Roland Allnach

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Roland Allnach, 2009
Published in Midnight Times, Winter 2009

Enjoy this short fiction and much more in Prism!

                    

           The critic, he hovered through the city’s sprawling neon night like a dragonfly over a moonlit pond, unseen except for the shimmers he obscured with his outline.  It was his way to move in such a fashion, to be in the midst of the desperate and disparate energy of that place and remain untouched, for the insulation of his apathy was both the most treasured and most despised aspect of his personality.

Nevertheless, the critic was well respected.  In fact, he knew well enough his unspoken power in that place.  He had the ability to lift the chosen few who sparked his curiosity, taking them from obscurity with viable opportunities of success and acclaim.  It was his way to redeem his own artistic failure with praise for those he adored, embodying them with a vicarious carte blanche of creative license.  It was an old formula, he believed, an old relationship between critics and the criticized, a very special bond.  It was one he preferred, because he could relish it without having to risk opening his emotional barriers and abandon the reservations he felt restrained and contained the less balanced aspects lurking within his nature.

            Such was his mindset when scouting his chosen environment, a tidal pool of maladjusted emotions from the cast-offs of society.  Some would call them derelicts; others might call them hedonists, bohemians, or simply the artistic fringe.  He cared little for the label, or the derision for their locale.  To him it was no more than the old corner of the city, run down, low rent, allowing underground bars and clubs to survive and serve as an incubator for whatever creative movement was breeding among the lost, confused, misguided, yet occasionally brilliant youths scratching out their meager existence.

The critic came one particular night on the tip of an acquaintance—he wasn’t one to have friends—an acquaintance that was a local, a man who could have aspired to something greater if his lesser habits hadn’t ruined him.  The critic walked the streets until he found one of the seedier clubs that let unknowns take the stage.  Known as the critic, he was allowed in, and his usual table in the back of the club cleared.  He looked at the bar stool behind the table before he settled down, then crossed his arms on his chest and looked to the stage.

Some seedy looking people were milling about in front of the stage, obscuring the critic’s view until they seemed to part at the unspoken impatience of his distemper.  When they did, his eyes narrowed as he studied the stage, and then something struck him, struck him like an icy javelin through his heart.  He looked, and found her, and the moment her eyes caught the light between a break in her dark disheveled hair he was entranced, for he saw a hurt there he had never quite seen.  His ears perked up at the sound of her voice, a voice rising from deep within her, afloat on emotional wreckage so bare and broken he found it hard to believe what he was witnessing.  It was a selfless, humiliating act of emotional disembowelment on that dark little stage in that dingy little club.  It struck him the more he listened, as the dregs playing behind her were barely competent with their instruments, and her voice wasn’t one he would call rich in talent by any means; rather, it was the cumulative effect of the discordant music, the irregular percussion and the static-laden, muddy guitars that droned into one low, tidal moan beneath her voice as it rasped, cracked, and undulated in an unearthly dirge.

            He found himself motionless as he listened that night.  He sat through the rest of the set, which was something unusual with unknowns, and he wasn’t to be disappointed.  At the last song the lights on the stage went out except for one small, pale bulb before the drum riser.  There was a glint, a reflective sheen of glass as she hoisted a bottle and began to drink from something so clear he could only guess it was vodka.  One of the guitars came in, but it was different now, issuing intermittent, irregular notes, and then the bass drum, a slow thud that reverberated through the guitar’s quiet moments.  The bottle glistened several more times as it was hoisted, and he wondered if she would pass out, but then she settled her hands on the microphone and stood before the light to reveal nothing but the black shape of her body. 

“Gutted,” she said, slurring the title of the song, and then her voice came again, and he leaned his elbows on the table, leaned forward as if he could float over the people in the club to get to the stage and study her as she strained to push her voice through a mumbled mess of words he struggled to decipher, even as they bludgeoned his heart.

            And then, it was over.  The lights went out.  She didn’t wait for applause, instead vanishing before the lights came back.  The band retreated from the stage, waving off the ragged yelps and calls from the club.  The critic wouldn’t let go, though, pursuing her as only he could.  The layout of the club, like so many others, was branded into his subconscious.  He found her back by the bathrooms, lurking in the dim lighting of a corridor littered with graffiti, her eyes smoldering over the glowing tip of her cigarette.  She was smaller than he thought, almost delicate, although after what he witnessed on stage the word seemed both fitting and alienating as a description.  She looked at him with a typical get-lost stare but, when he introduced himself, she blinked and flicked her cigarette to send the ashes cascading to the floor.

            “What do you want?”

            He shook his head.  He was accustomed to a stammering welcome after dropping his name.  It took a moment to find his voice.  “Your set was impressive.”

            She shrugged it off.  “Okay.”

            He blinked.  “I’m going to write about you in my next column,” he said, further confused by her dismissive attitude, as he could see it wasn’t an arrogant charade.  It deepened his fascination, as he could see she didn’t care who he was, or what he could do for her, or what a single positive comment from him could do for any aspiring act.  “My word carries weight.  I only have to give the word and this could all change.  You could be playing in front of thousands instead of a few dozen.”  He opened his hands.  “I can break you.”

            Her eyes narrowed.  “Yeah, right,” she said with a sigh.

He stared at her, possessed with the sudden belief that their lives had snapped together.  It left him speechless.

She tipped her head back, staring at him over her cigarette as she slid across the wall into the bathroom.

 

***

 

            He wrote his article despite her flippancy.  He went to see her every night he heard she was going to perform, and she succeeded in avoiding him after every show.  It seemed a tease, even as his column fulfilled his prediction.  Within a month crowds filled the club, and her band was handed up the chain to bigger clubs.  Other columnists took note, but the critic ignored them, for they failed to see her as he did.  He watched the full range of her act, watched when she set the stage on fire one night and was taken away by the police amid the chaos of firemen and large red trucks.  When he bailed her out of jail she refused to see him, so he continued to watch her, amused when she banged her head on the stage until her forehead was a ragged mess during a volcanic drum solo, only to stand and finish her set with her eyes burning through her blood smeared face.

It wasn’t her first brush with violence.  One night a young man right before her in the crowd screamed out a proposition in the crudest possible language.  She took her microphone stand and slammed its base into his head, shattering his face and sparking a massive brawl.  The critic was shocked another night, when she drank so much she vomited a gut full of alcohol beside her microphone, but then he laughed when she tossed a match on the vodka soaked mess and set it on fire.  Amid the horrible stench, she went into “Gutted,” the closer of the night.

            It was the song he felt was the strongest of her material, so hypnotic that he froze with the anticipation of its performance.  It took several shows before he noticed that she only sang her own material.  This as well he wrote into his columns and concert reviews until one of the independent record labels took note and signed her for an album.  He waited, desperate and eager.  He tried ever harder to speak with her, to get an interview, but she earned a reputation of being ‘difficult’ in her first waking moments of fame.  She refused interviews and, on the rare occasion she consented, she was drunk, vicious with her bottle of vodka in hand, railing with sullen rage against the interviewer to the awkward embarrassment of her band. 

            It became a show in its own, and the interviews became hit and run affairs in the night, other critics sniping at her when she would depart the stage delirious from exhaustion and drink to goad her into confrontations.  They portrayed her as the next hellion, the next wanton child, the next upstart punk, but failed to see what the critic saw.  She was surrounded by sorrow, her impenetrable mask of aggression so like the critic’s own mask of apathy and, like his, so transparent, failing in its one goal to hide the demons within.

            Her album was released, and it came with rumors of nightmarish recording sessions, violent fights with producers, and conflicts with even the loose tolerance of an independent label.  But, when it came out, Agony and Adversaries was like a bolt of white lightning, and the critic felt the vindication of her success even as she continued to act out in more destructive ways.  Fights with roadies, an arrest for throwing a toilet seat out of a tour bus, two drunk driving charges and three car wrecks later it seemed the lid had popped off her bottle of lightning.  Yet the critic always found a way to help her, whether it was securing legal representation or once again paying her bail.  He never minded the thankless job of cleaning up after her, because he knew it would afford another opportunity to see her, to watch her perform, to let his innards melt, congeal, and spasm as he listened to her wailing torment.

            After a brawl with a bouncer that left her lacerated from being thrown through a plate glass window, his inevitable bail payment at last earned a reply.  It wasn’t what the critic expected, but he savored it nonetheless.  One of the couriers for the magazine he wrote for brought it to him, a plain looking white envelope with his name scribbled on it—a child’s writing, he thought—that contained her message.  It was a piece of toilet paper, the cheap kind found in ratty bathrooms, with a short message scrawled in mascara: Leave me the fuck alone!  It stunned him, but he knew, knew in that moment, was certain of it as he was that the sun was setting on them both, that they were indeed bound.

            The album continued to soar.  She was threatening to break into the mainstream.  A threat it was, as her reputation for anarchic behavior swelled in the rumor mill to mythic proportion.  The critic saw the genius of it, the hiding in plain sight, the evasion of her hurt before the bright lights.  He continued to write about her and her music, defending her as one of those rare personalities that erupts onto the scene, a meteoric talent that defied quantification and classification to be that rarest of rare finds—the icon. 

When this profound claim of his hit print she was again in jail, this time waiting to get released on a public profanity complaint after throwing a bag of manure at an abortion protester and cursing out the police who came to break up the ensuing brawl.  “Abort me!  It’s not too late!” she had screamed as blue uniformed bodies had stuffed her writhing form into the back of a patrol car.  No sooner was she out than he got his second reply from her.  It was a ragged sketch on paper towel, an unflattering self-portrait that she made in her cell.  A large dark ‘X’ obscured the portrait; he only needed a faint whiff to realize what she had used to cross out the portrait.

That’s my girl.  He grinned and stored the portrait in a zip-lock bag.

            Despite his efforts, despite his praise, he couldn’t defend her from everything.  Six months after the album’s release there was talk about the second album’s prospect.  She appeared on a late night talk show, not to perform, not even invited, but she had somehow wound up with a ticket and lounged in a front row seat drinking from a long brown bag until the host called her up to the stage.  With clear reluctance she shuffled from her seat and dumped herself next to him.  When he asked about her newfound celebrity and the source of her energy and inspiration, and where it might go for a second album, she frowned and shook her head.

“I never wanted any of this,” she said.  “I just want to die in peace.”

 

***

 

            Over those months the critic’s life changed as well.  His growing insistence on writing about her, and only her, led to escalating letters from his editors, who reminded him with growing impatience that he was to cover the entire underground music scene, not just her.  The requests rolled off the critic like so much rain off his umbrella as he stood outside a courthouse waiting to see her again.  It was the habit he assumed, knowing she wouldn’t speak to him.  For whatever reason was no longer important, because he knew every relationship had its ground rules, and if that had to be their ground rule, he would accept it.  She came out to the flash of bulbs from the trash magazines that stalked her, and glanced at him from across the street.

She stuck her arm up high, her middle finger raised, before disappearing into a limousine.

            The second album seemed to erupt from nowhere, as he heard little buzz regarding studio sessions.  It was a mish-mash of songs stitched together during the previous tour, and came out under the title Details of My Entrails.  He praised it, of course, because he was incapable of anything else at that point, and he had no care that he had lost his objective view of anything she recorded.  In the past, he often took perverse delight in skewering the oft-failed attempts of once ‘hot’ acts to maintain their momentum on a second album.  His editors reminded him that despite his praise, the album was being panned as a simple rehash of songs from the first album.  Reviewers claimed the album showed no growth or creative expansion, and showed no change in influence.  Other columnists made a particular point of revising their praise of the first album, claiming that it was aimless, noisy, urban punk trash.

            They had no understanding, the critic knew, but the effect was the same.  The tour for the second album was hyped by the record label, but lacked the steam of the first tour.  Sure enough the other columnists swooped down like vultures smelling the fresh kill, another flash-in-the-pan celebrity to crucify with her own arrogance and indulgence.  Rumors began to circulate once more, managing to penetrate the critic’s surreal perception of the world to bother him.  There were whispers of her growing excess and self-destructive behavior.  It was hard to hide.  Not that she made the effort, with the increasing paleness of her skin and her steady loss of weight.

            Perhaps in sympathy, perhaps by will, but nevertheless with sullen inevitability, the critic found himself slipping into his own state of decay.  He stopped taking his medications and withdrew from his therapist.  It sent out an alarm among those who appeared to have at least a passing interest in his welfare, which only fueled his sense of paranoid isolation.  His editors added to the fire with their caustic phone calls, confusing him as to the source of their derision until he remembered the angry letters he shot out when they had urged him to write of something other than her.  Some of his peers at the magazine came to his little apartment to check on him; he rebuffed them the moment he noted the dismayed look in their eyes.  He ranted and raved at them, standing unwashed and unshaven in his bath-coat, and tried to explain to them what he was doing, how important it was to pry into her expression and untangle the mystical mysteries of her suffering.

            That was when they laid it out for him, the ugly, simple, and all too common truth he had so long ignored and discredited.  They were gentle with him, knowing his past instability and eccentricity, but they were rough on her, or so he felt, sparing no salvo from their bitter personal attacks—and all of it was personal, her recordings not even entering the conversation.  He paced before them as they talked, slapping his hands on his head as he tried not to listen.  They told him of her disastrous childhood, the alcoholic father who abused and abandoned her, the trailer-trash mother who had no qualms about quenching her addictions and paying for them by prostituting herself while her daughter sat in the next room.  They told the critic how she had run away, how she had lived as a street urchin, how she had been stabbed by a man who had tried to pimp her; how, in effect, everyone in her short life had exploited, abused, humiliated, and dehumanized her.  Their conclusion was mixed with concession as they admitted her life was tragic, not ‘mysterious’.  Nevertheless, she was a wreck, a hopeless wreck.

They ended by using the preferred, cold expression to define any performer’s professional and mortal decline: she was circling the drain.

            The critic turned on them.  “But that’s just it!  Don’t you see?  She’s the genuine thing!  You complain her music didn’t ‘grow’ on her second album?  You’re all fools.  Can’t you see her drive is pure?  To change it would be to corrupt and contaminate her.  Is the brightest light not white?  I know her heart,” he said, trying to assure them with his confidence.  “I know it as no one else knows it, maybe even more than she knows it, and if I could just help her, if I could just hold it in my hands.  .  .”  His voice trailed off, his fists clenching over his chest before he glared at his colleagues.  “She has suffered, and her suffering has spurred her to transform it and express something that can’t be duplicated.  This is art you savages, true art, the art that endures, because it consumes, and won’t be corrupted by the artist’s inevitable waning through old age!”

            They left.  They didn’t return.

            He wrote in fits, wrestling with the difficulty he had sleeping and keeping his thoughts in order.  It was the lack of medication, he knew, but he refused to return to that regimen and the emotional dissociation it inflicted.  Instead of sleep he sat in the dark and listened to her albums, living the nocturnal life to which she claimed to be banished because of her nervous nightmares.  In the dark he would wonder where she was, what she was doing, who she was with, even though, despite the best efforts of the trash magazines to embarrass her with various allegations of her sexual nature, she showed nothing but apathy toward sensuality.  Her life was devoid of intimacy.  He thought of that as he sat alone in the dark, listening until the hurt in her voice grew to a physical pain within him.  Sometimes the knots in his chest and gut were so tight he couldn’t eat, and so paced, paced without relent.

His own nightmares returned to rob him of what little peaceful sleep was left to him, the chaotic fragments of his own deranged youth whispering to him when her voice didn’t drown them out.  Somewhere in that delirium he saw their ethereal link, deducing that she was his kindred spirit.  She was trapped in her life, in her hellish life, to sing out not only her pain but his pain as well.  It drove his obsession to a new height, to a new compulsion within him to hold her, to protect her, to somehow set her free from what he did to her.  He knew if he’d never penned a word about her, had never brought attention to her, the one avenue she had to vent her torment wouldn’t have overwhelmed her to end up being larger than her, freezing her in the very things she sought to escape.  It haunted him so that he wept as he sat in the dark, wept for her as the victim that she was, that he couldn’t save her from being, that he yet needed her to be so that she could sing for him again.

            He wrote a column that the magazine accepted—only for its surprising cohesion, given his muddled condition.  He wrote of her childhood, of her torment, and asked people to forgive her, for she knew not what she did, and did it not for acclaim or record sales, but only because she must.  It was all she had.  He reminisced about the story of her start, how she walked up to an open mike one night in a seedy club and stepped into a magical fairy tale of music legend.  Her band congealed around her on that very stage, and she never looked back.

He kept following her, though.  He kept up on her by calling his various contacts, as he left his apartment less and less.  Once the hellion, then the upstart punk, she was now just a pathetic one-hit wonder cliché, her second tour having fallen apart as her band disintegrated around her.  Her last show she clung to the microphone stand during the opening of “Gutted”, but when it came time to sing she leaned her forehead on the microphone and wept.  She stood there, frail and pale, desolate and disconsolate, wearing a baggy, black, long-sleeved shirt.  White block letters across her chest spelled out a stark phrase: KILL ME.  Her band played on, looking at each other in confusion, until she slumped to the floor, unconscious.  The lights went out.  Her guitarist dragged her off stage, kicked her head in frustration, and was never heard from again.

            The record label dropped her.  It made little news.

            But then she did an interview, or more it was one of those things that just happened, the critic decided.  One of the street reporters for a cable music station found her sitting outside a little coffee shop in the deep of night.  She was wearing her black KILL ME shirt, her long sleeves dangling past her wrists on a hot, humid night.  The reporter, obnoxious in that young urban way, asked her some barbed questions to try to bring out the old fire of her infamy, but received only a hollow, sad gaze into the camera lens.  The critic watched the interview without tire, mesmerized.  Although she ignored most of the questions, and responded to the others with dismissive shrugs, at the end she scratched her forehead with her cigarette hand and looked back at the camera.

“You know I never asked to be famous, I didn’t sing to be famous,” she said in a detached monotone.  “I just, I’ve got these things in me, and that’s the way they come out.  And, you know, I hate it when people eat it up.  I just want those things out of me, I hate those things, and you people, you can’t get enough of them.  You want that shit, and that’s screwed up, because I know where they come from, and if you knew, you’d friggin’ run, but, hell, you think those things are me, and they’re not.  I was trying to escape, and all you people did was trap me.”

She shook her head and ran her hands along her arms.  “You know, it’s like, what the hell is that?”  She reached under the table to pick up a long brown bag, pouring some vodka into her coffee while the reporter asked her what she thought of newer acts that imitated her.  She shook her head and gulped some of her coffee.  “What do those assholes know?” she said, her voice slurred.  She shrugged.  “They want my life?  Shit.  You know what?  They can fucking have it.

“If I can’t live in peace, at least let me die in peace.”

 

***

 

            She wouldn’t go quietly, though.  The compulsion within her was still too strong.  With what clout remained to her she managed to piece together a third album and released it under a tiny, upstart label.  They Stole My Soul received little review or mention, and produced no more than a faint glimmer on the sales charts.  It was difficult to find in stores.  The critic, of course, secured his copy the day the album came out, and listened to it without tire.  The anger was gone from her voice, leaving only the hurt and desolation.  The time was coming, he knew.  It was obvious from her picture on the back of the CD case, her little body cadaver pale and lost in the baggy folds of her now characteristic, long-sleeved KILL ME shirt.

He responded to her effort by convincing his editors to let him print a column about her, one last review of her latest album.  To the puzzlement of his editors, and perhaps the only reason they published it, was the fact that he panned the album, saying her drive was wrung out.  She was spent, and it showed in the highlight of the album, the closing track, with the apt title of “Consumed.”

The review ran in one of the magazine’s small pulp sister publications, as his old column space had been handed over to one of his former colleagues.  His reputation, his own clout, had evaporated.  His name had become as inconsequential as hers and so many others he himself had banished in caustic reviews.  He cared little for the irony.  It was no longer important to him.

            He hoped and waited, and it wasn’t in vain.  He woke one afternoon to find an envelope outside his door, left on the floor.  It only took him a moment to notice it had no stamp, no addresses.  She had been outside his door to deliver the message.  He opened the envelope to find a copy of his column, crumpled and torn from a magazine before it had been folded and stuffed into the envelope.  Before he read the message scrawled along the margin beside his review, he ran his thumbs over the creases in the pulpy paper, imagining her fingers as they touched and tortured the print.  He took a breath, smoothed it out, and turned it to read her spidery, child-like writing:  So you get it after all you creepy fuck!

            He closed his door and retreated into his apartment.  He stared at the message for some time before he had the nerve to pick up his phone and call through his old contacts to find her.  Nobody knew where she was.  The only fact he dredged up was that she’d been thrown out of her apartment under complaints of back-rent from her landlord.  She was homeless, out somewhere on the street.  It was over, he knew.

            He slept the rest of the next day, and woke in the late evening.  He opened a window and left a light on as the darkness of night approached.  He repeated this through the week.  One night, at some inhuman hour, he heard a thump in the hall.  Trembling, he opened the door, and there she was, sitting on the floor across from his door, her knees pulled up to her chest to leave her as a tiny, dirty rag doll in the darkness.  Her head rolled back to thud against the wall, her sunken eyes glaring at him.

            He helped her in and closed the door.  She swayed in the middle of the apartment, her head rolling from one side to the other before she sat Indian style on the floor.   “Live alone, huh?”

            He sat on a couch to stare at her.  He nodded.

            “Yeah, I figured.”  She sighed before letting out a wet cough.  She wiped her nose on the back of her hand, snorting the congestion in her sinuses.  She fidgeted through her pockets to take out a cigarette and light it.

            Instinct got the better of him.  “I don’t smoke.”

            She shrugged, ignoring him.  “You know why I’m here, right?”  Her eyes narrowed on him through her disheveled hair.  The cigarette dangled from her mouth.

            He frowned.  His hands knotted together to stop his trembling.  He nodded once more.

            She took the cigarette in her hand.  She stared at him for some time before she spoke.  “Got a candle?”

            He got her a candle.

            “Got a spoon?”

            He got her a spoon.

            She shrugged off the ratty army-surplus jacket she wore, her gaze locked on his.  “If things had just been different, you know, maybe I could’ve been a real artist.  I always knew something in me was different from everybody else, but I didn’t think this is where it would go.  But hell, what the fuck, right?”  She sniffed, her eyes glistening as they bored into his.  She held for a moment before rolling up the sleeve of her black KILL ME shirt.

His face bunched up.

She only looked down once, when she needed, and when she was done she took a deep drag on the cigarette before extinguishing it on her pant leg.  Her eyelids drooped.  She tipped her head back to keep her gaze on him.  “Hey, you remember the last thing you said to me, that first night?”

            His throat closed in shame.  He couldn’t talk, so he nodded, and drew in a tight breath.

            “Yeah, me too,” she said.  “Me too.”

            She sat there, staring at him from the drooping slits of her eyes, until she slumped over.  Her body, unstrung, tipped with gravity to dump her on her back. 

He sat there, quaking, and watched.  She twitched a few times before a wet gurgle rattled in her throat, and then she went still, a last long breath emptying from her lungs.

            He sobbed, balling his fists and pounding them on his temples.  He rocked back and forth where he sat before he ran to the bathroom and vomited in the toilet.  Then he washed his face and paced about his apartment, his arms wrapped about his chest.  He shed his bath-coat for some clothes and did something he hadn’t done in a long time, having survived on doorstep food deliveries—he left his apartment.  Dawn was yet to come, so he walked down to the twenty-four hour mega-mart and bought some women’s shampoo, body wash, a roll of white gauze, and a bolt cutter.

            He returned to his apartment, lifted her little body—how very light she was!—and carried her to his bathroom.  He removed her dingy clothes, stuffed them in a black garbage bag, and put her in the tub.  He ran the water until it was warm, filled the tub, and washed her.  Her body was a map of her memories.  There was the ugly scar on her side where she’d been stabbed, the uneven lines on her forehead where she shredded her skin banging her head on stage, the bumps and lines across one cheek and down her neck from when she was thrown through the plate glass window, and a series of small round cigarette burns on her lower back that he tried not to consider.

He scrubbed her nails clean, washed her hair, and scrubbed the caked filth from her feet until they were pink.  He kept at it until she was pristine clean from head to foot, then took her from the tub, laid her on the floor, and dried her.  He wrapped the gauze about her arms to cover them, as he couldn’t stand the sight of what she did to herself.  He walked over to his kitchen table, swept the piled papers and garbage to the floor, and extended the table before putting down a clean white sheet.  Then he picked her up and laid her out, arms at her sides, before folding the sheet over her.  Last, he brushed her hair back so he could look her full in the face.

            He sat beside her the rest of the day, unable to move or think.  He was devastated, he was distraught, he was hopeless.  As much as he wanted to weep like a madman, hold her, and stab at the demons haunting her he couldn’t help but see the remaining torment under the apparent peace of her closed eyes.  It set him to pacing during the late afternoon, and by evening he couldn’t stand it any more.  The pain that lingered within her scraped across his nerves like casket nails on glass.

He beat his fists against his temples.  Forgive me, I should’ve left you alone, I never should’ve written about you, I never should’ve looked at you, but don’t you see that I couldn’t help myself?  Don’t you see we suffer the same affliction?  I tried to help once I understood, you have to know that, but still I can’t take your pain away, I can’t take away the pain in your little heart—

            He stepped back from the table and froze.  He looked over his shoulder.  He winced and hid his face in his hands, but he wept, knowing there was no other way, that he could find no other way, that he must have known all along there was no other way.  He drew the sheet aside with care, exposing her before kissing her forehead with a single, tender brush of his lips.  He went to his bathroom, tore through his medicine cabinet, then went to his kitchen and tore through other draws to find what he wanted.  It was a blur, but then he found himself beside her with a pair of pliers, a large steak knife, and the bolt cutter. 

With all the care he could muster, he cut out her heart.

He sat beside the table, holding the dripping lump in his trembling hands. 

            He looked at her before he ate it, weeping as he set her free.  Her face faded to an angelic white mask while his stomach bucked with her demons, the lot of them trapped and consumed in the acid of his stomach.  He wiped his eyes and mouth clean before leaning over to kiss her forehead one last time.

With her free, he knew it was time for his freedom as well.  He swallowed a bottle’s worth of sleeping pills, settled back in his chair, and smiled.

He was happy, because he knew he would see her soon.

 

***

 

            The macabre incident made the news.  From the depths of disinterest there rose many people with decided opinions about the two of them, but more was left unanswered than anyone cared to question.

            Her old record label picked up They Stole My Soul and released it as her final recording.  Sales peaked somewhat, but then petered out. 

The years passed, and then something changed.

Perhaps it was the tragic end of her life, perhaps it was her material, but the critic would’ve felt vindicated nonetheless.  At long last the music community judged her an icon, just as he had argued with such conviction during her life.  Her influence on a spectrum of new performers was unmistakable, her sound groped for but never quite duplicated.  Her albums were reinterpreted as singular works of human disillusionment and selfless expression.  She was seen as a tragic, misunderstood figure that shined too bright before succumbing to her demons and her grisly demise with the one man who had championed her, her obsessed critic.

            He would’ve been further satisfied to know that she didn’t fade in full to the realm of memories and sentiment.  The cable music channels played on, and they needed to fill their programming hours.  She remained a spectacle to behold on stage, even in the grainy edits that remained of her concert footage.  So, every now and then, late in the quiet peace of night, one can still see her, and listen to her sing.

 

(END)

 

 
     
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