The cerulean sky, bedecked with the indigo silhouettes of amorphous clouds, has been ripped open as the October sun falls, aching to incinerate me into ashes along with this whole planet. My chest has constricted, and an itchy sensation keeps crawling between my shoulder blades like a centipede.
I’m hunched over and tapping my feet anxiously when I realize that Jacqueline is returning through the corridor between the tables. The leafy canopies of the palm trees are sliding their shadows over my girlfriend’s luscious body like some greasy pervert on a crowded train. When our gazes meet, her mouth stretches in a smile, bending the pink bow of her upper lip. Her eyes shine like a riverbed of sapphires.
My heartbeat kicks up. I leap to my feet, then I walk to intercept Jacqueline.
“Gotta empty your bladder?” she asks.
“That’s right, I’m going to the bathroom.”
I rest my hands on her shoulders, I stand on my tiptoes and I press my lips against her cheek. Jacqueline chuckles and draws her head back, confounded by my sudden warmth.
“Oh? Have I taken that long?”
I swallow the lump in my throat.
“Thirty years,” I say in a quavering voice. “Thirty years of suffocating in this suit of bones and blood. But thank you for being so nice to me.”
She cups the back of my head and kisses my forehead.
“I’m not done yet, idiot. Go to relieve yourself, will you? You’ll feel better.”
I nod, then pull away from her towards the watermelon-pink building of the pub, but I’ve just passed by two occupied tables when I look over my shoulder. Jacqueline has retrieved the purse with which she claimed a chair, and she’s sitting down gracefully.
When I turn my head forward, I’m forced to sidestep two dickheads wearing pit-stained T-shirts and shorts that parade their hairy, masculine legs and their cloven-hoofed feet. Their stench reminds me of the flatulences my grandfather spewed out as he sat on the toilet seat, even before I helped him unbutton his trousers and pull down his underpants. The tennis players have slung their bags over the shoulder; they must have bought them too small on purpose so the racket handle would stick out. Surely they noticed that I was distracted, so they intended to march their way through me.
I shudder, then quicken my pace. The itching between my shoulder blades has spread to the back of my neck; my skin crawls as I imagine the human vermin skulking behind me. Their calloused hands will rove over me, creeping up my armpits and thighs. I’d love to close my eyes to shut the world out and grope my way to the bathroom, but I have to keep an eye out in case some barbarous child sets itself on a collision course with my legs.
I pass between the counterfeit Greek-style columns that guard the front door, and I find myself in a dim room. The recessed lights mounted above the bar counter, as well as few globe lamps, light up the varnish of the rosewood tables. Long-dead tennis players from the beginning of the Age of Modernity have been captured in faded, black-and-white photographs. Regarding a row of flags mounted on the wall, their colors have waned as if they were medieval paintings displayed in a cathedral. The air smells of beer and wine, and of Spanish omelette and crab meat from the small portions on sale behind a sneeze guard.
I approach the bar counter. The two men working behind it are middle-aged, grey-haired and broad-shouldered, their iron-colored shirts smooth and ironed. I flag down the closest bartender, who takes his time chuckling at whatever comment the other dude made. He places his hands on the counter and locks my gaze.
“What can I get’cha, miss?”
“Bang,” I say.
The bartender draws his head back and blinks twice. His lips twist in a smile.
“That a shot? Sounds like one helluva hangover cure. I don’t think we serve it, though.”
He shuts up, likely because my eyes have gone wide and the color has drained from my face. My tongue swells inside my mouth like a fat slug. I swallow a gulp of saliva to quell my sudden nausea.
“You don’t have bang?” I ask in a rough voice. “I was looking forward to it. Bloody brilliant drink.”
The bartender knits his brows in suspicion.
“Would you like a beer instead?”
“You know I’m a non-drinker.”
“I know nothing of the sort, miss.”
I catch him staring at my crotch through the bar counter, so I quickly cross my legs.
“W-well, can you point me in the direction of the nearest bathroom?”
The bartender leans in and lowers his voice.
“You’re looking a tad unwell, like you should go to a hospital.”
I straighten my back and furrow my brow.
“How dare you? This is my regular look. Besides, it’s nothing that peeing won’t fix.”
The bartender crosses his arms over his chest, then he stares me up and down.
“You’re gonna pee to make that green look disappear from your face?”
My heartbeat hammers at the base of my throat. Why does every random human I come across have to make my life more difficult?
“I’m sure you guys don’t have bang because you’ve stocked that stockroom of yours full of crystal meth,” I say in a dry voice. “So how about you point me towards the nearest bathroom, you insensitive prick, before I call in an anonymous tip to the authorities?”
The bartender glances at his buddy, then he chuckles as if he was the victim of a dumb joke. He points somewhere behind my left shoulder.
“Right around the corner. Can’t miss it.”
“Sorry for insulting you, but pricks piss me off.”
Both men laugh.
“Aren’t you special?” the bartender asks rhetorically. “Don’t forget to wash your hands, miss.”
I spin around and tramp my way towards the toilets. My head keeps spinning, my body withering. When I turn the corner, I come across a row of decrepit, wooden lockers that show, through a wire mesh fit for a chicken coop, the caveman’s version of a tennis racket. The bathrooms are identified with framed, drawn depictions of a member of each gender; the woman is brushing her black mane with her fingers while she flaunts her naked, rotund backside.
I go into the ladies’ room and lock the door behind me. I flick on the light to dazzle the dark, but the claustrophobic space feels suffocatingly full of blood and vomit. A taste of copper lingers in my mouth; I turn on the tap and take long gulps of chilly water.
When I straighten my spine, I dare to face the tarnished mirror, which is streaked by tiny cracks that form a fine web like a spider’s. My hair is a mess of brown snakes. The wrinkles on my forehead have deepened into crevasses. My eyes are bottomless pits except for their whites, that have become two pieces of blood-spattered glass swirling around in a soup made of stagnant water and bits of rotting vegetation. A sickly hue stains the skin beneath my eyes, and I can discern the capillaries that crawl under the surface. The bones of my cheeks are protruding like those of a months-dead corpse dug up by a necrophile. I’m as fragile as a brittle-boned baby bird fallen from its nest, who waits for someone to step on it carelessly.
What did I expect to see when I opened that pair of face holes? A comforting vision of myself as an innocent baby? No matter how I imagine the person in the mirror, she will always remain a stranger. All I’ve achieved in my thirty years of living is a form of self-exsanguination.
A flurry of sparks runs through my brain. I plop down on the toilet seat and rub my face.
Spike, whose equine existence had become a permanent vacation as far as I can tell, decided that I was responsible for his despair; when I proved myself impervious to his charms and tricks, the horse demon, devastated, chose to kill himself. I’ve had enough of men of any species believing that they have the right to manipulate me.
I’m a thirty-year-old female programmer. My first instinct is to shrug off the notion. I want to be something else: a horse, or a wolf, or a basilisk. I want to be an alien, to have my own spaceship with which to land on pristine worlds so I can terraform them to suit my tastes. Spike had wanted to be an angel, and thus he seduced me with the promise of eternal peace, but I’m a human. I’m meant to suffer for eternity.
My hands are trembling. I slip my right one under my jacket, reaching into the interior pocket where I’ve felt a conspicuous weight pulling down throughout the whole date. I draw the revolver out. Its shiny, metallic frame feels heavy and warm against my sweaty palms, solid like an erect penis encrusted with steel. With my fingertips, I trace the contour of the engraved skull and bones. I open the cylinder; its chambers are loaded with lead. I push the cylinder closed.
My whole skin is sweating like an armpit. I get the urge again, a mental command, to shove the barrel of the revolver in my mouth and pull the trigger. Dying would solve every problem I’ve ever had, along with the thousands of problems I can only anticipate in horror. I’m going to save myself from the consequences of my abysmal luck, my rotten genes, and my own actions, by walking out of this dream.
I close my eyes and I rerun the simulation: the muzzle of the revolver presses into my palate and the trigger resists against my finger as I squeeze it first slowly, then all at once. A deafening blast shakes the toilet room. The force of the explosion propels me against the ceiling and sends bits of porcelain flying. I fall, landing face first on the floor with my neck twisted. A black, sticky substance spills from my mouth, and my lips are dusted with gunpowder residue, but I’m wearing my sexiest smile; I’ve succeeded in blowing my worthless head off.
I scratch the edge of the revolver’s muzzle with the bitten nail of my thumb. I should shoot myself now. I won’t have to see what face Jacqueline makes when they find my corpse. She won’t love someone like me. Nobody could.
A fresh wave of nausea takes hold of my innards. No, I don’t want to put Jacqueline through such grief. And if I die, I’ll never see her again. I won’t feel her skin against mine, nor hear her heart beating within her chest.
I slide down the toilet seat until my knees hit the floor. I slump forward. The revolver slips out of my hand as my face lands on the cold ceramic tiles, which are moist as if someone had splashed water from the sink, or pissed on the floor. My chest hurts; I have a splinter lodged in my heart.
If Jacqueline likes me, if my company improves her day, I guess I can keep on hanging on.
I haul myself to my feet, but my back spasms and I eject a mouthful of bile. After I wipe my mess up, I grab the revolver and shove it under my jacket. I wash my hands and my face thoroughly with cold water.
If I could, I would have walked out of the pub’s main building with my hands over my ears and a hood pulled over my head. I feel like I’m walking for the first time after I’ve spent a week lying in a hospital bed.
I’m dragging my gaze along the floor of the terrace; the voices coming from the occupied tables that I leave behind judge and mock me. When I dare to look up, Jacqueline is leaning back against her chair. She has entwined her fingers behind her head and she’s staring sideways at me. My mommy would have thrived as a fifties pin-up model. That raven-black mane of hers looks dark and mysterious like a bat orgy at midnight.
When I reach the chair I chose for myself, I fear that my flesh will pass through any solid material, so I lower my ass carefully. My head hurts as though a couple of crows have built a nest inside my skull. I guess I can’t subject myself to the prospect of annihilation without earning a headache.
“You’re always so pale,” Jacqueline says.
When her warm hand strokes my cheek, I restrain myself from bawling like a child. It takes me a few seconds to compose myself.
“I’m a glassy-eyed, naked baby bird whose wings are still wet,” I say in a thin, squeaky voice. “I’m a fatigued soldier whose tank was knocked out in the war. I’m a rusty key for a long-decommissioned lock, waiting for its owner to retrieve it from a chain that has been thrown in the ocean.”
Jacqueline chuckles as a courtesy, but I’ve learned to recognize whenever she grows concerned about me.
“You are the strangest person I’ve ever met. But what has been troubling you today, Leire? I can tell you are dying to open up about it.”
I avert my gaze, then I lean forward to rest my arms on the table, but it wobbles. I adjust my elbows to even out the motion.
“Leire,” Jacqueline says in a tone that harkens me back to the times I’ve lain sideways on her lap and latched on to her breast. “Look at me, baby.”
I shake my head weakly.
“I couldn’t bear the sight of your splendorous face right now.”
“Well, that’s nice of you to say. But surely you know that you can tell me anything, right?”
Although if someone were to prick my skin with a needle I would implode, I hoist my gaze to Jacqueline’s lips.
“H-half of it is the usual business. I’m being controlled by a stranger, someone who doesn’t care for my comfort or consent. A person who despises me for having been born.”
“That’s horrible enough, Leire. What about the other half?”
As I struggle to gather my thoughts, an electrical discharge shakes my brain. I shut my eyes closed and suck air through my teeth.
Jacqueline squeezes my right hand, that I had rested on the table.
“Baby, people don’t get zapping in the brain for no reason,” she says, worried. “Maybe you should call for an appointment with a neurologist.”
I lean back in the chair and open my mouth to speak, but a man’s cheery voice violates our privacy.
“Coffee and spicy potatoes, coming up.”
Our waiter is a South American guy with coffee-colored skin, who’s wearing tiny hoop earrings and that has ruined his hair with frosted tips. More importantly, he’s striding towards us while holding a tray with two lattes and a plate of steaming, spicy potatoes.
I sit upright.
“Ah yes, we came here to eat…”
As the waiter sets the two cups of latte and the spicy potatoes on our table, he dares to speak to us.
“How are you two doing this evening?” he asks in a too-friendly tone, as if we chose this establishment to have sex in front of him and his fellow staff members.
“Very well, thank you,” Jacqueline says.
“Is it okay if I call you Gerard?” I ask him.
The waiter tilts his head, then his cheeks dimple as he smiles.
“Gerard is fine. My name’s actually César, though.”
“Are you a time traveler from the nineties?”
Jacqueline lets out a noise of surprise. She taps my right shoulder with the back of her hand.
“Leire, don’t be a dick for no reason.”
“But that was an honest question.”
The waiter seems more amused than disturbed.
“I was born in ninety-three, back in Brazil.”
“Like anacondas and Brazilians.”
“That is true. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your food, ladies.”
Gerard saunters away from us like we’re no longer worthy of his time.
The mound of fried, roughly cubical potatoes is sprinkled with gunpowder, and covered in a cum-colored alioli sauce. Its aroma invades my nostrils and delivers a tangy, spicy kick to my brains. My mouth fills with saliva, so I hurry to close it in case I start drooling.
Jacqueline pours sugar onto her latte, then she stirs it until the powder dissolves. She’s smiling warmly at me like a parent at Christmas.
I grab one of the forks. Instead of stabbing myself in the neck again, I impale one of the potatoes and I bring it to the cavernous hole in my face. As I taste the hot, spiced potato and the oily, garlic-based sauce, I feel like I’m going to tear up, so I close my eyes.
“They look so small,” I mumble with my mouth full, “but they’re so fucking heavy.”
My limbs loosen up, and I sink into my chair.
“That’s the stuff, isn’t it?” Jacqueline asks softly. “Despite our worries and pains, we can look forward to tasty delights, and in our case, we can also care for each other.”
Author’s note: This week I’ve been listening to one of my favorite albums from fifteen or so years ago (most of my favorite albums are from at least a decade ago, because I’ve grown old): The Unicorns’ ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?’, particularly the ghost-themed songs ‘Tuff Ghost’ and ‘Sea Ghost’. They were also favorites of Irene, the protagonist of my previous novel. Self-promotion!
Anyway, I’ve had a hard time getting through this scene. I thought that by working in the afternoon this week, I would wake up early and write for a few hours until I was forced to abandon my post to waste my time and energies at the office. But my brain has been a muddled mess recently.
I’ve decided to hyphenate what I call color qualifiers like ‘watermelon-pink’ from now on. I use that stuff a lot, and I refused to hyphenate it because it didn’t look good to me, but it looks better to me now, so that’s what I will do. I will revise all the other instances whenever I finish this novel.
How come Leire, one of the most dangerous people in the world to own a revolver, suddenly has one? If you don’t know already (why are you reading this?), you should likely read through the entirety of the previous sequence, that started back at chapter 43. It actually happens right at the end, but just read through the entirety of it, will you?
Yesterday, a Friday, I returned home from work at eleven. I fell asleep like a couple of hours later, and woke up at six in the morning for my solitary shift on a Saturday. Thankfully, for a few hours my desk looked like this:
I’ve gotten back to the ‘Arkham Horror’ LCG, probably my favorite “board game” ever. I played through the first scenario of the ‘Edge of the Earth’ campaign, with the decks I made for Zoey Samaras (a vicious damage dealer who gets rewards for engaging enemies), Monterey Jack (who mostly travels around doing his stuff), and Jacqueline Fine. Of course, I have no choice but to play with an investigator named Jacqueline, but apart from that, her ability to manipulate the Chaos Bag tokens is very powerful. The links go to each of my public decks at ArkhamDB. I prefer to build thematic decks that mainly focus on the one or two things that an investigator does that nobody else can; however, that requires a good team. My Zoey got screwed bad in Agility-based treachery cards because she doesn’t have a single related skill card.
Anyway, I wrote about this board/card game because it keeps me entertained and distracted from the shittiness of the rest of the world, in a similar way that writing does. I feel like crap otherwise.