Burn Me To Ash – Chandler Morrison
September 19, 2021
In the unmoving dark, your voice on my stereo, I can almost cry. The unshed tears sting like rejection. Your words are the invisible wounds on my back. Red, gaping. Weeping as I can’t. I do this to myself because the pain feels like home in ways the city does not.
Driving up Hyperion, the lights glittering in the black hills like promises unsaid, unbroken. I leave the car parked on the street in front of a sign I don’t bother reading. My reflection watches from the dark mirrors of shop windows. A face like a skull. Haunted, reproachful. Cigarette embers trailing behind me, dying empty deaths on the sidewalk.
The sounds inside the bar are a solace. The clinking of glass, the pulse of music. The drone of so many voices saying nothing. All of it, it’s almost enough to drown out the melancholic echo of your songs in my head. Always in my head.
From where I stand at the edge of the dance floor, I can turn any of the formless figures into you. Mold them into the shape of what you’d been that night. Gently swaying, dressed in white. The splash of red in your wine glass black as cancer in the dim light. I can make them all disappear until it’s only you. Alone. Waiting. It’s when they turn that the spell breaks. Facing me with a face that isn’t yours. It’s then I realize I’m the one who’s alone, who’s waiting.
But if I shut my eyes, I can go back. Back to that night when I’m walking across the dance floor, and you’re the girl who turns. Your smile like nightshade. The scent of you in my veins. The cool heat of your embrace.
With my shuttered eyes I can be there, soothed from my stricken solitude among this teeming mass of sweating bodies where none of them is you.
That night. The dampness of your small hand in mine as we leave. The night wind whispering in your hair. Your skin like Egyptian gold beneath the streetlamps. Cars passing by on the boulevard, Stygian ferries chartered for a void which doesn’t see us, doesn’t want us. Maybe it did before and will again, but not then. Not that night.
“Those other girls don’t mean anything,” you tell me in your bedroom. Like it’s a revelation. Something I don’t know. “You’re wasting your time with them. It was always supposed to be me.” And I tell myself it’s not the wine talking even as I taste it on your lips.
Tangled in your sheets, in your limbs. Your laughter as you tell me I’m wearing too many clothes. Your hands unwrapping me, palms tracing the notches of my shrink-wrapped bones. My name upon your breath, in my ear. The unspooled midnight of your hair wound through my fingers.
I’d forgotten it could be like this. Like music.
“You more than measure up,” you tell me afterward. You take the cigarette from my mouth, and it looks better in yours. “I know that’s a thing for writers. Competing with the expectation you create with your books. The larger-than-life thing. The cool mystery.” The column of ash you tap into the heart-shaped ashtray looks desolate, forlorn.
“It’s why I don’t sleep with fans,” I tell you.
Your easy laughter, a sound like childhood. “I’m a fan.”
But you’re not. It’s too reductive a word for someone whose voice is on my stereo. In my head. Always in my head.
It’s then I have to open my eyes. Return to now. If I keep them closed, stay there, remain in that night, it’ll turn into the next morning. I’ll see the coldness in your eyes. Hear the hung-over rasp in your voice when you tell me what it was, what it really meant. The venom in your words when you say, “I wanted to feel better about myself. To prove to myself I could get someone like you. I wanted to be validated. It’s not like you’ve never done the same exact thing. It’s not like you’re not always doing the same thing. God, don’t be such a fucking girl about it.”
And so I return to now, where the bodies aren’t you and the faces aren’t yours, and there’s nothing to do but leave.
In the unmoving dark, your voice on my stereo tells me to burn you to ash. I look at my phone, and I don’t call you. I don’t call you to tell you we’re both already there. Already ash.