At the end

I have this fantasy.

When it’s all done, when it’s all over and we’re eventually stood down, you and I…I know we’re not supposed to but it would be you and I. We’d load up the old minibus. Burn anything else that doesn’t fit. You would stop straightening your hair. I would stop bleaching mine. We’d go to the old house and dig up the ‘treasure chest’ and take only what was ours. Then we’d fill the minibus with petrol and drive.

Along the way we’d have to stop. You’ve never been that far from the city, so you’d want to stop. And I would want to show you it all. We’d eat at cafes and sleep in Holiday Inns. I’d point out the places I’d been, where the good things were done.

You’d take chips off my plate and curl around me at night. We’d take showers together and you’d stroke my wet hair as I drove. You’d buy postcards for the others and I’d lick the stamps. You’d hold the map and I would drive.

We’d drive forever. Over hills and through forests. Cross the country in the beat up minibus full of good memories. At night, we’d lie on the mattress in the back. I’d point to the stars through the open roof and you’d tell me all about them. The weather would be good, and when it wasn’t, we wouldn’t notice. We wouldn’t have to notice anything other than ourselves ever again. We could just focus on us. What we wanted to eat. What we founded funny. How long we decided to stay in bed.

And eventually we’d get to the end of the world. The top. I’d park the minibus on the promenade and the first thing you’d see when you woke up in the morning, the first thing you would hear- the birds, the spray, the whistle of the wind.

That’s where we’d go. Where we would stay. Wake up every morning to the water and think, yes. Yes. We did it. We made it out.

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Underneath a blue moon

She was born here. Wrest from the earth on the whim of another she would learn to call Mother. From a young age, she was taught to serve the mistresses of the house and in turn they taught her how to wield the magic that had created her. To turn nothing into something, that was her gift, the gift of all who had made the dread house at the end of the gully their home. Their haven.

Once a year the ravine would flood. Overheard, she would hear the creak and drag of oars as the men of metal and silk travelled and traded. If they camped for the night, she would go up to the surface and listen to them eat and light fires. She’d watch the lonely ones fishing at the shore. Those were the ones that liked to tell stories, had to invent something to pass the time. They would speak of the rumours, the reverent ones would only speak of it in a whisper.

You ever heard of the swamp witch?

Those two words would go around and around in her head while they spoke of curses and sacrifices made in blood. Every year, different men, same story. The swamp witch. Look out for the swamp witch.

One day she worked up the courage to ask her mother what those words meant.

‘This isn’t a swamp, mother. And we are not witches.’

‘Men use words they don’t mean when they are afraid. They tell lies to protect themselves. To hide their shame, they turn us into myths.’ Her mother said, never taking her eyes off the thread she was holding.

‘Why should they be afraid of us? Why should they be ashamed?’

‘Because their ancestors did wicked things. And instead of hiding and dying, we lived. And for our courage, the gods granted us our gift. They made us the keepers of knowledge, the women that are unknowable.’

‘And what did the gods give to the men?’

‘The men turned from the gods. And for their arrogance the gods gave them fear. The gift the gods took away from the men of metal and silk is the ability to be at peace in their ignorance. Now their lives are filled with chaos. For they will always fear the unknown. Chase the unknown and then kill it.’

Suddenly her mother grabbed her, blood red lips inches from her mud dark face.

‘Promise you will not follow those men should they come for you. And promise never to give them our secrets. Promise!’

‘I promise, Mother.’

And at that moment, the thread snapped. The others in the house looked at the loom that had stopped weaving. Her mother let go of her, staring at the thread.

She didn’t know the significance of the moment at the time, but things were different after that.

28.08 VI

I was nervous. I typed my password into my computer. Wrong, apparently, and a few too many times because I got locked out.

Of course.

I turned her, breathing out as if the computer was the one that had fucked up, ready to make a speech about ‘bloody technology’ even though the colour had drained from my face and I still for the life of me couldn’t remember my damn password. But she didn’t seem to notice. She had her own speech prepared and the error message wasn’t going to phase her.

‘I’ve come into some property-‘ She soldiered on.

‘If you could give me a minute-‘

‘No, you should hear this first.’

She pulled one of her rings off her index finger and started playing with it.

‘I just need a little help clearing it out.’

I didn’t know what to do while I waited, so I humored her. Or more, she was talking and there was no way I could cut her off. Or more still, she wanted to talk and I couldn’t help but listen.

‘I don’t have a lot of time.’

‘Is it big?’ I found myself asking.

‘More winding.’ She replied.

‘What is it? A house?’

‘Something like that.’

‘What’s in it?’

‘Old things.’

‘And it’s yours?’

For a second a smirk took over her face. It was playful and also sneering. The first of many images that would come to plague our relationship came into my mind. I could see, clear as day, the two of us in a dark room. I could hear our deep slow breaths. Mine getting more and more desperate as she put her hands around my throat and squeezed.

‘It will be, if I can get the money.’

She put the ring back on and straightened up. As if she had been where I had just been, in the place in my head, and now she was gathering herself, pulling herself back from a very tense and precarious edge.

‘Do you think I can get it?’

If it was up to me she could have all of it. My mind, my body, my blood. My life.

‘How much do you need?’

‘A grand more.’ She said. Like she was asking for the world.

‘Let’s see’ I said, like a man in a position to give it to her.

28.08 V

I know she could see the many post-it notes littering my desk, stuck to any surface in reach, turning my computer screen into a live action Connect Four. I know she could see the unreadable scrawl that denoted the tasks I had ahead, appointments to remember, thoughts to keep to myself. I know she could see the marker stains on the mouse pad where I had slipped off the paper in my haste, trying to get it all out before it turned into an indiscernible congealed mass of deeds and desires. I bet she could hear my boss’s pointed tone in the scribbled out, scrunched up discarded scraps. Especially the ones that missed the bin.

For the first time ever I was aware of just how many clues of my incompetence I left stuck around the place and how little I had cared that anyone saw how badly I managed my life.

Until now.

Now I felt exposed, like I’d been caught with my trousers round my ankles, shoving my dick in a birthday cake. And I felt unsure, like I didn’t know whether to explain or pretend like it wasn’t happening. So I just started moving stuff around, getting frosting everywhere, my belt tinkling as the brass clasp knocked against my chair leg.

28.08 III

‘I have a steady income.’ She continued, ‘Granted it’s not much-‘

Oh.

‘Oh.’

She was here to talk about her credit card.

‘I know. I know. But I like the work and it keeps me-‘

She stared at the table as if the word she was looking for was petrified in the glass and she couldn’t quite make it out. I tried to peer into the frosted glass too, but just saw the distorted reflection of the two of us. Me with my black and red tie, and the ‘not quite white anymore’ collar of my old, hand scrubbed shirt. Me with my ‘not quite long enough’ sleeves and my ‘not quite hidden’ tattoo. My ‘not quite swollen’ knuckles gripping the table as if I was afraid it was about to topple over or that I was about to going under, depending on which one us was stronger.

She, on the other hand, was barely visible. An indeterminable mass in her dark suit and her tangle of black curls, blending into the dark green glass like she had always been a part of it. Effortless. Nondescript.

I felt a bead of sweat run down my neck as I waited for her to speak.

28.08 II

‘I’m good for it.’

That’s how she started the meeting. After we had shaken hands and I had wiped my palms on my trousers discreetly, she launched straight in. She had a low and drawly voice and the words rolled right out of her mouth and onto the table. I could almost see them: small, black and bold with a large full stop spinning like a coin before it fell flat.

I blinked a few times, watching the full stop I had imagined, wondering what she was talking about. What was she good for? What wasn’t she good for? What did it have to do with me?

28.08

When I first met her she was trying to extend her credit limit.

She had rubber soled boots on, laced up hastily, bows lopsided and irregular. She had one foot hovering above the other as her legs balanced on top of one another, crossed tightly. I could see the tension in the muscles in her thighs as they stretched the boucle material of her mini skirt.

Her hands, one bare, one covered in thin plain silver rings were placed on top of her leather bag. It was old and fake, I could tell from the fraying on the underside which she was clearly trying to cover. The shoulders of her suit jacket, padded in homage to an earlier time or maybe borrowed right from it- I couldn’t tell- were high, as if she were hunkered down in a suit of armour. It all looked brand new and yet like something I had seen many times before.

I hadn’t even gotten to her face yet and I knew my life was about to change. She was trying so hard, you see. I could tell she was trying so hard to seem normal. But there was something stronger, a much bigger tell than her exaggerated casual style. It was coming off her, radiating from her. Something not tangible, not human at all. An energy or something- it hit me. Within a matter of seconds, it had burrowed into me.

Growing inside me, growing in the space between us, pulling us in. I remember shaking hands and both our palms were wet.