Brandon and Margo. The two names that would forever be fused together because one killed the other and that kind of makes them inseparable in people’s stories.
Apples had littered the street, outlining parked cars and folding in on themselves as the wind took bites out of them. Margo pulled her coat closer to her body, Brandon kicked an apple out of the road and onto the cobbled path in front of her. That’s how they met, via rotten apples. And in a way there’s a sort of poetry to the symmetry because that was how they departed each other too, Margo’s body lying under freshly dug soil amongst the overripe round fruits.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because you’re already forming a picture in your head of Brandon and I’m going to go ahead and guess that it’s wrong the same way that you thought pistachios would taste disgusting before you actually tried them.
It was one of those love affairs that never had a label but pulled at the heart strings in a pure, unfiltered way that those romantic partners dampened by normality never could. We’d met at a house party; darkened lights and a conversation about the percentage of the alcohol we were both drinking, 28% and tasted like Dr Pepper for those of you that are interested. The poison we voluntarily drank. And then the air we polluted with our cigarettes, mine from a cardboard packet with a burnt corner and his from a small metal case that pinged open to reveal roll ups and excess tobacco. We stood too close together, my ‘black opium’ perfume merging with his scent of smoke and sweat and an aftershave I couldn’t distinguish. And we spoke about politics, he’d just graduated the subject with first class honours, and I was captured by the cadences of his voice. Nothing much happened that night, other than the building of foundations for later encounters and his jacket being draped around my shoulders to ward off the biting cold as late night turned to early morning.
One week later, to the day, we met again. He leant against the wall of the train station, red bricks pressing into the same trench coat he’d given me to wear before. I wore my ‘feel good’ boots, the ones with just enough of a heel to feel just that bit taller, that bit more confident as I counted the clacking sounds of my feet on the pavement.
A three-month relationship of sorts followed; walks in the wood with cigarette after cigarette shared, our breath forming clouds in the frosty air, beds shared and sheets crumpled, sweat that travelled between bodies and deep, dark secrets told in the midst of night when it was dark and letting it all out didn’t seem like as much of a vulnerability.
‘I’m falling for you.’ I’d whispered as his breathing had slowed and watched his chest rise and fall, a sheet draped over his torso.
He was ice and I was fire. His body cold to touch, his mind firing blanks in the moments when he was meant to feel something, his responses sometimes indifferent. He was everything and yet he saw himself as nothing. While I enjoyed our whiskey and roll ups, he relied on them and when my heart was pounding with anticipation, adrenaline, excitement, he was trying to reign it back and not let it show. There were times when you caught his eye and he wasn’t there. A part of him was missing and it was only his eyes that gave it away when his sharp jawline shifted as he smiled.
She taught him how to forget for whole seconds at a time the darkness that seemed to consume him like fire licking its way through dry twigs. And yet, the irony is that her absence, when she was gone, seemed to penetrate his icy interior and wipe it clean. Not in one swoop, but in chips and grazes. And through those chips and grazes, he saw honey orange watercolours bleed across the sky and a silver moon in a black sea that followed his every night with a winking eye and dew soaked grass that smelled of the rain.
I dressed for death today, a black suit jacket fell limply over my shoulders, my collarbones protruding as I closed my eyes against the Dubai sunset. The colour of ripe pumpkins bled across the sky, the golden penny sun sitting low on the horizon, light catching on the towering blocks of glass that punctuated my view of the sea. Yet I closed my eyes because today was not a day for beauty.
An artfully rolled cigarette perched between my fingers, ash swallowing up the end as I took puff after puff. Everything about Dubai was artful, right down to the quick fingers rolling tobacco between paper with the ease of someone making an origami swan. Everyone thinks of here as steel buildings and blue seas and blue overhead, but no one mentions the shades of orange that pirouette across the sky. Or the red rivers that run across your balcony floor from the gunshot wound in your partners temple.
A champagne flute lay on its side at my feet, glass splintered across the warm ground, the dregs of a sparkling liquid clinging hopelessly to the shards that remained intact as I looked down at the simmering cigarette twirling through my elegant fingers. It was a stark contrast to the bruised knuckles of my other hands grasping the hilt of a greasy black gun, the smell of metal lingering in the air.
Smoke curled around my fingertips like a glove, a hazy memory of the cigarette as I flicked it away from me. The honey orange tip cascaded across the balcony before landing in a crumpled heap like a dancer who stumbled and fell.
‘I’ll miss you.’ I whispered to the sea and sky, the wind swallowing my words.
What you need to know about Margo is that she was all fire and no smoke, she was all explosive and passion and intensity and no warning, no gentle scent or burning of the eyes to indicate what was coming. She was beautiful in a natural and yet in your face way, she was a big personality and a big emotion. She was simply too much for this earth. And Brandon knew that, so he did her a favour and removed her from it. Her death didn’t make him close off, it opened him up like a rose in bloom, his petaled exterior starting to light smiles in people other than Margo. In three months she had elicited a feeling of being purely alive in him and yet it was the sense that she was gone that finally let him embrace that unfiltered feeling. It was the fire and the chips and the grazes and the orange sky.
So, there was Brandon, and there was Margo, and then there was me. Clemence. But no one remembers my part in the story; how I whispered gentle persuasions in his ear with a cold breath and curled his fingers round the trigger. I was the smoke, the warning and the trigger. No one seems to remember that.
There was ice and fire, but there is never fire without smoke.