Saturday, 21 September 2013


  The moths love the flame. The little gas lamp hangs from the end of the porch fighting against the darkness of the woods, an unsteady pool of light. They flit around it, dancing to their new god. Every so often on finds its way beyond the frosted glass guard and there is a flash of fire. The others dance on, regardless, they love the flame.

  Ysalka, that was the name of my flame. I met her at a party, cliché, I know. A friend had dragged me to this flat owned by an artist she was screwing. The rest of our crowd had made excuses, but I was single, bored and already slightly drunk. It was raining persistently so we arrived already lightly bedraggled.

  I was introduced to the artist straight away and hated her on sight, it was probably mutual, I was an uninvited guest dripping onto the shagpile. The crowd there were trying too hard to be artists, too hard to be deep and meaningful, too hard to be different, too hard to be anything but a bunch of wankers who could not see themselves from an outside perspective. It is a good thing to be a creative person, but that is a far cry from telling everyone you are creative but producing nothing and wallowing in your own brilliance.

  But there was alcohol and nibbles, they were either organic or ironic, it doesn't matter, I'll eat anything when I've been drinking. A couple of interesting cocktails and a hearty attack on some dip that appears to be an amalgamation of wallpaper paste and split peas and I'll join any conversation and bullshit about anything.

  “Kandinsky? Interesting, yes, some of his statements were considered quite bold at the time, but if you look closely you can tell that he was only riffing off Von Junzt and that crowd, its fairly obvious.” No-one is going to gainsay you in case they look ignorant, speak with confidence and suddenly the crap you are spouting is an artform all to itself.

  “I dropped out of textile art when it became obvious that all the great work had been done and we were only mopping up the spilt soup of the true virtuosos. These days I'm mostly performance art, mainly pieces railing against the injustice of man caught in the labyrinth of the corporate zeitgeist.” Please don't ask me what I do for a living when I'm drunk.

  But she was different. Her black hair was not mussed artfully, it had just ended up that way; her clothes were wrinkled because she had not bothered to iron them; she hadn't tried, she just was. She wasn't a half-starved waif, subsisting off of scraps foraged from gallery openings, she had substance and refused to conform to a media stereotypes, refused to be anyone except herself. She was the only one in the room who was of any interest to me and she could smell my bullshit a mile off.

  We danced a slow tango around the room, we'd brush past each other headed for the snack table or the balcony and then part into another aimless, meaningless conversation, all the while meeting with our eyes, touching with fingertips, drawing in the other's scent. I don't know if anyone else noticed our game, gradually they all faded from my mind, an inconsequence. As ever, we finally met in the kitchen.

  “You're real,” I slurred. “All these people want to be something, but you're already something. Something unapologetic.”

  “You're a chameleon,” she purred. “On the outside you appear to match your surroundings, but look closely and you're just a lizard with funny eyes.”

  Now that the dance was verbal we circled closer.

  “Do either of use belong here?” I feinted. “I'm Rake”

  “We both belong where we are, until we find worlds of our own.” She countered. “Ysalka.”

  “Those are just letters put together to make something that sounds exotic, neither a description nor a true measure of what they denote.” My gaze traced her snub of a nose, her wide, hungry mouth.

  “My secret is out. Do you ever get mistaken for a garden implement?”

  “I'm a mirror, except I don't reflect back everything I see, some things I absorb to make myself whole.” I drank deep of her eyes, mahogany with the promise of chocolate.

  “I'm a sculptor, but only when I find the right subject, the right medium. Otherwise, I'm a hunter, stalking.”

  “Are you stalking me? Am I caught in your ambush?” My hand brushed the smooth, freckled skin of her arm.

  “Some prey leaps right onto the plate. How do you taste?”

  I don't recall leaving the party. I don't recall walking arm in arm, the rain soaking my already alcohol soaked skin. I vaguely recall the damp and filthy mattress in a dripping shed on some patch of waste ground, our flesh eagerly flowing over each other, the desperation of two people trying to become one. I woke up alone and shivering, lost hung-over and starving. The hooks were in deep.

  I didn't see her again for another month. I thought I saw glimpses in crowds, at parties, on public transport, but it she had gone before I could catch up, it wasn't her or I was just imagining it. I asked the friend who had taken me to the fateful encounter, but she didn't know who I had escaped with and the host didn't remember who she had arrived with. I Googled her name, but it came up blank.

  My friends noticed I was moping, so we went out, cut a swathe of devastation across a string of bars and fell down the steps into a basement club. Using hand signals to defeat the bass I semaphored my intention of joining the crush on the dance floor and we gyrated to whatever it was that the speakers were disgorging at us.

  All of a sudden I was grinding up against her, our bodies synchronised to each other but not the beat. There were raised eyebrows and shaken heads from my crowd as we fought our way out of the club, desperate for air, quiet, each other.

  “I thought you a ghost, but here you are, flesh again.” I reassured myself of her solidity, her weight.

  “I thought you a bottle, but you refuse to be drained.”

  “Am I such easy prey that I can be caught again?” I breathed deeply of her heady scent.

  “Once you are on the hook, I just have to reel in the line.”

  We ended up at my flat, giggling and nose to nose. Clothes found their way into untidy heaps on the floor, bed linen slowly joined them. I felt that we were melting, our skin running together, marbled in our different tones. Liquid, we explored, flowing around and into each other, touching, probing, filling, mixing.

Ysalka left me in the morning, sated, exhausted, bewildered and happy. I didn't know where she went, but she left me a time, date, place and promise. It wasn't much but it was enough to make me float through week, staring out of windows, dreaming. My friends quizzed me on who the strange woman was, I just raised my eyebrow and refused all plans for the following weekend.

  We met outside of a Moroccan take-away, bought a feast, climbed to the top of a tower block, pushed past the already broken door and sat on the blankets she brought with her. We watched the urban sunset, ate spiced lamb and couscous and chatted. For once, I was truthful and she was open.

  I told her of my ordinary life, working in a mundane job, doing normal things, pretending I was more clever, educated and worthy than everyone else. All the time promising myself I would be something different, profound or worthwhile and constantly failing. She told me of her strange existence, too much of a fidget to stay in one place, too much of a misfit to belong anywhere and too different to feel at home anywhere. And then she showed me.

  Under her touch the concrete parapet softened, deformed and then ran like water. I watched, stared, my mouth hanging open and my eyes wide. Her stubby fingers worked quickly, teasing, pulling and twisting as it re-hardened, leaving a crude statue of two figures embracing, us formed from melted brutalist architecture.

  I saw then it hadn't been a drunken hallucination, it was real, sex as a fluid. That night we took it slowly, she sculpted our bodies, we used positions only the freakiest, most depraved and out-there artists had envisioned on their sketchpads. A creeping physical opera of flesh, gradually moving to a screaming climax that exploded through our shared, distorted bodies. I can't describe it, lest I feel its draw, feel the need to experience it again.

  We woke at dawn, curled together in the blankets. She separated us and helped me get back into shape. We ate breakfast in a dirty café, silent, everything that needed to be said was shared with a glance. Then we split, distinct people for another week.

  It went on, ordinary weeks, singular weekends. We would sit watching other people live their normal lives, grinning to ourselves, not holding hands, sharing fingers. Playing footsie under a restaurant table would turn into something bizarre. She remoulded my bathroom into a baroque masterpiece. We made no plans, everything was plastic.

  I should have noticed, but I was too far into the flames, incandescent and immolated. During the week my flesh would hang off me, people would ask me if I was ill, but I was buoyed by joy, sliding towards the weekend and Ysalka. Eventually though, even I had to admit I was in trouble, my body was soft, I had gone from gooey-eyed to gooey-fleshed. One awful day at work I felt myself running down my own leg.

  I confronted Ysalka, she thought it was wonderful, I was becoming like her. I asked her how she had learned to cope, to control it. She told me how she had spent much of her early childhood as a puddle, how gradually she had forced her body to become solid, to hold shape. She tried to show me the basics, but told me I needed time to become used to it. But I knew the longer I spent time with her the more I would deteriorate.

  “I can't take much more of this, slowly it is destroying me.”

  “I thought you were the one who could share my life, my flesh, my being.”

  “I want that more than anything, more than everything, but first I need some space, some time to pull myself together. Will you wait?”

  “I will wait for you. But I can't promise I won't change.”

  “You are always changing, that's who you are. Be whoever you want to, as long as you are you.”

  And so we parted. I have left civilisation until I can be a chameleon again, until taking on the appearance of my surroundings is voluntary, until opening a door is easier than flowing under it, until I stop sleeping in a bucket.

  Sometimes the moth burns only his wings and then he falls from the lamp and crawls dejectedly around on the porch. He can no longer fly, but he still looks longingly at the light. Moths love the flame.

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