She sobbed into my shoulder, sweet pearlescent tears.

"It's like everyone wants to fuck with me. Just play with me, like I'm a dog." She hiccuped cutely. "Are you gonna fuck with me too?"

I shook my head even though she couldn't see it, and rested my hand on her head, stroking her auburn hair gently. "No," I said, feeling the aspersion sit on my tongue like warm chocolate, saccharine but scorching the roof of my mouth. It was a lie I was willing to tell, though; I would tell it a thousand times, I would make a lullaby of it if I had to. As long as it kept her in my arms.

I'd been screwing her since the day I met her. Since the day she gave me her number, since the day I decided she might be worth my time.

I'm terrible. I take pride in being a cold-hearted bitch, and have lived that way for a good while. But she had stirred something in me, this sweet, succulent, black-clad nymphet who had come from Miami with smiles for everyone. It took me a while to recognize her uncouth beauty, but when its glittering wings had unfolded, I was possessed by it.

And that, I knew, was the only reason I became her friend: I wanted to see that beauty wither. To watch as she broke herself, a magnificent goddess, against everything she held dear, everyone she'd been foolish enough to trust—

And at the moment of her greatest despair, she would flee to my arms, be comforted by me.

It was a beautiful tragedy and its final movements were playing out in front of me. She shook in my arms. So fragile; all strength dissipated, clinging to me as if I were the only safe, solid thing in the world, the only one left standing, and it felt so good.

So I held her. In the pinnacle of my design, I did nothing but hold her, and let her tears stain my shirt.

After she left, the house fell into silence. I stroked the hands of the clock with my eyes until I no longer recognized them. My body got up of its own accord and brewed an acrid tea, subliminally cautious to add no sweetener: Such bitterness deserved a like toast.

Through the doors to the porch out back, late afternoon sun pouring across open plains, peaking like eyes through the leaves of the live oaks. I sip my tea with terrible determination. Tasteless, crude water, its flavors like flowers who cannot bloom without the sugar of life.

In the next yard over, a woman says, "Life is about other people"; a mother to her son, advice after his girlfriend drove off in her red Ferrari and wrote CHEAT on the gravel with her tires. I can smell the rubber, burning, blending with a waft of earl grey. Words to her devil-god spawn, hoping that he'll heed her warnings and not become another Zeus whose concubines and lovers never knew a day not lived in jealousy.

Another agonizing sip, like drinking salt water to rid your throat of its red sores. My throat closes at the heat, blocking my emotion from rising any further than my shoulders. I'm too old to be surprised or worried; my eyes are grey with the smoke of mushroom clouds. I can't see. Not my own fingers, nor the swaying tree branches and the dancing sun. there is beauty around me, but I find this stale misery to be much sweeter.

Wind dances across my bare arms, turns every pore of my skin into a tiny, erect nipple. A tongue lashes patiently across them, skillful and mocking; they tease the brown peaks on my chest to attention. The cicada's apply their lusty friction. Nature is laughing at me.

Unperturbed, I take yet another painful swallow, too mature to be goaded, to solitary and stubborn to fold my arms and shiver. The winds kick me even more forcefully, but I'll pay it no heed. As I drink my core warms and my crust freezes over. People appear before my eyes but I will give them no more notice. I will not miss them. Not even her.

The brown ring at the bottom of my mug stares up at me, a gaping mouth devoid of screams or speech. I set it down on the wood railing, eyes scanning the horizon. I am not looking for a sunset or for an omen. A phoenix burns itself out in the west; my eyes glaze over like frozen ponds.

It was not easy to give up fidelity, chastity, family. But insanity was my remedy, a divine lover come to rid me of all my wrinkles and aches. Its flower had the stench of liquefying corpses, yet to me it smelt of the most exquisite jasmine blossom.

And that is the scent that lingers on my fingertips. That is the scent that I will fall asleep with.

As for her, I can only say this:

"Mea culpa."