(Rainfall.)

Something has happened to me in the years since I was brought to Eskew. An epiphany, if you like.

 

People no longer frighten me. Places frighten me.

 

I’m never startled here, walking at night, by a silhouetted figure staggering down an empty street towards me. Other human beings are always a welcome sight, when you’re out and alone in Eskew.

 

I never shiver at the thought of a ghost, which is after all just like a person, just a little beyond a person, with thoughts and motives that are all too personal for my tastes.

 

But I have stopped in the seeping drizzle of the Stranger’s Quarter, finding myself at a sudden intersection of neon signs and brothels and chemists that was, I swear, something else entirely the last time I was walking here.

 

Not knowing where to go. Not knowing where I am. Not knowing where, if anywhere, I came from.

  

I have walked down stone alleys that turned further in upon themselves than seemed, structurally speaking, possible; I have wandered stairways that fell so deep into the darkness of the Oldtown that I swore I could look down and see the stars again.

 

I have arrived at the black cast-iron steps leading up to my apartment, and turned the key in my lock, and stood there aghast at a hallway that I could no longer be certain was my hallway.

 

Paintings that hung in all of the wrong places. Objects and sounds that did not belong. A bathroom mirror that reflected the wrong face and the wrong flesh.

 

Navigating this city is an uncoiling.

 

How can I describe it to you?

 

Imagine the cry of an unseen child somewhere in these steep and winding streets, a cry of distress or of pain floating musically over the rooftops in in the darkness, the noise swelling and worsening as you run, trying desperately to find the source of it, and still the cry builds in agony and terror with every step as if you yourself, in confronting the nightmare, are causing something terrible to happen.

 

Imagine running your hand up a lover’s back to find a spine that’s too bony and crooked and wet with-

 

I don’t mean to put you off coming here. It’s been a difficult few months, and the rain never stops, and I am so alone.

 

My name is David Ward. I am in Eskew.


***
 

 

Foreigners find it difficult to survive in Eskew, a city that constantly reminds us just how unnecessary we truly are.

 

But some of us do find work, or purpose, or a sense of resolution. Some of us find ways to endure here.

 

At present, my regular source of income in this city comes from a popular broadsheet known as the Eskew Tribunal, which employs me as translator, editor and sole proprietor of the international news section.

 

This is not taxing. The international news section of the Eskew Tribunal occupies a single page every Saturday. Half a page if they need the space for adverts.

 

The only difficult part of my work, then, is choosing which stories from the outside world to include. It needs to be simple, emotive, preferably arresting in its cruelty or morbidity; something that can be easily glossed into a short paragraph or two for disinterested readers.

 

I’m particularly fond of floods.

 

Hundreds drown. Thousands drown. It’s all good stuff.

 

I occupy a desk up on the fourteenth floor of the Tribunal building.

 

It’s peaceful up there; I’m alone with the rain on the windows and the moaning white radiators.

 

In previous years I was forced to share the fourteenth floor with our Lifestyle section on page 16, but this arrangement came to an end one Tuesday, when every member of that team simultaneously received an email with a subject line that simply said, in bold capital letters,

 

AWAYDAY.

 

No further context, nothing in the message body.

 

And of course, after that the Lifestyle team members began to debate exactly when the away day was taking place and who had organised it, while asking each other whether there were likely to be snacks or lunch prepared on the away day.

 

Then just a few minutes later, rumours began to spread that there were already three luxurious tour coaches waiting outside the building to take them to the away day. Worse, that anyone who failed to make it onto the coaches in time would be left behind and have to work through the afternoon, no matter how unfair that sounded.

 

And in a sudden spirit of madness the entire Lifestyle team began to get to their feet and logged out of their computers and found themselves jammed up against each other in the corridor, all vying to be the first one to reach he coat rack so that they could successfully leave for the away day, pushing and shoving one another while seizing each other’s jackets and scarves, trying to fit them over their own arms and shoulders, gnashing their teeth and cursing each other for making them late for the away day, punching and slapping and biting into each other’s arms and faces-

 

At this point I left to smoke a cigarette up on the roof, and by the time I returned the room was empty, although there was a bloodied tooth left on the carpet and someone had taken the time to scrawl AWAYDAY in broad, blocky capitals across the whiteboard.

 

Nobody seems to know where Lifestyle went. Investigations are ongoing, but the editor simply puts another page of adverts on page 16, which is more profitable anyway, and myself I enjoy the quiet.

 

I don’t want to talk to you about the Eskew Tribunal, as such.

 

I want to talk about the Letters and Lonelyhearts column, which goes out every other Saturday on page 10 of the weekend pull-out section.

 

These are generally composed in the basement of the Tribunal building by the correspondence editor, who always dreamed of writing novels for a living and now, in a cruel twist of fate, is forced to invent endless 60-character love stories and present them as reality.

 

Tragic affairs, sinister fetishists, and hopeless cases; a cast of hundreds every month, all dating one another and searching for each other and, frequently - although the senior letters editor is the only one keeping track of it all - betraying each other with one another.

 

I frequently grow bored after long periods of writing about floods and come downstairs to smoke spliffs with the correspondence editor in the basement.

 

She’ll explain to me what’s about to happen this week: the stories that will be written and the ones that’ll never make it into the pages of the pull-out section.

 

Fitness-Mad M, 52, is in fact a 65-year-old homicidal maniac whose artfully-created profile will catch the attention of Lovelorn F, 43, who he’ll end up bludgeoning to death against his sink. Shy Bookworm M, 33, will arrange dinner with Kinky Outgoing M, 21, but it’s all a prank set up by his students and he’ll sit there, alone in the restaurant all night, coming to realise the intense depths of his loneliness.

 

There are usually a scant handful of legitimate letters as well, and we’ll spend some time mocking them for their banality, their cowardice, their total lack of self-knowledge.

 

A woman has fallen in love on the Eskew underground network, and beseeches the man just once to turn from the shadows and let her see his face.

 

A pensioner has lost a wallet full of money, and offers nothing but gratitude for its safe return.

 

An ungendered writer threatens to kill again.

 

Dull stuff, coming through at no great pace and in no great volume, a small weekly pile of greasy envelopes in the correspondence editor’s in-tray. There’s an email inbox, which goes entirely unused.

 

Today, however, as I step into the correspondence editor’s den, she cries rather excitedly at me in Eskovian,

 

‘Have a read of this.’

 

She leans over in her chair, spilling ash across the manky carpeted floor, and hands me a plain brown envelope that’s already been torn open.

 

I take it from her, and remove a single sheet of white paper.

 

It’s been typed, jaggedly, as if by someone who’s had a stroke or palsy, tilting at a slight angle, slanting down towards the bottom right corner of the page,

 

My

MR HOW,

 

Flesh. You. I. Crave. Touch.

 

Mattress writhing explosive with fleas

 

Us. A sight unseen.

 

Your

MRS WHY


 

That’s it. Nothing more to it than that.

 

I turn the papersheet over in my hands, as if expecting to see something else. I check the return address on the envelope: 14 Cropper’s Square.

 

‘The more I read it,’ the correspondence editor ays languidly, ‘the more I fall in love with it. It’s such a nice distraction from the usual garbage cliches. This is something new.’

 

‘It reads like it was written by an algorithm,’ I tell her. ‘Or a lunatic.’

 

‘The return address is a great big nothing,’ she says. ‘I went down there myself to check it out during my lunchbreak. Nothing there, not even a PO box. Just an empty entrance, bricked up, between two houses.’

 

‘So probably it’s a prank,’ I reply. ‘You’re not seriously thinking about publishing this, are you?’

 

‘Why not?’ she says, with a shrug. ‘Mr How deserves a chance to get to read this for himself.’

 

***

 

Two weeks later, I’m sitting alone in the Burgundy Cafe when I think to check the Eskew Tribunal again.

 

Right there, on page 10 of the pull-out section, is a reply from Mr How to Mrs Why.

 

It reads, in full,

 

My

MRS WHY,

 

Complications In Town

 

Withering In Absence Of You Urgently Requesting Your Soft Eyes Biting Lips Fingernails Also Flesh

 

Your

MR HOW

 

The Saturday after next, I’m lying on my apartment floor waiting for the noise from beyond the wall to dissipate when I think to check, and, yes, she’s replied again.

 

My

MR HOW,

 

Soon but not today. Blooming tongues. Lapping fingers. Writhing eyes.

 

Your

MRS WHY


 

I find myself starting to daydream over and over about this nonsense, this near-sense, this language that says nothing but feels so rich with sensation.

 

Am I supposed to be reading a coded message hidden within? Should I interpret it as just another prank, a pisstake?

 

Or is this an actual conversation between two soulmates, so perfectly in tune with one another that there’s no need for their words to make sense to anyone outside of themselves?

 

All that night I lie awake in my empty double bed, trying not to hear the noise from beyond the wall, and imagine myself possessing a love as intense, as individual, as the passion of Mr How and Mrs Why.


 

***

 

A couple of months later, the weekend editor calls me into his office for a chat.

 

There’ve been complaints about Letters and Lonelyhearts.

 

Readers don’t like the ongoing exchanges between Mrs Why and Mr How. They find them distressing, off-puttingly strange, impossible to empathise with.

 

The weekend editor, a timid and fearful creature, has decided to remove the letters from his pages forthwith. He wants me to talk to the correspondence editor, as he’s worried she’ll take the news badly.

 

‘I know the two of you are close,’ he says, doing something with his eyebrows.

 

***

 

I find the correspondence editor in her basement. She looks distractedly up at me from a task that apparently consists of grabbing hefty stacks of papers and unopened brown envelopes and stuffing them into her gym bag.

 

‘I was sorry to hear about Mr How and Mrs Why,’ I tell her, and she shoots me a grin of sour agreement.

 

‘I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier,’ she says. ‘Disappointing, I must admit. We hadn’t even published Letter 17 yet. I can’t pretend to understand it, but it’s the breakout letter so far, it’s definitely going places.’

 

She sifts through the papersheets, tuts in satisfaction as she finds the right one, and hands it over to me.

 

My

MRS HOW,

 

Something tautens. Something slackens. Something spools over, entwines. Something coalesces.

 

Your

MR WHY

 

I cannot tell you how thrilling it is, in a city of dead dreams and streets that wind into nothing, to be a witness to something real happening.

 

I lower the papersheet.

 

‘They changed names?’ I ask her.

 

She stops, and stares into thin air as if she’s quite alone.

 

‘I think it’s symbolic of their closeness,’ she says after a moment. ‘Their compatibility. For How and Why, there is no gender, there are no roles. They might as well be one another. After that, I can tell you, it starts to really heat up. In, you know, their manner of speaking. I’m going to go through them all again this weekend, really binge on them.’

 

I lick my lips.

 

‘How many letters are there?’ I ask her. ‘Can I have a look at them myself, perhaps?’

 

She says, with a curious air of personal pride,

‘Forty-five at the last count. They come in several times a day now - we usually have two or three waiting for us in the morning, and then a couple more come in as late deliveries. So honestly, I’m not too bothered if he wants to pull the plug. I’m beginning to think it doesn’t matter if we publish them at all, so long as someone’s actually here to read them.’

 

‘They want their love to be witnessed,’ I say. ‘Well, I guess there’s no harm in that. So can I have a look?-’

 

The correspondence editor zips up her gym bag, tells me to have a good weekend, and makes for the stairs without answering my question.

 

You might think that I’d feel frustrated by the jealousy with which she’s guarding the letters.

 

Not at all. If anything, the more of the correspondence that I read, the more I find myself coming to the conclusion that if anyone is the intended recipient, it’s me. The correspondence editor still sees it as a joke, or a puzzle to be solved, she doesn’t truly understand the passion of How and Why like I do, it’s as if the letters are straining out to reach me any way they can but they’re struggling to find the right path-

 

-anyway, I don’t feel jealous. I simply resolve to myself that I will wake up nice and early next week, come into the office before anyone else arrives, and take the next batch of correspondence for myself.


 

***

 

It’s a good plan. But it doesn’t work.

 

Because when I arrive at the Tribunal office, the entrance is blocked by the heavy grey dumpster, which usually stands against the wall but has now been unceremoniously dumped onto its side, scattering plain brown envelopes and rotting garbage alike into the street.

 

Inside, the correspondence editor is on her knees, scrambling to pick up as many envelopes as she can fit into her hands. The senior custodian is standing over the dumpster, screaming abuse at her, stamping down with his foot as if he’s genuinely trying to catch her fingers beneath his bootheel.

 

‘Go on, get them out of here, if you want them so much! Take your Mrs What and Mr When, and get them out of here, I don’t want to see them ever again!’

 

I ask, carefully concealing my disappointment, what seems to be the problem.

 

The senior custodian turns to look at me. His moustache shudders with rage.

 

‘The postbag,’ he says, ‘crammed. The front door, overflowing. Letters floating down the steps onto the street. I’ve had enough of it, I tell you; I’m ready to quit. And then just as soon as I’ve finished done piling them into the dumpster, she sneaks down here and starts taking them all out again.’

 

I stoop down and say, gently,

 

‘Hey.’

 

She only half-turns.

 

The correspondence editor looks like she hasn’t slept. Like she hasn’t stopped reading in days, hasn’t thought to bathe or sleep. Her eyes are glowing bright white within rings of muddy purple.

 

‘He was going to throw them away,’ she snarls. ‘Tell him, David. We can’t lose track of this, we can’t let any of them go. We need to get to the end of it, see what’s at the end of it-’

 

She waves the clump of papersheets frantically in her hand - and a single one slips free from her grasp.

 

I snatch it from the air. Quickly, before she can react. My fingers close upon it.

 

And she looks up at me, hurt and confusion spreading across her face.

 

Later, colleagues at the Tribunal - people who would instinctively avoid me if not for the whiff of second-hand intrigue - will ask me if the correspondence editor as writing the letters herself.

 

The only answer I can give them that they’re likely to accept is this: the look in her eyes, when the works of How and Why stand before her - and when they’re taken away.

 

A fervent anticipation. A desperate hope. A fast-growing dependency.

 

It’s something I’m beginning to recognise in myself.

 

Before I get a chance to read this latest correspondence for myself, the senior custodian exclaims,

 

‘This is the last straw, really, it is.’

 

I stuff the letter quickly into my pocket.

 

He’s picked up a plain, flat cardboard box, half-opened in the dingy dawnlight. Nestled within on a bed of black silk are an assortment of dark shapes.

 

‘Now they’re sending chocolates to each other?’ he shouts. ‘Chocolates and love letters to the office of a damned newspaper?’

 

He hurls the box to the ground. Its contents scatter across the pavement.

 

I reach down, absent-mindedly, to pick up a small nugget that rolls across to rest against my shoe and lift it to the light. It takes me a moment to realise that I’m not looking at chocolate at all.

 

It’s a round lump of pink, unbroken skin. Living meat, pocked with veins.

 

I jab into its surface with my nail and I’m rewarded with a small crescent of bright red liquid spurting out around my thumb. There’s something tangible beneath, too, hard and gristly, rebounding at my touch, like bone.

 

‘Flesh,’ I say aloud, thrilling at the sound. ‘Not chocolate, but flesh.’

 

The senior custodian leaps backwards like a marionette from the upended chocolate box, as if he genuinelu thinks something’s going to come crawling out from under it towards him.

 

‘They’re cutting pieces off each other?’ he shrieks. ‘This has gone too far, it’s really gone too far. I’m going to talk to the editorial lead about this. You’ve both been encouraging it.’

 

The correspondence editor just crouches there on the edge of the dumpster and stares down at her own feet.

 

But the fascinating thing is that the flesh chocolates don’t actually seem to have come from any part of a human being at all. There are no fingerprints, no wounds, no hints of an incision. Each shape is individual; cylinders, squares, five-armed starfishes, veins circling the surface.

 

It’s as if something wished to create the concept, the Platonic ideals of a box of chocolates using only the raw materials it had to hand.

 

Playing out the motions, the ritual of romance, for us or through us.

 

For me.

 

I glance at the correspondence editor to see if she feels the same way as I do, but she’s gazing at the ground, clumps of paper clutched in her hands, shivering gently with exhaustion or cold. A single nervous tear streaks down her face.

 

Just as I suspected all along. She doesn’t have what it takes to follow this to its natural conclusion. She was never truly the intended recipient.

 

These words are meant for me.

 

How does that make me feel? Triumphant. Vindicated.

 

Resolved.

 

After a while, we help her up, and tidy away the rest of the papers into hersatchel.

 

The senior custodian won’t let us keep the flesh chocolates. Instead, spitefully and stubbornly, he burns them up in an old steel drum in the parking lot.

 

He’s still standing there, staring into the flames, squinting in the dying light, as I leave the office that evening.

 

***

 

The senior custodian doesn’t return to work on Tuesday. Nor does the correspondence editor, although her absence is less appreciated, since the Letters & Lonelyhearts page can now be removed entirely from the weekend pullout and replaced with an advert about the new shopping centre that’s opening on the edge of the Endless Square.

 

The correspondence between Mr How and Mrs Why, too, stops coming. A sense of relief rolls like a rainstorm through the Tribunal offices. Several workers embark on ill-considered affairs with one another. A risky new drug is widely embraced. A deadly heart attack is barely noticed.

 

The Saturday after next, I receive an anxious call from a place on Winded Lane.

 

The correspondence editor has vanished.

 

Her landlady, it transpires, had just moments before physically broken into the apartment after three days of staring at the plain brown envelopes that were protruding - multiplying - like spines from her letterbox and the cracks of her front door.

 

Apparently my phone number was written on a post-it note placed on the fridge door.

 

I don’t know what she expected me to do for her, but I’m glad for the gesture, since I now have unhindered access to every single one of the letters.

 

At first, to my irritation, the landlady hysterically insists that we should be hunting for signs of the correspondence editor, but a quick turn-out of her drawers and cabinets reveals that she’s taken her suitcase and passport with her, and soon enough I’m left alone again to get on with my reading.

 

There’s no specific order to any of it.

 

Some of it is typed; some of it appears to be love letters formed from newspaper headlines, from textbooks, from lonelyhearts columns. One papersheet is simply a medical diagram of a heart, veins and ventricles marked out and described. Another sheet depicts an immense and awful close-up of the human eye.

 

There’s something else, as well.

 

Placed in the windowsill, limply tilted towards the light, is a flower that’s been crafted from that same peculiar protoplasmic flesh, pink and wet, a horrific and gorgeously imperfect attempt at the creation of a lily. Wrapped in translucent plastic. Tied with a crimson bow.

 

The stem is made from something hard and twisted and tubular, I can’t tell exactly what.

 

Peeling back its petals reveals a soft red interior and a circle of bone-white, polished molars set into a thick line of gum surrounding the stamen.

 

It’s wet and supplicating beneath my fingers.

 

This is something new. It feels like a step forward. Like a proposition.

 

Hurriedly, before the landlady returns, I scoop everything up in my carry-bag and bring it home to my place in the Stranger’s Quarter.

 

***

 

Early the next morning, I wake up and come out of the bedroom to discover, to my disappointmen, that my letterbox is not overflowing as I imagined it would be. My letterbox is not packed tightly with folded plain brown envelopes from Mrs How and Mr Why that have additionally not been pressed into the jambs of my doorframe and the edges of the kitchen window.

 

There’s nothing waiting for me outside my door, when I open it.

 

It takes a moment for this to sink in.

 

They haven’t spoken to me. They haven’t wanted to speak to me.

 

Disappointment is too small a word for the hurt in my heart. I feel alive to their injustice, their cruelty;I feel like a child whose mother has just aimed a random kick at its shins.

 

I trudge back to my bed and begin to struggle into my trousers.

 

And then I see the blinking light on my mobile phone screen.

 

I have 32 new messages.

 

No, I have 33 new messages.

 

I sit heavily at the breakfast table, the weak Eskew dawnlight pervading through the blinds, and hold the phone up to my ear.

 

Silence.

 

Minutes of silence, so long that I begin to feel as if there’s been some mistake, but then I realise that I’m not hearing silence at all because, rising and falling like a heartbeat, someone is breathing into my ear.

 

And washing over it, merging and following the noise, is the breath of a second entity.

 

They don’t sound at all like I imagined them.

 

And yet.

 

Another moment passes, and then someone says, in an abrupt and robotic voice that sounds as if it was snatched from some audio recording or public transport announcement:

 

LIPS

 

A second voice agrees,

 

LIPS

 

The first voice cries out,

 

SKIN

 

The second voice echoes back,

 

SKIN

 

The first voice asks,

 

MEAT

 

And the second voice answers,

 

MEAT

 

It is very likely just my imagination, but I find myself imagining that the flesh-flower, perched in my windowsill, has begun to crane forward towards me tilting its wet puckered lips towards the source of the sound.

 

I glance down at my phone again and realise that, while I was listening to them, How and Why have contacted me again. I have 33 new messages.

 

I find my notepad, and a pen, I place the phone on loudspeaker, and I begin to scribble down as much as I can.

 

I am no longer just an interpreter.

 

I am a translator of their love, a carrier for their correspondence.

 

Finally, after so many years, I am a participant in something.

 

***

 

I don’t remember sleeping that night. Or the next.

 

I do recall messages of love both whispered and shrieking, passing through me in voicemails and email bodies, in written word and in television broadcasts.

 

I recall the madness, the impossibility, of trying to scribble it all down, leaping from platform to platform, juggling all of it at once. Trying to do justice to two voices, babbling at one another, unceasing, unswerving, entirely fixed upon one another. My fingers stiffening, chafing, as I write and read and listen and write.

 

And then suddenly the messages stop arriving, and this time I am not disappointed, but patient and faithful.

 

This is all part of it, a natural escalation. Our affair is being directed to its climax.

 

I sit on my knees, and close my eyes in something near to sleep, and I wait.

 

***

 

And then, it’s some awful hour of some awful night, because I am no longer keeping track of such things - and my phone begins to ring.

 

It’s been silent for weeks, but now it begins to ring, tinnily and gloriously, and as I scramble to pick it up and press it to my ear there’s only silence, a faint background hum or buzzing.

 

I say,

 

David Ward? As if it’s a question and not a statement.

 

A moment of static. And then the first voice says my name.

 

DAVID WARD.

 

The second voice, in agreement or in echo, repeats,

 

DAVID WARD.

 

The first voice says,

 

I’M COMING.

 

The second voice repeats,

 

I’M COMING.

 

And I answer back, enthralled,

 

I’m coming, I’m coming.

 

I know, of course, where I can find them. They’ve never been shy about telling me.

 

***

 

Cropper’s Square, in the old town of Eskew, is dominated by the public garden that lies at its centre, a towering construction of tapering hedges, impossibly high cypress trees and immaculately crafted shrubs that shift into the darkened shapes of spheres and cubes.

 

The dark pavement is caught in perfect golden spotlights from the lampposts above.

 

This place is a lovers’ meeting spot, if it’s ever been anything.

 

I come running up from the Metro station, the collar of my coat  hooked up around my face to keep the driving rain out of my throat, and I walk around the square to the north side of the square, where the blank brick frontispiece f number 14 stands, set into the wall between two houses.

 

I’m turning the first corner. I’m turning the second.

 

And then all of a sudden I can see a single figure, beneath an old brown umbrella in the driving rain, stood facing the brick-and-mortar jigsaw of the empty wall, its face turned away from me.

 

It’s Mr How, I think, or Mrs Why, and I loiter by the iron railings of the garden, watching the shape stood in stillness and perfect silence, waiting for something else to emerge.

 

A minute passes. And another minute.

 

And then it hits me, that perhaps I am Mrs How or Mr Why, and I’ve been stood here waiting for the second actor to arrive when in fact this entire show has been put on for my benefit and my participation.

 

That something has been moving the pieces into place this entire time, crafting a kind of false courtship for the sake of a very real fusion at the end of it all.

 

I’m coming, I whisper aloud. I’m yours, I’m coming now,

 

And I cross the square in great confident strides, placing a hand on their shoulder, ready to lock eyes and gain some great new understanding-

 

-and as the figure turns to face me I find myself looking at something which is not Mr How or Mrs Why, and I am not looking into its eyes, since its eyes are not level, since one eye is brown and set into the undulating flesh of two merged foreheads and the other eye is bright sapphire blue and protruding from a bulging throat that has conjoined with a second, paler throat-

 

The thing that is both Mr How and Mrs Why opens its mouth, a shark’s mouth with two sets of teeth coalesced into the same mangled gums, and reaches out one distorted hand to my own shoulder-

 

I can’t tell you how it feels, at that moment, to witness absolute beauty. But I can tell you that I find myself utterly lacking in my ability to accept it.

 

Something in me breaks.

 

I stumble back into the road, tripping over my own heels as I retreat without a thought or an idea in my head, and the thing that is neither Mr How nor Mrs Why utters a sound in two voices at once, tottering eagerly towards me, swaying and contorting as if still uncertain of its own feet-

 

...and the strangest thing is that even as I turn and dash madly away from that hideous and happy face composed of two distinct faces, I don’t remember exactly what it called out to me, whether its words formed into the familiar syllables of ‘You’re mine’...

 

...or ‘I’m yours.’

 

***

 

It’s a considerable relief, returning home, to discover that I’ve been robbed. The front door hangs open. The kitchen window is broken, and the fleshy flower has been snatched from its vase.

 

I try not to pay too much attention to the fragments of glass lying in the gutter outside the window, which could lead me to strange or troubling conclusions. In Eskew you tend to develop a kind of practical discretion about these things.

 

Instead I tape up the hole, scoop up the plain brown envelopes into a rubbish bag, and deposit them outside. By the morning, they’ll be gone.

 

I block up the front door with a chair, and then the kitchen table, and then another chair, and the thick comforting weight of the television on top of it all.

 

At about 3 in the morning, there’s a heavy thud and the shattering of glass as the television falls, but I remain quite silent and whatever’s happened soon ceases to happen.

 

***

 

The Saturday after next, I am disturbed but not surprised to read in the Eskew Tribunal of a peculiar double-murder that’s taken place in the city, in separate locations three-and-a-half miles from each other.

 

The victims are difficult to identify. They are both naked, partially intact, and partially missing, as if some unseen force simply decided one morning to dislodge one eye, or an arm, or half of a ribcage, and carry it away elsewhere for reasons unknown.

 

Between the two of them, they pretty much make up one complete carcass, although curiously some pieces seem to overlap.

 

The victims’ cupboards have been ransacked, emptied of clothes and identifying documents and personal effects.

 

The missing parts and organs are never found.

 

There’s no indication, according to the Tribunal, that either victim ever had knowledge of, or correspondence with, each other.

 

***

 

I’m much better now, by the way.

 

Whatever mania took hold of me has passed. I can no longer remember many of the letters I read, or the messages I transcribed - and when I try to recall the exact wording of the correspondence it seems absurdly overwrought, nonsensical...hard to imagine how it could ever have exerted such a hold on me.

 

There’s a touch of sadness, in that.

 

I’ve lost something. A sense of connection, of purpose and possibility.

 

Something was crafted for me, by this city, and like the correspondence editor, I didn’t have the strength to accept it.

 

Some nights I stare into the bathroom mirror and try to imagine my lined, hungry face merging into the impossible, multiple features of the thing that was both How and Why, drooling and blinking in perfect harmony with the entirety of it…

 

...and try as I might, I just can’t do it.

 

***

 

That’s about all we have time for. But the next time you hear my voice, I’ll be discussing the language of the city, and its curious - not to mention indistinct - etymology.

 

Please. Tell your friends about Eskew. I think they deserve to hear this.

 

Be with you again this time next week.

 

(RECORDING ENDS.)






























 

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