My lover Lily was found dead in the canal

by Sue Vickerman

Lily drowned, then…
(publishing December 15th)
Since you left me…
(publishing December 16th)
If you were still alive…
(publishing December 17th

Lily drowned, then…

…six months after, when I decide to take down the last of her pencil drawings, I find underneath it another one, taped up on the wall in her neat way. Omigod. There, superimposed on a sketch she drew of the outside of me is a drawing of my inside.

She had invented (I say invented because she hadn’t a clue what my inside was like) an unscientific spider-web of veins: pink, blue and lime green. Not my colours at all but then she never saw what was really in there; never fathomed me well enough to know I was only black. A recent sketch of me by CJ is more towards the boldness of the London Underground map because CJ thinks that’s how I function, all Broadway Boogie Woogie, but again, all those bright bold colours are wrong, and the edges should be blurred out, but CJ is far too anal-retentive for that. When my previous lover Saj on the other hand drew my inside, it was a complex intersection of roadways along which steam-rollers trundled and bulldozers bulldozed. A messy grey scribble, no flair or subtlety, which is no reflection on me but rather speaks volumes about Saj, who is not an artist but a plumber who could only visualise basic pipe systems. He would’ve built me in Meccano alright but that’s as far as it could ever have gone. I am more of a network of black canals like the one Lily was found in. Stagnant arteries joining up post-industrial cities (Saj at least had a bit of insight into the sluggish passage of liquid along channels, I’ll say that for him, and the practical skills to steer along waterways).

You’d be totally freaking, Lil, over yesterday’s devastating oil-spill that is threatening to obliterate the sea-life of a whole ocean, because taking care of nature was your raison d’etre.  You’d have been way more freaked out, though, if you’d known who I really am – that when I get cut, black ink spews out of me.

Since you left me…

…I am getting out more by myself, like I used to before we were together. Tonight, the Sinfonietta. The conductor is the actual composer. Hair like a lion; passionate…

…wonder whether he composes into the night with the central heating turned right up, or piles on bohemian jumpers in front of a quaint inefficient electric bar fire, totally immersed in his creative inner life like there’s nothing else in this world? Or whether he has to be in bed early so as not to disturb his wife’s sleep after midnight, and has to take his turn listening for the children and changing the wetted bed, and sometimes has to rub her back and sometimes make love… or whether a mistress comes to his studio after dark and lays on the rag-rug naked, or whether his only love is the tumble of black notes, how they tipple-tail onto the page like tadpoles, no, like sperm, the way a sperm swims strongly into existence…whether music is his child, or his religion, or the bane of his life that ties him in knots and makes him despair and think he should get another job and stop all this – whether this is what passes through his mind each morning before breakfast, or whether he contentedly sits at the piano with his first cup of coffee and feels Life Itself welling up inside; whether all of life is in that room, a well-appointed studio with solar-powered heating and much natural light, everything an architect could think of to perfect a creative environment… or that room, a ramshackle attic with a folding bed permanently unfolded at one end, old-fashioned blankets, a brown stain on the bottom sheet from a long-ago espresso concocted on that Baby Belling. No woman to scoop up the linen and wash it. No: no small-minded fussing over bed-linen, because what he has to do today is Important. Is nothing less than his raison d’etre.

I am attracted to people like you and him; people with a raison d’etre. I know my floundering is what made you hate me.

If you were still alive…

…my floundering would continue to freak you out, Lil. Like, today I have an appointment with a man off the internet…

….but what if he has no intention of turning the virtual thing we’ve had into reality? So will not be outside Leeds Travelodge at eleven when I get there in the businessy-looking outfit he wants me to wear with court shoes; will not emerge from the Travelodge just as I’m retouching my lipstick out of nerves, take my elbow and steer me into – no, not straight into the hotel, but round the back, where the bins are, where rubbish has been spread across the alleyway by cats or by an urban fox so that it smells bad in the sun, where he pushes me against the redbrick and speaks in a low menacing voice the kinds of words he writes when we chat online… what if the national economy crashes today between my departure from home and arrival by train at Leeds, at Leeds Travelodge; something so momentous that public transport stops, or maybe it is a terrorist attack, everything stops, or some sort of magnetic force caused by a comet that makes all the clocks and watches stop, or jolts the world out of its timing, so that eleven o’clock doesn’t even happen and I do not arrive at the Travelodge and will not be taken to the anonymous room he has already booked and paid for, steered by the elbow in an ecstasy of anticipation… what if he forgets the whip. Or doesn’t use it. Or doesn’t look at all like the name he has given himself so that I cannot bring myself to call him by it. Christ, what if he just downright doesn’t want to do it to me after all this, all this talk. What if his wife. His little daughter. What if the civil service department he works for. What if you had not topped yourself, bitch, and left me to my floundering. What if instead, I stay on the train past Leeds and end up in a god-awful seaside town in perishing cold looking out at the polluted sea, at a lone cockle-picker like a dot on the ever-increasingly black-slicked quicksands, and I feel afraid for that person.

Life is so fragile.

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