I woke up with a start. The smell of burning flesh congested the air. I did not know it was my skin singeing until I screamed in pain.
I’m dying. Oh God, please no. I can’t breathe.
My body gave to unknown force, and fell into a dark abysmal hole, head first.
“You left me,” I heard a voice say.
Love killed me!
Marline sat across from Eddah on the bed, the bench, where they judged their friends, sentenced obstinate boyfriends to death, gossiped about whose of their baby-mama girlfriends’ boyfriends was deadbeat, and who was trying to snatch so-and-so’s sugar daddy.
Eddah reached for the glass of tonic water on the bedside stand and gave it to Marline.
Marline wiped her eyes with Eddah’s handkerchief.
“He did not even care,” Marline said. “I needed him, and he told me to leave.”
Eddah watched Marline’s hand’s delicate movement as she dabbed at her eyes.
“I will talk to him?” Eddah offered.
“The worst part of it is that I couldn’t walk, the pain was killing me,” Marline said. “It’s not like I was pretending to stay in his house. I just wanted one more night for the pain to subside.”
“Men are dogs,” Eddah said.
Marline said nothing, as if the silence was the answer. As if she did not blame herself already. What troubled her was not Finnly’s heartlessness, she knew, but the impact of what the man she loved had done.
“Finn,” she said when I picked up. “I wish you pretended you cared; that’s the least you could do.”
That’s not what I expected her to say. She couldn’t understand, see that I cared for her, despite how twisted my idea of caring was.
I exhaled heavily.
“I’m hurting because of love, my love for you,” she said. “I have endometriosis for God’s sake. I just needed you to care.”
Her words were a slap to my face.
I’m sorry, I wanted to say. But the silence was so palpable that I could hear her heart beating and the tears dropping on her lap.
“You’re not going to say anything, that you’re sorry?” her voice trailed off.
“What do you want me to say?”
She drew a deep breath and blew her nose. My heart grew heavy with sadness and grief, and, in hindsight, I hated myself for making her cry. What mattered to her was not what I meant to do but what I had done: me chasing her away from my house when she was hurting, the way I did not care about her.
She got back to Marline’s house in the middle of the afternoon. Marline was still in bed, her eyes red and swollen.
“Marlee, dear!” Eddah said. “Crying yourself to death won’t help.”
When they hugged, Marline’s body did not relax against Eddah’s.
“I’m no longer crying,” she said.
Eddah watched Marline curl up under the sheets, telling herself she was mistaken; there was nothing to read in Marline’s tone. But it bothered her.
“I know it’s hard, Marlee, but you need to forget him.”
“Yes, I know. When love ends, life moves on!”
At that moment, Eddah knew. She knew from the way Marline pulled the sheets over herself, from the anger on her face, from the way her eyes narrowed at something distant, and from the way her lips pursed, that Marline would do something terrible.
“Please, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t hurt yourself. He is not worthy it.”
Marline sat up and looked at her.
Eddah would always remember Marline’s expression, her feral portent eyes, her trembling lips, her hands folding into fists and gathering the sheets and throwing them away; Marline getting out of the bed and stomping out.
Alone, I was furious.
Heartless, an animal.
When I visited him, I was surprised.
“Why are you so nice to me?” I asked.
He said nothing. He reached for me and smashed his lips onto mine. When I did not respond, he pried them with the tip of his tongue.
“Why are you so nice to me?” I asked him again.
“I’ve realized the error of my ways,” he said at last.
I looked at him, resentful of his frail attempts at making up without saying anything, of how sweet it sounded when he said, “You know I love you, Em,” as if his words were the mortar that I needed to cement my life to him.
I don’t love you. I hoped I was not angry and that the anger won’t get back to him because I did not want to pine. But I did pine: I always wore the locket he gave me, slept in his T-Shirt, every day read the poems he had written to me, and listened to the songs he liked.
“Why do you love me?”
“Love has got no reason,” he said.
His words almost changed my mind.
Heart, you may feel; head, you may think, but Marline, darling, you’re showing this animal the error of his ways.
“Love comes first, reasons follow, you know,” he said.
“What?” I looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Forgive me.” I rolled every letter in my head.
My mind flashed into the future, when he had hurt me again. I felt like I was piecing together the shards of a broken glass only to have it shatter again.
“I’m here, I’m I not?” I said.
When he went down on me, he flicked his tongue over me but time did not stop like the first time he did it. When he kissed me, I did not close my eyes. I want to carry the look on his eyes forever.
The world did not spin when he was inside me. I raised my hips, moved with his deep thrusts, wriggled like a snake as if I was breaking free shackles off my wrists, exorcising demons, freeing myself with the soft moans that escaped my mouth.
I meant to hold her and never let go of her. Yes, I had told her to leave my house, but it was because I was scared, I couldn’t take care of her. I thought she was going to die on me and complicate my life more. Forbidden love is poison.
Long after midnight, serene in her sleep like a baby in my arms, I listened to her post-coital breathing even out against my chest. She was back in my arms, I was never going to hurt her; bigamy was a crime I was ready to be convicted for.
Unbroken happiness is a bore, the words of Moliere hang like a bad dream on my mind. It should have ups and down.
I was happy.
One minute I was asleep, snuggled in the crook of his arm, his semen drying up between my legs. Another, I stood over him, so gentle in sleep.
You don’t trifle with people’s emotions. No, you don’t get to trifle with my feelings, my heart.
There was no looking back. Your goose is cooked.
For the first time, I smoked, blew the smoke leisurely through my mouth and nose, and dropped the cigar.
The curtains caught fire first.
When he woke up, he hunched over and clutched his stomach. Then he started coughing, moaning, and screaming in that order.
I knew the kind of death he would have, but most importantly, the last person he saw and the voice he heard before he succumbed.