Confessions

Neither of them expected it, yet it didn’t take them by surprise. It was one of those mild nights where the wind held off the frost, and the promise of spring was in their blood, making them feel wild and restless. They walked again, down her streets this time, the stars almost invisible above the orange glow of street lights. Xe wore her old leather jacket, the shoulders slightly too big, the arms slightly too long, the warmth smelling of her making it fit just right.

It was still early, the Market still humming with activity as they wandered from shop to shop, pausing to buy their favourite snacks, spending too much money on sweets. They meandered arm in arm up and down each long, brick-paved aisle, the sound of the other shoppers fading into insignificance compared to the warmth of the body next to them, the gentle bump of shoulder against shoulder, the squeeze of a hand as the crowd jostled against them.

They didn’t talk much. Words spun around them like a waft of perfume, the scent of a flowering daphne being warmed by the sun, hovering on the edge of the senses. If you chased it, it would be lost. You didn’t force it, you waited, let it come to you with the breeze. Xe bought her a baby mint plant in a pretty pot, and she bought xem their favourite hazelnut coffee. They debated over which stall sold the best fruit for the best price, and compromised by purchasing bananas at her favourite, and strawberries at xyrs.

When they emerged, the wind pushed them toward the river, the crowds thinning from the main streets, funneled into the clubs and pubs, or heading home with their late night shopping. They wandered, slowly, their destination only half formed in their minds, their purpose still unspoken. They ate the strawberries and shared one of the chocolate cakes she’d bought, licking the melted chocolate from their fingers, laughing at the icing sugar on her nose.

There were always people by the river, but their unspoken words wrapped them in a cocoon of quiet, the strangers passing no more than shadows, insignificant and irrelevant. The words were stronger now, their scent enveloping them, drawing them closer as they sat on the bank, their jeans damp from the grass.

The words would be said later. For now there was only fingers tangling, breath mingling, lips meeting. At last. At last. It wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Image from: http://www.phuket.com/shopping/banzaan-market.htm

Battleground

When you’re raised in battle,
What do you become?

When the world is a warzone
That no one else knows
What do you see?

When everything you are
Is the enemy
What do you fight?

When the voice in your head
Turns you against yourself
What do you hear?

When all your memories
Are of pain
What are you left?

When all your lessons
Were taught at the end of a sword
What do you learn?

When you’re raised in battle
You die a hundred times
Slowly and in agony
And then suddenly
Without seeing what killed you.

When you’re raised in battle
You learn fear
And anger
And pain
And you use them as weapons
Against yourself.

When you’re raised in battle
You learn to hide everything about yourself
Because every part of you
Is wrong
And will get you killed.

When you’re raised in battle
You surrender over and over
But the fighting never stops
So you get back up.

When you’re raised in battle
Eventually everything stops
And you have to make a choice.

You can stay down.

Or you can fight.

When you’re raised in battle
You become the enemy.
Or you become the warrior.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Like Rain

The cafe was stifling after the biting cold of a winter morning, the air thick with the scent of coffee and soup and baking bread and wet jackets. The tumbling wave of sound made of milk steamers and dishwashers and clattering plates, and of forty people all talking at once, hung thick in the air, as thick and warm as the odour of cooking. Xe threaded xyr way through the cluttered tables to their usual corner, miraculously empty, despite the hour. Xe shrugged out of xyr coat, hanging it on the back of xyr chair to dry, and glanced at xyr watch. Early, for once.

They had found this place together on a day like this, the kind of bitingly cold winter’s morning that pinched your cheeks until they glowed and ran icy fingers through your hair, the wind finding its way into every warm place and disregarding the sturdiest of coats. They had just been becoming friends then, and they sat and talked for hours, week after week, shamelessly sacrificing study time for this warm refuge that smelled of comfort. There had been no routine to it, no plan, just the slow tumbling into familiarity and intimacy that was so natural they hardly even noticed it. Xe had been in love with her after less than a month. To have the friendship, the trust, the affection, of someone so extraordinary still seemed to xem to be the greatest miracle life could offer.

She blew into the cafe like a gust of rain, moisture glistening in her hair, smelling of fresh, cold air. For a moment, xe could just watch her, this warm, bright light shining brighter than anything else in the room, everything fading into shades of grey around her. It had been the same every time since the first moment they had met. She had looked so different then, but her warmth, her smile, the way her eyes lit up whenever they encountered someone she knew, the way she stood so tall and proud, daring the world to judge her. Xe found xemself smiling before she even noticed xem.

Xe couldn’t help it. Xe loved her as easily as breathing, as unquestionably as the sun’s path from east to west. She was everything xe admired—kind and courageous, determined, strong, and soft. She was laughter and ridiculous conversations that no one could remember the start of. She was blunt honest, and blustery storms of fiery temper followed by the gentle rain of sorrow. She was a million things that would take a million years to list, tiny things, like the way her lip trembled when she watched a sad movie, the way she said “indubitably” far more often than necessary, the way she cosplayed white characters and made them better. She was a miracle.

She bent forward a little, leaning away from the other patrons so she could brush the rain from her hair, pushing the thick, kinky curls back from her face as she stood. One stubborn curl immediately fell back over her face, refusing, as usual, to be ordered around. Xe smiled again, imagining her “tsk” of annoyance, as she pulled the thin scarf from her neck and tied it around her hair. Only then did she look up, her face expectant as she scanned the array of grey, featureless nobodies. Her smile when she found xem was like sunshine.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Image from: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-best-things-rainy-day

The Beginnings of Joy

The coldest nights always showed the brightest stars, scattered across the arching sky like icing sugar carelessly dropped onto a slate tile. Galaxies swirled and danced above them, living creatures made of distant fire. He rarely saw them, living in the city, where light pollution blotted out all but the very brightest. He kept his eyes skyward, a half-smile permanently etched on his features. Here, the faintest lights still glimmered, dust-like, still visible behind their nearer companions. It was difficult to imagine the infinite stretches beyond those glittering crystalline lights, to imagine the lives that were lived around those stars, the other beings who, even now, might be looking up from their planets and wondering about them. And all that light, the seemed so fresh and cold and new, was aeons old before it even reached them. Many of those stars were long dead, along with whatever life had formed from them.
Xe huffed out a sigh, xyr breath fogging in the frigid air, barely visible in the dim lights that lined their path. Xe banished the gloomy philosophic thoughts. This was not the time and place for considering impossibly long-dead civilisations. Here, the air was still clear and fresh, smelling of damp and dead leaves and running water—full of life.
“This way,” xe said suddenly. Xe turned and scrambled up the hill, laughing as xyr feet slipped in the wet grass. Xe felt as though xe danced, although to the casual observer, xe had all the grace of a half-grown puppy, all long limbs and too-big feet, and the sense of always being just on the verge of falling.
“Where are we going?” he called, following more carefully, dignified as always. Xe grinned, invisible in the darkness.
“To get a better view.” Xe didn’t wait for him when xe reached xyr goal, but immediately grabbed hold of the closest bar of the climbing frame and swung xyrself up. The bars were damp and freezing, sending shocks into xyr fingers, but xe ignored the discomfort and concentrated on climbing as quickly as possible. It had been a while, and it took more effort than usual, xyr muscles protesting at such unreasonable treatment. Xe looked down as he reached the top of the hill and grinned again. It was rare that xe got to be taller than him. He examined the frame carefully, apparently not trusting xyr chosen path. He selected a rather more circuitous route to the top, climbing with the caution of one whose usual exercise involved a gym, or at the very least, a paved running circuit.
“Holy shit, these bars are freezing,” he muttered. “If I break anything falling out of this, you’re going to be the one looking after me.” Xe snorted.
“You could try not falling out of it,” xe suggested helpfully. He paused in his climb and xe knew he was sticking his tongue out at xem, even if xe couldn’t see his face. He finally reached xyr perch at the top of the climbing frame and hauled himself up next to xem, looking out over the lake that now spread out below them, the tiny lights that lined the path around its edge twinkling as they reflected off the rippling surface. They were just bright enough to show the edges of the mist rising from the water, the air already nearly cold enough to form frost where they sat. For a while, they sat without speaking, the only sound the muttering of waterfowl below, the chattering of the stream, and the hush of settling dew. The stars watched them.
“My arse is going numb,” he said eventually. “And I can’t feel my fingers. It’s bloody freezing up here.” Xe laughed and shuffled closer, taking his bare hands between xyr gloved ones and rubbing them gently.
“You poor delicate city-boy,” xe said. “A numb arse is all part of the experience.” Xe sensed him turn to look at xem, his expression intense, even in the darkness. There was a sharp intake of breath, then a sigh, then another deep breath.
“City-girl,” she said softly. “Not city-boy.” Xe scootched round to look more closely at her, but she’d dropped her eyes and was staring determinedly at the lake. Xe didn’t say anything, just wrapped xyr arms around her and laid xyr head on her shoulder. She sniffed loudly and swiped at her nose with one hand, the other sneaking around xyr waist. Another long quiet descended.
“Thanks for telling me,” xe said finally. A surprised laugh stuttered out of her mouth.
“I had a whole speech planned, you know,” she said. Xe grinned.
“You wanna give it now?” She leaned back and looked down at xem, smiling as though she would never stop.
“Why not,” she said.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing.

The Dangers of Internet Stalking

Written while listening to ‘Bad Liar’, by Selena Gomez. Because reasons.
There is a lot of sarcasm in this piece. I have marked it using / for those who struggle to identify it.

I didn’t plan any of it. I didn’t even want it. And yet, there I was, sending him a friend request, like a twit. /Of course it was because he probably posted interesting things, that I would be interested in, and not because I was being a creepy stalker. Of course./ I was angry with myself, even as I clicked on his name. For Hades’ sake, I barely knew the man. One semester in the same tutorial did not a friendship make, and yet here I was, apparently reverting to teenage behaviour. Thirty years apparently hadn’t taught me as much self-control as I would have hoped.

I’d been single for a while, and I liked it that way. Dating was a nightmare, people were generally awful, and I already had too many things to fill my time without having to worry about spending time with another human being. I wasn’t exactly swamped with offers—to be more accurate, I had precisely zero—but even if I had been, I would have been single by choice. /Which was, of course, why I was scrolling down his Timeline at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, wondering if he was involved with any of the people in his profile picture./

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered to myself, turning off my phone with unwonted force. “Stop it.” The person sitting next to me on the bus looked at me strangely. I ran my hand through my hair, wincing as my fingers caught on the tangles, and nodded sharply to myself. That was it, I would let it drop. I was a mature adult.

I was not a mature adult. /When he accepted my friend request two minutes after I’d sent it, my stomach definitely hadn’t flipped itself over three times, and I definitely hadn’t smiled so broadly I felt like the top of my head would fall off. Definitely not. And I hadn’t dressed more carefully than usual the next day on the off chance that I’d see him on campus somewhere. Of course I hadn’t./

It’s situations like this that make self-awareness a thorough-going pain in the arse.

I firmly refused to scroll through his Timeline and see what he’d posted, or to check his relationship status. Instead, I pulled out my reader and forced myself to concentrate on Foucault’s thoughts on power all the way into uni, my highlighter squeaking in protest when I marked the important passages with more violence than was strictly necessary. I stubbornly opened the Action Music playlist on my phone as I walked to campus from the bus stop, not even looking at the Luuuurve playlist. I kept my eyes on the ground as I navigated my way through the people heading to work and school and shops, determined not to see him even if he did happen to walk by. /Which wasn’t why I kept my eyes down, of course, I wasn’t thinking about him at all, I was concentrating firmly on the panopticon and the ways in which it applied to feminist theory. Of course./

I couldn’t maintain that level of determined detachment forever, unfortunately, and I forgot myself so far as to start listening to Ed Sheeran on my way to lunch. I was feeling so good that I forgot I was supposed to be keeping my eyes down, and instead I strode along with my head up, observing the people flowing around me with a writer’s interest (although still avoiding eye contact at all costs).
The first time I saw him, I actually flinched. A second later, I realised it wasn’t him at all, just another tall guy with a neat beard. (/Curse him for having a currently popular hair-style./) I swore at myself under my breath, scaring the poor woman walking towards me as my usual /Resting Murder Face descended into Actual Murder Face/ due to my momentary irritation with myself. The second time I saw him, I managed not to react outwardly, and settled for being astonished that I could have mistaken someone with such bland eyes for him. By the fifth time, I had to physically restrain myself from slapping myself in the face. Fortunately for me, Resting Murder Face is a very good cover for this kind of nonsense.

I was definitely not a mature adult. But, by the time we were four weeks into semester, I got very good at faking it.

Well, I thought I was good at faking it.

I was wrong. All my friends noticed and laughed at me for it. I treated them to a dignified silence and determined not to look at his Timeline again. I reminded myself why I liked being single and wrote a blog post about why modern concepts of heteronormative romance were problematic.

At the beginning of week four, I found myself fighting temptation once again, seconded in a quiet corner of the library and trying to bully my brain into finishing an essay. It wasn’t a particularly scintillating topic, and 500 words in, I found myself searching for any distraction. As always, Facebook was attempting to come to my aid, and I was getting annoyed with myself about it. I managed to write two more sentences, both of which I immediately deleted, before I caved and opened my News Feed. I absolutely did not open his page. No, really! I scrolled down my News Feed, looking for his picture.

The moment I realised what I was doing I swore out loud and closed my browser.

“That bad, huh?”

I looked up into brown eyes and almost cursed again. This him was actually him.

“Maybe not that bad,” I said. By some miracle, I managed not to sound like I was being strangled.

“Mind if I join you?”

I really, really wasn’t a mature adult. It was okay, though. Turned out he wasn’t either.

Image and text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Soulless Killer Series: Ch2 Conflict of Interest

The problem with having Christen as a roommate, I soon discovered, was that on paper, she was the perfect roommate, while in reality, she was a nightmare. Most days I would have preferred a roommate who left dirty socks hanging over the back of the couch and half-empty bowls of cereal in the sink. Christen, however, always kept her clothes clean (with the help of my darling mother), and washed her dishes, and even wiped out the shower when she was done. She also moved all the cutlery into the TV cabinet so she could keep her socks in the kitchen drawer.
“Are you just trying to piss me off?” I asked, staring at her extensive collection of multi-coloured foot coverings.
“I left the other half for you,” she said, sounding hurt. I stared at her for a second with my mouth open.
“Because of course I’d want to keep my socks in the kitchen.”
“You’ve got to admit, it’s far more sensible,” she said serenely, taking a pair of rainbow-striped knee socks that no one would ever see under her black jeans and heading for her bedroom. She would never put her socks on anywhere but in the bedroom. I threw up my arms and put the cutlery holder back in the drawer next to her socks. It was a big drawer, after all.
As well as the socks in the kitchen, she spent the first week hand-sewing little white curtains for the few photos I’d put up around the house – including the family shots I had in my bedroom. She would close them every night and open them every morning. I’m sure you can imagine how unnerving it would be to awaken at 8am on a Saturday to find your roommate looming over you, opening a tiny pair of curtains on the family picture next to your bed so they could get some light.
“You do know photos hold part of the soul, don’t you?” she said, apparently astonished at my ignorance. “You need to make sure you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, or the soul’s owner could start feeling unwell. I wouldn’t want that to happen to your mother.”
I didn’t bother replying to that particular gem.
However, these might almost have been forgivable quirks if it weren’t for my aforementioned mother, who had now quite willingly adopted Christen into the family.
“It’s not her fault she grew up the way she did,” Mum said severely to me whenever I dared to hint at my disapproval.
“All the more reason not to encourage her,” I muttered in reply. But Mum seemed to think she was helping, rather than enabling, my completely interplanetary roommate. I considered asking Christen to move out, but I couldn’t face the dual guilt-trip of her puppy eyes and my mother’s disapproval. I figured I’d just have to grit my teeth and bear it, and hope Christen got bored.
Sadly, she got comfortable instead. About a month after she’d moved in, my boss offered me a commission interstate, which I would normally have thought twice about, since I had essays to write. However, having just that morning found Christen taking the labels off all the jars in the pantry and rewriting the contents on the bottom in calligraphy, I was in need of a break. I packed a small bag, caught the first flight out, and settled happily into my hotel room, anticipating an easy transaction and a relaxing evening. I should have known better.
Two hours after I’d settled into my chair by the window with my novel, I became aware of a faint metallic scratching sound coming from my door. It was an older hotel, and still used regular keys instead of keycards, and I instantly realised someone was trying to pick the lock. I silently closed my book and reached for the Smith & Wesson I’d tucked into the seat with me. The faint sound of my finger clicking the safety off went unheard as the lock gave a clunk and the door started to open.
I know you, dear reader, will be far less surprised by what happened next than I, but I hope you appreciate that hindsight comes with rather more clarity than was available to me at the time.
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” I spluttered, clicking the safety back on and putting the pistol back on the small table next to me.
“Your room has a better shot than mine,” Christen said, as though this fact ought to have been obvious to me. I stared at her, still not quite caught up with events.
“Why did you have to pick the lock?” I said. “You could have just knocked.”
“I didn’t think you’d mind.” She closed the door and locked it behind her, stashing a small leather wallet of lock-picking wotsits in the inside pocket of her coat as she turned back to me. “Is he back yet?” I stared at her some more, mouth open like a gormless goldfish.
“Oh no,” I said, finally realising what was going on. “No, no, no. This is my commission, you can just stay out of it.”
The puppy dog eyes made an appearance and I cursed internally.
“I thought we could do it together,” she said.
“You don’t think our employers might have an issue with that?” I suggested pointedly. She looked surprised. Clearly the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
“I can’t see why they would,” she said. “As long as the job gets done.” I sighed. Soulless people in movies tended to be incredibly intelligent and ruthless. How was it I’d got stuck with the human version of a baby Labrador? I opened my mouth to explain the difficulties of dividing the fee between two opposing companies, imagined the ensuing conversation, and closed it again. There really was no point. She sensed victory and bounced happily over to the window, where my rifle was already set up.
“See?” she said, grinning at me. “It’ll be fun! I’ll order us some room service.”
I sighed and put my bookmark back into my book. Short of murdering her in order to protect my commission – which any sensible person would have at least considered – it looked like I was stuck with her. It seemed I wasn’t feeling very sensible.
“Make sure they send up honey with the tea,” I said, and turned my attention back to the window.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017.

Image from: http://www.wallpaperup.com/688806/pistol_gun_weapon_handgun_military_police_book.html

If

TW: frequent references to domestic violence

If he hadn’t been my gaoler
Maybe I’d still be a wife
With that photogenic life
At least between 9 and 5
Because you know what kids are like
Near 6 o’clock…

If he hadn’t tried to own me
Maybe I’d still wear that ring
Finger swelling round the thing
The symbol of my giving in
To the fight I couldn’t win
Against the world

If I’d got to keep my body
Maybe I’d still walk those halls
With their off-white painted walls
And their scratch-resistant floors
And their lever-handled doors
I chose myself

If he’d been somebody different
If he’d know-n how to love
I might not have… “given up”
I’d still have a smooth-shaved cunt
Not leave the house without makeup
Cos I’m a… woman…

If he hadn’t been a monster
I wouldn’t have to be so grateful
For escaping something dreadful
With three reminders of my downfall
Not their fault they bring back painful
Memories.

If I’d stayed…
If I’d surrendered…
If I’d died.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017