Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Three

They had been to see a low-budget film called The Fortunate, about an Iraqi writer living in America and his father who was killed in the so-called ‘liberation’.  It was a dissonant, personal vision.  Celia loved everything about the art of story-telling.  The process gave people a place in which they were allowed to be human and paradoxical, almost opaque.  She could see herself there in that film, refracted somehow, a chord deep in the soul that was something like her own. 
     Celia gazed around now.  Elusian was an upmarket bar in Camden with attractive staff and black leather sofas.  She was nursing a second bottle of cider while Louise had downed more than a few vodka & lemonades.  Louise stared at her, hands hovering over the flame of the red candle at their table.
     “I hate these places, Lou.  I feel like I’ve just crawled into a toilet bowl…”
     Louise grinned.  “Relax, baby girl.  Ok?  You’ve probably made more money from Leaving Her than most of these wannabes make in a year…and you’ll continue to appreciate.  Suck it up, woman.”
     Celia watched Lou shake her strawberry-blonde locks away from her face and smooth them, a slight pout of the lips.  It seemed a highly sexed gesture but completely unconscious.  It turned the corners of Celia’s mouth to have caught it.  Someone like Louise, beautiful but unconcerned by her own appearance, modest and focused; it pushed Celia’s buttons in a massive way.  Whenever Louise got drunk she became a lot darker, funnier, with more of an edge to cut away the needless things.  Celia always liked it, even when she pretended otherwise. 
     Louise settled an intense gaze on her.  “I’d miss her too, Cee, if was in your place. Fuck, I do miss her and I never even met her.”
     “What’s this now, Miss Simmons?” 
     Louise rolled her eyes without humour and took a sip of her drink.  “It’s about giving up the ghost…” 
     Celia said nothing and Louise nodded righteously, getting up to order more drinks. 
     By the time they finally left Celia was drunk and Louise even more so.  They caught a black cab and watched London pass in its windows.  Louise was muttering about an ex-boyfriend; a dark-haired Scotsman called Matthew who was a guitarist and motorcycle messenger.  When Louise dumped him he left London and went back to Glasgow.  She said she didn’t love him, that she only wanted to fuck a beautiful man and he was one of the most beautiful she’d met.  She slipped her hand in Celia’s and smiled, whispering in her ear that she could only ever love one person.  Celia returned the smile, glancing from the window of the cab.

They were kissing in the hallway darkness.  The front door was open and Celia could see the quietness of Seaver Road.  Louise was all over her, groping her, licking her throat.  Celia let her hands fall at her sides as Louise urgently explored her.  She began laughing as Louise bit her, trying to draw blood.  Laughter laced with steel and delirium. 
     Like tearing pages from the…ah, damn... 
     She wanted to burn away inside Louise, didn’t she?  She laughed and Louise snatched at her throat, squeezing, still kissing and searching.  Searching for what?  Celia couldn’t laugh now but her arms hung loosely at her sides.  She grinned.  She hoped the intruder would return.  She hoped to see him again; a loud, ugly note in a sea of calm. 

In the dreams mum often stood at a window, a gathering pink sky beyond.  Celia would watch Alice writing fluently upon the glass; curious markings.  They were always foreign.  This time Alice was gone and Celia stood at the window with Louise, writing the curious markings together.  Neither girl could read them.
     Celia woke in the night, Louise asleep beside her.  There were three spots of blood on her sheets.  She pulled them back and touched at a scrape along her inner thigh.  She stared at it for a few moments.  It didn’t hurt.  She could hear Louise breathing heavily, the alcohol drawing her into a deep place.  Celia gathered the blood-flecked sheet around her, pulling the duvet up over Louise’s bare shoulders. 
     She left her bedroom and padded quietly into the study.  Instinctively, she went to the bookcase and reached for the volume of medieval fairy-tales with the winged figure on its cover; the one she’d found today in the basement.  She opened it.  There were hand-written pages inside.  She pulled away the dust-jacket and let it fall to the floor.  It was a black diary, mum’s diary.  This was Alice Gray’s handwriting.  She’d gone straight for it, as if subconsciously she’d known it was there.  Celia’s eyes searched a page.
     ‘Today Celia fell and cut her hand on a broken stone.  She was crying, but fascinated that she could see her blood, and that it was red.’
     Further down she saw:
     ‘There’s something here with us, with Celia and I.  Something in the dark.  Mistaken for the dark.  To conceal itself.’
     Celia glanced up from the page.  These were strange words, haunted, almost parabolic.  Mum sounded afraid, not like she remembered her.  It was unsettling.  She closed the diary.  It went back to when Celia was at least five years old.  Mum had obviously hidden it.  How had she found it so easily?  The intruder had wanted this.  Something weird was settling around her.  She had a creep of paranoia at the realisation.
     “Cee?”  Louise was standing in the study doorway, the duvet draped across her shoulders like a heavy white cloak.  “Cee, you all right?” 
     “Thought you were asleep.”  Celia clenched her teeth and threw the diary at the wall, slumping gracelessly into the swivel-chair.  Louise came and kneeled beside her, placing her head in Celia’s lap. 
     “Sorry I can’t make it go away…” 
     Celia smiled, stroking Louise’s hair.  “I love your hair,” she said.  Louise pressed her cheek against Celia’s thigh. 
     “You do?”
     “Mmmm, and your eyes, and your lips.  I think your smile’s damned me, girl.”
     Louise peered up at her, unsmiling.  Celia leaned over and kissed her pretty mouth.  “Why’d you throw the book?” Louise asked, licking her lips.  “It called you names did it…?” 
     “It’s my mum’s diary.  I didn’t even know she kept one.”
     Louise retrieved it, and at her persuasion the two of them retreated to the bedroom.  Celia lay her head on Louise’s belly, occasionally kissing her navel.  It was still a little strange to be so intimate with a woman, but natural somehow. 
     She thought about Tom and what they might’ve had together if she hadn’t plunged into the arms of another man.  Tom had loved her and she’d broken his heart.  She hadn’t cared enough about him.  Life could never satisfy itself.  Louise was thumbing through the diary.
     “Listen to this, Cee…”  Celia listened.  “‘Clockhost hand, Clockhost eye, we will be free when the Clockhost die.’  Weird or what?  Your mum was a poet?”
     “Apparently,” muttered Celia, reaching up and closing the diary, “But not a very good one.”  She tossed it to the floor and kissed Louise.  It was her tun to search.

***

A few hours left until sunrise.  A large Victorian house, a black Ford parked in the gravelled driveway.  Celia’s place.  His employers had given him a set of keys.  He ventured silently into the building.  Masters were cruel.  Puppets were deserving of their master’s cruelty.  It was an efficient relationship, elegant they told him.
     The house was still.
     He pulled the black silk over his face and lifted the hood from his shoulders.  He moved into the hallway, hunting-knife in hand.  He climbed the staircase, gently opened the bedroom door.  Moonlight barely illuminated the scene.  Celia lay with another woman in her arms.  Louise Simmons, he suspected.  Their faces were turned away from him.  He stepped into the room, moving near them, looming shadow-faced over the bed.  What did she seek as a writer?  Was it truth, beauty...?  Perhaps only beauty.  For a moment he watched the silver moonlight play on her bare back, her shoulders.  Then he left the room, moving quick and careful down the staircase towards the basement.

Louise opened her eyes.  It was still dark outside.  Morning light hadn’t come yet.  She glanced at Celia beside her.  Sleeping…escaping, again.  Celia was too far to reach, always too far, even if it was only a hair’s breadth.  Louise swallowed, shaking her head at no one.  She left the bed, searched the floor for her underwear and t-shirt.  Her bare legs were cold as she left the room and hurried down the staircase to the kitchen.   
     She took some juice from the refrigerator, thinking about her lover asleep upstairs.  She’d tried everything she could think of to make things perfect between them, and she didn’t even know what perfection was supposed to be.  She laughed softly to herself and gulped down the glass of orange.  Six years she’d known Celia.  Sometimes it broke her heart to even think about it.  Christ, she wanted this woman so badly.  Was she pathetic?
     Something clattered further into the house.  She walked back into the dark hallway.  From her view near the living-room, she saw that the door under the stairs was open.
     “Cee?” she called out instinctively, “Celia…?”  But already she knew.
     A shadow stepped from the black corner behind the basement door.  Louise didn’t realise she had screamed.  She bolted to the staircase, leaping the first three steps.  The shadow curved around the wooden banister and swept up behind her.  Louise felt arms snake around her torso.  She glimpsed silver steel before her eyes and she cried out like the dying.

Mum had been trying to tell her something she couldn’t comprehend when Celia was torn from the dream.  She blinked rapidly, glancing about.  She’d heard a scream. 
     Louise. 
     She scrambled naked from the bed and ran from the room onto the landing.  She froze there.  In the almost-darkness Louise was on the staircase, eyes wide as coins, a hooded man in black behind her, holding her with a shard of silver at her throat.  Oh Christ, no, this isn’t happening again…
     “Please don’t hurt her,” Celia begged, spreading her palms slowly.  A jagged wail came from Louise’s chest.  A leather-gloved hand clamped her mouth like child’s play. 
     “The diary.  Tell me where it is.  Now.”
     For a moment Celia just trembled.  Then she jerked into the bedroom, snatched up the black book and raced back onto the landing.  The man simply outstretched his leather hand.  The blade moved slightly from her lover’s throat. 
     Louise slammed the back of her head into his masked face.  Celia saw a flash of silver as he pulled at her. 
     The two of them went crashing down the staircase. 
     Celia bolted forward in time to see them slam entangled on the hallway floor.  She ran down after them.  No, no, no. 
     As she reached the last step the hooded man lunged, groaning, snatching her ankle.  She lost her balance immediately, stumbling to the hardwood.  She was flipped onto her back.  No...  A leather fist arced through the darkness, catching her left cheek, blasting white-noise through her head. 
     She could still hear Louise moaning. 
     The hooded man dragged Celia to her feet and hurled her into the glass-panelled doors of the living-room.  Wood snapped like huge match-sticks and glass exploded around her like diamonds in the air.  She hit the floor again at an angle, sending lightning across her shoulder-blades.  She cried out.  Oh sweet Mary…  From the edge of her vision she saw Louise reaching towards her.  And then she was dragged away across the floor with a scream and the flash of silver.  Silver stars, like heaven.  Mum…?

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