I stare out across the ocean. It's glorious, but all I can think about is the film premier after-party. I hate that she pushes and pushes and pushes me away. I hate that her grip is firm on my body, and on my mind. Her eyes had followed me around the room, pinning me down. Spotlighting me. I'd struggled to get away but she kept me there, like always. She is always there in the back of my mind, but now she's in the forefront. All the time. The photo shoot I'd just finished had gone, according to my manager, extraordinarily well. She asked me why, asked me why I glowed.
Begged me to tell her the reason. She says, in all the years she's known me, since I was poor, jaded and eighteen, I have never exuded such an enigmatic, vibrant aura. I would never tell her that it's Niamh. She would dig and hassle and question. She would find everything out that she could about Niamh. Invade her privacy - it wouldn't be hard to discover November 15th and the less people who know about that part of my life the better. I hate that she dominates my thoughts. I hate that I'd do anything to protect her. I love that maybe I need to protect her from myself. She stands in my mind surrounded with hurt, mine and hers, guilt, mine and something else which I cannot name. I love that she's the only one who can reach inside of me and create these feelings. I love that no one else comes close.
A skinny, gorgeous model from the shoot sits down. She has two light beers in hand. Offers me one, "What are you doing out here all on your lonesome?" I shrug and reply nothing. Thinking. She smiles coquettishly, weaves her fingers through mine and pulls me to my feet. Back to her room. She doesn't know that I think less than nothing of her skinny, stick body. Her ribs poke out at me. I feign attraction.
Her lips on my chest, her hands on my stomach, they are Niamh's. In my mind I see only Niamh's soft curves and hazel eyes, only feel her curls brushing my skin. I kiss the model but really I'm kissing Niamh. I am on fire with everything I need from her and everything she'll never give me. In the throes of passion I utter her name. The model doesn't notice but I hate that I do. I hate that I'll never be out from under Niamh's power. Not for as long as I live, I'll never be allowed freedom. I hate that I'll never touch another woman without it being her. I love that I lose it when the skinny stick model digs her nails into my back, the way Niamh always used to. I pull her roughly against me. Her sinewy body rubs against mine. Still Niamh is all I can feel. I hate that she's the only one I want. I hate that she's the only one I can't have.
Two days later I'm back in the city at another pathetic party. The people stare at me, as they are inclined to do, but they don't come any nearer. I see in their eyes the blood on my fists, the smear on my cheek from the last premier. They have fear. My manager thinks it's fabulous - the bullshit article that Niamh wrote for a tabloid painted me wild and savage. Raw. A real man in a world of soft metros. I hate that I love the twist she put on it all, making me seem less the villain. I know that she didn't do it for me, that it was simply a protest at having to write the tacky article.
I leave early. The simpering incompetence of everyone there bores me. I lose interest quickly in the sycophantic woman clinging to my arm, flirting and rubbing up against me. Pretty in her dress. Silky and supple against my body. Not who I want. I am tempted at first but her wantonness, which I usually value in a woman, wears me thin this evening. I hate that it's probably because the soiree is lacking the only woman worth looking at. I brush off the clowns trailing after me and exit the room. Behind me there is a vacuum. I feel their eyes on my back. I can hear their thoughts. Their doubts. If he's going... If Dempsey Cohen is leaving the party early... well, it must be a crap party! I was having a decent time, but if he's leaving... I scorn their dependency on fashions. I hate that I am part of a machine which dictates what is in and what's not. I hate that they watch me like a god. That they think I'm more than I am. I love that they'll never know me truly. Not like she does. And god do I hate her for that.
She is killing me slowly. Every time I see her I die a little. I stand on the roof of my apartment building. The night stretches before me, thin and glistening. The lights of the city nag my eyes. Shallow reflections of the stars. Once I was in Australia filming; in the middle of the desert, red sands and biting cold in the night. The stars there sweep across the entire sky. I've never seen so many, so clearly. Those precious nights are with me now, I imagine the purity of those pollution free Australian vistas. I wish I were there, far away from everything I know here.
He is distant and vague when I see him. The message I find in my inbox is a photograph of a glorious night sky. A place where humans haven't sullied the horizon. I worry for a moment and then dismiss it. Get on with my life. I see a picture of him in another tabloid, he looks down the lens of the camera like it offended him. I imagine the photographer cringing from his anger. Especially since that party.
The following morning another photo is pushed under my door. This one is of a vast, red rock canyon. Water flowing far below. Vividly green tree growing on impossible angles. On the back his careful handwriting tells me everything.
Don't tell them.
Find me someday.
Love like the wind.
Love like the wind. He used to say that when we were kids. When we didn't know any better. I haven't heard it in years. Not since that night. Love like the wind. Find me someday. He's escaping. The smile stretching across my face is victorious. I've done it! I've driven him from this life of shallow, pointlessness that he hates. That he loves.
To celebrate I drink a half of a bottle of tequila on my balcony. I pass out there and wake in the evening light-headed and seedy. I call a friend and he comes over. I lose myself all night. I forget the fool who leaves me again and again. I fill my night with pointless touch and for the briefest of moments I feel better.
Then I wake. I wake next to a body which I know as well as my own. I stare at it shamelessly, the relaxed muscles, the smooth sweep of his arm flung over my stomach, a day's worth of stubble roughening his jawline. I know this body, but right now it feels as foreign as my thoughts. I leave the apartment and walk the streets. I look trashy and I'm covered in last nights' sweat. A girl passes and gives me a dirty look. I ignore her. Like I'd care about her. About anything anymore.
The next year of my life is empty and meaningless. I drink and I sleep with men who barely know my name. There isn't one word from him. Not an email or a letter. Not anything. On my birthday I refresh my inbox every half hour. You have no new emails. My body craves him, though we haven't touched for years. I crave his insolence, arrogance, his eyes searching for me in a crowd.
I lost my job.
My publisher dropped me.
The only thing I haven't sunk to is drugs. Or prostitution. I might as well have though. I disgust myself. I haven't looked in a mirror for weeks, afraid of what I might see.
Another six months pass. Every day I die a little more. I've ceased seeing everyone that I knew. I stopped answering their calls and eventually they stopped calling. I live in a state of almost permanent despair. I hate that he's done this to me. Does he know? Will he ever? Will I ever see him again? Through my camera lens? When he vanished there was uproar. He simply told his manager that he was leaving. Not to look for him. And that was it. No one has seen him for a year and a half. I never told them about the note he left me.
He's become a legend. At the beginning people thought it was some sort of a publicity stunt to boost his already magnificent career. But he never came back. Now everyone knows his name; they watch his films and judge. They tear him apart. The cry drugs! Sex! Suicide!
Now I only go out to buy food. Today I went shopping and was sent spiraling into a desperate, gut wrenching depression. It's December 24th; Christmas Eve. I shudder. A time for family and friends. I watch The Grinch on TV. I pass out in the living room and don't wake until Christmas is halfway over. When I am mobile, I check my inbox. Habit. I have one email, sender unknown. I lose my curiosity when it isn't his name.
Tom Price. 02/01/09. Midday. Post Office. D.
Dempsey. I google map Tom Price and discover that it's in the west of Australia. A long way from everything. Perfect. I hope my credit card isn't maxed out; my savings are almost gone.
I send her the message. I don't know why. Perhaps the steady decline of updated information on her facebook got me desperate? Maybe my strength over the last eighteen months which stayed my hand finally deserted me? Every day I want to send a message. Send anything. But I would stop myself. Now, though, on Christmas day when I'm alone in the searing heat of the Australian desert I hit the send button. The Australian heat is oppressive and dry. Even the wind provides no release; it sucks the water from your bones.
I built the house I'm living in from scratch. The days are long and hard but the work is a release for me. I end each day exhausted, I don't even dream anymore. The only face I see in my mind is hers; the other women, everyone from that life I left have no meaning for me. I go to town once a fortnight and do my shopping. The people don't recognise me. I barely recognise myself. I am the American eccentric living in the middle of the desert with the beard and the slightly insane feel lurking about him. They don't approach me and that's how I like it. Sometimes I get lonely, but not enough to go back there. Never enough to go back there. My bank balance has barely noticed my new lifestyle. I can live happily out here as a hermit for three lifetimes and have enough to live on. The locals used to talk about me, I know, but they've long since given up. He'll die old and alone, they'd say. They are probably right. I don't own a TV, but I do own a radio. I sit in the evenings on my back veranda with some beer and my radio, just listening and watching the sunset. Soaking in peace. Breathing in serenity.
My life now is slow and calm, there are no flashing camera bulbs, no one screaming my name, desperately reaching, clinging. I haven't got a phone here either - there would be no one for me to call anyway. I have the internet, but my modem mostly gathers dust, lying dormant. Every night I stare across the expanse of red earth, glowing like blood in the ribbons of dying sunlight and I think that this is where I want to be. In the mornings I water the trees I planted carefully; native eucalypts to provide some shade from the blistering sun. I watch them grow and flourish under my care and I realise that this is the most worthwhile thing I've done in my life - nurturing seedlings. Tonight, sipping my stubby of Little Creatures, I feel unsettled and anxious. The feelings are foreign after a year of physical exhaustion and mental peace.
The plane ride is long and arduous. I can't sleep. I can't eat. I start watching half a dozen of the inflight movies but I don't get to the end of any. It's awful. All I can think about is how much I hate him for abandoning me. How much I hate myself for running to him. His face is in my mind - the stewardess thinks I'm insane. I don't even drink anything I'm so strung out. I am starving and thirsty by the time I hit the ground. Even on the hard, hot earth my mind remains flung from my body high up in the clouds, somewhere between the great white north and the red hot south. The arrivals lounge at the airport in Perth is full of hugging people. I get out as soon as I can, catching a bus into the city. I can't get out to this place - Tom Price - until tomorrow when the earliest bus leaves way too early for my liking. Apparently it's a long way away.
The earth turns redder and redder the further north I travel. The heat is incredible, the country beautiful. I sleep on the bus with the air conditioner blasting in my face and when I wake the world around is darkening. I sleep the night in a hostel. Tomorrow is the day. I don't know what to expect. For the first time in a long time I look in a mirror before I go to bed. I am dramatically skinny, pale and haunted. I cringe away and try to forget the image. It's easy when I think about him. He preys on my mind incessantly. I will never be free of him.
I wear a summer dress. It's pale yellow with white and yellow flowers. It is more pure than me. I arrive at the post office five minutes before twelve. The grizzled old man behind the counter looks at me strangely. I pretend to look at some stationary while reveling in the cold, dry draft from the air conditioner. I wait.
It's ten past.
He's not showing up.
The horror sets in.
I cling to my mind as I flick through a children's book.
I am standing frozen. I don't pretend to be doing anything.
The man asks me if I'm okay. I say I'm meeting someone. I say they're late. I pray it's true. He asks me where I'm from. I can't remember. He hands me a glass of water and I gulp it eagerly.
The door pops open.
I'm late. The car got a flat. I feel like kicking myself if I've missed her. I'm committed now to seeing her, to touching her, to drinking her with my eyes. I feel like if I don't, I really will go insane. I wear a pair of olive green cargo shorts and a white t-shirt. I even shave. Not very well - there is still stubble for some reason. Possibly a result of the rusty razor. After changing the tire I am filthy, sweaty and grumpy. Anxious to get into town.
I park and run to the post office, slam through into the alien world of air conditioning. She's standing there, looking far too skinny for my liking. Far too pretty, too sad. The shadows under her eyes, the downward turn of her lips drive guilt into my heart. I stop and stare at her. Drink her in. I don't think about what I am going to say to her. Everything I planned goes up in smoke. Every coherent thought driven from my mind. The man behind the counter is staring at us. He knows who I am, recognises me from my occasional visits, and is very interested in seeing what is going on. I flick my eyes back to the door, turn and walk out. I hear her soft footsteps following.
I get in the car and turn the key. The engine roars to life, interrupting the still of midday. No one else is silly enough to be out at this time. She doesn't get in immediately. I see her hesitating across the road. I don't hurry her, just sit still. Think about her there, in my house. The post office man is watching from the door of the store. I ignore him. The passenger door opens and she slides delicately onto the seat. I gun it out of town. The drive home is silent. I feel her looking at me, but I keep my eyes on the gravel road. On the rear view, with the red dust billowing out behind us like a cloak. A red flag against the blue sky. Like smoke cover. No one will find us.
She steps inside the threshold onto my polished wood floors and I know she belongs here. She belongs with me.
"I hate you." She murmurs. "You left me alone."
"I know." There is a pause, "Did you build this?"
I can't stop the pride leaking from me, "Yeah. All of it."
"It's beautiful. You're beautiful. I missed you." She says it so calmly, so matter of fact that I cringe. I feel like I was selfish escaping here when she was suffering too.
"You had to see... what we had, when we were kids. It was real. I need you. The life that I was living - that was fake. Too fake. It was killing me. You were killing me."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Come here." I say, and then I wait. After a few minutes she obeys, of her own free will. Wraps her arms around me and rests her head on my chest. I breath out and hold her close. She is too thin.
"Will you stay?"
"Is it always this hot?"
"You should get air conditioning."
I grin into her hair, "Okay. I'll get air conditioning if you stay." I kiss the top of her head when she nods.
"Deal. Oh, and Dempsey?"
"Don't run away again. Next time I won't come when you call."
"I swear I won't."
She stays silent, but clings to me. I feel like a bear wrapped around her. I haven't held her since we were teenagers. Since we were happy. She feels the same, though.
"I love you, Niamh. It was always you."
"You know how I feel."
I lead her upstairs and she follows, like a wraith in a sunshine dress. I will never let her go.