Like Ravaged Porcelain
‘To tread upon the boards; a fool, a fool! To burn beneath the light and bleed into the blinding space!’
There; that was the cue.
She let him go; let the last warmth of his fingertips vanish from hers as he was dragged out, dragged into the void. It was something she couldn’t understand, some eternal, mythological creature whipped at the shadows of the wings with great, slavering tentacles. She couldn’t fight it; she didn’t know how she could. Every night, she watched him die, murdered by a fiction. She watched him walk away from her and end himself, slit his throat open in some great blackness.
It was the eternal goodbye, a mono-chromatic farewell; the very last moment that they would see one another. He would already be turning away, looking for the light, drooling for the applause. Her last image of him would be as a silhouette, before he vanished. She had tried, once, to explain it to him, and he had laughed. He had said he was walking towards the sun, doing it because he needed to do it – she had said he just needed to do it to prove to himself that he needed to do it. He took those steps to prove that he could stand it, stand the death, stand the pressure, stand the pulsating heat – he wanted to stand it for longer than anyone else.
And every time he was reborn, birthed in sweat and blood and tears into the shadows of obscurity, he would look at her with empty, exhausted eyes. It burnt the recognition from his eyes. His eyes would glitter, but it was the glitter of the stage. He will laugh, and talk, and smile, but his laughter will be the trained laughter of an audience, the conversation will be a monologue – the smile would be makeup and stretched out like a melting cadaver’s. When the dawn light rose and broke the creature’s hold on the city, he would hold her – his grasp would not be the same; it was the kind of hug that she would tell her grandchildren about, the same touch that comes with an autograph, and a story, and a treasured keepsake to prove to oneself, in the dead nights, that one still exists – that one has existed.
There – he has gone, he has died with a faceless roar. Still, a form steps from the shadows; it is someone, something, else. He was suddenly some handsome figure, tragic and unbroken who paced and spoke and gestured with precision beneath foreign skies. She had seen him die a thousand times; she had seen him die as Caesar died, in Pompey’s Theatre on the Ides of March – she had seen him die as Richard died, cut down at the height of his mad, treacherous glory – she had seen him die again and again, and bleed out onto the stage until the audience laughed and cried and hung themselves from the smooth rafters of their open-plan box apartments.
They applauded the blood that rose and formed some humanoid figure, some clever reflection of mirrors and dreams. He was porcelain, red, blood-baked porcelain which aped the mannerisms of something else, something living, something which pretended to sweat and cry and fear like the audience sweated and cried and feared.
She knew him; she knew that when he stepped off those boards, with one last reluctant motion, he fell back into his own body. He was born naked, shivering and blind in the dark, with hair sprouting from between his legs and arms and across his breastplate. He was warm and weak and wet with sweat.
She wasn’t jealous, she was guilty – she reeked with it, reeked with the guilt, like the pale young figure who squatted in the shadowed corners reeked of creativity. She had screamed at him, told him that she had no desire to step into those shadows every night, she didn’t want to die on the stage, for the audience and the joy and the misery of these people.
‘No,’ she thought, ‘they aren’t even people, not really, not most of them. They were just carping creatures who opened their throats and cackled with a snap of his fingers, mannequins who occasionally shed a tear when his voice peaked in a howl of rage and fear and pain.’
She knew what was behind them, what fears drove those undulating furies from between his teeth. It was the cry of a dead man, struggling to cut its way from the coffin as the dead, dirt-covered wood smiled and laughed and pushed him down and shook hands with stunning figures in golden suits and low-cut dresses.
The audience weren’t people, no; they couldn’t be. They were numeri, they were ticket sales, they were reflections of emotion, reflections of emotions she hated, from the stolen form of a man she loved, and little else. She couldn’t bring herself to love them as he did – she hated them. She moved from the gateway, walking across the patched and broken boards of the side-stage. She passed actors, staring towards the stage with envy blazing in their eyes. She had heard their congratulations before, seen their poison handshakes as they longed for the same death, to wear the same death masks as he dared to.
She saw the writer, the pale young figure, with his hands permanently wringing as he mouthed the words in time – he should have been an actor himself, to pretend to such a role. His fingers weren’t stained, like they should have been, but they had the flat pads like a technician. He had the stench of a man who lived with the backspace, who could undo mistakes with the push of a button. He was a genius, apparently. A living legend at bringing the unexplored tensions of modern, multicultural Britain to the forefront of the viewer’s attention, in the language which would make Shakespeare proud and force Hemmingway to beg for forgiveness.
‘So; you left the worship of addiction to the worship of a hero! Who leans against a wall, in Liverpool, like a cast-iron James Dean! Who poses with Marlin Brando’s smile, as though he had been scarred with silver ink and keys and coins and ravaged jewellery! You walk these rain-hallowed streets to walk these rain-hallowed streets, and tell of the time that you moved across cobblestone oceans!’
It was close now, the quiet crescendo – the great undulating roar of applause followed by the screaming silence. She couldn’t bear the adulation they gave him – he wasn’t the dream-soaked idol they believed he was. He was just another young, fierce thing, with hot blood and ragged skin made perfect in the wardrobe. And what was she?
There – just another moment. Just another young, fierce thing with hot blood and ragged skin perfected by the shadows cast by stage lights.