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Louder Than Sirens, Louder Than Bells

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He always goes back to that room. To that doorway, standing there.

Listening.

~

I tied together
a few slender reeds, cut
notches to breathe across and made
such music you stood
shock still and then

followed as I wandered growing
moment by moment
slant-eyes and shaggy, my feet
slamming over the rocks, growing
hard as horn, and there

you were behind me, drowning
in the music, letting
the silver clasps out of your hair,
hurrying, taking off
your clothes.

~

There is nothing conventional about this. He doesn't get to be conventional. Normal. When it comes to this, all sorts of things, he's weird. He's fucked up. He's a freak. Was never allowed to forget it, all those years; life itself providing person after person to remind him in all kinds of thoughtful little ways.

Remind him like she's reminding him now.

Standing watch, his back to her and the creek. Splashing, and water droplets caught by the light like glass beads scattered across the periphery of his vision. Sunny day, and hot - hotter than it’s been in a while. It was cool the night they ran from the funeral home. Feels like a year ago now, when it was only days. Could be not even a week.

Standing watch, but he can close his eyes for a few seconds. He can close them against the sun, the density of the muggy air, the persistent clouds of gnats sipping at his sweat. With one source of sensory input lost in red blankness, others move to the foreground. Bow comfortably heavy in his hands. The sweat that the gnats want so badly trickling down his temples and his neck and the dip of his spine. Pulled muscle in his left thigh that hasn't fully healed up and twinges when he shifts his stance. He wants a cigarette. His skin crawls gently, like it always does when he remembers the existence of nicotine.

Listen: the gnats whine pleadingly in his ears, his own breath rushes into and out of his lungs, the running creek chuckles over the rocks along its banks, overhead a hawk screams, somewhere in the distance the dead groan and complain, and behind him she sings, scatters those glass beads over her naked skin and sings, and he leans back against the tree and feels the blood pumping fierce between his legs.

That it's this. It's the singing. She's naked and he knows that - she's having what passes for a bath now, of course she's fucking naked. Shouldn't be a big deal. It's not even the first time. Not like he hasn't caught little flashes of a glimpse of her. They were on the road together for months before this, before the prison. Privacy was another world. Between her body and fucking there should be no attachment, not that he's ever really given a shit about fucking regardless, because he's a goddamn freak. But there's her, there's what she is to look at: wiry strength, powerful thighs and arms and shoulders, slim waist, firm belly, swell of her hips and the smaller swells of her tits, graceful line of her neck, her jaw, her lips and her eyes and her hair - all of these things are academic facts. They exist. That's all. They are features and she possesses them.

He's not even looking at her. Not thinking about her tits, or the thatch of blond curls between her thighs and what's just below it. It's just her singing, just her goddamn singing, soft voice like a soft hand on his face and in his hair, soft fingers weaving with his - how is she so soft when this world is so fucking hard, and he's hard, so hard he's aching, and he wants so bad to drop his hand below his belt and cup himself and squeeze.

Slow. In time with the swaying rhythm she's found. He doesn't know this song but his blood might. His muscles. His palm, fingers, curling them around his shaft and stroking himself until precome is smeared and sticky all over his knuckles. Even if he's not looking, he knows it would glisten. Drop the bow, tip his head back against the trunk, jerk off to her song with his blood pounding in his veins. Seeing without seeing: her bare skin shining in the sun, shining like the swollen head of his cock. So much heat; he's blasting it like a pillar of fire. She's cool, sweet, he listens to her like drinking her and works himself in his tight fist until he has to literally bite back his moans. She runs over him. Covers him. Through his ears, she's inside him, humming through his nerves.

Jerk off to the sound of Beth Greene’s voice and pretend this isn't fucked up, how she makes him want it, carries him higher, thrusting helplessly into his hand and gritting his teeth as she rises into a perfectly tuneful apex of sound and he comes, silent and wrenching, and spatters pearlescent drops all over the fallen leaves.

None of this happens. She just splashes and sings and he listens, and he's so fucking hard and he suffers with it, as silent as he would come if he could allow himself.

Then she's silent too. No more splashing. She's drying off, getting dressed. No more suffering, his erection wilting, and he's not shocked at his own disappointment. Wouldn't be the first time he suffered because he wanted to.

Didn't know, when he asked her to do it for him - for him, did she get it? - what he was actually asking. Didn't know it was about that. How the hell was he supposed to know? How the hell was he supposed to see any of this coming?

Keep singing.

~

I can't remember
where this happened but I think
it was late summer when everything
is full of fire and rounding to fruition
and whatever doesn't,
or resists,
must lie like a field of dark water under
the pulling moon,
tossing and tossing.

~

Neither of them sleeps enough anymore. Both of them are used to it. It's been weeks since they got anything even remotely resembling a full eight hours. Even at the funeral home, that one peaceful night they spent there, when they didn't sleep in shifts. He still stayed awake, even if he didn't have to. He wandered the halls, passed through the rooms like a shadow. He leaned against the wall outside the clean, plain, dusty bedroom she set up camp in and listened to her breathe through the cracked door. Listened to her murmur in her sleep, something almost like a song.

Back to the viewing room, a single lost ghost, standing in the doorway and looking at the coffin he said was so comfy. The piano. The bench she was sitting on. The candlelight. A few still burning, flickering low.

How long did he stand here and watch her?

He had no idea. He has no idea. Like just about everything that emerged out of and during those twenty-four hours, he never did figure it out.

Neither of them sleeps the whole night. They're back to doing it in shifts. And some nights he's so exhausted that when she relieves him, he collapses by the sullen remains of the dying fire and sleeps until she wakes him a little after dawn.

She always takes second watch. She always wants to see the sunrise.

But more often now he wakes her up for her shift, and he's exhausted but he lies awake, motionless as a coffin’s occupant and praying that she can't tell, listening to her singing softly to the night. She sings accompanied by an orchestra of cicadas, hooting owls, dancing notes of the insomniac mockingbirds. His pulse in his ears keeps time, drumming so loud he's certain she'll hear it and she’ll know.

She’ll know and maybe that'll be a plus, because maybe she can explain it to him, what she's making him want and why he wants it so badly. Why his palms are sweating and his mouth is dry, why he feels hot enough to rip his flesh off his bones and he's shivering, why he's so hard and it hurts so much and it feels so good.

Why he goes back to that doorway over and over, watching her play and sing. Listening. Looking at her while she wasn't looking at him, the freedom in doing that and how it felt just a little bit wrong but he couldn't stop. Didn't want to.

Her there naked with the candlelight washing over her like the water, like honey, like blood. Dripping over her collarbones and her breasts, her peaked nipples, her belly. Pooling between her thighs. Her on that bench and him on his knees before her, and she's singing and spreading her legs as he bends forward to lick that sweet light off her perfect skin. Her song flows into his ears and he laps and sucks. He drinks from the source. Her spring.

She can't know that.

So he lies here, lying in more than one way - that he's sleeping, that he's not with her, that she's alone and singing in that solitude, when here he is. Back in the doorway.

The way inside is elusive. In and under the dark, he's lost, drifting through the hallways and rooms of his mind. All he has to follow is her voice, but she's only leading him deeper.

Ghosts are ghosts because they leave business unfinished.

~

In the brutal elegance of cities
I have walked down
the halls of hotels

and heard this music behind
shut doors.

~

Something he always stood outside, that particular room. That particular doorway. The only times he went inside, he was pushed and he slipped out again as quickly as he could.

He doesn't like that room. The decor is confusing. The colors are wrong, and so is the light. The surfaces are all hard and slick, and every sound echoes unpleasantly. Tuneless. Discordant. He was in its center and badly out of place, unsure about what to do with his hands. With any part of himself.

What one does in that room is very simple, but he was always bewildered by it. By why anyone wants to spend any time in there. It must feel good to them. It must not be quite so mechanical. It must feel natural, maybe even effortless. It must be something they understand, because they’re not a freak like he's always been. They're not weird. They're not fucked up. They get it.

So okay: he's at a party. There's a party in this room and everyone in the world is there, and they all appear to be laughing and talking and having a great time, but he doesn't get the jokes and he has no place in any of the conversations, nothing to add. And the people nearest to him, he glances around at them and their smiles look more and more forced the longer he stares at them. Their laughter sounds more and more desperate, and when people crack those incomprehensible jokes, they laugh way too hard and way too long.

They're faking it, he thinks. They're all faking it. Or at least these motherfuckers are. It's supposed to be fun so they're acting like it's fun but none of them are having a good time. None of them really want to be here.

Lying on a dirty motel bed, tangled sheets that smell like someone else’s sweat and someone else’s cigarettes, spilled beer and old pot smoke, just sober enough to be aware of things. Squeak of the springs as in the other bed a bleach blond hooker bounces up and down on Merle’s dick. It's Fat Tuesday and she's wearing strings of plastic beads, green and purple and gold. They click and rattle as she bounces. They cascade over her huge fake tits and he thinks of all the world’s beads, whatever factory where they make the damn things - giant silo that busts open and it's a tidal wave of them, sweeping down the streets, pouring into storm drains, tearing the leaves off bushes and trees like hail, carrying debris, and people fall and are swept away in a cleansing tsunami of shiny plastic.

She's moaning like a porn star. Not a good porn star. He hates porn but thanks to Merle he knows so much more about it than he ever wanted to. All those people on the screen, bad jokes and forced smiles and fake laughter. None of them want to be there. She doesn't. She's spouting canned porn dialogue - ohh fuck yeah give me your big fucking dick right in my tight pussy oh oh oh yeah that's so fucking good - like a song to which she's clumsily lip-syncing.

Merle is grunting. Cursing. Long strings of ugly obscenities. A poorly arranged duet of voices and bodies.

This is what Fucking sounds like.

He turns his face away and stares blankly up at the ceiling, floats toward it, and doesn't return until there's movement toward the foot of the bed and something heavy on his bare legs, and he lifts his head and looks down to see another bleach-made blonde with huge false lashes and smeared lipstick looking back at him with his half limp cock in her hand.

And she asks him somewhat irritably if she's doing something wrong.

He blinks at her. Aside from everything?

No. It must be him. He must be wrong. Everyone else at this party is smiling and laughing and having a great fucking time. He doesn't belong here. He should leave.

Please God, he wants to leave.

His head thumps onto the pillow and he resumes his upward drift. At some point he must be hard enough for her to work with because he hears more of those bad porn star sounds, muffled moaning. He keeps his gaze fixed on the ceiling. He doesn't want to look at what she's doing to him.

It's not a funny joke, but he's telling it anyway. It's not a song he likes but he's pretending to be singing it. It's possible that he's aping Merle and making his own bad porn noises when he comes in her mouth. Because that's what this sounds like.

He closes his eyes and flees the room.

He's sober enough to be aware of things but as soon as he can move he fixes that. Being blackout drunk has its decided advantages. If he does anything else, sees anything else, he won't have to remember it. If he's lucky, when this is all over he won't remember anything.

Back outside. Listening to the music, the laughing, the party he never wants to go to. The doorway he never wants to step through.

Until there was another doorway, and he stood there, and he listened.

~

Do you think the heart
is accountable? Do you think the body
any more than a branch
of the honey locust tree,

hunting water,
hunching toward the sun,
shivering, when it feels
that good, into
white blossoms?

~

Fucking. What it sounds like. What she would sound like. Turning and turning in the sunlight, her worn clothes scattered in the leaves, hair like strands of stripped cornsilk. His hands on her, his ugly thick scarred hands and his ugly thick scarred body and her soft perfection. Her skin: cream under the sun’s tanning. Flushing where he kisses it, where he carefully closes his teeth on her and bites. She's lying on those scattered clothes in those scattered leaves, rustling and crunching as she moves. Moss beneath. He bruises it with his palms and his knees when he braces himself up over her. She's singing, spreading herself so wide open and singing, her own fingers combing through her bush and tugging the lips of her pussy apart to show him what he can have. That wet pink heaven, a clear trickle of it seeping into the ground beneath her like rain.

Her moan is not a bad porn star moan when he presses his ugly thick scarred finger into her mouth and onto her tongue, withdraws it and slides it between her legs. Noses into her. She's so tight and she's tightening even further around him as her voice swells and her hips rock upward. Directing him. And this is still simple, even if it's not like any iteration of that party he ever stumbled into, this warm room all dappled light where it's just the two of them, and he pumps his finger in and out of her until she's clutching at his wrist and singing so loud. He's making her. His name. His name over and over and the wet smack of his hand, the hard little nub of her nipple as he lowers his head and sucks it until she's tumbled into a chorus of pleading.

Fucking and what it would sound like, what she would sound like, when he fucked her. When he fucks her. If. Hands behind her knees and forcing her legs back as he thrusts into her and he's not cursing and she's not spouting bad dialogue; she's singing and it's so beautiful, fucking her. Those leaves, the crunch, birds in the trees overhead and the sleepy buzz of the cicadas on an afternoon in late summer, the squelch of her pussy as he pounds his cock into her. Drumbeat. His heart. Kissing her mouth. Being kissed. Kissing when he comes, when she does, a hot flooding crescendo. Together they're perfectly in tune.

He wants to be here with her in this room, and nowhere else. Nowhere else ever. This is the only place he wants to be.

But he simply stands in the doorway. He listens.

~

Or do you think there is a kind
of music, a certain strand
that lights up the otherwise
blunt wilderness of the body -
a furious
and unaccountable selectivity?

~

That she would ever want to touch him, his ugly thick scarred body, it's inconceivable. But he doesn't need her to. He really doesn't think he does. He could listen to her and he could touch himself, because listening to her makes him want to. As if his body might be worth the touching.

She could just sing and it would guide his hand, tell him how to move. How hard, how fast. She could sing the blood into his thick flesh and sing his nerves into tubes of brilliant neon. She could charm his ugly scarred body like a snake, draw him out. Coax him up and up, her voice like a slippery fist milking his cries and his climax out of him. Semen glistening on his quivering belly.

A coda.

~

Ah well, anyway, whether or not
it was late summer, or even
in our part of the world, it is all
only a dream, I did not
turn into the lithe goat god. Nor did you come running
like that.

~

She hums as they walk. Now and then he closes his eyes and imagines that it's really true, that he's a ghost in the dark and following that sound. It would be all he needed. He would go deeper if that was where she wanted him. He would follow it forever.

Stand in that doorway and listen.

Out of nowhere she glances up at him, not missing a beat in her stride. “So it really doesn't annoy you?”

He starts. He does miss a beat, misses a few of them. She slows, and the look on her face is one he's seen before. Saw it more than once over the course of those twenty-four hours. Saw it at the end, before he turned away from the door and they had to run again.

Oh.

“It doesn't,” he says softly.

“Alright.” She smiles. “Good.”

~

Standing in the middle of the room, he realizes that he might turn around and see her there in the doorway. He might turn and there she'll be, watching, listening. Humming under her breath. Tuning up.

If he turns.

Any moment now.

~

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