It begins to snow again. Colin heaves piles of wood into the room and sits before the fire while drinking coffee. He turns off all the lights and sits in darkness for five minutes or more, not knowing if his eyes are open or closed.
Colin feels his way back into the bedroom, lights a small kerosene lamp on an adjacent nightstand, and takes it with him to climb up the attic ladder. He spits curses and grunts as he slowly rotates the handle of a pulley bearing her weight.
She descends the length of the ladder until her toes touch the floor. He latches the crank and takes the lamp to meet her at the bottom.
Setting the lamp at the base of the bedroom door frame, he loosens the rope from beneath her chest. She falls with an audible thud while he stands over her and stares into her cloudy eyes.
“Cold night,” he says.
Colin drags her into the next room and lays her before the hearth. He stacks more wood into the fire and sifts the splintering logs with a blow poke.
“Damn, Camilla. You must be freezing.”
No more than yesterday.
Colin knows this will be the first and last time he comes without her.
He drunkenly ponders the wide shale steps of the cathedral with meticulousness. The crest of the bone-colored moon rides in the dark void of space beyond the steeple. A hunchbacked man wobbles about the perimeter, teetering along the wall like a mechanical duck in a carnival.
Colin enters the vestibule and pauses by a glimmering bowl filled with sacred water. He stands in the open door without a hand to hold and goes down the long gray-tiled isle with acute caution. There’s a stale taste of incense that lingers in the air.
He recalls the days spent in the cathedral on his knees as a penitent dreamer lost in a vacuous sea of unatoned sin. Colin looks up to a seashell vestibule where a high God lies dormant in a polished and ornate cup from which he can never drink again.
Colin shifts her from side to side every ten minutes and drinks his coffee. An hour passes, and her body loosens enough to undress her. He drags her by the wrists to the bedroom, hoists her onto the tattered mattress, moves the lamplight back to the nightstand, and removes her floral dress.
She lays naked beside the dancing flame, her pale breasts flaccid and still like pooled wax. Colin dresses her and goes through her hair with a brush. He paints her lips cherry red and arranges her in the perfect position. Opening a drawer with scattered polaroids and a camera, he snaps several photos and sets them to the side.
He opens another dresser drawer containing a single sharpie marker. At the bottom of each photo, Colin jots Camilla on January 12, 2022, takes down the pictures on the wall from the previous day, places them in the drawer beneath the camera, and then tacks up the new ones.
He sits and admires them.
He lies and holds her and stares into her wide colorless eyes. Colin pets her head and sighs. He glances back at the photos on the wall.
“Purty as the day we met.”
Looking back at her, he traces his fingers over her body.
“Time we got some rest.”
Once again, he methodically undresses her and then strips his overalls. He lies with his head cocked to the side and stares at her still frame.
“I’ll love you forever.”
I know you will.
Colin closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, sleeps for a couple of hours, and rises to drag her into the living room.
Camilla’s flesh stretches over brittle marrow and bone when her arms drop. He builds another fire and sits cross-legged before her.
Colin, it’s time to say goodbye.
A lump forms in his throat, and his tear ducts flow.
“Just don’t want to.”
We can’t stay here.
“We made it fine so far.”
Colin lies beside her in front of the hearth, regards the musk of decay and embalming fluid, and understands it to be neither life nor death. He studies her with blurred vision and sees the dark cavity of her face as an open mouth.
“What went wrong?”
Colin eases himself into the first pew and sits. Besides his knee, on the back of the pew are mounted brass brackets with torn books. There are long, worn leather knee benches at his feet where he kneels with ambivalence. He glances about at gaudy altars that rise like gothic plateaus painted with ornaments of carbon marble.
Arching steeples ascend with cobalt angels beneath the pinnacle of a jaundiced Christ. God agonizes beneath a plastered thorn crown with nailed palms. A speared anemic belly juts beneath sharp ribs. His limbs sag above chipped flesh-colored fastened feet.
Colin gazes numbly into the spectacle. A confessional booth opens for his turn, and he abruptly rises to leave without consideration of truth or peril.
It happens like it did the first time, but now he sees.
Panic washes over him. His arms crawl towards her like a serpent, and he places his hands around her throat. His eyes are slow and wide as he focuses on her expressionless face.
“Why, Camilla? Why can’t we go back?”
Certain things can’t be undone.
Colin’s pink tongue catches between tiny gray jagged and cracked teeth. His jaw tightens, and he begins to bleed as the bitten-off rosebud dribbles down his chin. He loosens his grip, and her head lulls out of his clasped hands.
Gouts of blood and saliva rush from his lips.
Just let me go.
Colin rises, and his body sways dizzily in the shadows of the firelight. He goes out of the room. Doors open and close. He grabs the Polaroids from the bedroom along with the kerosene lamp. He makes his way to the back porch and picks up a gas can.
Colin regards the home sitting like a lonely beacon. Amongst the dark, the trees are black and depthless, and the moon’s light seems to burn the horizon above so bright it pulses with the beat of his heart. He moves swiftly without faltering. He drops the photographs beneath the doorsill awning, dumps the gasoline over them, and trails into the bedroom and the house. He outlines Camilla’s body and then goes outside to pull the glass casing from the lamp. Colin kicks the light. When the photographs begin to burn with a thin blue flame, he goes back inside and sits in front of Camilla.
The fire leaps and dances around him like something he had summoned from maleficent invocation. His eyebrows and lashes begin to sear, and he feels his skin and hair melt. Camilla watches him calmly through the smoke, her glass eyes orange with refracting fire.
Let me go.
Colin covers his face with his hands and falls to the floor beside her.