There was nothing holding her to the doorway, nothing tangible, no ropes or belts, nylon, silken tongues. Nothing physically binding her lean, narrow frame up against the shadows that fell across her legs, the brass coloured fastener tonguing the mouth slit between her third and fourth ribs, the paint chips that flaked white and left dust on her skin. She could move, slowly, unlatch herself and return to the bed, return to the puzzle of arms and fabric, the sweat and hair. She counted as her lover’s foot, unsheathed and reflective white, twitched with all the crush of dreaming. One, two three, he waltzed in slumber.
The scars across her chest and stomach coiled purple, in welted rings, around and around her. One for every year she had grown. In this cold, this early cold, with the sun not yet dragging itself from the tar pit of night, the scars seemed to grow, to raise themselves from her skin and she ran her fingers across them, and against them, and remembered lying with boys in grass wet with morning.
Her lover turned, drowning in sleep, entangled. She smiled, watching him as he coiled, like her scars, around the cotton and wool. Still using her fingers to trace the wounds of time across her flesh, her soft, warm sex exposed to the gentle heat of the air, the ghost of his length lingering inside her womb, Kate wrapped herself in the shawl of memory. Of faces glowing yellow under evening lights. Of words falling sideways across pillowcases and sleeves. Of mittens, and the hands that they warmed, and the hands that they held for protection.
Her lover turned again. A bird sang outside.
CANARY ISLAND DATE
The breakfast table was cluttered with magazines, advertising material, plates and forks, cups. The air smelt of coffee, bitter and strong. Kate watched her lover as he tapped a pen against his teeth, his eyes locked on the newspaper spread open before him. The tip of his tie rested against the tabletop. A flat, yellow pyramid. Toothpaste clung to the corners of his mouth.
Kate thumbed through a handful of envelopes, pen pal requests from death row inmates at the Florida State Prison. The envelopes had been opened, examined, and then resealed before being sent out to her.
Without looking up, and with the pen still pecking at his teeth, Simon spoke.
‘I dreamt that we were dancing, you and I, somewhere along the Gaza Strip. There were others, hundreds of others. All dancing. Waltzing to the crack of mortar fire. There were bulldozers all around us. Caterpillar D9s. – What was her name?’
‘Your arms were gun barrels.’
Kate opened the first of the envelopes and slid the letter out onto the table.
I am a 26 years old man that like to read novels, write letters. I am looking for a person that has a good sense of humour and don't mind writing letters - don't mind sending a stamp with his or her letter. ‘What do you suppose it means?’ I would like to apologize in advance for requesting postage stamps, but I have no money. ‘Were you watching me while I slept?’ You can learn this by contacting the F.L.A./D.O.C. on the Internet for inmate banking. I have not had a visitor in 5 years. I have no family or friends to speak of. ‘I was staring at my feet, trying to keep time. And I remember looking up I pray that seeing the dancers around us being crushed at least one as the bulldozers rolled through.’ kind soul will reach out to me. ‘What was the serial number?’
Kate folded the letter as she spoke. ‘9-4-9-6-2-3.’
Her lover pulled the pen away from his mouth and placed its nib against the harmonica teeth of the crossword. Kate watched as he filled the empty white spaces with numbers.
Kate lifted the second envelope into her hand and held it up to the light.
‘What was the clue?’
Simon bounced the pen against the tabletop, marking it with ink.
‘There wasn’t one.’
They were trapped behind a funeral procession as they drove to work. Long, black limousines, light bouncing off the chrome and glass. Simon drummed the steering wheel and yawned. Kate looked out at the office blocks that had sprouted along the street, tall and dense and grey. Faces peered out from behind the windows, staring down, watching the cars as they crawled. People stood still, gathered along the roadside, hushed and small and mortal.
A news report on the radio: A mother and her two daughters had suffocated to death after spending the night in a room sealed completely with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Afraid of a possible chemical attack, the husband had suggested creating a safe area inside the house. This is precisely what the mother had done. The husband, who worked the night shift at a local hospital, returned home to find his family dead. A coal-fueled heater had sucked the oxygen from the safe room, which had prevented air from entering it but not, the police had said, from escaping.
Kate tried to count the coffins in the limousines, tried to look to the wreathes for confirmation. Simon shifted his weight around in the seat, adjusted the three-point belt, tapped his fingers to music that didn’t exist.
‘Can you feel it?’
Kate continued to look at the cars, at the people who crowded the street, at the faces behind the glass. ‘We aren’t safe here. Something is swelling up. Something is coming.’
In the car behind them, the driver pounded his fist on the horn. Heads turned in the direction of the noise. Something dangerous and unspoken moved through the crowd, some dark understanding.
‘Talk to me, Simon. I want to be small again. I want the pieces to fit.’
Simon sang under his breath.
‘Everything feels wrong.’
A news report on the radio: The blooms originate below the crownshaft.
When she was younger, young enough to bury her face into her father’s knees as he stood beside the stove, pushing onions and garlic around a deep, black pan, Kate would spend hours in the garden, watching insects rise in clusters from the grass. She had fallen asleep once, outside, in the lollipop shade of a tree. The sun eventually shifted, and it was a hot day, the absolute heat of a Floridian summer, and her arms and legs and face were exposed.
Later, as her father nursed her sunburn, Kate listened for her mother’s coughs as they broke the air somewhere along the hall. Her father, eyes narrowed, delicately painting her skin with aloe. Kate staring up at the naked globe screwed tight into the ceiling.
Days crept by and her limbs began to look as though they were draped in sheets of honeycomb, white honeycomb, thin and delicate and long. She would take the dead skin between her fingers and strip it from her flesh, hold it out over the side of the bed and rub it into the air.
She could hear children playing, somewhere, under the wet smile of a sprinkler jet, laughing.
The awful, strangled crack that erupted from her mother’s room, the barking of a dog - her mother – would rouse Kate throughout the night. And her father would creep from his room, past Kate’s open door, and smile at her, in his slippers and robe, and walk away, carried towards the roar of sickness with all the cushioned grace of a white-tailed deer.
When Kate arose one morning, healed and new, into the crushing silence of the house, to find her father and mother gone, and the clouds gathering over the trees, and the sprinkler jets now falling in sheets from the sky, she held her face to the kitchen window and cried.
As Simon stepped from the shower and into the fabricated air of the bathroom, Kate swam into her pajamas and peeled the sheets from the bed. The clock radio in the room, large green numbers shimmering against its face, sent hollow, metallic voices out towards the empty corners.
News report: A large chunk of ice fell from the sky and through the roof of a suburban house.
News report: A young girl woke to find her pillow pressed against her face. The next night, the same girl awoke to find sewing needles stuck in her arms.
News report: The acquittal rate in rape trials is 78%.
Kate wrenched the clock’s cord from the socket in the wall. The green numbers crackled and died away. She slid beneath the covers, pulling them up to her chin once she was settled.
This is the end of all things. We will never be safe again.
Simon called from the bathroom, ‘I want you naked below the waist.’
We will never be small enough to hide from what’s coming. We will never be secure enough to sleep.
‘Spread your legs now.’
Everything is breaking apart. Help me. Please, help me.
‘Wet your fingers and touch them to your cunt. Hold them there. I want to hear your pulse. Count it aloud. One, two, three. One, two, three.’
Later, with her wrists weak and bruised, with her lover’s hands around her throat, with her knees up against her chest and her face buried in the damp fabric of the pillow, with her womb hammering against the ache of his cock, with the sky red through the window, burning, bathing the room in the colours of summer flesh, stripping the paint from the walls, abused, broken, thrashing against his bones, Kate opened her eyes and screamed.