PROSE: Stages

They’re hideous clichés. They feel the shame of it, the sour tang of guilt every time they indulge themselves in something they love.

They are self-conscious. Aware of the rôles in which they find themselves to the point where their thoughts blur into scripted lines. Every touch and tilt of the head is performed in defiance of the accusation of affectation, one whispered in their heads. They know the script, and live within it. Uneasy.

She has long ago given up on love. It feels to her like an act – each kiss, each smile, each endearment. The fervour with which these things are performed changes nothing to her; they are read from a playbook all the same. She will smile, and kiss, and call him my heart and feels keenly the emptiness of these things. She’s too aware of herself, but he is a match for her in temperament and aesthetic and she clings to him in relief, in fear that no one else will ever see her.

He still believes in love, believes he might love her, even, and is catatonic with the impression that she will leave him if he says so. He follows after her with a misplaced desperation that he swallows every time she turns around. He tried once to write a poem of the things he loved about her but the words wouldn’t come. He walked the midnight streets wondering what it was he saw in her. He returned to find her sleeping and sat watching her with a rock on his chest.

He reads to her aloud from Anaïs Nin and puts his feeling into every word, while she lies on white sheets, staring at the ceiling, and wonders if an authentic soul can exist. She loves Anaïs Nin. She loves it when he reads to her. She closes her eyes and takes a long slow breath. She wants this moment to last a thousand years; then the bliss is broken and she feels the weight of self-consciousness.

When he finishes she will rise, disquieted, to drown the feeling in wine or in words. He will stand and catch her hand and kiss her with a mouth that tastes like scotch. He will pull her out into the night where they can be lost, damned, anonymous in dark city streets, lungs full of car exhaust and cigarette smoke, eyes reflecting the street-lights. They throw themselves into the plague pits.

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