Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Twenty-Four

Only half realising it, Celia had driven into Kentish Town towards Tom’s flat.  The car was parked now, outside his block.  She sat silently in the driver seat.  She wasn’t in control.  Louise was slipping away from her.  She’d find a way to draw her back.  She had to.  She wouldn’t survive without Louise.  She wouldn’t survive on her own. 
     All of this was such a mess.  None of it made any sense; Clockhost, Dollmen, Angel Wine…what bullshit, what complete nonsense.  What in God’s name was happening – why had the fates bestowed this on her? 
     Am I being punished…?  
     She glanced at the bag on the passenger seat.  There was a gun inside.  It would be so easy, and Louise would cry herself to sleep every night.  She unzipped the bag, reaching inside, feeling the cold steel, curling her fingers around it.  So easy, simplicity itself. 
     Do it.  Don’t let them touch you, or do you like it when they touch you?  Don’t over-think it, just put it to your temple and pull the fucking trigger.  Louise would never be able to forget you…
     Celia withdrew her hand quickly and zipped up the bag.  She gripped the steering wheel tightly and slammed her head against it, hard.  She sighed and began to chuckle.  Lighting a cigarette, she took the bag and climbed from the car, locking it behind her.  She walked the stairs instead of taking the lift.
     Tom answered the door in jogging-bottoms and a bare chest.  There was a thin slick of sweat on him.  She studied his body for a moment.  His face softened as he stared at her, as if deciding something.  “Back again?”
     “Were you having sex?” she asked, “Is there a girl in there?”
     He looked away.  “I was on the exercise bike.”
     Celia laughed out loud, an empty smile.  “So you have got a girl in there…”
     “What do you want?”
     “You know what I want.”
     He laughed and wiped his chest with the t-shirt in his hand.  “Don’t you have any pride?  Or shame…?”
     “No.  Not anymore.”
     “Go away, Cee.”
     “I will not.”
     “Fuck off…”
     “No,” she said, dark-eyed.
     “Then come in, just don’t stand there.”
     She stepped into the flat, shutting the door behind her, following Tom into the front room.  The painting he’d been working on was finished; angry swirls of colour with a girl-child hidden at the centre.
     “It’s good.  Are you going to try selling it?”
     “No.”  He went into the kitchen and returned with two cans of beer.  He handed one to her and cracked open his own.  “How’s Lou?”
     “She’s good.  She hasn’t been to work in days.  Doctors say she’ll be fine.”  Celia opened her can of beer and took a deep swallow.  “You look healthy.”
     Tom shook his head.  “You surprise me, Cee.  Where’d all the subtlety go?”
     “Fuck subtlety,” she muttered, taking another swallow of beer.  “I forgot what you looked like without your clothes on, Tom.  Actually…that’s a lie.”
     “Jesus Christ…” he said, rolling his eyes.
     “You look good.  Healthy.  Lean.”  Tom nodded and said nothing.  Celia lit a cigarette, sat on the sofa and took another sip of beer.  “Have you been thinking about me?”  He nodded again.  “What have you been thinking?”
     “About you,” he said quietly.
     Celia stared at his painting as she smoked and drank.  “Seeing anyone?  Girlfriend?”
     “Does it matter to you?”
     “Not really.”
     “I didn’t think so.”  Tom stared from the window.  “There’s a girl.  She’s sweet.  She’s not you.  She’s not Celia Gray.”
     Celia watched him.  “Do you love her?”
     He laughed, “No…we’ve only been going out a few months.  She’s nice, like I said.  Not you.”
     “I’m nice,” said Celia.
     “Yeah…when it suits you.”
     She kicked off her shoes.  You’re a coward, Celia…you’re so childish it makes me sick.  She took off her jacket and shirt, pulling her camisole up over her head.  Leaning forward on the sofa, she unhooked her bra and tossed it on the floor.  She unbuttoned the front of her jeans and pulled them down to her knees.  Tom watched in silence.  Celia stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray and set the beer down on the coffee table.  She exhaled a thin stream of smoke and said, “I’m begging you.  Celia is begging.”
     He nodded, downed the rest of his beer in one go, and went to her.
     While they fucked she forgot, but only for brief moments.  Tom was more mechanical than she remembered, his identity as an artist betrayed.  He was turned-on but a step removed from what was happening, like he was fucking her in his head, rather than there on the sofa.  There was rhythm, hard and soft, there was variety, but as she held him she didn’t feel him there, she didn’t feel Thomas, only something thrusting inside her.  For a moment she was disgusted, and wanted to shove him off her, beat him senseless with the easel in the corner, but she didn’t.  He didn’t speak.  She held him. 
     Later, she made him fuck her on the hallway floor with the front door wide open.  Nobody passed by, nobody saw them.  It felt the same as the first time.  Later still they fucked in his bed and it was the same as the first two times.  Celia didn’t complain.  She was silent.
     Tom lay beside her in the bed, staring at the ceiling.  “Celia, that was not…that wasn’t something we’re going to do again.”
     “Shut up,” she told him, “Just shut your fucking mouth.  I’m tired.”
     He lit a cigarette, laughing sadly to himself.  “You amaze me, girl.  Really do.”
     Celia climbed from the bed and walked naked into the front room.  She gathered her clothes and dressed.  He got up and stood in the doorway, naked.  She put on her shoes and jacket, snatched her bag and walked past him.  “Bye, Tom.”  Tom said nothing.

She drove around for a while, thinking.  Even though she’d just had sex, she felt dry between her thighs.  She thought about the diamond that ‘Mr Finn’ had pushed inside her.  She thought about the way that Louise could go down on her for what seemed like hours, and yet was never enough.  The way Louise would pin her wrists to the mattress and smile down at her, making her laugh, the way she cradled the back of her head with one hand and held her throat gently with the other. 
     Most of all Celia would miss watching Louise naked; her curves, the fullness of her, the almost imperceptible ridges down her spine, so different to Celia’s own pale frame. She could’ve watched Louise naked forever, but she would probably never get a chance to again.  Baby girl, I’m sorry.  I love you.  I love you so much.  Celia began to cry and laugh, in silence.

***

On the altar of the cathedral Lillibeth Renn lay naked and alone, basking in a soft blue half-light.  Her mind shimmered and whispered playfully, bleeding fantasy and memory together in an extravagant work that seemed to envelop her.  The tightly-spun static that was her life seemed to be rushing around inside, throbbing like birthing worlds in her veins.  The blood of the boy was still wet on her face.  She grinned and laughed, her teeth stained pink from the feast.
     Entire worlds inside, and she saw what Va’el had seen, what Va’el had felt.
     She held her bloated belly and rolled onto her side.  Fires…she saw fires burning.  Screaming to be allowed consumption of flesh.  She understood.  Her mind swirled and shifted, the boy’s blood inside her growing so hot that she began to tremble.  She cried out in joy, crossing her hands against her chest and cupping her breasts.  It was too hot, far too hot.  She thrust her hands between her thighs, inhaling a shaking breath that tasted like sweet smoke. 
     “Namahey…where…are you…?”
     Her beloved didn’t answer but she didn’t care, for she was enraptured by the blood, the fire that was loving her.  She twitched and shuddered there on the altar, laughing, glancing sideways at the statues of Celia and Louise that thronged the entire cathedral.  Icons of the past…native dreams that lay destitute, except in her imaginings.
     Lillibeth thrust her hands inside herself, thighs parted, blood burning faster and deeper, immolating her conscious mind.
     From the far corner of the cathedral a little girl was secretly watching her, watching Lillibeth go mad, naked and filled with bloodfire.  The little girl was naked too; pale skin, long dark hair, crouching behind a statue in the shadows.  She rose abruptly to her feet and stepped into the aisle, moving carefully towards Lillibeth Renn.  The girl’s naked skin seemed to glow in the cold blue half-light. 
     Lillibeth heard the approaching footsteps, turned and saw her.  She began to laugh and looked away.  The little girl continued her approach, stopping at the altar.
     “Don’t touch me, little ghost,” said Lillibeth, pressing a hand to her throat.
     The naked girl shook her head.  “Look at you.”
     Lillibeth turned suddenly, staring at the child.  “Thinking outside the box, Alice?  Go away, little ghost…I’ve no need for you anymore.”
     “You’re a liar, Celia.”
     Lillibeth scowled, laying her head back against the cold stone, staring up at the vaulted beams of the cathedral.  “Don’t call me by that name…you have no right.”
     The girl peered with dark eyes.  “I have every right; I’m your mother.”
     “Once, a long time ago…not anymore.”
     “Please,” the little girl murmured, “Please listen, Cee.  It’s dark and sexy and fun, for now.  I understand that.  But eventually, this will destroy you, this turning away.”
     Lillibeth laughed, lying prone on the altar.  “I’m already destroyed.  It’s a beautiful thing, Alice.  There’s no confusion here, no guilt, no pointless morality.  I get to feed and fuck and kill…and shit wherever I want.  Come on, how can I turn that down?”  The girl touched her shoulder and she flinched. 
     “You lie to yourself, Cee.  You’ve thrust yourself into a living horror.”
     Lillibeth brushed the girl’s hand away.  “I love him now.  He loves me too…that’s all I need or want.  I would’ve thought you, of all people, could understand that.”
     The naked girl climbed up onto the altar and lay beside her.  She whispered in Lillibeth’s ear, “This snake-suit doesn’t scare me, Celia.  Nor does it convince me.”
     “I don’t care, little ghost.  I am not Celia…I am an angel of light.”
     She drew a hand around Lillibeth’s waist.  “All this fear…all this fear, Cee?  Because of an illusion?  Don’t you see how lonely it makes you?”
     “Everything is illusion.  If I’m damned, then so be it.  I’m at peace now.  I’m anything but lonely.  Namahey and I; we’re at peace.”
     “It’s a lie,” the girl whispered.
     “Yes…like everything, but it’s a more beautiful one.  I’m beautiful.”
     The girl pressed her cheek close to Lillibeth.  “You were always beautiful, you needn’t hide in this doll’s body, behind these doll’s eyes.”
     Lillibeth turned and regarded the naked child.  “You’re not my mother, Alice, you’re a little ghost.  I have no need for you.  You cannot reach me.  I’m buried deep inside her and I’m waiting to be born.  You cannot stop what is written.  I know.  I couldn’t remember, but then I saw her and now I recall.  Her sickness will be my release.  It’s always so, no matter how many times you try to make it otherwise.”
     The girl pulled away and climbed from the altar.  She glanced back with resignation, at the naked black woman gorged on bloodfire.
     “Go little ghost…go dance with the prayer ones.  I haven’t any need for you.”
     Softly the child said, “You break my heart, Cee.  I sense so much suffering in you.  But I knew it could be no other way.  I still love you.  I’ll always love you, no matter what horrors you conceive.”
     Lillibeth grinned and chuckled, strangely exhilarated.  She listened to the footsteps of the naked girl as she walked away.  

***

The faded blue Vauxhall pulled up in front of the building.  Myers killed the engine and glanced down at the address written on the back of his cigarette packet.  He felt uncertain, as though Christopher peered at him with watchful eyes.  He was never sure if Chris was mocking or encouraging him.
     He didn’t want to do this.  He wanted to flee, but he knew he had no real choice.  He had tried Celia’s house again but there had been no answer at the door.  He hadn’t broken in, knowing somehow that she wasn’t there, that she was too afraid to be there alone.  She would be with her lover; the woman that impaled herself on his knife.  He felt an abstract anxiety.  After what he’d seen within the burnt-out flat, he wasn’t surprised at his own fear. 
     Crucifixes instead of eyes…something manifest from the mind of Mr Finn. 
     Jesus, he’d never imagined something like that.
     Why was he so eager to help her?  Was it, indeed, because they’d slept together?  Because she loved books like he did, because she wrote like he used to?  Maybe it was as simple as something like redemption.  Perhaps he wanted to be redeemed, like the men and women of the stories he was fascinated with.  He wanted to be the flawed hero of those paperback novels, but he could think of nothing in his life and career that was remotely heroic.  Still, he had a chance to at least make a gesture.  Maybe it would save Celia, though he doubted it.
     “Now,” he muttered, a dark irony filling his mind for some reason.
     Myers climbed from the car, slinging the black duffel bag over his shoulder.
 
***

Louise held a photo of her and Celia, peering down at it whilst she smoked.  They were standing in the playground of Chainley Secondary.  Celia was grinning like an idiot.  Louise was giving a thumbs up, winking at the camera. 
     She sighed and tossed the photo to the foot of the bed.  She hadn’t been into work since the hospital and she wondered if she could ever go back.  She loved teaching, but now she wondered.  She pulled deeply on the cigarette and coughed, stubbing it out in the ashtray on her bedside cabinet.
     The future seemed desolate now.  While Celia was off chasing her demons she was sat here, alone, wondering how she could ever be alone.  She wanted to destroy something, to take away the beauty of something and make it ugly.  She wanted to scar herself but she didn’t have the nerve to put a razor to her own flesh, unlike her baby girl. 
     She thought about Matthew…her gorgeous Scottish guy.  She’d had a few months of passion with him before cutting him loose.  He was beautiful, but she never wanted him as much as she wanted Celia.  How the hell did she get so dependant on another person?  Why did she plunge headfirst into all those romantic lies?  Before Celia, she thought she was stronger than that.  Obviously she wasn’t.  She was lonely and needy and aching like the rest of them.  Louise laughed silently.
     There was a knocking at the front door.     
     She took the kitchen knife with her and tread slowly out into the corridor, peering through the spy-hole.  It was a good-looking guy with sandy-brown hair, wearing jeans and a black hooded-sweatshirt, a duffel bag on his shoulder.  He looked tense and strung out, as though he were on some serious drugs.  Louise opened the door, leaving the security-chain engaged, gripping the knife tightly.
     “Can I help you?” she said, watching him through the crack.
     “Please, are you Louise Simmons?”
     “Who’s asking?”
     “My name’s David Myers, I’m a friend of Celia’s.  I’m trying to find her.”
     A sudden anger shot through Louise and she struggled to control it. David.  This was the guy…the one who Celia had fucked.  While she lay unconscious in a hospital bed this guy was screwing her baby girl. 
     “What the hell do you want?”
     He shook his head, “Please, I think Celia’s life is in danger, this isn’t a joke.  I need to talk to her, I have information.  Is she here?  Could you please let me in?”
     This man, this hard cock.  An image forced itself into Louise’s mind, of him and Celia writhing about together. 
     “You can tell me whatever you have to tell her, on that side of the door.”
     “Look, I’ve got money and passports for both of you.  If you let me inside I can show you everything.”
     “Passports?”
     “Fake passports, to get you both out of Britain.  Look, just let me in and I’ll explain everything to both of you.”
     Louise closed her eyes, gripping the kitchen knife in her hand.  The two of them writhing around, his dick inside her.  She shut the door, removed the security-chain, and then opened the door wide.  He saw the knife in her hand. 
     “I’m not going to hurt you, love.”
     Louise pointed the knife down the corridor, ushering him into the flat.  He glanced at the blade as he passed her, walking into the front room.  She shut the door again and followed him in.
     “Where’s Celia?”
     “I don’t know where she went.  She’s not here.”
     He scowled and sighed.  “Could you put that knife down, please?”
     “I don’t think so.”
     He sat on the sofa and put the duffel bag on the coffee table, unzipped it and reached inside.  Louise tentatively raised the knife a little.  He dropped two passports on the table along with two clear zip-locks filled with cash.
     “There’s nearly eight grand there in fifties.  You won’t be able to take all of it, but you and Celia should take as much as you think you can get through customs and get on the next plane to Paris.  I’ve given you an address of a woman there.  She’ll hide you for a few months at the most.  She’ll give you an address of a man in Berlin, Germany.  You’ll stay with him for another few months – he’ll give you another address and so on.  I don’t know how long you’ll have to do this…but it’ll be a fairly long time.  It’s the only option to keep you both safe.”
     Louise stared at the cash and passports on the table, then at him, and began laughing.  “Is this a sick joke…?  Who the fuck are you?”
     David Myers looked up at her.  “This isn’t a joke.  Take the money, take the passports, find Celia and go to Paris.”
     Louise shook her head and stalked forward, raising the knife.  “Who the fuck are you, mate?  You tell me this and you expect me to just swallow it?  You think I’m crazy?”  Louise pressed the kitchen knife to his cheek and he sighed. 
     “I’m trying to help you, Miss Simmons.  You and your girlfriend.”
     “You fucked her didn’t you?  Didn’t you?
     He didn’t say anything and she snagged the duffel bag from the table, stepping away from him.  He looked up at her with cold blue eyes. 
     “You don’t want to look in there…I’m not going to be able to explain what you find.” 
     He rose to his feet.  Louise thrust her hand inside the bag and felt the cold metal of a gun.  She snatched it out, dropped the bag and aimed the gun square at the man standing in her front room.  She kept the knife tight in her other hand. 
     “Tell me who you’re working for…”
     “There’s no bullets in the gun, Miss Simmons.  They’re in the glove of my car.”
     “Who’re you working for?”
     David Myers closed his eyes.  “Look…I’m trying to do something special here.  Give you and Celia a chance.  That’s got to be worth something.  Just take the money and go.  You’ll never see me again.”
     Tears began to roll down Louise’s face.  “You fucked her didn’t you?”  He nodded grimly.  “Why…?” she hissed.
     “It doesn’t matter.”
     Louise pulled the trigger of the gun.  An empty click.  He stared at her, walking slowly towards her.  She trembled.  He passed her, moving carefully into the hallway.  Although the gun was empty she kept it trained on him.
     “The address you’ll need is in the bag.  Good luck.”
     Louise dropped the gun and lunged into the corridor, knife raised high.  David Myers pivoted away, snatching her arm and throwing her up against the wall.  Louise drove the kitchen knife deep into his stomach. 
     He stared at her, up close,, pressing her to the wall.  He gave a broken gasp and stepped away, pulling himself off the blade.  Louise drove it deep into his stomach again, and then again.  It felt softer than it should have, almost like butter.
     She twisted the knife in him and left it there. David Myers fell back against the opposite corridor wall, moaned, and dropped awkwardly to his knees.  He gripped the handle and pulled out the knife in one quick motion.  Dark red began to pump onto the carpeted floor. Louise backed slowly into the front room, watching, breathing deep.  He glanced at her, opened his mouth, trying to say something, and fell sideways to the carpet that was soaking in his own blood.  She heard his laboured breathing, for what seemed a long time.
     Finally he grew silent.  Wide eyed, Louise pressed red spattered hands to her mouth.  Slowly, she sat down on the floor of the front room, trembling, crossing her legs.  The dead man didn’t move. 

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