cigarettes and snails

When this identity crisis initially arose, as simply as it had risen one morning from the bed, I forgot to label the part of me which knew the difference and that was the first mistake. When he asked me in tones gentler than white sand on a beach near Mombasa, I was suddenly aware that I had forgotten how to tell the difference and I wondered then that perhaps it was due to a distinct lack of labelling on my part. There’s a sharpness to moments of lucidity which can take one’s breath away, but I can’t be admitting any such thing to those dulcet tones, I can’t be agreeing with his blue eyes and hair that curls and waves in its shortness against his head. No, they’re brown and I’m guessing this origin is Russian or Croatian perhaps Dutch somewhere back there, it’s the width of the cheekbones – the wider apart they are, well, that’s the beauty in them. There is so much of their face offered up when they turn towards you. That’s not the bit that sticks in mind however, when walking away, or closing your eyes, it’s the eyes, the colour and depth. I never notice until later whether there are any moles or blemishes on the face. It’s always about the width of the cheekbones and the colour of the eyes – and now, he’s here and he’s lost whatever curve he had on the jawline – that might have made him beautiful – but I can look beyond that.

I can see beyond the unbeautiful, the lack of jawline and in the softness of age. It’s there I find the comfort of needing to be noticed and so I notice each and every one and then that’s where they stay.

Its ok. I can say it. After all there are no more recriminations possible now that I am permanently here, but I used to keep a long hairpin in the drawer next to the bed. Not a hairpin exactly but it was slender and made of stainless steel. I had fashioned it as a hairpin from a kebab skewer one summer. I used a large file and although it took some time and was tricky – by the time it was finished; I used to practice on joints of meat; by the time it was finished, it could slide through any flesh between any ribs, through lungs, like a whisper of air.

In my waking moments I forget to worry or even form opinion but as soon as I lay my head down, the very touch of pillow on cheek brings me to the misshape that age imports and how each loving word, each caress, brought back to those bodies, a moment of self-respect. A time where there were no recriminations from lives lived badly. I was the one who brought beauty back to these empty hearts. I was the one who was able to impart the most important of gifts. A moment of pure desire.

The first time I heard it, it was like a whisper of air talking to me, a brief look of confusion passed over his once beautiful face, the regret of coming over momentarily glimpsing before falling into the darkness I carried for him. For him? For them and not a one under fifty.

I wanted to please him but had to keep my mind away from his tones, such sweet beautiful tones and he was the right age too but I know how they work. They pretend to be your friend and then lead you right to the court house and I am confused with the labels. Who was I? In control or his plaything? To be manipulated or the manipulator? Then I was them, each and everyone of them. Identity lost in the eyes of my inquisitor. Identity lost in the labelling of report. I was able to report how it felt as each one slowly exhaled their final breath. As if it had been me.

They always loved to hold my curls against them, pressing into my skull and there’s always been something powerful about kneeling in front of each of them, as a final act sometimes, a final act of sacrifice – not mine, but theirs.

There is a line that exists in the neck of young men. Vampire stories have been written for years about the intensity of the beauty of such a line. But my beauties are all “once were’s” and in their once upon a time, their jaw lines caught attentions. While they sleep, I trace that line through jowl or flesh.

As pleased as I was with the coverage, five nationals, front page listings, there were so many inaccuracies, I’d like to remedy them here with you, now. Let’s face it – you have the time, you’re already here. There was no sexual gratification in each situation, let’s call it a situation, of demise. When they came to me they were unloved, rejected, wary of intimacy and in need of escape. I suppose that’s a bit of invention – as they didn’t actually come to see me – I saw them, I picked them out when I used to browse in the video store.

“BEAUTY OR BEAST?” All over the newspapers. I was all over the newspapers. Photographs of my face that I never even knew had been taken were appearing in magazines and on internet blogs. The headline ran on the first day of my trial and some of them even called me Vincent – but I am no Disney character. Silk presses against this flesh until it slips to the floor and in the half light of tender moments, every alternative speaks to me until I get that whisper of air from wherever it comes.

Holding the palm of my hand against my head, just gently I can distinctly feel the wave of curl against the scalp. That’s how I know what they felt and that’s how I know how it would have felt if I had just had the chance to lay a hand upon his head when he sat opposite me. A desk between us.

It’s hypnotic – that zoning out – you can, I mean, I can, hear the distant screams or pleas but they fade into the distance as I light that last cigarette, as I watch them expiring with each exhalation, lung collapsing or heart stopping, sometimes dizzy, sometimes vomiting and when I withdraw my perfectly pointed dagger there’s a punctuation of the silence, the zoning with that whisper of air. I digress. None of this would have been possible without my babies. Conus geographus. I keep them, cigarette snails.

I bought the aquarium itself in a Sunday market some years ago. Locating them was difficult at first, but it’s amazing what the internet brings. Each shell has the most intricate weaving of shape and point and if you learn how to pick them up by the top, and take care not to be in the firing line, they are exquisite to look at – slowly moving and eating their tiny fish meals I used to bring in for them. The joke of course is in the name.

Did they have time for a cigarette? Only if they smoked. Otherwise, I’d just wait until I’d finished mine and in that paralysis, I would take out my so slender baton from the bed side table and then insert and withdraw again and again until the zone broke in a whisper of air…

It was easy to give them one to hold. “Look at this cone snail” I’d say as we’d watch them moving around the aquarium, sated and rested. I would have already chosen which one would be the soldier on duty and so swiftly and deftly, with a tiny net I’d sweep it from the tank and place it upon the hand of the soft faced lover I’d picked. The tired hands inevitably winced or even dropped the cone once the harpoon was released and I’d use the net to catch it if dropped so that I could return it to the small army of helpers I had. Then the cigarette. If they smoked, I’d light a cigarette for them – and wait.

Perhaps it was the fact that I let Justin go, let him leave, knowing that he would present at an emergency department not long after being here. Not sure why I let him go. Now that’s the first lie – of course I know and so do you.

I first thought that paralysis would be gentle but it’s not isolated in action. Perhaps I had fancied a Romeo and Juliet scenario except that this Juliet wasn’t for the long haul. But it’s not. It’s like a ritual. Once you’re familiar with it – it’s definitely a ritual. The fever, the shaking, the swelling of course and then dizziness. That’s why I always insisted on champagne beforehand. Good to have something to explain it away. Not that the vomiting was very romantic – but they’d run to the bathroom and I’d sit beside them. Stroking their head. I loved to see specks of grey. Always specks of grey and I’d attend to them so carefully and tenderly – lying them back down on the bed, as they started to shake and then it would happen. As soon as I heard the rattle of the respiratory failure kicking in. That’s what they call it, isn’t it? Respiratory failure. I could have been on Greys Anatomy all the anatomical knowledge I’ve acquired. So the rattle. Then it was time for act two.

Lucidity. I had a glimpse between the clearing of mind and his questions. He could have been one of them. I always fancied that he might have wanted to run his fingers through my hair and I would have dropped a cone onto his hand. Lucidity. I let myself be lured over the table, his head coquettishly poised, lashes lowered inviting me to spread over the melamine, my details.

I am pleased to provide. Now as then. I know you desperately want to know how and why, but there is no why with the exception of one thing. Lean in, listen; it’s a dance, a precursor to death that has to be done by one chosen to do it. I am that person. I am prepared, I’ve always been prepared. You see one day I woke up and I knew I just knew that it was about beauty. I had to restore beauty while they had a chance to experience it.

When you kiss the lips after death, they are pursed and stiff and if you’re really lucky – it takes more than a few seconds to see the results. Forget having time for a cigarette, it’s more like the time it takes to light one. I used to think it was tetrodotoxin but since have understood that it’s a conotoxin. More than one – but I’d bore you I’m sure or perhaps it’s too hard for you to understand the chain of events in the sodium inhibiting properties and the calcium blocking response it causes. It’s an art. Timing the dropping of cone on hand and knowing which one of the boys will do their thing.

Perhaps I fell for him a little. Those brown eyes, those broad cheekbones and shoulders laboured under unimaginative plaid. I ended up telling him, just as I’m telling you now. Call it a moment of weakness. Or, perhaps it was just incredibly good timing.

At each first glance over the aisles, it was easy to catch their attention. Firstly their choice of video and then, a conversation of words unsaid in the movement of my body close to theirs – unmistakeable. You see when I touched them, my beauty became theirs. They became overwhelmed with the concept of my love and brilliance. Wouldn’t you? And then it was time to administer. The Beauty of remembered love became present… and in that present, their jawlines recovered, I let them feel the recovery of youth’s beauty, desire’s beauty and then I ended it. What more could they possibly have hoped for?

I ended it.

Text: © J. L. Nash, 2011
:  © Naomi Leshem


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