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Waste of Breath

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Kieren walks down the street. Kieren walks down the street, his eyes fake-fawn: a token gesture. Rotters in your houses, rotters in your beds. Simon’s scarf is wrapped around his neck, soft like talisman: keeping up appearances. Kieren thinks of hanging trees, reaches out with an outstretched hand to drag a stick along the railings: inner monologue. Step on a crack and break your mother’s back. Step on a crack and the dead shall rise incorruptible.

Kieren walks down the street, and keeps his eyes off the ground.


“Can I borrow your makeup,” Jem asks, stomping into his room.

“Jesus”, he says, “Can’t you ever learn to fucking knock,” and he loves her, he does, and she’s the loud one now, and what did he do to them, what can he undo to them, what can what can’t he how -

Bring it back, Kieren. You’re spiralling.  

“Look, I don’t have time for this,” she says, tapping purple glitter nails in an on-again off-again beat that’s always gotten right on his fucking nerves. He concentrates on it, lets the irritation ground him. My name is Kieren Walker. I am a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer. What I did in my untreated -

(All my sins are mine to carry, Simon said once, the glimmer of his eyes eerie and alien and beautiful in the half-light of evening. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, but they’re mine, and we’ve all got our crosses to bear, don’t we just.

That sounds horrible, Kieren said, and Simon had shrugged, staring at the ceiling. It sounds like Ark of the Covenant bullshit. Simon. Simon, look at me.

No, sweetheart, Simon said, it’s just Catholic guilt, and kept his eyes on the ceiling.)

“Can I borrow your makeup, alright - it’s not like you wear it anymore anyway. I’ve run out, and I -”

She pauses. Kieren raises his eyebrows.


“I want to look good today.” The words are wrenched out out of her. 

“Sure,” he says, “I’m pretty sure the colour’ll suit you, but you can lighten it.” He pulls open the drawer he keeps it at the bottom of, leaving her to rummage through. He doesn’t care what she sees. She’s already seen him rawer than anyone else should have to. So he tells himself her seeing the last scraps of Rick in the drawer is nothing - they both have bigger wounds to lick clean - and goes back to reading Garcia Lorca’s letters to Dali.

Simon bought it him from an art bookshop in Lancaster. They’ve rigged the old prison in the castle back up for a PDS walk-in centre; nobody walks out alive, they say, but they forget to tell breathers the part of the story where they were all already dead when they walked in. Hollow joke. They do what they can. Do what you can with what you have. Do not go gentle into that good night.

“Thanks,” Jem says, already at the door. Nothing else in the drawer has been touched. Tip-toe girl, slip of a girl, all weak caramel underneath the armour of her skin.  

“For what?”

“Not asking questions.”

They look at each other then, brown-eyed, honest, aching.

“I know better,” Kieren says, and he knows without looking at his own reflection that both their smiles are thin. People always did say they looked alike.


Rotters in your houses, rotters in your beds. And the dead shall rise incorruptible.

Both of these are partial truths. Both of these are not lies.


And then there’s this:

“It's as though you cut my hair,” Simon had said, voice light in the dark and the dark makes it easier to swallow. Kieren wonders if it reminds Simon of the confessional, this late-night unburdening on the edge of Kieren’s street. “It's as though you’re my thirty pieces of silver.”

“I don’t get it,” Kieren says, and Simon shushes him, kisses him, and three months later he walks down the street with Simon’s scarf around his neck and Jem’s thin smile hooked around his throat. When he walks in, he sees the illustration of Samson and Delilah on the cottage wall, looks at Simon long and hard whilst Simon pretends to look out of the window. The depth of Simon’s devotion scares him, in the way only something that transcends death can scare him; that is, to say, in the way only he scares himself.  

“I’m not something that can be bought,” he says, the imagery of the whole thing choking him like temple dust, the sudden surge of love fierce; Kieren Walker has never been a disciple, but he thinks he’d make a very good zealot.

“I know,” Simon says, smiling at him with his doe-wounded eyes, “I think if you could, it would be easier. I think if you could, I wouldn’t like it.”

“Your metaphors aren’t worth shit around here, prophet,” Kieren says, and takes his hand.