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The rules of the Crave were simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a predetermined place a good way from where we lived. We traveled there together but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart for it to seem like we weren’t together but close enough that I could always keep her in my vision. Then we waited. It never took long, but why would it when V shone as brightly as she did? Some hapless man would approach and offer to buy her a drink or ask her to dance. She would begin a mild flirt. And I would wait, my eyes never leaving her, my body ready to pounce at all times. We have a signal: As soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck, I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he thought he was doing talking to my girlfriend. And because I am useful-looking in that tall, broad way, and because V likes me to lift weights and start all my days with a run, they would invariably back off with their hands in front of their faces, looking scared and timid. Sometimes we couldn’t wait to start kissing, sometimes we went to the loo and fucked in the stalls, V calling out so anyone could hear. Sometimes we made it home. Either way, our kisses tasted of Southern Comfort, V’s favorite drink.
It was V who named our game on one of those dark, freezing nights where the rain looks like grease on your windows. V was wearing a black T-shirt that felt like velvet to touch. It skimmed over her round breasts and I knew she wasn’t wearing a bra. My body responded to her as it always did. She laughed as I stood up and put her hand against my hot chest. “That’s all any of us are ever doing, you know, Mikey. Everyone out there. All craving something.”
It is true to say that the Crave always belonged to V.
* * *
Part of me doesn’t want to write it all down like this, but my barrister says I must because he needs to get a clear handle on the situation. He says my story feels like something he can’t grab hold of. He also thinks it might do me good, so I better understand where we are. I think he’s an idiot. But I have nothing else to do all day as I sit in this godforsaken cell with only the company of Fat Terry, a man with a neck bigger than most people’s thighs, listening to him masturbating to pictures of celebrities I don’t recognize. “Cat still got your tongue? My banter not good enough for you?” he says to me most mornings, as I lie silently on my bunk, the words like unexploded bombs on his tongue. I don’t reply, but it never goes further than that because in here, when you’ve killed someone, you appear to get a grudging respect.
* * *
It is hard to believe that it isn’t even a year since I returned from America. It feels more like a lifetime, two lifetimes even. But the fact is I arrived home at the end of May and as I sit here now writing in this tiny, dark cell it is December. December can be warm and full of goodness, but this one is cold and flat, with days that never seem to brighten and a fog that never seems to lift. The papers talk of a smog blanketing London, returned from the dead as if a million Victorian souls were floating over the Thames. But really we all know it is a trillion tiny chemical particles polluting our air and our bodies, mutating and changing the very essence of who we are.
I think America might have been the beginning of the mess. V and I were never meant to be apart and yet we were seduced by the promise of money and speeding up time. I remember her encouraging me to go; how she said it would take me five years in London to earn what I could in two in New York. She was right of course, but I’m not sure now that the money was worth it. It feels like we lost something of ourselves in those years. Like we stretched ourselves so thin we stopped being real.
But our house is real and maybe that is the point? The equation could make me feel dizzy: two years in hell equals a four-bedroom house in Clapham. It sounds like a joke when you put it like that. Sounds like nothing anyone sane would sell their soul for. But the fact remains that it exists. It will wait for us without judgment. It will remain.
* * *
I employed a house hunter when I knew I was coming home, whom I always pictured stalking the streets of London with a gun in one hand and a few houses slung over her shoulder, blood dripping from their wounds. She sent me endless photos and details as I sat at my desk in New York, which I would scroll through until the images blurred before my eyes. I found I didn’t much care what I bought, but I was very specific in my requests because I knew that was what V would want. I was careful with the location and also the orientation. I remembered that the garden had to be southeast-facing and I insisted on the house being double-fronted because V always thought they were much friendlier looking.
There are rooms on either side of the hall, rooms that as a child I simply didn’t know existed, but that V taught me have peculiar names: a drawing room and library. Although I’ve yet to fill the bookcases and I have no plans to become an artist. The eat-in kitchen, as estate agents love to refer to any large room containing cooking equipment, runs the entire back length of the house. The previous owners pushed the whole house out into the garden by five feet and encased the addition in glass, with massive bifold doors that you can open and shut as easily as running your hand through water.
Under-floor heated Yorkshire stone runs throughout this room and into the garden, so when the doors are open you can step from inside to out without a change in texture. “Bringing the outside in,” Toby the estate agent said, making my hands itch with the desire to punch him. “And really, they’ve extended the floor space by the whole garden area,” he said, meaninglessly pointing to the sunken fire pit and hot tub, the built-in barbecue, the tasteful water feature. He was lucky that I could already imagine V loving all those details, otherwise I would have turned and walked out of the house there and then.
Copyright © 2018 by Araminta Hall.