break, see the bridges clearly for once. You would dance, spin in to the sunlight and laugh so long and so loud that I simply had to join you, happy from the delight which coated the air and made my heart skip to the rhythm of your feet. It was the leftovers from this which helped us to struggle through what felt like darkness when we were apart, the bitter sweet reminder of carefree summer days. We took solace in this feeling, tethered it behind ourselves to flow and gather in the air. It was this that those around us began to see in our place; it attracted them, left them curious when we parted ways. We carved our way through the world together, moved from place to place in a raucous whirlwind of activity, and the shifting of worlds left us breathless and bright eyed. We burned so incredibly brightly together, shook away the masks and drew the light inside ourselves… It never really ended, did it? We fed so eagerly on all of this passion and eventually, it in turn consumed us. You likened us to stars once, all-consuming in the darkness, so close that we were almost able to reach out and touch.
So they stood there against the darkening sky, two silhouettes in court black resilient in dying light. Around one of them love bloomed like wildflowers, around the other it spilled to the floor like fire and scorched the ground to cinders. One had eyes of silver and gold, glowing with light which was swallowed by the abyss of the other’s. The air around the two shivered with anticipation, palpable in its tension. As the sun took its last breath on the horizon and sank beneath the waves with a regretful sigh the moon rose simply to gaze upon them, stars blinking in to existence just to shine for them. Wind lifted their clothing and lay light kisses on their skin, tussling their hair with a kind hand as it whipped the flames spreading around them in to a dance too complex in its frenzy to follow.
None of this was noticed by either party, though. They were too caught up in their admiration for one another, had been for longer than time itself, their surroundings ever changing with no discernible effect on one or the other. They studied every inch with wonder, galaxies trapped under the skin of one, sunbeams under the skin of the other. They were forces of nature, carving a path for themselves through the world without ever taking a step, not a finger lifted. Civilizations grew and died around them, the ground around their feet scarred by countless wars which began and ended before they could even blink. But they were in love, and nothing else mattered, because to them their very existence required that love to be all consuming and never ending and so they welcomed immortality with open arms.
“Do you ever wonder how somebody can just fall out of love like that?”
She was looking up at the cracked plaster of the ceiling as she spoke, tracing the thin, crooked lines with her eyes. Her lipstick was almost all bitten away and the fur on her coat was matted from the rain but she still looked like she’d stepped right out of hair and makeup; the dab of a brush, run a comb through disheveled locks and it’s lights, camera, action, the raising of the curtain on opening night.
“Can you go from feeling everything to feeling nothing? Or does that love become overwhelmed by annoyance, or anger, or something darker and much less talked about, that primal feeling in your gut which draws back your lips and lights fires in your eyes?”.
We were dancing. The bar we had stumbled in to was full of people, intoxicated, laughing and so beautifully happy. He turned and gave me that look, so hard to describe in words. It was like the entire room slowed down, the pounding of the music and all of the different background noises, voices, the traffic outside… they faded, dulled down to distant murmurs. Everything around us darkened and for that millisecond, that frozen moment, we simply drifted. His brief laugh travelled across to me, so clear and real that I couldn’t help but to feel completely carefree, couldn’t stop myself from reaching across and taking his hand again. His hair caught the light, causing a slight halo around the edges of his head, and as we twisted together he caught my bottom lip between his teeth for a moment, kissed my cheek and spun away again. He had rainstorms in his eyes, the kind in to which you wanted to run out and dance, to turn in the torrents with your eyes closed and arms outstretched and just laugh for a while. It was the rain which clouded my vision when I was with him, refreshing and frightening.
Close your eyes until the shadows behind your lids turn to galaxies, remnants of lost solar systems trapped in the intricate veins. Run your hand through air as thick as caramel, warm currents echoing your movements like a lazy summer day breeze. Be yourself but feel different, prick every finger and let the blood push its way out in frantic drops, eager to harden against your skin and seal you up again, heal you up again. Take the fire inside your soul and let it ignite around you. Burn up, burn them, burn you, burn, burn, burn and hide the scars in the cream of your skin with still warm ashes. Listen to the song you’ve been singing since the day you were born and follow it to what you’ve always hoped for without really knowing why, without really knowing what it was until you found it.
It’s funny, really, how the beauty in that dream came across instead of the horror. Sunlight touched our skin and made it blister and burn, but we smiled and carried on all the while. We swam in a deep pool, clear all the way to the bottom, and the patterns of light which travelled over us left us in agony. But we were still smiling, always just floating there with those fixed grins on our faces. Red dulled to pink in the water, matched the matted weeds and stood out so gently against the pure white sand, the colour of skin left untouched, unblemished. I’m not sure what it was meant to signify, but I didn’t feel trapped. I felt free, turning in the water with patterns burning holes in to my skin.
You are ripped open. Tears in your skin close to scars and open up time and time again, pains of a past generation digging its claws in to you. Blood drips and blurs in to sweat, lust and love in harmony as you break open your mind and sift through the dregs. Run scared, jump the trenches and mark the floors with pounding feet. Listen to the beat, feel it in your bones, pull out all those memories of bodies writhing together as each note reverberates through you. Individuality ended as soon as you were born and started to borrow mannerisms from the ghosts fading in to your past with wanting arms outstretched.
Decorate and redecorate, keep plastering over the cracks in your marrow. Trace patterns in the air with your fingers as your eyes roll back in your head to glimpse the delicate veins you can never quite trap in your vision. Burn the ground around you and bathe in the ashes until you’ve covered the milk of your flesh, stark white in the hollow light. Murmur in to seashells and let your words whisper back when everything around you has settled and all you can hear is your own breath, shallow and waiting. Catch that breath in jars like they always told you to and cover the top with your thoughts, opening them up again only when the contents has sweetened over countless crisp winter mornings.
Slow down time and watch dust spin through beams of dying sunlight edging its way across boarded floors, filling the room around you as the portraits on the walls start to echo your movements. Wander through doorways in to worlds you’d only ever dreamed of and forever feel them lurking in the corners of your eyes as they wait for you to grow weary enough to leave the warm embrace of your comfort again. See statues come to life and fight one another in empty halls of threaded marble, stolen treasures hunting for their thieves. Face endless mirrors and stare as your eyes blur through every shade and colour imaginable, settling only when you blink and see yourself become solid through transparent lids.
Feel his lips on yours, run your fingers down the curve of his back and feel every knot and whorl in the muscles set there like stone. Feel him encompass you as your skin knits together and every space between you fills. Knot your legs and link your fingers, fill your lungs with his breath and his with yours. Taste your name in his mouth, desperate and wanting. And as he touches you, find yourself shivering as the hairs on your arms rise and your skin crackles with electricity. Lust after him but never love because if you love you can never run and baby, you run oh-so well. Escape in to yourself, fold over and over and disappear in to the air around you. When you can bear to think of him, keep on thinking until you can no longer stand to hear his voice in your head.
And love, kid. Love, love, love, until you can love no longer. Because why the hell not?
We used to break in to the grounds of country houses at night, run through the lawns in the darkness barefoot to feel the cold of the grass as it soaked the bottoms of our jeans. As we crouched on the edges of long drained moats, you would tell me the words that you had discovered that week, chosen for the way they rolled out of your mouth and allowed you to taste them in the air, words like susurrus, tangible, androgynous. I would ask you for the meanings and you would explain in hushed tones, inventing odd sentences to make me smile at you for as long as I could. We climbed the tallest trees we could find, calling to each other from the branches and swinging down again to land as close as we could to one another, feeling our heartbeats slow for a moment as we stood watching each other in the silence. I told you how when I was a kid I believed that statues came to life at night, and afterwards when we came across one we would bow and start imaginary conversations, eyes flashing at one another as we tried not to laugh. We created another world for ourselves, so wonderfully different in its finery that we felt anything could happen there. One night we dressed in evening wear and found the most secluded place we could, the centre of a maze on an old abandoned estate. We took a picnic, dined in candlelight on the rough brick of the path, and watched the stars through the gaps in the trees. We were so perfectly happy that we could have stayed there forever; hands gripping so desperately I felt like my heart would burst.
I never really understood the term ‘voice as smooth as silk’. Silk was rough to me, full of raised threads and imperfections which only ever added to its beauty but pulled it so far away from that tiny little phrase. Your voice was like velvet; soft, warm, encompassing. When you spoke, it wrapped itself around me and soothed me to sleep. When your lips touched mine it was as though your unspoken words traversed the gap between us as it grew smaller and smaller, until skin pressed against skin and everything else ceased to exist. Like a little bit of your soul leaped across and embedded itself in to mine. That voice could never hurt, could only dance, and sing, undulating in the darkness as we lay whispering to each other late at night. You described whole worlds to me and they became so real that I could almost reach out and touch them, taste the tastes, smell the smells. Every word you spoke was a delicacy, rolled around in your mouth before they burst from your tongue like silver. And you caught me, you really did, bundled me up in all the nets you spun and held me close in the dying light.