When I read the headline I knew, instantly. I reached for my phone and turned it off, not looking at the screen. I circled the apartment, all two rooms, drawing the curtains and locking the doors. I had seventeen cigarettes left and what might pass for red wine if I added ice and swallowed each mouthful quickly. I lit the first using the toaster for a spark. You were the one that carried the lighter.
I never meant to be the first thing on your mind. When you asked way back when if I preferred black or white, I lied. I might wear black, lathering myself from head to toe, great big brush strokes of it, but that is just to bring out the whites of my eyes.
Your love was heavy. Thick. Unchewable. I planned escapes, smashed cars along the curb, fell asleep with my foot still on the brake. You couldn’t see the damage if you only approached from the front.
I tried not approaching you at all. Leaving half full coffee pots and mints at the back of the shelf behind the decaf no one drank. I emptied rooms. I didn’t once replace my surname with yours in silent murmurs on the bus home, just to see if the syllables matched. I kept to the rear of the room in meetings, picking at my fingernails with corporate boredom.
I ignored the way I felt electrified, exposed, entrapped with the sought after intrusion of your all staff e-mails into my neatly organised inbox. Deleting them, unread, made my hands tremble. Little earthquakes. And they say no man is an island.
Two hours pass and I can feel the words trying to slip off the page and smear their inky stains over me. A battle I can win, I think, sees me standing over the sink trying to set fire to the corners of the page with the glowing end of my cigarette. Ten left means I could be here for the afternoon. Paragraphs go up in smoke, covering the drain hole with ashes as strong as our commitment. One drop is all it took to wreak havoc.
I should have started from the top, but lack of forethought once more left me holding your name closer to me than I suspect we both ever meant. My mind is frantic. My heartbeat will not still. I breathe in and I breathe in and I breathe in. Smell of smoke thick in the air and I am down to eight, almost seven.
Six. It will not be dark soon enough. Too scared to risk the radio, I try losing myself in all the albums I never lent you. Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen and all the optimism I could bear until I remembered you were alive for the summer of ’67 and I turned off the stereo at the switch. I have seen pictures of you with long hair and I know about the tattoo you bought for ten dollars. Be the change you want to see in the world, you said, was the moral compass you steered by. I suppose LSD was your northern star, I jibed. You kissed me quick.
There were rushed dinners. Sushi suited well, served in minutes and swallowed in seconds leaving plenty of time. Breakfasts while I missed pilates, hour long debates at three a.m. from my number because they all had yours. I never missed a full moon and soon, neither did you. Had I heard of Heidegger, you asked, complex character. Arendt should never have loved him, I argued emphatically. On Foucault we could both agree to the point of Queer Theory. By the time we reached The Whitlams you merely laughed. Lounge room music by a man who likes merlot was not enough to compete with your dead heroes.
The day I wore my red heels with the impossible height I didn’t ask how the coffee stain made it on to your silk weave white shirt. I watched you squirm on screen, too hot with the button of your suit jacket done up. Sweat threatening to spread from your salt and pepper hairline. PR scolded you after on your performance. Un-Australian, they criticised. Alienating. I couldn’t have agreed more, I said, as I slipped my shoes back on over my stockings. I had tickets to a book launch and you had twenty minutes to make Swan Lake.
Tomorrow will be Monday. The very thought has me retching into the toilet bowl. I am sixteen again, and my mother has seen the love bite on the side of my neck. I am twelve and have spent my school camp deposit on a book about tomorrow, when the war would begin. I am eight and have locked my brother in the car on a Sydney summer day and lost the key. I am twenty four and I have been photographed with my black skirt bunched at the top of my thighs.
The Eiffel Tower earns every ounce of it’s cliché, you once said, but I have never been one to take your word for it. The unrivalled city of love, you said. I hope beyond all hope you are wrong, I think, as I pack the scarf you bought me one winter evening when the breeze from the water whipped through my hair.