I went limp when I was told, spread doll-like across the mattress. The phone had fallen by the side of my head as it slipped out of my fingers; I could still hear him buzzing inches from my ear, a wasp with a bulging sac of venom crawling into my brain. Smug. He always sounded that way, when we were seeing each other. He told me the news like he’d been promoted. Upbeat. Nasal. The buzzing said something else before it cut out, not bothering to know if I’d listened to what he said, leaving the low hum of the receiver to envelop my head and let the news float in the dreamlike fizz.
All previous sexual partners – he’d infected me. He only had two months left.
That’s all I caught from what he’d told me. But I knew he knew, before he did it. He was taking me with him, caught in his death roll as we both sank into a trench – the jaw was locked, and fighting was hopeless when we were both drowning.
The first struggle was when I saw him a week later. He was on his own, driving to a friend’s house, and I followed. At this point he had already started to go pale, and his noticeably thinner face shone grey in his rear-view mirror. But his image was tight and careless. It didn’t bother him that he was dying – he was detached and remorseless, and apparently I’d seen that as an attractive thing before I’d slept with him. When disease reared its head, the blinds from in front of his face, so where before someone particularly distant peeked through, a sociopath was actually hiding behind. Nobody else knew but me. He hadn’t noticed me when he got out of the car, and I’d made sure that I parked out of view at the bottom of the street. When his tiny form greeted someone at a door, disappeared inside, I made my move. Toward the shiny red car, growing brighter and juicy, almost lit-up as I picked up into a jog. I twirled my keys around my fingers, placed three (car, house, window) between knuckles like a set of claws, and pushed them deep into the car’s crimson flesh. From the brakelights to the headlights, I dragged three long, jagged lines and nearly split the car in half with a chilling scream on the metalwork. I imagined it was him screaming in pain, I guess that made me feel better, and I jabbed four more times at the end to kill the car good and right. He’d heard it, and the door exploded open. What the fuck are you doing! But when he saw it was me, he grinned wide and sick. I could see in his pompous squint that there was nothing I could do that’d affect him – we’d both be dead. Leisurely, and making sure I could see, he dialled the police. Yes officer, very sick. He told them, about me. I won’t press charges. He smiled like a mad dog, one that had been left stray in a burnt-down factory and gone emaciated feral.
I never left the house for weeks after I was patronised back through my door. Depression had paralyzed me, and I was so powerless that my legs didn’t even feel strong enough to move me; I lay in the doll-pose for hours, thinking of what I could do, then crossing the inane plan out in my mind, writing another, crossing it, scrunching it up. Scrunching up my face. I didn’t even try to get tested at this point, there was no point, I could feel the viral cells chewing away at my lower half, and that time could be spent on revenge. It was over a month until I tried again.
The second time was in July, sometime. It wasn’t finding him by chance; I’d known where he was this time. He’d broadcasted his location on Facebook, like some fucking fool, and hadn’t even thought to remove me. He’d obviously intended me to see where he was – his game was obvious, but I’d at least oblige. There was nothing else I could do. A bar on the end of East Street, the GPS link said. Someplace I’d never heard of called The Mariana, with four of his friends. I set out still in the pyjamas I hadn’t changed from for over three weeks and trudged the main road barefoot, leaving a trail of angry stench behind me that could almost be seen radiating from the thick sweat-stains under every one of my joints, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter even if I left a trail on the map. It didn’t matter if he’d seen me approach from a mile away; I’d be gone soon. Because of him.
He was in a booth when I got there; I spied him through the big glass front with the four friends. They were gathered around him – now a withered white shell – on a hopeless get-well-soon, or last drink, like some bullshit version of the Last Supper where Judas had been put in the middle by mistake. They’d been my friends, once. The cruel thing about relationships is that two people’s friend groups are pooled together as one, until the violent split-up where one person ends up better off with custody. But I just let their calls ring out, until they’d forgotten I’d existed at all. They looked happy all together, and I walked in.
Everyone took at least a minute to move when I’d started on his eye, which had looked as bulbous and inviting as his tomato-car as I’d walked in. By now, apathy had grown my fingernails to railway spikes – just as sharp and only with half of the tetanus. The mixture of blood, tears and some other fluid had oozed thick and diluted to the corner of his mouth (the one that raised when he smirked) when his friends had got up and pulled me away with a boom of underwater yells. I didn’t kick and scream until they called the police.
The sirens arrived to me pinned down on the floor, and his face so covered in blood that it wasn’t even recognisable anymore – just a threatening warpaint visage, which made his savage grin more sinister when the red lights beat through the frosted glass. Sick. He said, again. Sick, sick, sick. His friends were horrified when he said he won’t press charges, just that I should go home. But he stared at me when he told them this; wide eyes, like a mad beetle, blaring through the red mask, and he was still smiling. I could hear him in my head now. I could hear him. I can hear him.
I want you to watch as I get away with this. I want you to watch as I slip away free, and there’s nothing you can do. I want you to die knowing the person who did this to you is untouchable. Because there’s not even enough space on my veins, stretched out end-to-end, to write in the cells how much my absolute disgust for you is.
I’d heard he was dying. They’d carted him off to hospital after the moment his body had decided to finally fold, cash its chips, and crumble to the bottom of his stairs – the cells spelling out ‘disgust’ had apparently been needed elsewhere in his body. I was waiting on the bottom of his street when the ambulance came, and I watched as his tortoise corpse was thrust in the back, before it exploded around the corner. Chase it. My head spat, like a dog’s. Chase it. But I knew where he was going. The hospital wasn’t far, I knew where he was going. Where I needed to go. Home, I got there, raised scissors to my leg, sank them in hard and hissed. 999. I tripped! I told them, and I was there in minutes.
They stitched me up quickly, I hadn’t broken anything too difficult to fix. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have bothered me. They could have done the worst job possible, where any attempt to walk would have sent my femur flying out between the threads, just as long as I could get to the cleaning cupboard.
INDUSTRIAL BLEACH, the tank screamed, and pulsed the yellow of sick urine – glowing from the top shelf in the dark room like some beautiful nightlight. It was easy to reach, as my body was free in the hospital gown to climb the lower shelves, containing boxes after boxes of plastic bags. Its looped handle made it easy to carry, easy to move it around, easy to manoeuvre in and out of wards in search of medical syringes. They were harder to find than I’d expected, they hadn’t left them lying around. Dangerous, lawsuits, pain. Infections. People like me. People like me – I sang it almost aloud. People like me. In and out of wards, and I saw cancer patients turn their bald heads to see who was coming in. People like me, I whispered to them.
A syringe sat on a metal dish in a ward whose sign I didn’t read. I almost bolted for it to grab it like a prize, but I slowed – they’d be people around. There weren’t, negligence. Someone like me had gotten a hold of it. My face stretched into a grin stolen from him, and I pierced the bleach tank, drew back the plunger to welcome the glowing yellow liquid into the barrel. I didn’t bother to cover my tracks, and I left the tank of bleach, now with a hole on the side, to bleed the rest of its contents onto the big white tiles.
I waited until the night with my eyes wide, sitting on the paper-covered bed with the syringe tucked under my gown with the needle resting against my ribs, and the plunger above my navel. When I moved slightly, every so often, a drop would trickle from the tip and land on my skin, and I would feel it singe and whiten. The pain was exciting – I’d chosen the right thing. The right kind of pain.
18B. 18B. I found out where he was from a stolen register, and said it repeatedly in my head so that I’d remember it. 18B, like a song. Ay-teen-Bee. At the top floor. It was lucky that the elevators were still in use at this time, for the staff, because the scissor-wound made stairs an enemy. I climbed inside one disastrously enclosed coffin and went straight up to Floor Eighteen, waiting for me. Beautiful yellow barrel at my side, thumb on the plunger.
18 – B. B, B, B. Bee. The stinger in my hand buzzed as the bubbles popped and hissed, and I began the long walk down the corridor to the gateway labelled “B”. The doors were wide open, inviting me into the darkened room beyond the sickly fluorescent lowlights of the claustrophobic tunnels – a final dare, the last maw for me to enter, barefoot. So dark that I could barely see where one curtain around a bed would end and another would begin. So dark that the glow of the bleach went dead, and only the light of the hanging moon cast the thinnest segmented spotlight, through the cracks in the blinds, onto a single curtain in the corner, where the distorted profile of his face came out black and narrow on the mint-green material. There.
18B. I tore the material of its hooks and that still didn’t wake him; it crumbled to the floor and looked like a pool. I climbed on top of him – he wheezed awake, and I could tell he was about to scream as much as his condition would allow him. My palm seized his face and grabbed his jaw, so that it couldn’t move. The needle came to his throat, broke a layer of skin. His good eye bulged. It’s my turn. I didn’t bother to whisper. It’s my turn to penetrate you, and fill you with poison. He screamed NURSE, but nobody could hear him. Not even me, and I leaned closer so that my cheek was nearly cut on his skeletal face. There’s nothing you can possibly do. You’re not going to slip away surrounded by your friends and family, I won’t give you that pleasure. I WON’T GIVE IT TO YOU. YOU’RE ALONE NOW!
He tried to scream again, but his adam’s apple was stopped by the tip of the needle before it could come up. I pressed down, and the amber venom poured into his neck. Seething. Burning. His eyes rolled, and his body rocked about as much as I would let it. Things under his flesh were burning out one by one, extinguished with something more scalding than fire – his skin would have gone white, if it weren’t already; the foam coming from his mouth was thick and off-yellow; his voice smelled like a bathroom; his hands retracted like dead spiders. Convulsed. Convulsed. What’s going on over there? Dead; steam came from his face, fell to a mist on the ground and sank to Hell. The LCD screamed flat.
I knew I’d be going soon. I’d been feeling myself weaker with every passing day; I was vomiting my weight away for weeks before I killed him. I could barely even climb to the windowpane when I saw the nurse come in, run in. I barely had the strength to open the window in time, but it didn’t take much to throw myself out of it. I almost thought I’d float to the ground like a feather.