by S. Cuthbert Baker.
“When I was a kid,” James said, “the older kids would tell me this place was haunted.”
“It looks haunted.” Brittany said.
“An old man told me that a lady went mad here, found her son hanging in his bedroom, that’s why it’s abandoned.”
“Does it scare you?”
“It used to, but it’s fine now,” he said as they walked through the backyard into the house, “after a just few nights I felt at home.”
“Good,” she laughed, “I have everything planned perfect for tonight, even a mix tape.”
See Brittany had been to James’ secret terrace in Caulfield many times throughout high school, so it was amusing that she noticed the state of the house then. It was built in the Victorian era and the kitchen and living area were combined, and the toilet was outside. From the couch she watched his bare feet walk over the checkerboard lining of the kitchen to the gas stove, which had been left connected by whoever lived there before. Cabinets hung off-center and the plaster walls were painted a dark blue. There was no electricity and the scented candles on the table in front of her, cast a shadow of everything like a city skyline across the wall. Brittany put her mix tape into the cassette player. It was a Nick Cave song.
“Is this The Birthday Party or the Bad Seeds?” James asked.
“You have to listen to the guitar.”
“The Bad Seeds are more rock, Rowland S. Howard was in The Birthday Party and his guitar sounds were weird.”
James listened and he turned the stove top on and sparked a cigarette lighter next to it and it engulfed in blue then danced orange. The sewing needle was tied to a pencil with an elastic band that he held at the base of the flame. James held it there until it was glowing then removed it and wrapped thread around the needle until only the hot tip was showing. He carried it steadily back over to her and set up his station; creating a long figure on the wall from his shadow. He knelt down on the checkerboard and lined the Indian ink and rags and a pen all neatly.
“Where did you want it?” James asked.
Brittany pointed to inside her leg and looked at him. By now she was lying flat on his couch, wearing nothing but a black hooded jumper and her white underwear which were not nice or lingerie because she had not expected to take her jeans off and anyone to see.
“Right there?” James reassured.
The sound from the cassette player went static for a second then a song came on by The Libertines. James started to draw the design she had sketched on the inside of her leg with a blue pen. Her thigh was soft and fleshy and James told her it would hurt but she said she did not care. Brittany rolled a cigarette as James dipped the needle deep in the ink so it soaked the thread and dripped down to the tip. He asked her if she was ready and she said she was so he stabbed her in successions causing a smear of black ink and blood on the inside of her thigh.
He wiped her leg and continued poking her with the needle until lines formed. It was red and raised and the blood and ink running down her leg onto the couch made a dark maroon pool in the cushion.
“What am I drawing?” He asked her maybe three quarters of the way through.
“You’ll see.” she replied.
He was almost done but he couldn’t tell what it was. It was a rope in a knot, maybe a reef or bowline knot he thought.
“What do you think it is?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” He laughed.
He applied Vaseline to her leg to stop the bleeding. He told her he would have to go over it again in a week to fix it but she said she wanted to leave it imperfect. He lay down on the checkerboard floor parallel to her to get a different view but still could not tell what the tattoo was.
“It’s a forget me knot,” she explained, “Get it? Like, forget me – not?”
James understood but just smiled. He looked at the finished tattoo and then looked up to her who was now lying down and stretched out on his couch. Her hair was brown and messy with two symmetrical lines of hair fell into her eyes covering them except for the corners that shone green. The mix taped churned over once again and The Smiths started playing.
“I love The Smiths,” Brittany said, “it’s weird, sometimes I think there are questions only Morrissey could answer.”
“What about Johnny Marr?”
“He just added; Moz was the brains.”
“Did you want a picture? To put on MySpace?”
“No, I don’t want everyone to see it, only special people.”
“What if I want everyone to see my craftsmanship?”
She gestured for him to join her on the couch. He obliged.
They didn’t have sex and they didn’t even kiss. They laid still together on the cramped and stained couch with clothes and rags scattered on the floor. Neither could sleep and neither could talk. Thoughts raced as they lay; head to shoulder, arm-to-arm, thigh-to-thigh in an old room once considered a second home and their escape. Two months later the house was demolished.
James only thinks of that house when he hears a Nick Cave or a Smith’s song. If you were to ask him what happened, he would just reply “life.” He still remembers Brittany, but that’s all she is now, a memory, a memory of a young summer; a summer when he not just held her in his arms for a night, but in his heart for a season, and in his mind for a lifetime.