The taxi pulls up outside your place, a tower block, tall and menacing and somehow, from my perspective, precariously leaning to one side. Here, where you have brought me, it is still night, although a very different one. I get out and wait for you to pay the driver. Here, where you are from, it is cold, deathly cold and a wind blows high and screeching. I jig up and down to keep warm, wondering if despite all my positive vibrations I am doing the right thing. I think back to the cheesy mock-Irish bar a million galaxies away. How you’d glided over all throbbing black, sexy, oh so fucking sexy, your aura powerful but calm, emanating substance but somehow light, buoyant, joyous even. How you’d murmured my name, grave but warm, and I’d tried not to tremble, not to shed my white.
The taxi screams off, leaving us. I glance at you. You are still The One, more handsome than ever, but there is something changed about you, now that we are here, in this strange place on the outer-most reaches of the universe.
‘You all right?’ you ask, reading my thoughts like in the bar when you ordered me a gin and tonic without asking because you knew that’s what I wanted.
You lead me down a narrow, broken path and into the tower block. Everywhere is shadow and darkness, and I feel conspicuous and vulnerable with all my bright shining luminosity. There is a lift and you press the button to go up. We wait, side by side in the dusty lobby. I feel myself dimming, rapidly losing charge, fearful of this other-place, from being so far from home. I need rejuvenating, but if I pop out now, there is no way I can control where (or when) I will pop in next. I will lose this opportunity to be with you.
You sat beside me at the bar, close enough to register your field but not so close as to be reckless. For ages we just stared into each other, not speaking, wondering if this was real or mere duality. Strange, after all our transmissions, the things that we’d already knew about each other—places we’d been, shapes we’d taken, births and deaths, our most memorable annihilations, our favourite children—that we could not find words.
‘Find it all right?’ I said at last.
You nodded and smiled. ‘You’re even more—
We got drunk and I sensed the night whirring out of control, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces, blurring at the limits. But for once it felt good to let go. To trust. To enter the dizzying void. I witnessed the universe coalescing. The stars taking a deep communal sigh of rightness. The heartless indeterminacy of things receding, if only for a nanosecond. Aeons of time, and here you were. Sitting beside me in this hole-on-earth, barman dressed in bright green, four-leaved clovers stenciled, inexplicably, on both of his cheeks.
And then you turned to me, fixed me with this singular look of shocking desire, raw and shameless, brazen with godly knowing.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ you said, and I knew what you meant, what it meant for you, for me, for us.
‘OK,’ I said, fluttering white-hot to my core.
Outside, you hailed a taxi and we got in. You told the driver where to go. Your coordinates meant nothing to me, but as we took off, I was glowing extra bright, vibrating harder than ever before.
We shot through the night, the city lights blurring into synaptic ribbons of green and orange and red until the colours collapsed into a single white streak, tracking on and on, until we were air-born, hurtling through the sky. On the back seat, we gazed into each other’s interiorities, oblivious to the passing of time, years, centuries, civilisations, millennia. Locked, entranced, doomed— all these things, but it was wondrous, truly wondrous after all that time flitting about in the endless void, fruitlessly searching for something real.
‘You are radiant,’ you said to me.
‘I want you so fucking bad,’ I replied.
You nodded, serene and featureless in the dim cabin, but with a presence that made me hope afresh that something so perfect, so scientifically elegant and universally axiomatic, could not end in tragedy.
We tore on, faster and faster, blazing and streaking, scattering droplets of light across the cosmos. I couldn’t stop gazing at you and your beautiful black. I gazed until I felt myself falling and falling, the heart-swoop of true love, crushing and glorious. Fuck. I wanted so much, right then, to reach out and touch you, to hell with the consequences.
‘No,’ you said, alert to my intention. ‘Wait ‘til we get to my place.’
‘But I’m on fire,’ I said. ‘Please. Do something.’
‘Can we have some air back here?’ you asked the driver.
But the driver had turned on the radio, was head-banging her way through the heavens to Def Leppard.
‘I said, can we have some air back here?’ Much louder this time, much more commanding. ‘My angel is burning up.’
The lift arrives. You go first, and I follow, uncertain. It is an old-fashioned lift, a rusty cage, intricately filigreed and hanging with dense clumps of a weird plant, like moss, but grey and spongy as coral. Automatically the mesh doors close and, without selecting a floor, the lift propels us up, so fast I have to concentrate on not entering your irrevocable field. We don’t speak. I feel cold like I’m losing light. I imagine you must live at the very top of the tower. Then, with a crunch like the sound of breaking bones, we stop. The cage springs open, again unbidden, and we float out. I don’t like this place. You lead me right, down a narrow hall, the walls dripping with a foreign black stickiness that tells me that something is not right. At the end of the passage we pass through a cherry-red door, lacquered and incongruous against the drab, grey landscape of this far-flung anti-world you choose to inhabit.
Once inside though, I feel a little better.
Your apartment is small, but tastefully decorated. There is a cream sofa with velvet cushions—purple, russet and gold. A wooden coffee table, carved in the Balinese style, boasts the latest home and lifestyle magazines—Wormhole Interiors, Intergalaxtic Bloke, Conquer & Glow, etc.—and a cut-glass bowl filled with beautiful soft-pink seashells, rare and erotic. A leather armchair sits in the corner, overlooking a bay window, which frames a lurid spectacle of pink and green galaxies quite unfamiliar to me. Beside the armchair is a small reading table, stacked high with books—nineteenth-century English novels and Romantic poetry mostly—and an angle-poise lamp, shedding a soft pool of golden light.
‘It’s cosy,’ I say, drifting about the room, gliding over and dropping down into fabrics and textures and solids, registering their density and thickness, their history and how long they have held their shape, trying not to hear the particles trapped inside, their tiny, barely audible screams to be set free, to pop and fizz and zoom like they once used to.
‘I’ve done my best, but it’s still quite sparse,’ you are saying. ‘It’s not been easy, you know, living out here, so far from civilization. I’d love, more than anything, to have a painting on the wall. Something soothing to look at. It would, I think, make all the difference. I’ve always admired the Impressionists. So a landscape perhaps, filled with trees or bright fields of flowers, an onslaught of green, of nature, lush and vibrant, living. Or one of those female nudes—fleshy, round-hipped, sensuous, with large, white breasts—to stop me being so lonely.’
‘Is there a bathroom?’ I ask.
‘It’s just what you see. A room, nothing more.’
‘Does somebody live here?’
‘What happened to them?’
‘I don’t know. One night I came home and she was gone. No note, no explanation. Just gone.’
‘Oh.’ Now that you mention it I think I can detect the remnants of an obliteration, female in flavour, roughly middle-aged, with some kind of disease growing inside her. Not cancer, but something equally insidious. ‘Did she die?’
‘Maybe,’ you say. ‘I don’t like to think about it.’
‘No.’ I can understand that. No one, not even the likes of us, enjoys thinking about non-existence, the inevitability of nothingness, the merciless void.
‘Can I get you anything?’ you ask.
But you are just being polite. There is nothing to be got. Nothing to do, except this thing, the idea of which had, not long ago, set me on fire, but now, now we are here in this cosmic wasteland, leaves me quite frigid. I look across at you looking at me, drinking me in, and that’s when I panic. I do not want this after all. I want to leave. I want to be free, random, at least for a little longer. I am still young, relatively speaking. I want to travel the waves. I want to experiment with the whole spectrum of matter. I want to jiggle and fizz and pop with whomever I like. I want to be cloud and flower and worm and bird. I want to be human, ideally a newborn child. I am sick of man-made objects—of fridges and guns and spaceships and iPads and dildos and dentures and breast implants and washing machines and mop handles and kitchen tables. I want to live. To breathe maybe, even.
I look around the tiny room and see now how it is a trap. How you have lured me here to this room you have made on the death-edge of the universe. How you have done this a billion, a trillion times before with other particles like me. How you use charm, fancy words, expensive cocktails, your impenetrable dark gaze to make us fall in love with you. How all around me everywhere particles like me are screaming to be let out, to stop being book or chair or velveteen cushion or, as you would have me, Titian-inspired reproduction, framed and hanging on a blank white wall in the middle of this black hole. You don’t even want to fizz with me; you just want to collect me, and zillions like me, to compose your silly painting.
I glance toward the door, but it has melted back into the wall. You know exactly what I am thinking. You are expert mind readers, you and your kind of anti-matter. I am trapped. There is little I can do. You know this. You grin at me, already imagining me transformed into this object you so desire.
There is this though. A simple thing. Elegant and mathematically proven.
I hold my breath. I hold it in and in, preparing myself, building steam. You think (wrongly this time) I am about to have a panic attack, a hissy fit as you might call it. But no, I’m gathering charge, the last drops left inside of me until I know I’ve got enough, just enough, to do this.
And then I fly at you, full pelt and screaming, streaming pure white light, glorious and dazzlingly beautiful. I fly headlong right into the core of you, the deepest darkest part, and there, in an explosion of radiant light, I am alive, more than ever, I am free, glorious, whole, woman, whore, angel, god, and it is worth it, oh so worth it not to let you have me in your stupid print of green or flesh, either way, I burst out roaring at the thought of you denied, your smooth words, those sultry looks, defeated in the tiniest blip, here on the outer reaches where no one can hear the sound of you collapsing, folding in and in and in, pain on pain on pain, until you are nothing anymore, a speck and then not even.
For me, too, of course, it’s the end.
I pop and fizz and fall away, a dead star raining from the sky, like I’d never existed, not for all those aeons of time, whole histories of forms and shapes forgotten in a luminous millisecond of exhilarating resistance, just the negative of me left behind, a feint juddering of purplish light and then zero, zip—
Belinda Burns is a writer from Brisbane. She teaches creative writing and literary studies at various universities. Her first novel, The Dark Part of Me, is published by Grove Atlantic and HarperCollins.