He said he would love to have me for dinner--but I was careful.
I made sure that I wasn't on the menu for one. And I took particular effort to choose a location full of breathing bodies. A restaurant for the living. It wouldn't do to surround myself with a host of these purgatory-like creatures, else my limbs become stiff and my skin turn as gray and rotten as a cadaver's. You become who you hang around, they say.
Still, I was curious.
We sat across from each other at the dinner table. The white tablecloth was as smooth and unblemished as his collared shirt. He had dressed for the occasion, taking care to hide the evidence of his affliction as best he could (though truly there was only so much he could do, with a missing ear and half a brain). Still, the tuxedo and carefully applied makeup was enough to create the illusion of pumping blood beneath his pallid, blush stained cheeks--in the right light. Which was another reason why I chose this place. Candlelight can hide a multitude of sins.
He studied me as much as I did him as if he was trying to remember what it was like to be alive. When I reached for my wine glass, so did he--only his thick decaying fingers almost crushed the stem, whereas my nimble live ones carefully brought the dark red to my mouth. I tried not to notice how he stared at my lips--stained now from the wine--wondering, perhaps, how I tasted.
That could have been me, of course. If I had enough in me to make my heart stop beating and my brain stop questioning.
They're always the first to go: the ones that want to be lead. Then the tired. Then the hopeless. I could never be any of these things, though I have at times been weary and known the company of despair. No, I could never be any of these things. Not with the fire burning in my belly. I could feel the heat in my cheeks as if to remind me that blood still pumped through my veins. Perhaps it was just the wine.
I couldn't even call what we had a proper conversation. For one thing, it was hard to make out his words as he struggled to form sentences around a fat and full tongue without lips to soften the vowels and only a few teeth to slide against the crisp edges of constants. For another, we were both frequently lost in our own thoughts, wondering how things might have been different if I had just a little less heart and he a little more.
In the end, we let the darkness beyond our candlelit table swallow any of the taboo questions: do you miss the taste of buttered toast or pickles? Or is gray matter your only desire now? And then the ones he refrained from asking me: Can you describe the way your filet tastes--and the mashed potatoes? Will you remind me what it is like to wake in the morning after a full night's rest, ready to greet the day?
We both politely ignored the blood pooling around my rare steak and the ring of red our wine glasses left after a nervous waiter overfilled our cups. The poor man didn't know that the infection wasn't contagious. Well, not like in the movies. It was the thoughts that did it. Or, really, the lack of them.
So much easier to silences your questions. So much easier to allow yourself to be swept up in the collective undertow and drowned in mindless oblivion. So much easier--if it weren't for the fire in your belly. The light in your veins.
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