Picture by Michael Marshall Smith ©
I have a story to tell,
but it’s an awful one,
and I’m not sure I can tell it right.
It’s full of heartbeats and evil things.
I guess I was lost. Had been for a long time. It’s the way things go. You build an image of who you think you’re supposed to be and when you can’t fill up to the expectations, life becomes colourless and drab. I can hardly remember anymore what it was I expected myself to become. It was nothing like the shards I became though.
The house came to me in a peculiar manner. A friend, or a drinking partner if you will, left it to me in his will, much to his family’s dismay. He had his reasons. He was, after all, doing what he needed to do.
The house is beautiful, with a loft, a porch that’s perfect for a rocking chair and it has its own little tower, where my friend, Exodus, did most of his work. It is a small, round tower room with a nice view over the valley. He kept his desk by the window and claimed he sat there many hours writing.
I only learned after his death how much he had written. The texts are all my property now, but they will never become public, not for as long as I live.
I call him friend. We were drinking buddies, as much as a man and a woman can become drinking buddies. We’d meet by the little joint by the peer to grab a sandwich and a beer, both knowing that one would become two and then when the third one was down we would move onto the stronger stuff.
More often than not we ended up in his house and we fucked like there was no tomorrow. He always claimed he didn’t remember, but I never really suffered the blackouts. I remembered. And it was good. You know, the way it is when you’ve got no inhibitions left in your body. Raw and sometimes rough. He was good. I never told him that, but it was true.
Somehow time went by without much change. We both drank too much, but we managed to stay afloat and not ruin everything that was good about our lives. The little there was.
He didn’t really like living in the house. He claimed it was the perfect working place and he was always undisturbed there. Sometimes he’d stay inside for weeks, working and then he’d plunge out to do some living. He had been married, once upon a time, and he had two kids, a boy and a girl, but they had become estranged.
He drank to sooth the blow. I guess we all do. Though it’s easy to see why others drink and impossible to analyse your own. I drank. Maybe because of the stepfather who had taken me into his bedroom when my mother wasn’t home. Or maybe because of the fact that I never became the successful superwoman I thought I would become. Or maybe it was something else entirely? Something within me that just wanted to drink and be happy and not face the anxiety that otherwise filled my daily life? Does it even matter? I was a mess, that’s for sure and my husband knew that.
Mark knew of my relationship with Exodus. He didn’t mind much. He had similar problems I guess. He too drank too much and sometimes found himself waking up in a strange woman’s bed.
We’d fought about it, but we always reconciled. I’m not sure if I ever really loved him. I wish I had. I do collect broken souls and I love them all in a way, but not that way. And my husband recognised in me, and forgave, the same thing that was broken in him.
And so we went on. Exodus and I met when it was time for a session. We’d meet in the evenings for weeks. We’d drink and go to his place and we’d drink some more and when the mood hit us we let the demons loose.
The house was full of them. Not big horned demons with forks and bad breath, but the kind of demons that ride you till there is nothing left of your soul but a broken promise.
At times Exodus became obnoxious. He had a mean streak in him, and it got worse and worse. Sometimes I am sure that the horror he wrote wasn’t something he made up from the vilest corner of his mind, but something he actually went out and did when he wasn’t writing. I’d believe it too if it weren’t for the fact that he spent so much time with me when he wasn’t sitting at his desk making things up.
It was a Wednesday afternoon when I met him for the last time. I remember I noticed that the beard stub he had was turning grey and I thought it looked sexy. His eyes were a bit blood shot and he said he’d been up till late the night before finishing something. We didn’t go to the peer that time, but straight to his villa. We drank what he had in the house and listened to old favourites. I danced and he watched and I felt like I was twenty again with my whole life, the whole world, in front of me and not behind me.
He had that effect on me. He made me feel things. Or I thought he did. Turned out it may have been the house. It has its demons and now maybe Exodus is one of them.
I was standing in front of him, bottle in hand – we’d given up on glasses by that time – and I was talking about something that had happened fifteen years before when he suddenly stood up and looked me in the eyes.
I don’t know what it was, but he suddenly seemed completely sober and genuinely sincere. And he told me I was beautiful.
At first I thought it was just a cheap trick to get me to bed, but he really didn’t need to use tricks to get me in bed with him. Usually he just kissed me and we fell into it, the heat of the alcohol kindling the passion that was there, but would have faded had we just left it to nature.
This time was different though. He really looked at me and it almost felt like he was seeing me for the first time. As if all those times before had just been two souls colliding without really noticing each other, but this time – this time he saw something.
I was taken a back. Even in my state of blissful glory I suddenly stopped talking and just stood there looking at him. He smiled, the lines around his eyes showing more than before. I ran my hand through his still blond hair and stroked his stubbed cheek.
I always liked how his hair stayed blond, but his stub was dark as the night.
But he took my hand and held it. I couldn’t move it and for a minute I thought he was going to break this delicate spell with fierce force. He didn’t though, he just held my hand still and kept looking into my eyes.
“You’ve never loved anyone properly?” he asked suddenly.
The words made me cry. They were tears poured out by the alcohol, created by feelings you push back so deep that they only surface when you least expect them to, or when you’ve stripped yourself of the wall you otherwise keep up as stronghold.
“I’ve loved many,” I told him. “I love deeply. I love you. I love Mark. I love with all my heart.”
He grinned in a way that usually made my knees weak, as if I was still sixteen. But he quickly became serious again and came closer, his breath on me. I couldn’t smell the alcohol, I just smelled that smell that was him. The smell that I remembered inhaling so often while we were at it, trying to keep it clear in my memory as sobriety sunk in.
No matter what it sounds like, it wasn’t just sex that kept me coming to him.
Things always look different when you wake up the next day though. The vail is back, the stronghold too and that judgmental voice in your head makes you wonder.
I’m a drunk, what can I tell you? I prefer the stronghold down, but I know of no other way to keep it down.
He stroked his stubbed chin to mine and whispered, “I mean you’ve never loved. You fuck, you don’t make love, do you?”
Exodus was the only man who ever knew all my secrets. Mark and I never drank much together, so the deepest corners of my soul were always closed to him. And that’s a good thing, some things should stay hidden. Some things are better left in the dark.
Exodus and the house on the hill would not allow that though and I was unable to tell him a lie. We had established that a long time ago. He didn’t always call me on my shit, but I knew that he always knew when I was colouring the truth or straight out lying.
I did it anyway. But he did call me on it when he felt like it.
So I told him the truth. I told him that I didn’t know if I was capable of that. I told him that I had learned the lesson early on, that fucking was what happened when you were in the mood and I didn’t know any other way.
And he whispered an apology.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have taught you a long time ago.”
I sometimes wonder if he actually was sober that night. If he just pretended for the sake of things. It’s hard to tell. All my guards were down and I was in that world that makes you vulnerable to things you think are idiotic when you’re sober. Things that make you roll your eyes and laugh, or you become ashamed, but there and then it moved me and at that moment it felt like some secret truth had been spoken.
I don’t know how to explain what happened next. I could go into details about what we did, but it seems redundant. Nothing will be proved with those words, what can words say to express the softness of a kiss? Or the look in someone’s eye as they stroke you a certain way? How are words capable of expressing the explosion of feelings inside you as you think you’ve taken all you can and then you get loved a little more?
He had no words for it either, though he often tried finding them. I certainly can’t, so I won’t try.
He loved me that evening. Or he made love to me. It’s hard to even write the words down. For some reason the notion brings me to the brink of some insanity that I never thought I’d have to face. Or it just makes me ashamed, as if love is what you should be ashamed of and not that other thing. Whatever it is: lust or passion.
I heard of his death the very next day. His heart gave way. He was found on the doorsteps of his house, dead.
I was sober for a month. It broke my heart in two to hear of his demise and I realised that there had been something in his eyes that evening, something that had been my job to pull out, but I hadn’t because he had been so busy trying to cure me of whatever ailment life had pushed on me.
I failed him. And a few weeks later I was the proud owner of the house and everything in it.
The letter I got was stone cold, awesome and terrifying at the same time.
I am so happy to have had those years with you, and though much of our time was spent reminiscing about things we never did I am glad we did make some memories of our own, although we may both have forgotten more than half of them.
The world is a marvellous place and I’m glad we found each other when I needed someone just like you. I know I sometimes used you, like the world has used you before. I guess we used each other, but what is love other than that?
Can you believe I’m writing you a love letter? A sad, soppy one too. You’d dismiss me with that discontented laugh of yours and send me packing, I’m sure. But you can’t do that now, not now that I’m dead.
The house is yours. I know my ex will think that it should be hers and that everything in it should be theirs as well, but they can have the money. There is a lot of it, and it should be enough. What life I led in the between is yours. But I’m afraid my love to you comes with a high price. The house is now yours and it will be yours until you find someone else to truly love. And it will keep you the way you are until you do. The lesson I tried to teach you is a lesson you have to learn.
It can take a long time, and all the demons of its former owners will fall upon you like they fell upon me. It’s a burden to bear, but it’s also a blessing and it takes someone like you to see that.
I’m sorry, my love (see I told you it would be sappy), to leave you as it was just getting good. It’s the way of things, always leave them wanting more, eh?
It’s been more than a hundred years. Mark vanished about the same time as I moved into the house. I saw his obituary but I didn’t attend the funeral.
I still drink like a sponge. It’s a way of life I guess, until I die.
And I don’t wish to die. But that little girl, that little princess in me that’s still waiting for her knight in shining armour to appear, or re-appear as the case may be, gets to rule my world and in the meantime I ride the demons of the past.
It’s a life of battles and bruises. I don’t throw parties, but I invite people home from time to time and we have our fun. Sometimes that means I’m the devil, and sometimes it means I’ve invited the devil home. There are secrets buried in the backyard that the house hides well.
But one of these days I’ll find that glimpse in the devil’s eyes and I will know, just like he did all those years ago and that will be that. The house is an influx of dire things, but it’s not necessarily evil.
And I told you
I’m not so good at telling the story
that I meant to tell
of all the buried bodies
hidden in the backyard.
I guess it’s not my story to tell.