A railroad smell of ancient iron and stone and evaporated urine under the afternoon’s experiments of asphyxia. I walk for a while through a street stench of old concrete and unwashed skin that doesn’t exactly belong to me. A couple of junkies crawling under a bridge in a tragic dance, a stoned ballet I could even find amusing in other circumstances.
A decayed prelude to passion lost in cold air.
* * *
The shades are drawn and it’s night and Ophelie’s apartment is lit by a greasy rainfall of neon. Ophelie’s not her real name, not that it matters. She gets drunk and rants happily about the erotic use of leeches, dark and purple clothes falling on the floor and she lies about wanting to be hurt and spanked because she’s such a nasty disobedient girl and she needs some discipline, and I end up screwing her from behind, pulling gently at the rings in her nipples.
She falls asleep with my sperm cooling between her buttocks. I kiss her sharp shoulder blades and finish the wine.
A broken crate used as a bedside table, funerary candles on the floor and a tin box full of rusty razor-blades, an old cardboard file holding a series of vintage photographs: eyes lost in sepia cracks, austere mouths and poses, some boldly naive nudes. Under a table I find a small collection of dolls, their eyes painted with black lacquer, mouths sealed and molten in deformity by a lighter’s flame. I stand watching Ophelie’s naked figure while she sleeps our remains of passion away, the dark velvet collar hanging loose around her neck, torn by the fake urgency of my kisses. The bites I’ve left on her pallor are fading: temporary evidence of an unconscious attempt at cannibalism, perhaps.
I try and imagine her as a fragile, wounded creature but it’s a fancy of dust I cannot cling to for long. And I’m already bored.
I start picking up my clothes, I dress knowing it will end in tears.
* * *
The street again: and above me, in the dark, a thunder makes promises it cannot keep. Somebody’s laughing and screaming, a wildly painted face dancing in the half-dead headlights of a van lost in a shroud of bleak graffiti. Flaming hearts and tortured saints, wide-eyed foetuses wearing intricate jewels and amputated hands red with stigmata and absurdly elaborated cuts. Trying to be silent I walk on a sharp, square background of dark copper and graphite and windows weak and useless against the cold.
I shiver in my clothes, blowing smoke on my fingers to warm them a little.
In the street’s dim fluorescence, their eyes reveal briefly a corrupt shade of yellow and I notice fragments of bone in a girl’s lurid hair, along with crawling ants and tiny manufacts of silver. One of them smiles at me as I pass and I feel like I’m swallowing a handful of sand and a sticky, frigid fluid. Teeth like a graveyard of rotting ivory, shining through decay a scent of charred wood and horrid liquor and things I couldn’t put a name to even if I wanted. Another couple of blocks, a hurried shape in the murk inhaling the ground’s sick fragrance, the gasoline ghosts that rise from the sidewalk: me.
The subway feels like home. I bathe in the waiting crowd’s suburban paranoia.
And a short while later I start feeling slightly better.
* * *
Back home, I wash my face with incandescent water and erase Ophelie’s two messages from the answering machine, not wanting to remember the exact sound of her voice. But details keep haunting me, as usual: the way she sat cross legged on the bed while rolling a joint, faded panties, tank top so consumed I could see her nipples, guess the color of her tattoos. The way she closed her purple painted eyes as she swallowed my cock, slowly, as if not interested in seeing anymore, satisfied with the presence and taste of my flesh inside of her –
Her sad gray eyes incarnate the short-lived illusion of a mirror that could show me the intricacies of hunger, the comforting sound of an old, flaccid pocket of loneliness being ripped open for the last time. But rarely things last that long and I fall asleep on the couch hugging my strange harvest of moments and flashes and twisted shards of feelings.
* * *
I’ve been told that they get high licking on dirty needles, that sick blood is their perverse equivalent of amphetamines, that they collect medicines far beyond their expiry date that they swallow like candies: waiting for something better, for nightfall.
Under a nicotine moon I stop out of pure curiosity, noticing a girl who seems vaguely capable of speech.
You smell strange, she says, a pale glow exuding from her skin, the street of darkened tenements like an artificial spine buried in tarmac. And she laughs like a demented child when she realizes it’s snowing. Icy flakes hang on my hair, on the gray-black coat I’m shivering in.
How strange?, I ask offering her a cigarette, eying her two companions that lie immote on the ground and stare at the sky through the torn tin roof of the shack, like breathing corpses crowned by stones and dying grass.
Her fingers shake violently as she tries to shield the lighter’s flame from the wind, but the trembling in her limbs seems to amuse her, mysteriously. She bites off the filter and spits it out in the shadows, smoke soaking her words when she speaks again. Just strange, she says, like strange meat.
I pretend to laugh, she shrugs, cut momentarily in two by a passing car’s headlights. I’ve been told the strangest things about the way they can touch you, the way their hands can make you feel for a while and I don’t know what to believe and probably it doesn’t matter –
We smoke in silence, snow and cold air filling the empty spaces of this bizarre conversation. The hard leather of my shoes is an essicated echo on the whitening sidewalk.
* * *
Still snowing and I’m bored of darkwave sadness and printed words of wisdom and the tv’s screen is a square junkyard of unappealing plastic. I dress in the same clothes I was wearing the other night, a part of me trying to recreate past experiences, correct them, make memory a better place for my flesh, maybe; and then I get back to Ophelie’s without really knowing why. The coffee I drink in a microscopic bar on the other side of her street tastes like sawdust and sugar.
The bartender has the hollow eyes and faded lips of a recovering drug-addict, she’s playing absentmindedly with a plastic rosary, a disproportionate Christ on a tiny fluorescent cross. The woman seems to draw breath to speak but she says nothing and I pay and walk out inhaling ancient stone and melancholy shades of concrete, finding a vague comfort in the geometry of my lurid birthpalce.
Ophelie has company but she’s so drunk she comes to open the door anyway. She’s naked.
Vaginal secretions on her tongue when she kisses me on the threshold, I’m not sure she’s even recognized me. But a heartbeat later she whispers my name and leads me in the apartment’s heavy smell of pot melting with stale air, with sweat and the cheapest wax money can buy.
Her arm is slick under my fingertips, unnaturaly hot but it could be just my imagination.
I was sad and Sibella came to console me: she points to a black transparent shirt over an otherwise naked body, skinny beyond belief. I’ve never seen the other girl before, no reason to be surprised anyway. I take off my snow-covered coat, it falls on the floor in a humid heap of melting crystals.
Sibella is giving a drunk blowjob to a bottle of wine, red fluid dripping from her chin, her erected nipples. Her eyes focus on me shortly but it’s obvious that what she sees is not of great interest for her. She smiles around the glass bottle’s neck and I sense her eyes on Ophelie’s naked body like disincarnate fingers.
A moist whisper in my ear: wanna join us?, taking awkwardly my hand and placing it on her wet, warm cunt. My fingers, tempted to enter her already open flesh, remain on the surface, just rubbing her somewhat shyly. I don’t know why but I shake my head and answer: maybe later. Doesn’t matter, she says with a blurred laugh, shrugging.
She staggers away from me, I lick her smell off my fingers and I watch her crawl on the dirty Oriental rug, laughing again, raising her hazed stare on Sibella and murmuring something about being her bitch, her slave.
The other girl produces a coarse giggle, the bottle slips from her hand and falls on the floor without breaking.
Scarlet stains on wood, a candle extinguishes sizzling in wine.
She lets Ophelie lick her feet and suck her toes, swallows her small ringed tits and slips two skeletal fingers in her wet cunt, up her ass and laughter is slowly substituted by moans and low cries.
And my cock throbs painfully in my pants and I watch them, fascinated by the strange, surreal grace of their drunken movements, drinking myself sick: Sibella astride Ophelie releases her bladder, an acrid spray of faded piss on her chest and belly and then she bends to kiss her, to whisper things in her mouth, spit dribbling from her lips mixed with words I cannot grasp.
I count Sibella’s ribs, the all too visible pattern of bones and junctures under the skin. The burning in my crotch is barely sufferable and when I look more closely I notice she’s wearing a grotesque wig.
* * *
Later (Ophelie asleep on the floor, the neck of the bottle still stuck in her swollen cunt, an instrument whose use has been voluntarily forgotten) Sibella dresses in black and grayish rags.
She caresses my cheek with a crust-covered hand and I stare at her thin figure as she walks out the door, strange meat out in the snow.
* * *
Gently I remove the bottle from Ophelie’s flesh and when I hear its soft, moist smack I ejaculate in my underwear. Uncaring of the stink of piss and wine, I kiss her forehead and caress her damp hair and beside her face I place the tin box that jingles with razor-blades. A morbid suggestion, the first thing she will see when she’ll open her eyes. Before I leave, I steal one of her dolls laced with black lacquer and hide it in a pocket of my coat.
* * *
Milan is an inhospitable landscape of cold embers. I light a cigarette and wonder how soon the snow will steal from me the smell I sense on myself, on my clothes, on my hair, in my mouth. The shack is empty, a sanctuary of neglect, and I caress the splintered wood with the back of my hand leaving traces of Ophelie’s taste like a votive offering. I walk out in the white steel glow of the street, sad thoughts of redemption swirling in my head along with piss and spit and red wine.
A stray dog wandering on the sidewalk shoots me a suspicious glance, sniffs something in the air, disappears in an alley of icy dust and garbage.
You smell strange, I whisper to myself, catching my darkening reflection in a closed shop’s window. And then I start walking, headed home.