by Mairead Randall
Beneath Paris, I walk tunnels frosted with the dead. Skulls cluster the damp walls, like fragmented pearls. As I stare into vacant sockets, I try to imagine the bones beneath Stella’s face. Even in death, I decide, she would be beautiful. With skin, and hair, and breath flayed away, her delicate jaw would remain. Her white, neat teeth, fixed forever in a dazzling smile. Wildflowers would weave their way through the gaps in her ribs. Tiny, colourful birds would nest in the slope of her hip-bone.
I stop, face to face with a skull, dewy and aged. A thin, sharp crack runs through its crown. My eyes close, and I feel, against my skin, the light coat of hair brushed onto Stella’s arms. Against my ear, her sweet, warm breath tickles as she whispers, laughs, hums. I reach out, not thinking, and touch my finger to the skull. It is ice cold, slimy, and hard.
The sensation lingers, pulsating, on the pad of my index finger, clinging there, oily and viscous. Remember, it insists, remember me down here, beneath the earth and the soil and the stone. I wipe my hand on my skirt, and walk on. Stella’s laughter trills past me, carried by the cool, moist air, and echoes off corridors of bone. I can taste her in the back of my throat, Prosecco and pool-water, soured by the stale, ancient miasma of this underworld.
I push on, and at last the steps up to the surface are visible. My ascent is slow, agony on my aching legs. Daylight splashes, cool and sunny, over my face. My skin soaks it in, hungry. Once again, we join the world of the living.
Her voice is smoke, thin as it coils through the humid air. There are bodies at every turn. A bass, low and humming, settles into my bones.
“Are you feeling anything, yet?”
My nose is brushing against thick, mousey curls. To have Stella this close is a drug all on its own. Perhaps tonight, I will overdose. I lift my slick lips to her ear. “Not yet.”
The lights swirl across Stella’s face. She is turquoise, then peach, then magenta, then chartreuse. Her blown pupils are fixed on me. She wears a floaty white top, which cascades over the tops of her arms – two folded wings across her shoulders.
It doesn’t fool me, I want to tell her. You’re no angel.
“Liar,” Stella says, her long, pale finger pointed at my throat. She is smirking, devilish. She has read my mind, and nothing about it is shocking. “Your pupils are huge, Luce. You’re totally gone, aren’t you?”
My laugh pops from my mouth, a burst of champagne she has uncorked, bubbling onto the dancefloor. I watch the masses, splashing around in it as they move to a thick, pulsing beat.
She takes my hands in hers, and we swirl together, round and round, until the lights blur, until the bright colours bleed into the noxious smells, until Stella’s touch presses through my skin, beneath the sinew, to grasp at my thin, aching bones.
“Stop, stop,” I tell her, though I could spin with her forever. “I’m dizzy.”
“It’s so good to see you smile,” she tells me.
The tinge of her voice, dipped with some sad, far away reminder, threatens to splinter the glass of the bubble we are sealed inside. I push the words back inside her and seal our lips together, trapping them in the cathedral of her empty mouth. I kiss her until she swallows each word back down, one by one, sure that it is the only way to stop the world from dismantling.
She leans into me, chasing the tiny, volatile spark we have caught between our lips. Her kiss lacks finesse. Her hands dance up my arms, her curls catch between our cheeks. Stella smiles, and I can feel it stretch across my chin. Intoxicated, I drag her tighter against me, hands locked around the back of her head. I lick across the tombstones of her teeth. I run light fingers along the mausoleum edge of her cheekbones, then push them into her hair, to feel her scalp, her cranium.
Hidden under flesh, blood, hair and nails, the makeup we smear on our faces, the fabrics we drape on our bodies, our skeletons look no different. Stacked together below the world, beneath this underground club, beneath the wind and the river and the flowerbeds, we might sit, side by side, our bones slotting as if they were made to fit.
“We would be one.”
And Stella pulls away, laughing into the space between our mouths. “What are you saying, you nutter? Man, you get kissy when you’re high, don’t you?”