By Adam E. Smith
Her skin was still the darkest he had ever seen, absorbant of all the experiences in the world. He leant forward to push his face up to the spyhole. She stared straight back at him, her eyes grotesque, enlarged by the lens. He could hear the scrape of her heel on the floor when she moved closer.
“You there?” she said, pressing her ear against the door. “You’re there – I can hear you breathing.”
He leant away from the door, clenching his jaw as if to stop himself from speaking. His fingers curled round into a fist.
“Let me in,” she hissed. Inside her coat pocket, her palm scooped the camera. He opened the door but blocked her path. When she pulled out the camera, he said, “Did you come here to shoot me?” A smile cracked his face. He laughed. “What the hell for?”
When he laughed again, she grasped his bony white arm and pushed him inside the flat.
“I wanted to make you feel how I feel all the time,” she said, slamming the door behind her and releasing him. “Like a piece of meat.”
He moved deeper into the room, away from her. She glanced around at the empty beer bottles, the discarded clothes, the open DVD cases. The smell was not his; it was that of a teenage boy. He flicked his head around and caught her looking. “You’re judging me,” he said. “Again.”
“I’m just looking. Like you,” she said, standing still in the centre of the room. “Always looking in, even on—”
“Is that what it is?”
He laughed again. The sound crashed through the room like a train. “Didn’t it occur to you that someone could possibly fall for you?”
“It isn’t love,” she told him.
He shot to his feet and grabbed her arm. He let it go just as quickly and then walked away, saying, “How can you say what I do or don’t feel? You’re extraordinary… I’ve never met anyone like you before.”
“That’s because you’re from Shitsby, a pathetic place where no one interesting lives.”
“I left,” he said. He thought for a moment, and then asked, “We haven’t seen each other for a month – why did you come? Do you need a fuck?”
On that final word, her head tilted back and she made a sound that contained mirth and anger at the same time.
“Oh, that’s it,” he laughed and then grinned. “I’m a man, baby. You could have just asked.”
She flew at him with her hand high. She wasn’t sure whether she was going to hit or embrace him. When she reached him, they kissed. Her raised hand fell to his shoulder, stroked his neck, and then slipped underneath the curls at the top of his spine.
“I’ve been trying to forget you,” he whispered. She breathed in his breath. “Damn, I’ve been trying to—”
He pushed her away. She grabbed his arm and they wrestled. She hated that he could repel and draw her at the same time. “You missed me,” she grunted.
“Yes, I fucking missed you!” he shouted, freeing himself.
She dropped to the sofa and bent down to remove her heels. “You’ve been outside my house, shooting me from the street. We said we weren’t going to see each other again.” She couldn’t help a certain pleasure rippling her voice as she said, “You thought you were so stealthy, such a clever little paparazzi.”
“Get out!” he yelled down at her. “Get out!” He pulled her up.
She laughed in his face. “You want me,” she murmured as he marched her towards the door. With only one shoe on, she limped. “This is sexy,” she said. “Come on, let’s play the strangers game on the Tube.”
He opened the front door and forced her through.
“My shoe!” she said, hobbling. He collected the shoe, threw it at her feet and then slammed the door as she shouted, “See if you can’t follow me.”
He paced across the dark room, ending at the window, from where he watched her pull her collar up while she strode down the street. He turned away slowly, and then hurried to the door, grabbing his own camera and keys. Within seconds he was on the path, twenty metres behind her. He watched the streetlight on her long calve muscles. He could tell that she kept her chin high. It was her style. Her life was a catwalk.
She kept her eyes forward. While her pace was regular, he scurried behind her like a beaten dog. In the clawing white light of the Tube station, she spotted him. He followed her onto the train through the channel the crowd made for her, but stopped a few metres away. She leant against a pole. Cradling his camera, he watched her. More passengers boarded at the next station, pressing him closer to her. He overlooked a stout man to stare at her neck. Her collar had collapsed on this side, so he could follow her neck down to the small well at her clavicle. The other man pushed past her at the next station and suddenly they were close enough to touch. He moved his hand towards hers, but she turned away to face the direction of travel. His heart thumped when he saw the shape of her body, packaged in the crisp, fitted coat. Down at their sides, her fingers found his and touched them for a second before the doors opened and she forced her way forward. He followed.
She exited the station and marched along the high street. As she cut through the alley, he paused to take his first shot. She didn’t stop when she heard the shutter release. She stepped forward, hearing his clicks a few metres behind her, then his catch-up steps.
He drew nearer as she pushed a key into the lock on her front door. “So fucking formulaic,” she said. The door opened and they stepped inside.
“But you wanted it,” he noted. Her back was still to him. “You came to me. You can’t not have me, the camera.”
Eventually she turned. The door clicked closed behind him: like a camera shutter, it seemed to capture their pause. She looked at him in the grey light of the hallway. “You love my skin,” she said. “The image. You don’t love me.”
“We’re always attracted to the facade. We’re a visual species. And you love being looked at.” He held the camera like one would a baby.
“Because…” she paused, and then her voice dropped as she said, “Because it’s all I’ve ever known. I went to a posh school. I looked strange. People have never been able to take their eyes off me.”
She turned and walked deeper into the cold house, not flicking on any lights as she went. He heard her say, “You only fancy me because I’m different to what you’re used to. I’m a way for you to get back at your small-town upbringing. No black people. I bet your parents are racists or something.”
With that, he pursued. She had disappeared into the living room, where he found her peeling off her coat. “Don’t talk about my parents,” he spat.
“I’m exotic,” she said, her coat dropping to the floor. “You’ve told me how boring your childhood was. I think the word you used was ‘colourless’. Come on, what would your dad say if you told him you had a black girlfriend?”
He scoffed, looked at the floor. He scoffed again.
“Wait a minute,” she said slowly. Her tongue made a ticking sound against the roof of her mouth. “Why wouldn’t you have told him already?”
He inhaled quickly and looked up at the ceiling. His hands fidgeted around the camera. “You don’t know a thing about my background, my family,” he said.
“I know the type,” she replied.
“That’s not fair.”
“But it adds up though, doesn’t it? It’s a small town where everyone is the same, where everyone is grey.”
“Does that mean just because I’m white I don’t have a personality?”
“You’re just nothing, boy! You’re fucking boring. You take photos of others because you don’t have your own identity – you capture theirs.”
He slammed his camera down on the coffee table and grabbed her head with both hands. “I’m nothing?” he shouted at her. “You’re nothing. You’re cold. Emotionless. You don’t know when you’re hurting people. You’re anti-matter – you absorb the energy of everyone around you. You’re a fucking black hole.”
“A black hole?” she said, freeing herself from his grasp. When he heard the words again, he dived towards her mantelpiece, crashing into her photo frames and trinkets. They smashed onto the floor. Then he saw that she had lifted his camera and was photographing him. “Give me that,” he shouted. When he reached her, she kissed him, holding the camera between them and pressing the shutter release. He grabbed it from her and held it at arm’s length to continue shooting while they kissed. She pushed her hands up his chest while he grabbed the back of her neck.
When she whimpered, he kissed her harder. She thumped his back and he pulled away. “Come on,” he said. “You’ve liked it like this before.”
“Why do you want me?” she asked, pushing him away. “I need to know.”
He looked hurt then, like a child who cannot explain his bad behaviour to his mother. His eyes avoided her gaze. He looked at her lips, stared at them as if they were his last sight. “I need to know,” he saw them say again. “I need to know why you want me. You need to think for yourself and tell me why.”
“Do you think that I only want you because of what everyone else says about you?” he asked, almost tripping over his words. “That’s how you see the world, isn’t it? You see the whole fucking world revolving around you. That’s what it was like in your priveleged childhood, princess. Everyone doing everything for you. And that’s what it’s like now you’re an adult too.”
She slapped him. He dropped the camera, which crunched on to the floor, as his hand rose to touch his face where she had struck him. “See,” he mumbled. “You do like it rough.” He lunged, attempting to grab her at the waist with both hands. She nearly let him, but stamped past him, out into the hallway.
In the black and empty room alone, he groaned. And then, with every step he took in her wake, he hated himself more. She had walked through to the kitchen, where he found her holding a carving knife flat against the granite worktop. His mean laugh made her heart pound faster. “Is that a way of getting even more attention?” he asked, moving close to her. He didn’t even look at the weapon, but stared into her eyes instead. “Imagine what the press would say—”
She brought the knife to his neck and grunted, “I will fucking do it.”
As she began to push the knife towards him, he grasped her hand so hard that she nearly dropped it. She spat in his eye. He tightened his grip on her hand and plucked the knife from it with his other fingers. She tried to wrestle herself away as he slipped the knife down, through her dress and into her stomach. He pulled her head into the crook of his shoulder as he thrust the knife in deeper. He kissed her neck and groaned. She was silent, but clutched at the back of his shirt. Eventually she crumpled and fell into a square of moonlight on the cold tile floor. He looked down at her red blood and, as she groped at her wound, the pink flesh inside her.
Copyright Adam E. Smith