Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Longing

It's a strange place. She'd have never known it was there, but Melbourne can be like that. A city with a soul and a sub-culture. On the surface it's the same as any other with a river running through it and a normal CBD. Venture beneath and above, and it's a city of secrets, revealing themselves but only if you know someone who lives there, or are adventurous enough to breach the graffiti donned steel doors. Flinders alleyways are filled with al fresco cafes in a town where it rains and the wind howls. A place where the heat can be so unbearable, you need shade to keep your beer cold. Wine bars buzz on the third level of office blocks, their little terraces visible only to those on floors above as they gaze on the cityscape.  Curiosity shops are hidden round corners and beyond reach of the average citysider.

This was one of those places. She'd have never found it had she not been bored and on a mission to get lost. The unremarkable steel security door opens into a cavern of the occult and strange. A maze of rooms and corridors filled with curios and candles aged volumes on religion, Wicca and some darker necromantic practices. The place is scented with the smoke of patchouli and reeks of risk and the mysterious. One of those shops with a curious back room hidden by a thick, dark velvet curtain. What goes on there she can only guess. Her imagination runs to ritual and orgies, Tarot readings and practices outside her middle-class experience, but she's as curious as the items displayed for sale and asks the man at the counter.

"What's beyond the curtain?"

He's a furled and wizened man. Wizardly looks and the stereotypical long grey hair with a not-so-stereotypical closely-cropped beard. He wears a hand-knitted grey cardigan and thick corduroy pants. He reminds her of her old history Professor, the one who called his Reformation 101's a 'bunch of fuckin' Charlies.' He peers at her over silver-rimmed reading glasses, the type with half a lens; tiny and rectangular. 

"What do you want to be beyond the curtain?"

"I dunno," she wasn't expecting him to answer a question with a question and it made her think. "Something different. Something outside my experience. Perhaps fortune telling or magic?" She refrains from any reference to dark practices or sexual deviance although she's already convinced it happens beyond the curtain.

He closes the volume he's reading. She's disappointed to see the cover reveals it to be a store-bought cash book, she was sure he'd be reading some occult manual or The Book of Shadows.

"Seriously young lady . . . that's where we hold our readings, incantations, hypnotherapy and casting sessions. Are you interested?"

She's not. She's only in the shop to browse while the torrential rain abates. This is Melbourne. The weather breaks eventually, and a warm shop with a fragrant ambianc is as good a place as any to seek refuge in a storm.

"Er, not really but I'm curious. Does that stuff work?" 

She's sworn off reading her horoscope and doesn't believe in God, so how could any other spirituality exist? She's open though, searching, sad. She needs a saviour of some kind, or magic in her life but remains skeptical and agnostic in her belief in anything.

"Well that depends," he strokes his beard thoughtfully.


She now has his full attention since she's the only customer in the place.


"If you believe, if you're psycho-suggestive or even if you let your will subside and take the time to relax, practice, listen; yes, it can work. The degree to which it works depends on what you need and how much you want it. What do you need?"

She did give up smoking listening to a self-hypnosis CD and she enjoys the power of yoga for relaxation. She knows what she needs. It's what she wants that remains elusive; a certain young man. One who's affections appear to be waning. His attention, once full-on, is now divided between her and work and selfish pursuits. She sees less of him and it makes her needy. She wants more of him and it makes her worse.

"A love spell? Or perhaps an out of love spell so that I don't need him any more. One that will help me move on." 


Immediately the embarrassment of even uttering the words washes over her and she feels like an idiot.

"Ah." He strokes his beard again. 


This is the most common of requests, and the unremarkable young woman standing before him becomes even more so. 


She's modestly dressed in a black trench coat, loosely pulled over a long sweater and leggings, short boots.  She's clearly a suburban girl trying to look a little alternative.  Made obvious by her glossy lips and pink pashmena and conservative pearl studs in each ear.  He can tell that she's safe, straight, not too adventurous, bored perhaps. Lonely? Definitely. Open to suggestion? Absolutely. He moves towards the heavy door and pushes the deadbolt. She's feeling trepidatious but for some reason trusts him. 

"Come," he reaches for her hand which takes her by surprise but he's warm and friendly and she allows herself to be led beyond the curtain.  The room's small, comfortable and cozy. It's draped with curtains and lined with red and gold flock wallpaper. It has the feel of her favourite barThe Alchemist in Brunswick Street; musty and faux Victorian.  Patchouli still permeating the air with it's sweet and musky fragrance. She's directed towards a chaise lounge before he motions for her to sit. She's a little anxious and perches erect and stiff,  "No, no, be comfortable," he gesticulates with an animated flourish of his arm, "Put your feet up, relax." She turns off her mobile phone and removes her boots; lies prone on the lounge as he tinkers in an old wooden cupboard. He retrieves and arranges red votive candles on the points of a pentacle drawn on the old parquet floor. He begins to light them slowly and deliberately. 

"So, which will it be? To make him love, or help you forget?"

She doesn't really believe in the remedy but it's still raining outside and she has nowhere else to be at this particular moment.

She adores Ricky. He's the light of her life but lately he seems ambivalent towards her. The first flush and crush of love and lust now past. He's not been attentive and she's yearning for a step backwards. She fears the relationship might not last for a number of reasons, the least of which provided by the tyranny of distance. Long distance romances never work despite having told herself the contrary. Commuting six hours each weekend wasn't pleasant and the time they had together brief and becoming more dispassionate for him, more anxious for her. She stopped running after him on weekends a fortnight ago, and now waits for him to come to her. He swore once this 'deal' was done, he'd move in with her but it's been taking too long and she fears estrangement.

"Make him love me," she says, "I don't want to forget him, not ever. He's the love of my life but I'm not the love of his."

The Wizard speaks soft and low to each of his burning candles. Bent and slowly circling the pentangle, arms outstretched,

"Imagine a door in the floor. Under the door is 'the longing' bathed in white light. The longing weeps as you do, the longing sobs waiting for the light. So may he wait, longing to see you, touch you, enjoy you. Without you he is nothing, without you he has nothing, he cannot eat nor drink. A fish without water, a babe without a mother. Neither under the sun by day nor under the moon by night. Gnaw the longing into his breast, into his heart that it may grow and increase with thirst for you."

He's immersed in his spell and doesn't see the smirk on her lips. "This should be good", she's thinking and begins to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation. She's holding back the giggles. 

He repeats the incantation over and over before he extinguishes the candles and turns on the light.


"That's it?" she asks. "Are we done?"

"Not quite," he replies, "You need to take one of these candles. Before the waxing moon, carve his name and yours into the side. Dress the candle with vaginal secretion, just once each night until the moon is full." 


She feels her jaw drop at the very idea of bodily secretions and thinks it hilarious, and ridiculous, but maintains a serious face as she sits up, feeling unusually relaxed and pulls on her boots and coat. 


"Burn the candle for 10 minutes each evening," 


She's skeptical once more but agrees.


"There's no charge for the casting, but the candle will be $25" 


He now has the cool persuasion of a used car salesman which reinforces her feeling of ridiculousness. It's a lot of trouble to go to just to flog a candle. She pays. Anything's worth a try.

***


He's busy. She doesn't believe him but he really is. There's a deadline to meet and the pressure on him is enormous. This is a make or break deal that could set him up for life or destroy a potentially lucrative career. He's told her as much and wonders why she's constantly emailing, constantly whining that he's absent in heart and mind. It's irritating him. Why can't she understand love isn't dependent upon pissing in each other's pocket 24/7. He told her he'd be preoccupied for a couple of weeks. She acknowledged it but still pesters him with her emotional outpourings of neglect. Two weeks! Two short weeks and it'll be alright. The deal will be done, their future assured. 


He's already bought the ring. She doesn't know of course. He's even thought about proposing over the phone to shut her up but no, he's got a special event planned and he wants it to be a surprise. 


He knew he loved her the minute he met her. She was honest, real, down to earth. They shared interests, a quirky sense of humour, the same taste in music. They talked until the cows came home. She was his companion, his friend, his lover. He just needs a little time. He just needs her to back off. Once this is done, he'll move to Melbourne and they'll be together, everything will work out.

The presentation goes well despite the growling in his stomach. He should have eaten beforehand but nerves got the better of him and he skipped breakfast. Strange really, he normally eats like a horse but couldn't face his muesli.  He calls her.

"Hey babe, all went well, I think they'll go for it. I'll know in a week or two. If it comes off, I'll be moving to Melbourne by the end of the month."

She's still not content.

"The end of the month? Rick, it's been six weeks since I've seen you. Four days since you called. I'm here hanging on Skype waiting for you, sending you texts and you barely reply. What's going on?"

He's taken aback. "Didn't realise it had been that long. Sorry, I'm flat out with this proposal. Been working six days and schmoozing with the corporates in the evenings. It's not been fun you know."

She's still not persuaded but swayed by the sound of his voice, his wonderful voice. Gentle, calming. Just seeing his face relaxes her, reassures her although the conversation is short.

"Anyway, gotta go. Some wrinkles to iron out before the next meeting. I'll call you Saturday and we'll talk for hours, promise."

"I love you," she says with less than full conviction in her voice.  He hangs up without saying anymore than "Goodnight"


***

She lights the candle, odd as it seems, and complies with all instructions, eyes focussed on the clock before extinguishing the flame.  Retrieving the required 'ingredients' has reminded her how long it's been since she and Rick have slept together, held each other, fucked each other. She dozes with her fingers caressing that which he should, but for now, it's good enough and she becomes lost in the moment before embracing fitful sleep.

She repeats the ritual as instructed until the full moon beams and the candle dwindles to a weeping waxy mess on the saucer on her bedstand. The job is done and she can 'feel' a difference, although what that 'feeling' is she can't identify.

"Hey Hun," he sounds tired. He's on Skype and she adjusts her webcam. He looks gaunt.

"Hey darling. You OK? You look knackered."

"I don't know what it is, I can't eat, sleep. I've been up for 36 hours, I can't focus. Even this bloody proposal just stares at me and I can't seem to get it finished."

"Take some multi-vitamins, go for a walk get some fresh air and new perspective," She's not really interested in giving advice but has a go at it anyway to try to cheer him up. Tired or not, he's called her every night, texted her every day. Sent flowers every week and soon she'll see him.  Everything is falling into place.

"I dunno, if I can't get this thing finished, we'll miss the boat. I miss you though. Can't stop thinking about you." 


He explodes in a tirade of desperate romance. "I'm horny all the time, it's embarrassing, look at this," he slides the camera down and she takes a gasp as the moisture builds on her own side of the lens.  Talk leads to lascivious conversation. Even cybersex is better than none as they masturbate in unison, listening to each other moan without the intimacy of contact.

After calls like this, her self-confidence is restored. He's hers, once again. Two weeks, it'll be sorted and he'll be hers always. She knows it.  Strangely, she feels it.

His calls continue but his webcam fails and it's been over a week since she's actually seen his face. He's still having trouble sleeping and can't keep down his food. He sounds exhausted, dejected and misses her beyond her comprehension.  One night he even bursts into tears saying he can't take it any more, the loneliness is killing him and he wants her in his arms. She wishes she could see his face and readjusts all her settings to try to make the camera work, to no avail. She just contents herself hearing him breathe and tells him she'll fly down for the weekend.

Tonight the call isn't from him, but it is from his Skype account. She's surprised when it's not his face in front of the camera, which now mysteriously works.

"John? Where's Rick?" 


It's his colleague's face now visible on a working webcam. Strange how it just suddenly decided to behave. She's unaware that Rick had turned it off so she wouldn't see him in such a state. He knew he looked like shit and she'd only worry; he didn't want her to worry. It would all soon be over. 

"Em, there's something you need to know." John's face is crestfallen, anxious.

"Rick's been admitted to the Alfred. He's not well. Something's happened over the past couple of weeks. He was well into his proposal. The original presentation went without a hitch and they were ready to sign once they had the detail. He stopped eating, stopped working, fell into some sort of depressive heap. He's lost a lot of weight, terribly dehydrated and collapsed in the boardroom this morning. We couldn't find his mobile to call you so I got his hotel room keys and he was still logged in."

She's shocked. This wasn't an outcome she'd anticipated. All should be well by now. He loves her, the presentation was almost finished, a romantic weekend planned. Just a few days and life as they'd known it would resume. The candle came immediately to mind. The words of the chant echoing in her head;


Without you he is nothing, without you he has nothing, he cannot eat nor drink. Gnaw the longing into his breast . . . 

"Shit! Tell him I'll be down tomorrow morning. I'll catch the earliest flight. Tell him I love him."


"Em . . " John's voice is grave, "I think you'd better hurry, he's in a bad way."

It's all unravelling. She didn't believe in the spell, the chant, the magic. She'd done it out of desperation, just in case. She didn't put any value on it for a moment. It gave her something to wish for, hope for. Jesus, it gave her something to occupy her mind before she slept. 


She grabs her coat and bag, still dressing as she runs down to the bus stop. Back into Flinders lanes and tries frantically to find the shop. He has to help her, he has to stop the spell. She needs an antidote to something she doesn't understand and never really believed. She's panicked and desperate and can't find the door - the iron, graffiti covered door that opens into the little shop of curios. It's gone. She collapses on the gutter as the rain begins to pelt and soaks her to the skin. Tears melding with the cloudburst until she can cry no more.


***
"I need to see Richard Malvern. " She's panicked and the station nurse is slow on the uptake. 


"Are you a relative?"


"No . . .well . . . yes. I'm his girlfriend."


"Are you Emily Wexford? He's been asking for you but I'd like you to see his doctor first."


"Shit, shit! . .I don't want to see his fucking doctor, I need to see him." 


The urgency in her voice makes the nurse reluctantly shadow her to Rick's room. 


"He's very ill Ms Wexford, gravely ill. We don't know what it is. His decline has been rapid, inexplicable, there's nothing more we can do."


She can't believe it. The private ward is beeping and buzzin. He's being tube fed and oxygenated. His eyes are lifeless and barely recognise her as she takes his withered hand, smoothes his sallow brow.  How could he look like this after just a couple of weeks. It's not possible. 


"Oh Ricky, what's happened? Look at you,"


He can't speak as a tear slips downwards across his temple and eyes wonder towards the small velvet covered box in the cabinet beside him. 

She averts her gaze and picks it up and gently lifts it's tiny lid. A ring. A beautiful ring.  A diamond ring. A solitaire of white light and purity.  "Oh fuck, oh fuck!"   The tears spontaneously erupt with the gravity of the situation.  "Oh God, Rick,  I've done something terrible! Something unforgivably wicked . . .I didn't think it would work! I didn't mean  .  .  "

He's beyond hearing the confession she wants to make. He wouldn't have believed it anyway, 


The monitor flatlines as he gurgles his last gaspm. He's emaciated, lovelorn, unable to tell her how deeply and unconditionally he loves her. How desperate these past weeks have been without her.  How the longing has gnawed at his body and soul. How wonderful she is, how he regrets neglecting her. How he did it all for her. How awesome their life together was supposed to be. 


Now she believes.










Published for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "A Better Ending"



14 comments:

  1. oh damn...nice and twisted baino...i really like this one...

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  2. This is really good, Baino. Not to stretch a point too far, but it was... spellbinding.

    Now move away from the keyboard, especially the Delete key.

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  3. that's pretty sick

    but in a good way

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  4. Well, that was a really good read...

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  5. Be careful what you ask for... a truly mesmerizing tale.

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  6. Very dark. I think I detect a few different influences in this one, including (possibly) Terry Pratchett!

    For me it was a little slow in the beginning (a little too much scene setting, perhaps) but it was a good yarn! I was kind of expecting the spell to succeed, and Rick to not get his deal signed, which would have been a pretty good punishment for her, so the ending was a surprise. Pity he had to die, though ...

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  7. I was glued to this one, totally in from the first words. I was anticipating a happy ending as I read and love that I was wrong.

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  8. This is good. Very good. One of your best, even. Full of cliché, yet pieced together masterfully. I haven't read them all yet, but this is my early frontrunner.

    Edit: "... with al fresco cafes..."

    Plus a bunch of other comma violations. :P

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  9. Ha! Wickedly good read.

    I now have visions of a very large candle being rolled through those Melbourne laneways instead of that large ball of string as in those arty Vic travel tv adverts ... you should give them a call ;) Smiles*!*

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  10. ooooooh.......didn't think you'd take it this far. gripping story. i imagine hollywood would enjoy getting a take on this.

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  11. I LOVED it. An adult fairy tale of sorts.

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  12. Your so good.
    I kept thinking it was going to end ... now ... now .. but it kept rolling on.
    ah, Patchouli, the sent of the 60's.
    'cash book'?

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  13. Very good indeed. Really liked it.
    Agree with Jay though about the opening paragraph. It didn't make me think Melbourne was a city of secrets. And beer gets warm - shade or no shade. But from the second paragraph on I was increasingly gripped.

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