Post-Mortem

 You danced in the rain that October night. Spinning, turning under the rain, under the stars. Divided, horrifying and beautiful. Fleshless, but flesh. Hand-shadows on the floor, on my face. You asked me to dance. Took my hand, stepped from the path, stepped into the night. You spun me, spun new worlds. Beat of your heart as I held you. Racing. Drip of water from your fringe. Close, closer. And I knew I had to have it. Look up, look down. Peel away the skin: flesh and blood and bone. Peel again, there, the dancing, beating rhythm of you. I wanted to bottle, contain that little dancer, the dancing part of my self.

We travelled across countries, down pathways and networks that crossed over boundaries and city lines, followed a red thread you connected across the continent. We stood on an unfinished bridge in Avignon, holding each other, listening to the waters rumble, and the Mistral blew your eucalyptus-scented hair in my face. Standing on the edge, we looked out into the night, on that bridge with no end and no destination.

I held you back as you wanted to step out into the darkness and twirl the stars and the moon, merge with their light. I watched you desperate to step on the high winds of banners, lifting your arms so you could be uprooted and taken to other lands. I could tell that you were thinking about the size of the world. And I, in your arms again, thought how none of the world mattered. We went to Rome, and Berlin, and the fjords in Scandinavia where ice and water speckled your flesh. When we arrived back at King’s Cross station all I wondered was, what would happen when you stopped dancing?

*

That night, the feeling of emptiness next to me woke me up. Turning under the sheets you stood by the open moonlit window, just in your pyjama bottoms, slightly pulled down below the waist. The light showed how white your groin area was in comparison to your torso. Your eyes were closed, head slightly tilted back so the wind ruffled your hair. The cigarette glowed as you took another drag and exhaled, typing quickly on your phone with the other hand. Type and swipe. You laughed silently to yourself. Some joke that I was not part of. That face I traced so many times was full of smug satisfaction. I watched your long back in the mirror’s reflection, which narrowed down to the point where the buttocks split. The point where pale skin and shadow played with each other. You stubbed out the cigarette, pulled off your pyjamas and climbed back under the sheets next to me.

Freedom was your beloved, and it shifted with your dreams: a tiny boat to sail across the ocean, a tightrope in a circus, a sun-dusted forest where you danced alone. All of those boats sailed towards you, and I anchored them so we couldn’t leave. I watched you in the morning, when the light came through the shutters and your skin was translucent and glittered as the sun rose. The currents of your blood and passion swirled blue underneath and I saw how your body pliéd and slid to the shifting desires of your consciousness. You loosely held my hand. I drew circles around your heart where the core of you was found, that dancing part of yourself, softly pulsing against your chest. The beat, the rhythm had slowed. One. Two. Three. Four.

You spent the days with your hand against the window. All was still. Gazing out at the world outside, out across the city, to the horizon where the sun was setting and your body bloomed in reds and purples and pinks. There was less of you, slowly disappearing into the air, and the window pane barely fogged when you breathed on it.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m here,” you lied with your eyes fixed on the steamed window, lips slightly parted. You were time, space travelling. Each second, every moment, in every thought moving forward, travelling backwards. Years, decades, minutes. Reliving and tumbling, sending your mind into a place that does not exist yet, a place that can evolve and change, a place called the future, a universe called the past. Gone from this moment, fled the constraints of the present. You moved through that vacuum of space called the mind. It’s there in the absence of time, space and light where story is formed and unfolds like helixes of DNA, twined with memory. In those recesses anyone, anything is possible. Deep in the darkness you danced alone to a different rhythm, twined with DNA that wasn’t mine.

The longer I contained you, the more your longing to dance alone grew. You twirled worlds where you could be; I caged us from a world where stories bred. I realised that it didn’t matter what skin you wore, or who you were with. It’s where you were dreaming about. When you dreamed, I didn’t exist at all. You were someone else, another shape, with another form that didn’t match to my silhouette. Moving, changing, shifting, merging. With other people, by yourself. Dancing alone.

*

Your face emerged from the darkness, and in the phone’s glow, it bore a grin so void of emotion it cannot be erased. Download another app, looking for the quickest route, quickest way to sever the ties. Swipe left, swipe right. 100m away, two stops on the tube, in the apartment below.

Fucking had become like a production line. Pound the two together until they fit, even when they don’t belong together, and pound once more for good measure. Then in the morning, or even partway through the night, push them off the bed when finished. As soon as the cogs have stopped turning they’re forgotten, just another one in the line, just another number. I suppose Ford is to thank for the great sex production line. Get as many in and as many out as possible. Fuck, hammer, screw, steam. Nailed it. Carbon copy fucking with nothing to distinguish one shell from another. Throw it away once it’s broken or used. There’s always another one out there, more to have while we still can, while we’re still fresh. There’s better, younger, newer, fresher, flashier. Somewhere out there. Waiting.

Now when love is needed you order it online and have it delivered to your door, keep it for a while and when it becomes boring, place it back in the box along with the memories and send it back. Tied nicely in a bow, without complications. Eventually you found the better-looking version of me. It was some hollow replica, newly minted, put together without flaws. Some type of golem where you could push parchment into its mouth, with your wishes written along the length and shape it into what you wanted.

Before you left, you took your Polaroid out of your bag and took a photo of me. I wasn’t scared that it would steal my soul as I had already sold it to you. Once it had finished developing you put it in your journal with my name written next to it, my nationality and location. It was like some sort of homicide list. A map of all your lovers so you could knit them all across the world with red thread and figure out where you had left to go, which had escaped you, where the next place you needed to dance would be.

*

As I lie in the bath I think of those last days where you pressed your hollow face itself against mine. That post-mortem you. Sometimes I hear the beat of feet on the floor and I look up, look for you dancing in the corridors and I realise it’s the drip of water from a tap, the neighbour climbing the stairs. I look down in the black waters. I wonder what the reflection sees staring back, some death mask floating in the depths, now that the dancing part of myself has disappeared into the air.

I pull on a bathrobe, drips of water from the tap, the drip of water from my fringe, and return to the bedroom silently. I slide underneath the bed sheets next to a new, foreign body. The bony branches from the sycamore tree scratch against the windowpane, the strange fruit swell in the foreign night. The cool nights have moved to cold. The wind whispers outside the window, and somewhere beyond the pane is the oily sea. My toes cling to your ankle. Your fingers creep around my heart.

In this moment I become uncomfortably aware of everything around me in the thickening silence between us – cicadas singing like land-wrecked sirens, the scurry of mice under the floor, the neighbour brushing his teeth. In the darkness the senses refine and the imagination opens. In the shadows a different side to the story is told.

From the bed I look at the frosted constellations. The stars are light years away; the light emanated long ago and only reaches us here, now in the present years later. Moving through vacuums and emptiness to light us up with something from the past. They’re like humans. I throw myself into the past, send my mind and body along those lengths of light.

We lie on the bed, sheets half falling over the edge, bodies entangled with the lacy night around us. Disentangle, re-tangle. Repeat. In the perfumed shadows there are unfamiliar scents of familiar people, familiar smells of unknown bodies, and empty embraces. They merge together like a strange perfume, and cut through me like an unwanted memory. Risen from the inside out. The scent on the pillow fills me with the sea, chalk and twilight. The smell of coffee, smoke and eucalyptus lurk on the air. The warm wind takes me to an unfinished bridge, and a body which slots perfectly with mine.

In that strange black vacuum of time and space I am constantly bombarded by memories that fill the silence inside, outside, and the slow unfolding of other people’s stories around me. Wish I were there, wishing they were here, you instead of them. Memory and the present constantly colliding together, indistinguishable, millions of little big bangs creating millions of beginnings. Here in this bed beside the icy window, an icy body, telling stories of you, of me, of us. There are many beginnings, it all depends on at what point we start to define ourselves. No one knows when everything begun, we are a chain of endings without knowing our exact origins, and this has already started partway through. All just a series of cause and effect.

“Tell me a story,” you ask.

“Real, mythic or possible?”

“You choose.”

I place my index and forefinger on your lids, your eyes like moon slits, and close them gently. I have no coins to keep them shut. No coins for the journey, for the next story. As this story will end, at some point.

“Breathe in.”

Close your eyes.

Hold your breath.

Let’s play.

Begin.

Michael Handrick

About Michael Handrick

Michael Handrick was born in the UK and raised in various countries. A graduate from the Creative and Life Writing MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, his short stories have been published in various anthologies; his journalism appears in magazines such as PYLOT, as well as academic research published by The Inter-Disciplinary Press.

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