Sorrow Like Sour Candy

She had a curious sort of beauty. Hesitant, almost sneaky. Like the timed release of Oxycontin, or a slow-acting poison. The full force of it didn’t hit you immediately. You had to look at her for a moment. You had to watch her move.

When I think of Calliope Laing, that’s what I remember. The way she pulled your eyes to her when she glided into a room. The way she held your gaze prisoner without even looking at you. Everything around her seemed to align itself to accommodate her presence, like planets falling dutifully into orbit around a smoldering star.

You knew she was pretty in those first few moments, but it was in the moments after those when you You were wrong. Pretty wasn’t enough. It didn’t come close.

Beauty like that, in all its treacherous splendor, makes you believe something. You get caught up in it. It rearranges the truth.

The girl beside me isn’t her. We’re leaning against my car on a hilltop ridge overlooking the glittering lights of the city. I don’t know why we came up here. Maybe I’d rather look at city lights than at someone who isn’t her. Someone who’s pretty, and nothing more. Someone who could be anyone but the one I want her to be.

“How do you know when you’ve lost yourself,” I say. It isn’t a question because I don’t want to know the answer. “How do you know when there’s nothing left.”

I can feel her eyes on me when she asks me what I mean. The concern in her voice is so sticky and saccharine it makes me sick. I wonder what she’d do if I threw myself off the edge. I wonder if she’d scream, or simply turn away.

In the pocket of my windbreaker is a broken bobby pin, once Calliope’s, the only possession of hers I’ve kept. I like to tell myself it still carries the scent of her midnight hair even though it just smells like cold plastic. Putting my hand in my jacket pocket, feeling the jagged little pin’s familiar presence, I push its sharp end beneath my thumbnail. The bite of pain stings sweetly like something deserved.

The girl beside me asks what’s wrong. She tells me I look like I’m going to cry.

I wish I could cry.

Later, the cool, empty dark of my apartment is an accusation. It seems to relish in its lack of comfort. The city lights outside my window are oddly more ominous than they’d been from up high. There’s a chilly cruelty in their ignorance of me. Los Angeles, the disaffected mistress. Maybe that’s why I can never leave.

Moving through the blackness, I sit on the couch and pick up the stereo remote off the coffee table. My pricked thumb falters over the swollen smoothness of the power button, a cancerous contusion beneath my skin. I tell myself I shouldn’t even though I know I always will.

Her voice rising from the speakers is like the first hit of a moonlit cigarette smoked after a breathless kiss with a toxic lover. It’s the voice of someone who knows sadness tastes sweeter when shared. It’s Lexapro and laudanum, white wine and weed smoke. It makes me remember childhood even though I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be innocent.

I like to pretend she’s singing to me, but I know she’s not. I don’t think she ever was.

There’s an absent thoughtlessness when I take the hairpin from my pocket and stab its point beneath my other thumbnail. I push it deeper, retract it slightly, and then push it deeper still. The act itself feels like something else. It feels like her mouth on mine in the darkness of her bedroom. Like her fingers in my hair, down the back of my neck, over the protruding ridges of my spine. My hand between her thighs, the short bursts of her breath in my ear. The heat of her. The slow rhythm of her body. Her warm tongue on my throat, her wet teeth grating my shoulder. The lifting crescendo of her cries, rising as if from fog, tugging me to the edge of an abyssal chasm and then pushing me over, into its endless depths.

Breathing hard, I extract the pin from my thumb and hold it close to my face. In the darkness, the bead of blood is as black as hate. Touching it to my tongue, it tastes of things lost.

I used to believe life was guiding me toward a destination. There were beacons along the way. Swiveling lights in the distance, glimpsed from the rainswept deck of a storm-chastened ship.

I see now I am only flailing in the dark.

Chandler Morrison is the author of seven books, including #thighgap and Dead Inside. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He lives in Los Angeles.
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