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The Quiet Man

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The light is on. I’m in bed, the rough wool blanket is heavy against my legs. It keeps me pinned down, which is good. I feel safe, pinned into this little bed. The branches of the tree outside are tapping in Morse code against the glass: he doesn’t understand. Of course I don’t. I never do.

There’s danger out there, somewhere. The water is coming in. But not here. You’re standing by the wardrobe, your shirt is unbuttoned and loose around you. Am I watching you undress? I am. I have been. I always do. Like a predator. A lover.

That’s not what we are. I don’t do this. This isn’t how it is.

“Sorry,” I say. And try to look away. But I can’t. I turn my head but you’re still there. Your chest, your stomach, your exposed hip bones: so close I could touch them. I am touching them: I’m holding you. Otherwise you would float away, you would vanish. I press my face against your thigh. You smell like the moor: terrifying. You put your hand on my head and I shiver.


“I’m sorry.” I lean back against the mattress and stare at you sideways.

You pull your shirt off altogether. This is a strip tease; I didn’t know you had it in you. I stare up at the curve of your spine sideways; I can imagine wings sprouting from your back. Wings would help you fly: you’d never fall.

You’re more muscular than people give you credit for. Tough and strong, agile. Alive. Beautiful, that’s what you are. Beautiful.

“You’re beautiful.”

“John.” Reproach in your voice. How embarrassing. Why do I say these things? I don’t know. I don’t know.

“I’m sorry.”

There are three dogs lined up by the door; none of them are the dreaded hound. These dogs are quiet, they just watch you, like I do. A poodle, a beagle, and an Irish wolfhound. In a row. Waiting. Guarding the door.



“I trained those dogs for years. They would die before they let anything happen to you.” You sit down on the bed next to me. You put one hand on my hip, then you lean down and kiss me. You taste like scotch and woodsmoke. That’s nice. Your tongue is rough in my mouth. I can feel you in my veins. You’re so beautiful. Why are you kissing me?

You kiss my jaw. Your breath is hot on my neck. “It’s how they’ll know to protect you,” you say.

“Kiss me again. So they’re sure.” You crawl into bed with me, you’re naked. You curl up against me, and kiss me again. There is a world between us, between these sheets. Pinned down by the heavy blanket. I could live here. But I don’t. I never have. The sadness of it makes me sob. There are tears on my face. I can’t help it.

“They’re sure,” you whisper into my ear. You pull me against you, and I cry like a child. We fit together like we were built to. But we weren’t. We weren’t.



I was somewhere else a moment ago. Wasn’t I? Where was I? I can’t remember. Now I’m here. Of course I am.

I’m in the sitting room, in my dressing gown. I remember now; I just stepped out of the shower. The wall is broken; did I do that? I think I did. I took the cow’s skull off the wall. It was structurally important. The wall’s collapsed now. There’s a big hole there instead, like some monster took a bite out of it. There’s layers of wallpaper visible; pink and red and green; black and purple. Paisley and check. It turns out the walls are made of layers upon layers of wallpaper. Mrs Hudson couldn’t make up her mind; every new tenant, new wallpaper. Over a century. The flat must have been getting progressively smaller with each new layer; rooms hidden in layers of pattern and colour.

We found a lost room in there: a room with a pair of skeletons on the floor, nothing else. One of them is mine. We don’t talk about that.

There’s some plastic sheeting across the gap. The edges of it catch in the wind and make a flapping sound. Like wings. The flat is growing wings, and one day soon it will fly away.

My feet are cold. The carpet is damp.

“Draw the curtains, will you? There’s a draught.” You’re in the kitchen. You’re peering through your microscope; now you’re holding out your hand. “Then bring me your pancreas, would you?”

“My pancreas?” Of course. I agreed to this: you want to examine each of my organs in turn. Experiment. Terribly important. I’ve removed them already, all of them. They’re in jars on the coffee table, set in a neat line on top of your books and papers. These are the things I do for you. My kidneys, my liver, my heart, still beating. A little teacup on the end with my appendix in it. My brain is sitting in a bowl, pulsing.

You’re peering through the microscope at a bit of tissue from my lungs. I don’t know why you find it so fascinating, but I’m flattered. Am I so interesting? I’ve never had so much of your attention. That’s nice, I like that. Look at me some more. It feels good.


“Oh.” I say. “Right.” I pick up the jar with my pancreas in it and bring it to you.

This feels wrong, somehow. I’m terribly exposed. All my insides: they’re still inside me, but they’re in your hands at the same time. You’ll discover everything this way, absolutely everything. I should feel afraid, but I don’t. I want you to see. It feels good.

“You had a crush on Freddie Mercury when you were eleven,” you say. “Fascinating.”

“I wouldn’t call it a crush.”

“Oh, I would.”

“Tell me again how this helps solve a case?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

It really isn’t. Am I being an idiot again? My brain twists in the bowl. He can see even from the kitchen that I haven’t worked it out; you can read the pattern of pulses like Morse code. The tree tapping against the glass said the same thing. He doesn’t understand. How embarrassing, being an idiot. You’ve got that look on your face again. We know what’s really going on. But I don’t. I don’t.



My room. I’m home. You’re lying in bed next to me. You’re wearing a sheet. Your long limbs in my bed, your cold thigh pressed against my knee, your feet resting against the foot board. The faint hair on your chest is more obvious in a beam of weak sunlight, and your chest: it rises, it falls.

I remember this: you’ll lie in bed with me, I’ll check your temperature, I’ll pull the blanket up over you. Heal me, you’ll say. I’ll get breakfast. I remember.

The edges of the walls are bleeding into water. There’s a puddle on the floor, it shifts with the tides, it moves toward the door in a full moon. Next full moon it will rise up to the top of the stairs and cascade down; it will flood the sitting room, the kitchen, and it will all be washed away. All our possessions into the sea. The walls are broken. The rain is coming in, pushing the wallpaper out in blisters. It drips over the skirting boards and joins the small sea emerging from the floor.

That’s a shame, ruining that floor. Perfect planks of old wood veined with ancient rings. I always liked the feel of them against my bare feet in the mornings; the remains of an old English tree. A purposeful death. Turning into something else. A bit of the long nineteenth century underfoot: a reminder that some things last, even after they die. Memories and Victorian wood: a house built of memories, collapsing slowly.

I’m not ready to go yet. Not yet.

“There’s water coming in,” I tell you. It comes out as a whisper.

“That was to be expected,” you say.

That’s true. It was. I tore the walls down in spite of the forecast. I let the sea inside, it was me. It was bound to happen. My fault; Mrs Hudson will not be impressed. Three bullets in the wall and I pushed it right through. They’re digging up the whole street, taking it off the map. No more Baker Street; no more use for it. No more Sherlock.

“You’re dead,” I point out. “Why did you die? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m not dead,” you say. “I’m right here.”

“Right. I suppose that’s true.” You don’t look dead. You look very much alive. How lovely: yes, that’s nice. That’s as it should be. Why did I think you were dead? Am I blind? I’m so easy to fool. Strange. I was so sad for so long, thinking you were dead. I guess I was wrong.

You want me to heal you. How do I do that? I lean over and press my lips against your collarbone. You’re warm.

Wait: what am I doing? I’m kissing you, aren’t I. Why am I doing that?

“Sorry.” I’m still whispering, I’m whispering against your skin. You’re like a black hole: you drag me into you. I can’t pull myself back. You’re so warm.

I rest my hand against your stomach; there’s a sheet there, barely. I can feel the edge of your navel through it, a small gap in your heat. Your skin through the sheet, the dip of your navel: I can’t help it. There’s a warm tingle behind my eyes; I need to touch you. I kiss you on the throat.

“I’m so sorry.” I can’t stop myself. I don’t want to stop, and I can’t: you’re a magnet to something built in my hands, my lips, my veins. I need to touch you. You understand. You’ll forgive me. Won’t you? Tell me you understand.

“I understand,” you say. “I have a fever.” Yes. That’s right: you do. You run your fingers through my hair, and I think I may explode. You are heat and everything else is cold. There’s water lapping at the edges of the bed. Your skin is soft; your chest is ribs and heat and a beating heart.

“Don’t leave me,” I say into the hollow of your neck. Your arms wrap around me, your leg slips between mine. Skin on skin; I’m falling into the sun.

“You’re a romantic,” you say. Then you kiss me on the mouth. You smell like triple-milled soap and nicotine patches. Coffee and crime scenes. I press my hand into the small of your back, and the small groan I can feel against my lips is the most erotic thing I have ever experienced. I can barely breathe.

“I like it,” you say. “Don’t stop.” You run your hand down my stomach and I see stars.

“It’s not like this. We don’t do this.”

“Of course we don’t.”

It’s cold. Sherlock? Where did you go? You’ve gone. You’ve vanished. What happened?

You died. I forgot for a moment there. You died. The water’s coming in. It’s cold.



I can hear you, but I can’t see you. I won’t open my eyes. I know what will happen. You’ll die if I open my eyes.


Your hands are on my chest. On my thighs. Your hands. Dear god.


Don’t stop. Just. Don’t.


All I can hear is my own breathing. That’s all there is.