Jacqueline has wrapped her left arm around my waist to guide me along the pavement, towards Ondarreta beach. I wish I could say that a myriad stars twinkle in the cloudless night sky like a shimmering crystal veil over an enchanted realm, but instead the sky has blackened as if it were suffocating in woodsmoke. Above the low wall that prevents boozers and even stupider people from falling into the freezing waters of the Cantabrian Sea, the string of glowing streetlights along the opposite coast of Donostia are projecting hazy, swelling pillars of citrine-yellow light onto the wrinkles of the waves, transmuting the bay into an agitated pool of piss.
The breeze is pushing its atoms of cold through my exposed pores, forcing me to shiver in the grasp of my beloved. I’m exhaling puffs of vaporous breath. Although Jacqueline is keeping me upright, my legs are trembling. When an elderly couple and later a group of teenagers passed us by, I feared that I would trip and faceplant on the pavement, imprinting a bloody smear.
I’m venturing through the barren, boreal interspace between a sweltering, vis-à-vis encounter with my girlfriend and the holy moment in which I will slide under her sheets. I need to kneel and plead to the vaginal vaults of heaven for a blessing upon my wretched self. I hope that it will rain menstrual blood, that I will feel those warm drops running down my face, that all the earthworms will drown. In the end the earth will go dark and silent like in a blackout. I yearn to meet the bottomless blackness that waits outside of time, for a cataclysmic storm to erase my life, rubbing out even the shadows. The only things left to worship in this world will be the glowing spheres of our love-spoilt flesh.
As I narrow my eyes to shield them against the headlights of an incoming car, Jacqueline leans in to whisper in my ear.
“Leire, you are shaken up by something. And don’t pretend it’s about the cold.”
“I’m having a fit of despair,” I blurt out in a hoarse voice.
Jacqueline stops walking, which causes me to stumble. I’m about to dismiss my comment with an exaggerated gesture when she unlinks her arm from my waist, grabs my hand and pulls me towards the long stretch of public gardens that run along the beachfront, dragging me at her pace as if I were her pet. Gravel crunches under our shoes as we walk past a sculpture that resembles three upright, five-meters-tall rolled-up newspapers shoved into the ground.
Jacqueline stops us next to one of the scattered benches with a view of the sea. Distanced from the closest streetlight, the grass and trees from the adjoined garden have been drained of colors, giving way to a shadowy monochrome world, lifeless as the inside of a grave. A gust of cold air whistles between the branches of a nearby tree, and sends leaves scampering around like a squad of tumbling pawns. In summer, this spot would make for a suitable trysting place to indulge in some lewd act or another.
The backpack’s weight is pulling down on my shoulder. I figure that we will stick around for a while, so I take the backpack off and drop it onto the bench. When I dare to lift my gaze, I expected to face Jacqueline’s annoyance, but she’s scrutinizing my expression with the fathomless affection of a mother for her child.
“So the sexual videos of those other women didn’t bother you that much,” Jacqueline says. “What is it, then?”
I avert my gaze. Jacqueline runs her fingers along my jawline, then she turns my head towards her.
“Are you having suicidal thoughts again?” she asks with a tremor in her voice.
“Ah, you know I’ve tried to kill myself before… W-well, not more of those thoughts than usual, I don’t think. I’ve always been terrified of that abyss, and of the darkness that it wants to drag me into.”
Jacqueline takes a deep breath. She cups the back of my head and rests her forehead against mine. Our lips touch each other, but I restrain myself from sucking on hers or even letting my tongue wander out of my mouth, in case she shuts me down.
“I won’t let you fall in,” Jacqueline says.
My chest trembles. A rush of warmth behind my eyes forces me to take a labored breath.
“The truth is, Jacqueline, that if I were to fall in, not even you would be able to prevent it.”
She tightens the grip on my nape.
“We’ll see about that. Now tell me what you’ve been dying to share for the whole afternoon, you idiot.”
Although her hot breath is tickling my lips, my spine keeps shivering. I’m growing numb. My tongue feels as heavy and paralyzed as an anchor stuck in the muck of a deep-sea trench. I hear the low, ruminating murmur of the waves against the shore, as well as the ticking of time’s clockwork winding down my life.
I should remain obnoxiously quiet and wait for Jacqueline to grow bored of my personal pains, but I’m sick of worrying her.
“I-I used to watch my parents commit slow suicide day after day. They lived without a shred of passion or compassion as they drowned in mediocrity.”
Jacqueline pats my nape.
“Oh Leire,” she coos. “I meant about what’s going on with you now.”
My teeth are chattering, my lungs filling up with cold air.
“M-my hometown has become unrecognizable. Someone has stolen my door handle, and now my living room window is broken.”
Jacqueline pulls back and grabs my shoulders. I had never seen her this outraged.
“Holy shit, someone broke into your house? What did they steal?”
“Maybe I’m misrepresenting the situation,” I mumble. “Someone did steal the door handle of my apartment building. The culprit was likely a fiend, some insane monster, a vile child murderer who just appeared in town as if summoned by the most malevolent sorcerer of the nine hells, or maybe by a rabid dog. He stole our door handle to sneak inside and inflict unspeakable evils on us.”
“Okay, Leire, calm down. But your living room window broke, right? Did someone throw a stone at it? Some drunk asshole maybe?”
My legs are trembling like the tectonic plates of a fractured planet, my heart is leaping wilder than a rabbit on cocaine.
“I-I mean, I saw who broke it, but it… couldn’t have happened that way.”
Jacqueline furrows her brow and turns her head slightly.
“You mean that maybe you were the one who broke it, during a peculiar state of mind perhaps?”
I let out a pained groan and bury my face in my hands.
“I don’t know, Jacqueline. That would have made sense, but if I faced the proof that I’ve lost my mind to that extent, I don’t know how I would be able to continue living. That wasn’t what I saw. I didn’t headbutt that damn window.”
I flinch at the sound of a passing car, then at the feeling of warm hands closing around mine. Jacqueline lowers my arms so she can look into my eyes. The breeze is making her raven-black locks flap around her neck like a bird trying to escape its cage.
“Tell me who did it then,” she orders me calmly.
My lungs have been vacuumed out; my body forces me to take in a big gulp of air, inviting the stink of burnt gunpowder. A wind is sweeping through the cracks of my mind. Jacqueline as well as the ruthless world that surrounds her go blurry, then two hot tears roll down my cheeks.
“It w-was a h-h-horse. A h-horse who had failed to kill himself with a murdering implement, so he headbutted the window, shattering it. Then he threw himself out the same way some filthy smoker would discard a cigarette butt.”
Jacqueline softens her expression. She reaches to wipe my tears away.
“I-I told the honest truth,” I say in a desperate tone. “That’s how insane I’ve become.”
Jacqueline sighs and nods in resignation, as if I shared that our preferred vending machine at work had doubled its prices overnight.
“The world is a strange place, far stranger than I would have considered years ago. So maybe a horse did break your window.”
“You had been strangely fixated on horses recently. How did that animal end up in your apartment, then? Tell me about it.”
I let out a painful laugh, which causes more tears to leap from my eyes.
“It was just a run-of-the-mill, worthless horse. But he was my friend. I once saved him from a slaughterhouse; I carried him on my back when I rescued him, and for many years I helped him regain his dignity. He has ceased to matter, though, because he’s dead. We shouldn’t be talking about him or even remembering him. Being a horse is a way of life, Jacqueline. Sometimes I’ve thought about becoming a horse myself. You would prefer to die as a horse, wouldn’t you? Your demise would be more honorable than a human’s. But the world is better off not being filled with horses. Besides, I’d better die in obscurity rather than become a beast that has to put up with people like me.”
“Oh, honey,” Jacqueline murmurs as she strokes my hair. “You’re much too hard on yourself. You know I’d prefer for you to live as long as you can, don’t you? You’ve become precious to me in so many ways.”
“There’s no other way to deal with the world but with utter hopelessness and disdain for your fellow humans.”
Jacqueline presses her index finger against my lips, as if to suggest I should shut up.
“I guess you haven’t called anyone to fix the window, have you? I’d hate to lose you for another night, but maybe you’d feel better if you spent it at your apartment? I wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping away from home if one of my windows was broken.”
“No!” I cry out in horror.
Jacqueline flinches and steps back. Her lovely features, that would bring joy to anyone’s heart, suggested for moment that she was facing a battle against a hellhound.
I press my hands together as an apologetic gesture.
“I didn’t mean to… I want to stay away from my apartment!” I cry. “That dreary ruin has long become a fetish room for my sick delusions. I’ve rolled down the shutters anyway, so nobody will even notice that the window is broken. My living room will turn into a fridge and my board games will freeze, but I have only played a third of them.” I grab onto Jacqueline’s arms and I step closer. “Believe me, there’s nothing I’d rather do now than to go to your apartment, get naked and jump into your bed so you can order me what to do. Those are the only times when I’ve ever felt free, when I can forget for a while that I’m forced to exist among horrifying monsters. I’ve been dreaming for decades, Jacqueline, but nothing ever changed. I’m sick, I’ve been sick for as long as I can remember, of living in terror. Maybe… Maybe others should fear me instead.”
Jacqueline places a kiss on my forehead, then she wraps me in a tight embrace, snuggling her cheek against mine. Her body heat envelops me. I clutch the back of her suede trench coat like a drowning woman would cling to a floating log.
“You are a creation of flesh and blood that has the right to love,” she whispers in my ear. “You don’t need to be a monster to be a person.”
I bury my face in her neck and choke back a sob. When I finally pull away, her turtleneck must have absorbed plenty of my tears and snot.
“P-please, Jacqueline, give me your purse and close your eyes until I tell you to open them,” I say in a hoarse voice.
My request confuses her, but she slides the strap of her purse off her shoulder and gives it to me. She closes her eyes and stands there as if expecting a present.
I open the purse. As I reach inside my jacket, I look around warily. The few human-shaped silhouettes framed against the distant, darkened bulk of the island are busy strolling along the beachfront.
I pull out Spike’s revolver and put it in Jacqueline’s purse, on top of her wallet, her keys and some paper handkerchiefs.
Author’s note: thus concludes the sequence I’ll refer to at this moment as ‘Leire’s Got a Gun’, that has taken me fifteen days to write. According to the 11,793 words of notes left to render into coherent scenes, things are going to get far weirder from here.
Spike headbutted Leire’s living room window back in chapter 51.
Anyway, it’s six o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, which means that the day is almost over; I go to bed at ten to wake up at six for work. I’ve spent this weekend writing, lifting weights, shedding tears and masturbating, so I’m fully prepared to face a series of five new workdays filled with meaningless drudgery and unknown horrors.