December 2019

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I turn my collar against the chill and my breath floats ahead of me in a gentle exorcism. The moon is dark, but your car headlights hover like an omen, the eyes of a growling engine. Regret prowls cold between us and some things never change.

- - - - -

Blood lies in veins of ruby through quartz crystal snow and the pale horse glides riderless. Death wanders, uncloaked and barefoot, reaching out towards small hands. She breathes soft comfort into fear, carrying a village in her arms.

- - - - -

Uncooked rice spread on the hardwood floor and you kneel, bare-legged and shaking, hands behind your head, eyes down.

I lift your chin, more gently than I know you'd like. "So, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Your whisper is worship. "Thank you."

- - - - -

This wasn't entirely unexpected. You've always been a fickle beast, but I gave you a chance anyway. Now the contract is turning to ash in the fireplace and you're slumped at the table, the nib of your fountain pen buried deep in your eye socket.

- - - - -

You fancy yourself a guru, enlightened and wise, worthy of praise by virtue of demanding it. But your pedestal is a tightrope and arrogance is the enemy of balance. Every climb looks slightly different, but every fall looks exactly the same.

- - - - -

One flickering pixel says they're watching. It's OK, I know, and I've got what I need. I'll be half a city away by the time the fire starts, by the time the plastic melts around the cameras, by the time their screens go dark and they realise.

- - - - -

"There's always a choice." His voice is a velvet-wrapped razorblade.

"Not always. You broke a promise."

The window shatters. The headshot leaves him with open eyes. I didn't have a choice, but I did have a plan. And I walk away, hands clean.

- - - - -

I sway in your grip and the world darkens at the edges as my lungs reach for a breath I don't want to take. And I trust you. Survival instinct tries to assert boundaries, but you step beyond them. You are molten gold. And I'm drowning. And it's beautiful.

- - - - -

It's just a mirage or some other poetic euphemism for shit you see when you haven't slept in 48 hours, but I could do without him standing in the corner, shaking his head, with the bullet hole between his eyes. Still, you don't get to choose who haunts you.

- - - - -

You want to curry favour with the boss, you stay after the party to clean up. And I don't mean washing glasses. There's always someone gets out of hand at these things, someone no-one knows is dead until they don't get off the floor to go home.

- - - - -

She waits in snowfall by the lonely house on the mountain, watching the serpentine road carved into the cliffs. His car crawls over ice, headlights determined, and she whispers to the spirits of the place, "Please, let this one make it. I need him."

- - - - -

You don't remember at first, when you wake up. You don't trust the hands that aren't your hands, the face that isn't your face. You know how to use weapons you don't recognise. It's a curse, the vow you made before, and you'll keep coming back.

- - - - -

A haze of pink and blue, colours of comfort, and a soft whisper, "Shh, rest, sleep..."

A flicker of eyelids. A flicker of light.

And cold and needles and bright white and-

"Shh, rest., sleep.."

A flicker of reality.

WAKE UP!

- - - - -

Under street light glow and cold rain mist, with fists and knives and grudges. Now staples and bandages and I wring blood from clothes as you rest at the table behind me. No apologies, only exorcism, shared, needed. And closure. And futures.

- - - - -

Nothing is what it seems. Truth is malleable. Don't believe me? Pick a crack and fall through it. Dig the last sliver of illusion out of your eye and look deeper. Money isn't even real, but you can still die from not having enough of it.

- - - - -

With suit, tie and gleaming shoes, he should have been suave, sophisticated. But hat in shaking hand, sweat dripping from his forehead, hair escaping slicked-back style, he was something else entirely. Anxious. Lost. Out of place. "Help me! What year is it?"

- - - - -

Reality here is as virtual as you want it to be. How much you feel, how much it hurts, how long you bask in the euphoric aftermath, it's all up to you. The price reflects your choices, obviously, but that's the only limit. Hold on tight.

- - - - -

Side dishes and pudding are ready, but there's no turkey this year. The aroma of herbs and spices, lung and liver cooking, fill the kitchen. The remaining meat is packed in the freezer for the next special occasion, and his clothes crackle in the fireplace.

- - - - -

You remember a jingle, a slogan, a catchphrase, some small part of a clever piece of media crafted to confuse you about the nature of need. You don't remember how it felt to see your own face in the mirror. You are cold, still, defined by manufactured lack.

- - - - -

Peeling coral pink polish from my nails and telling you I didn't know where to go because nowhere felt like home.

Your perfume and your cigarettes and your voice, quiet like mine.

Your spare room, a place out of time.

Disjointed memories and grief and gratitude.

- - - - -

Before breaks, the circus begins. Headlights and tailbacks and algorithmic red, amber, green. If you narrow your eyes, through coffee steam and highrise window condensation, you could be watching stars arranging themselves into galaxies.

- - - - -

You thought I'd run, but you don't know me. I've never run from anything in my life and you brought this on yourself. From the cocoon of your own limbs, you don't even dare raise your bleeding face to watch as I walk away. Walk. Slowly. Done.

- - - - -

I didn't ask for an encore, but it's out of my hands.

"It'll just be this one time," she says, "as long as you learn."

"How do I learn? What do I do differently from all my other lives?"

"You let someone love you," she says and the light grows brighter. 

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