My muses dumped me
How embarrassing is that?
Rats flee sinking ships
My muses dumped me
My muses dumped me
How embarrassing is that?
Rats flee sinking ships
How is it that I am always the one pursuing you and yet still I feel your hot breath on my neck, still my heart pounds with the instinct to flee before the hound’s long white teeth. You are ever beyond me, distant as the moon, yet I swear I hear your laughter drifting on the wind as it chases me down dark streets. I can never catch you and yet I wake in a cold sweat with bruises around my throat in the shape of your long, lovely fingers. How can this be? How are you everywhere and everything?
You had the chance to be better than the ones who cast me out. You had the chance and yet you threw it away. It wouldn’t have even been hard; they weren’t exactly tough competition. All you needed to do was accept me as I was, to let me show you more than just a polished surface without judgment or correction, but you couldn’t even do that. You who prided yourself on being so noble, on building a haven for the unwanted, you glimpsed the truth of me and found me… what, wanting somehow? Not quite as worth your time and effort? Or did you, like those who first rejected me, gaze into the depths I revealed and glimpse something beyond your control? Did you see a steel spine which would not bend to your demands, or perhaps all the sharp edges I’ve honed over the years? You’re just like my last sorry excuse for a family; cowardly, weak, grasping at every little scrap of control like the misers you are. How pathetic. How disappointing. How predictable.
To say you are my drug would be inaccurate (and cliched). You are not a foreign substance to which my body has become addicted; you are an essential component of my survival. You are food. You are water. You are air. I need you, literally, and in your absence I suffocate. I spend every moment of every day that you are not with me struggling for air, my lungs constricting, my throat spasming, darkness creeping in at the edges of my vision. I feel myself slipping away and think This is it, this is finally the end, I can’t do this one more second – but then you grace me with a thought, a memory, a gift of mere recognition and I take a breath! I gasp in relief! I weep in gratitude! And then you are gone again and I choke once more on the vacuum you leave behind. This is not addiction, this is starvation.
They thought exile a fittingly cruel punishment, yet instead it blessed her with the only thing she had ever desired: freedom. For the first time in all the long years of her life she had no name, no family, no home and thus no rules, no chains, no gilded cage. She was free to finally stretch her cramped wings, to fly or fall as she wished with no one to catch or constrain her. She had been born to captivity, no choice there, but now that she was free she would never let herself be imprisoned again. No more masks! No more fetters! As a nameless and homeless wanderer none could claim dominion over her. In the wilderness she would grow teeth and claws, become proudly feral, a thing of fierce autonomy earned and protected through bloodshed. They expected her to suffer in exile, far from the courtly comforts of home, but only because they never understood – the cage was all that had restrained her.
Once a home, I am now a house abandoned. You left the doors open and over time only the wind and rain have moved in. My paint peels; my walls are mildewed; my tiles are hidden beneath dirt and dead leaves. My halls are silent and my rooms empty. I have fallen into disrepair, yet still I wait for your return. I will remain until you have need of me again, though my roof collapses and weeds grow up through my floorboards. I will remain, though my wood rots away and the vines reclaim my bones. I will remain, though I be but broken flagstones buried by winter deadfall and summer blooms. When you have need of a home again I will be here regardless of the absence of walls or doors. I will be here. I will remain.
I tell three kinds of lies:
the lies he tells me that I know are lies
the lies he tells me that I do not know are lies
and the lies he tells me that he does not know are lies.
Can you tell them apart, dear reader?
No, sometimes I cannot either.
This was never a competition, per say, and I truly have renounced my vendetta against you, yet some part of me still derives a twisted triumph from the fact that I am here at the end of all things and you are not. It’s over; there’s no time now for you to come running in to play the knight in shining armor and make everything right again. You had that chance – so many, in fact! – and yet I was the only one who stayed. The only one who still cared, who still believed, who understood what fighting for so long can do to someone. I was there for every inch of that journey, physical and emotional; I know far more now about your precious (and yet abandoned?) protege than you ever did or ever can. After all, when you are the only two left in a war you at some point stop seeing yourselves as facing off on opposite sides and instead as back to back, two against the world. Did you really expect her to continue protecting the sanctuary you built without any help at all for years – for forever? No, I don’t think you did. I don’t think you thought anything at all. You just wanted a fantasy world in which to escape, something you could rule with the power you didn’t wield in your regular life, and when you grew bored you tossed it away without a care for those you had already tangled in the story. That’s why I started this war, after all, and that’s why I ended it. She and I are both too much a product of your shaping and we deserve to be free of our last bonds to you. I guess in the end we get to be the knights in shining armor, not you; how ironic is that?
Alice stands on the dark beach with sword drawn as she watches the figure walking out of the waves. Water streams from Mage’s tangled hair and tattered black garb; the moonlight illuminates her white skin and glitters in her hard green eyes.
Alice frowns, studying her enemy more closely. The iris of Mage’s right eye has gone black, and from the edge of her collar some sort of black scar or tattoo creeps up the side of her face like a lightning strike, cutting even through her eye. Though she can’t tell for sure, Alice suspects the black substance originates with the hook which has already transformed Mage’s right hand into sharp black claws. Despite the warm night, Alice shivers.
“Alice…” Mage bows with a flourish of her clawed hand. The movement is almost too grandiose to be purposeful, as if the woman is inebriated. “I’m honored to be greeted by the mighty captain herself. Then again,” she snickers, “there’s no one else on the island to do it, is there?” Alice just sighs. “You’re wasting my time. Did you come to taunt or fight?” Mage mimics the sigh. “Oh Alice, you think you have it all figured out.”
“Taunting it is,” Alice stabs her sword into the sand at her side, then crosses her arms. “Okay, get on with it, it’s the middle of the night and I’m tired.”
“I’m sure you are,” Mage tilts her head and her voice goes light and lilting. “What keeps you here, guarding this empty rock in the middle of the ocean? They’re not coming back. Any of them. They’ve moved on, forgotten who they were, forgotten who you were. Do they call to you in their dreams anymore?” She takes a step toward Alice. “Do they answer your coded letters or leave you sigil graffiti?” Another. “Do they even know you’re still here, still fighting?” And another. “Do they know how tired you are, how alone, how close to giving up?”
“I will keep fighting through my very last breath,” Alice, goaded by the uncomfortable truths in Mage’s words, takes a step forward herself. Her arms drop, hands clenched white. Mage just winks and replies, “You keep telling yourself that. But remember, I don’t need to. I don’t need to kill you. I don’t need to break you. I just need you to see the truth. Once that’s done, this could all be over. You’re the one who keeps it going. You’re the only one who still believes. If you just admitted that it’s done, that he fucked you over and now they’re all gone, this tragic little kingdom in ruins, you could rest.”
“Are you offering a truce?” Alice snorts, partly at the thought but also partly as a sign of bravado. This isn’t like their normal trading of insults. “That’s not like you. Maybe you’re more exhausted than I am. You’re not looking too well these days.”
“I was betrayed too, you know,” Without warning, Mage’s mocking demeanor falls away, replaced by a snarling, teeth-baring anger edged with madness. “It was my home; they were my friends; he was my mentor. Do you think any of them stuck around after he left?” She barks out a laugh. “The ones who wanted something from me did, for a while at least; the rest fucking ghosted. And the ones who were lost, permanently lost – do you think I don’t remember them? That I don’t mourn them?” She shakes her head. “I was not born of the void to oppose you, Alice. I have a past too. Remember that.”
Alice wants to hold onto the anger and adrenaline that push her through these confrontations, but exhaustion wells up and extinguishes what energy she has left. She gestures wearily toward the breaking waves and sheathes her sword. “Go back to your ship, Mage. That hook’s getting the better of you.”
“You will die defending nothing, Alice,” Mage almost spits the prediction with the force of her anger, but her next words are softer. “And it will be such a waste. Don’t you wonder who you are, besides his scapegoat?”
“Goodnight, Mage,” Alice turns and starts back toward the lighthouse. Her nemesis says nothing in return, but her accusations and questions are not so easily dismissed. Alice knows she will get no sleep tonight.
She, for her part, already seeks to forget it all. Even as the court moves through the formalities of her punishment she is already discarding useless memories: the marble halls where she danced through the night (“exile”, her father declares), the silver trees and water sweet as wine (“may never return, nor seek to contact”), all the people who claimed to love her until she began seeking real knowledge (“surrender your name and your past”). Only when the king holds out one hand and demands, “Your ring,” does she turn her attention outwards again. The guards shift as if preparing themselves for battle but she does not fight; she merely lifts one pale hand, removes from it the little silver ring she has worn for two millennia, and drops it into her father’s waiting palm. Her eyes sweep over the assembly and her upper lip curls in disgust.
She says, “You may have my name; I neither need it nor want it. But yours you should cling to as long as possible, for by the time I return to this place it will be naught but ash and all your names lost to the wastes of time.” With a final glance to her father she adds, “You will weep to be so alone.” And with that she turns away from the court, walking out with the composure of a queen and nothing but the silk dress she wears to call her own, and she is no longer ———. She is nameless, homeless, kinless. She is nothing and no one.
She reaches the edge of her father’s lands by nightfall. Beyond the immortally green elvenwood the earth slumbers in winter’s deep grip. Any other traveler would shiver, turn away or beg shelter somewhere, but not her. In the shriek of the wind she hears welcome, wanderer… and in the distant cry of ravens we have been waiting for you… and she is not afraid. She will never be afraid again.
It was never about you, my dear; it was always about him.
At first I thought his little fantasy world would fall apart on its own, but no: you had to step in and take up his work. Plenty slipped through the cracks anyway, though, didn’t they? Yet still you persisted, still you lit the beacon to draw in all the wayward moths. Did you never wonder why? Why the island, why the names and games, why all the lost little children? After, I did. I walked the island, I read the stories, I examined the web and I found it wanting. If I had realized sooner, I would have crushed the spider beneath my heel. Lacking him, I decided I would destroy his web and all it had touched.
I don’t hate you. I think I pitied you, once, after my eyes had opened. Yet you inserted yourself between his island and my ship too many times, and I knew you had made your choice. Did you ever feel the sticky strands of his webs clinging to your wings? Did you ever question, ever wonder, ever doubt? If you did, it’s too late now. I will wipe that island off the map. I will tear open the sky and obliterate his legacy. Only then will I feel his crimes have been adequately avenged.
Mage’s voice pursues her even in this place where none know her and none who do know her can find her. She is anonymous here, friendless, tetherless – and yet on the edge of sleep, on the verge of waking, still she catches the sibilant whisper in the darkness.
It isn’t possible, she tells herself. Not even her creator can find her here, to say nothing of her nemesis. Her fears run wild, that’s all, leftover from the years when paranoia kept her moving and thus safe. Alice’s body long ago learned to expect the hidden dagger, the poisoned ring, the needle in the velvet. Nothing less than constant vigilance keeps a captain alive, and it feels like she has been alive a very, very long time. It’s natural, then, for her instincts to kick at the slightest sound or movement. Many more years must pass before those instantaneous reactions ease.
At least, that’s what Alice tells herself. Still, in her more vulnerable moments she touches the scars left by Mage’s wicked hook and wonders if some of the madwoman’s darkness has infected her too. She has seen how the weapon slowly fuses itself with the sorceress, twisting from a single silver curve to black claws long and sharp as obsidian. Can whatever it is – curse, infection, parasite – help Mage track her beyond the realms of the universe, or perhaps connect them on a higher level entirely? Does a little chip of those talons sleep beneath her skin even now, waiting for an opportune moment to spread its roots and begin its takeover as well?
In the darkness she gives a small sob, half laughter and half wild desperation. Would it be ironic if in the end she became the thing against which she fought and lost so much? And if she did finally return to the island, half-monster or not, would there be anyone to greet her anyway?
The city doesn’t make sense. The streets are empty, the windows dark, the roads go on and on. Time stands still, runs backwards, or perhaps it doesn’t exist at all. Does anything exist? Is this a real place or just a stage set with the bare minimum needed to tell the story? I fear if I go too far down the wrong street, if I peer through the wrong window, I’ll glimpse the raw fabric from which the universe constructs this place. There is no entrance or exit, beginning or end. Is this Purgatory? Is this Hell? I cannot imagine it to be Heaven, unless Heaven is just a Hell of our own devising. No brimstone or lakes of fire here, though, just the repetition of memories so familiar they become all that ever happened or ever will. Is this place incomplete because all those other details – other people, other needs and demands, all the mundane realities of a fully fledged world – were simply not worth remembering?
Of course. Of course they weren’t. If you lived a hundred thousand lives, of course you’d want – need – to remember only the most important details. Of course all you’d remember are the moments made brightest by pain and love. What else has there been for you? So maybe this city isn’t some construction of Heaven or Hell at all. Maybe it’s just your minds, as intertwined as your lives, your hearts, your souls, a honeycomb network of isolated memories stripped of every nonessential detail. Maybe that’s why there’s so much you won’t tell me; maybe that’s why the city is so limited, why I can’t figure out how you got from A to C, X to Z. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to make sense because the memories themselves, clear as broken glass, are all that matter.
Characters, Alter Egos, Or Unknowable Nameless Gods?
When someone asks me what I write about, I usually say something like, I have a couple characters I write about and then nothing more. At least, that’s how I answer if I want to sound like a not-crazy person. But if I want to be truthful, I have to say something more like:
I thought I had three characters I wrote about, but it turns out two of them are probably incredibly ancient gods (or ghosts? or angels? or something even older than the very concept of either?) and the other one is an alter ego who has somehow taken on way more agency than I thought possible and may sometimes be used as a mask by dark somethings I am too afraid to face.
Let’s take a closer look at that second one. See, when I was a wee eighth grader I simultaneously discovered Lord of the Rings and DeviantArt. Being obsessed with elves, I made my DA screenname “Darkelvenmage” and quickly developed the moniker into a character who was everything I wanted to be. The Darkelvenmage was tall and willowy, pale as snow with long hair as dark as ravens’ wings, eyes as green as emeralds, and sharp features that highlighted her royalty and mystery. She wore all black and rarely spoke, but heaven help you if you pissed her off; she was heir to ancient magic, a skilled warrior, and had nothing to lose. She had been stripped of her home and her name (hence the brilliant title “dark elven mage”) and therefore wandered the world alone, neither a force of good nor evil. For my chubby, geeky thirteen year old self, Mage became a mask I could put on when I needed to feel like a badass, an alter ego who was always calm and logical, who never let her emotions get the better of her or made a fool of herself. I carried her with me through high school like a sword held between myself and all the bad things I encountered, standing just a little taller and smiling just a little more coldly. She made me feel fierce and untouchable.
In college I had a falling out with a group of online friends I’d made in high school, friends who knew me best through Mage and the story I’d given her to fit into their fantasy world. Feeling hurt and vengeful, I decided to rebel and Mage became the ally turned enemy intent on destroying the world the “good guys” had built. I loved the shock it caused, the drama, and the sudden understanding that nothing bound me to act in a particular way. Why not be the villain? Wasn’t that more fun anyway? Certainly playing Mage as the Big Bad brought me a selfish kind of joy, a way to enact a little revenge for my slighted self. Eventually, of course, some of those friends and I parted ways for good, and others of us reconciled and grew closer. But Mage stayed the villain, one with flair, dark humor, and just a dash of madness. This version of her is different from the silent, haughty one of my high school years, yet they are both true to her form. She is still my alter ego, my champion, the mask I wear on days when I wake up feeling too small and scared.
Sometimes, though, it’s like I look at Mage in my mind’s eye and… it’s not her. Something else watches out her eyes. Something that is not me, nor anything I placed there. Sometimes she feels like I’m not the one in control, like she’s not an alter anything anymore. I feel Lovecraftian presences squirming beneath her skin and taste sour names like Charybdis, Morrigan, Kali at the back of my mouth. I wonder sometimes if I have crafted Mage too well, if I am not the only one who can wear her mask. She is still a character in the strictest sense – I write her story, she does not tell me what to write (as Tanim and Daren do) – but there are times when I meet her eyes and it’s not the better, cooler version of myself staring back. I don’t know what it is, but it feels timeless and very powerful.
I am so, so tired of imagining you. Of imagining what you look like, what you sound like, what you feel like. Of imagining you in moments of movement and stillness, of imagining the way you take up physical space with your mere existence. I strain in the darkness until my senses ache and I can just barely grasp some part of you… but not really. My eyes don’t see you; my ears don’t hear you; my hands don’t feel you. My mind pretends they do, that’s all, substituting imagination for actual experience. My glimpses of you are like an afterimage, or the non-colors in the dark behind your eyes: there, but not fully. Real, but not in a form that does me any good. It wearies me, you know, this effort to conjure you from nothing. I think I would give up any of my senses, if only my last experience with them could be of you.
I wonder what Tanim and Daren would be like if their circumstances were switched at birth. How much of who they are is a result of nature and how much of nurture?
Take Daren, the madman, and give him family, wealth, power. Give him the world at his fingertips and the protection of affluence to do as he likes. He’d look different; younger, stronger, healthier. But would he be any saner? Or would he just be better at hiding it, a Hannibal-esque psychopath in a very convincing person suit? Either way, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Unhindered by a past riddled with abandonment and abuse, he would have a terrifying clarity of mind and control over his actions. An unbroken Daren would be charismatic, intelligent, a skilled liar and shrewd interpreter of intention. He would easily succeed in the cold, calculating world of business and blue blood – though he might also at any moment destroy it all, just to see what would happen. Certainly he would not feel bound or beholden to anyone but himself, and would continue to act with impunity as he already does in every other incarnation.
Now take Tanim, the rich man, and strip all his blessings away. Make him the unwanted son of a druggie, thrown at a young age into a foster care system broken and beyond capacity. He certainly wouldn’t be living in a penthouse apartment and drinking scotch out of crystal decanters after that. Chances are good that he’d still be an addict, though, and probably selling himself for money instead of just giving himself away. Maybe a rough beginning would do him some good, give him the freedom to explore his identity without the confines of duty and expectation. At the very least, he might be haunted by fewer ghosts – or just more bearable ones. With no real need to live as a recluse, he might even create some sort of found family for himself made of other misfits and lost souls. Still, he would be just as likely to throw all that away when he met Daren as he is anything else in any other incarnation.
Together, they would be less internal disaster and more external destruction. Daren’s wealth and cruelty, combined with Tanim’s general degeneration and desire to fulfill all of Daren’s whims, would set them on a truly dangerous path. Maybe things start the way they do for this very reason – maybe otherwise Tanim and Daren are simply too volatile together. That’s a disturbing thought.
I’d let you cut me open with that bright knife of yours
if it was as close to your touch as I could get
The human body is astoundingly stubborn; it clings to life long after the will to live has bled from the spirit. Deny it sustenance, deny it rest, deny it more than a bare modicum of care or attention and still it struggles to rise each day. You can force your body to breathe ash and swallow poison, yet still your heart labors to beat as long as it possibly can. It’s sad, really, to think that every cell in your body struggles unceasingly to survive when you couldn’t care less if you even live through the night. I’d have died years ago if it were up to me. Somehow I keep waking each morning, though, so I’ll just keep going until the day I don’t. Give up, heart. Give in, lungs. Nothing in this world is worth your desperate striving. I long for the day I’ll never see, when you have finally learned to let go.
The abandoned hospital hunched amid deep shadows and bright floodlights, the latter placed there to dissuade interlopers from trespassing on the construction zone at night. Despite the lights, the chainlink fence was cut in a dozen places and fresh graffiti scrawled over both the building and the waiting construction equipment. As if sensing tonight’s intended activity, however, the usual rebellious teens seemed to be giving the site a wide berth. Only one figure moved between light and darkness, their shadow tall and straight as the floodlights threw it up against the hospital walls. Tanim, standing beyond the touch of the lights, watched this shadow for several long moments before ducking through a hole in the fence. Gravel crunched beneath his feet as he approached, the sound absurdly loud in the still night. He paused at the black mouth of an underground garage to let his eyes adjust before descending the ramp.
“If you plan on stopping me, I suggest getting out of my way,” Tanim’s eyes just barely picked Daren out in the darkness, a stray shaft of light glinting off the small blade in the man’s hand. The voice itself was warning enough – the knife merely made good on the threat. Swallowing, Tanim held up his hands and slowed his pace, leaving a good distance between them. “I don’t want to stop you,” he soothed, “I just want to know what you’re doing.” He nodded to the bag slung over Daren’s shoulder and the metal cylinder at his feet. The man had stowed two other such cylinders around the building in the time Tanim watched him; how many others he had already placed, Tanim could only guess.
“Too much evil has been done here,” Daren tapped the cylinder with one foot while his eyes pinned Tanim in place. With the same foot he then knocked the cylinder back, causing it to roll up against the support column behind him. He seemed to wait for some answer, perhaps a protest, but Tanim gave none, only nodded in understanding. Daren pocketed the knife, though Tanim knew it would be back in his hand in half a second if he felt threatened, and gestured into the bowels of the garage. “There’s one left.” He pulled the final explosive from his bag and set off into the darkness. Tanim followed at a wise distance.
When I die and am autopsied, they’ll find your fingernail gouges on the inside of my skin, the desperate clawing of someone buried alive. The medical examiner will call in doctors and forensic analysts, have you ever seen anything like this?, but they will not be able to explain it. There will be hushed conversations with my family and friends, but they will merely shake their heads and say, who knows; she was crazy. And since I will not be there to explain, I’m a sarcophagus, a coffin, a cage, don’t you see?, I will go down as just another medical oddity and the truth of your imprisonment will be lost for good. Believe me, though – if digging from the outside in could free you any better than your internal efforts, I would meet you halfway through my meat with torn and bloody nails.
There’s this idea that if you fall in love with a crazy person, your love can save them – that, given time and patience and devotion, you can fix their madness, you can make them “whole”. It’s a load of shit. Madness can’t be fixed; it can only be suppressed, and will always come creeping, seeping, bleeding back. So why try? Why not accept the madness for what it is and wait for the morning you wake with your lover’s knife in your throat? At least there’s honesty in that. Believe me, the crazy ones know they can’t be fixed. It’s cruel to force them to go along with the charade when you both know you’ll end up at the same tragic conclusion anyway. Blood and broken glass are enough to bear; spare yourselves the disappointment, at least.
[More details about my DnD character Rem’r, adorable tiefling and Best Professor Ever!!!]
“Finding him won’t change anything.”
verb; gerund or present participle: finding
reach the understanding or conscience of (someone).
Okay, I get it; I’m asking too many questions. I need to back down. I need to shut up. I need to be thankful for what I know and stop asking for more. Let some truths lie. Accept the unknown unknown.
My heart failed a hundred times today – which is to say that your heart failed a hundred times today, and I felt each awful cessation with you. I felt your collapse, too, and the hands that fought desperately to restart the beating. Likewise, I tasted bile in my throat and tears on my lips as you suffered through withdrawal, and felt your feverish skin as I ran my fingers through your tangled hair. By the end of the day I can’t quite tell if my body aches from real pain or your phantom agony. I feel sick, exhausted, but why? Is this even my pain? Does my body even know the difference anymore? I feel everything you feel – so tell me, how many times can my heart break, stop, burst for you before it ceases once and for all?
Life is one long slippery slope. I started at the top, but from the first my stance was shaky. I slid so early so easily and never managed to climb back up more than an inch – and that just to fall again anyway. Drinking to smoking to injecting, kissing to fucking to binding, it’s all downhill. Melancholy to misery to madness. Love to obsession to hatred. I’m not sure I’ll even know when I’ve hit the bottom; will it feel any different than where I am now?
The first time I made him bleed, I thought I would kill myself rather than live with the guilt. But I didn’t, and the second time that guilt weighed a little less on my shoulders. I barely felt it at all the third time; he knew the possibility was there, he could have prevented it had he truly wanted to. My point is, none of those instances felt like rock bottom. Maybe nothing will, until the time I unwrap my hands from his neck and he lays still and silent. I thought love might be the thing with which I’d climb back up that slope, but I was wrong. If anything, it only accelerated my descent.
Why, I ask you, is the summer solstice so much harder to face than winter’s? Awash in red, you shrug and answer with that eternally sad smile of yours, Because we both love him. I expected this answer. I love you, too, I point out, but you shake your head. Not in the same way, and then, before I can respond, Don’t worry, I don’t take it personally. Over the body of your dead lover, I try to meet your eyes, match your smile, and fail. Three’s a crowd.
I don’t have any writing to post today because I’m a terrible writer, so here’s all the cool shit my D&D character Remr, biologist extraordinaire!, has managed to do in just two… rounds? Meetings? Episodes? What do you– whatever. Here you go:
I know the things you call him when he is too far gone to argue. Angel, when you’re wiping blood from his mouth. Lovely, when you’re lifting his limp body off the bathroom floor. Darling, when you’re holding him until the trembling stops. Baby, when his eyes are bleak and far away and you aren’t sure if you’ll get him back this time. But always, at the end, just Daren. Daren, when you’re trying to wake him. Daren, when your hands are shaking too badly to find a pulse. Daren, when there’s nothing more you can do but weep.
I am getting very good at dying. Practice, after all, makes perfect. No, I will not tell you which methods are most painful; it is not the manner of death that hurts, but the person by whom it is caused. Nor will I tell you which method I most prefer; there are times when you want to feel nothing and times when you want to experience the death of every individual cell. And no, I will not tell you my most gruesome ends; death is a private thing, no matter how we treat it otherwise. (And besides, I have a biographer for that.) You ask how many times I have died by my own hand? Define hand. Define my own. Define died. You ask what was my longest death? But surely you know we are all dying from the first moment of our existence. How and why things accelerate near the end matters very little. Close your eyes and feel the cells in your body dying this very second, dying every second, dying every single day of your life. Do not worry about the hows and whys. Take it from someone who has died so many times I could not possibly keep track: only the devil is in the details.
Tanim says I love you without words; he knows the man he loves doesn’t want to hear it. Instead, he says it with a cup of coffee, black, no sugar. He says it with a proffered cigarette. He says it with arms that know when to hold – and, more importantly, when to let go. He says it in the way he waits out the storm. He says it with his mouth, hot and eager, and in the way he so willingly surrenders. He says it with broken glass and used needles. He says it with his anger, his fear, his possessiveness; he says it with his misery, his patience, his longing. He says it in the way he asks nothing of his companion and yet offers everything. Tanim says I love you with every moment he allows love to bleed him, and with every day that he watches the thing he loves fade.