If you see the mouthless girl rise from your bed sheets you must never look her in the eyes or she will kiss you.
“Is that some sort of urban legend?” I ask.
The bloke with the eye-patch grins. He’s been stalking me for some time before coming to the bar and offering me a pint. I had been peering at the busty brunette two stools down when I became aware of his eyes—or rather, of his one eye. I got the impression he was like a human hound, sniffing out some secret scent I didn’t know I had on me.
When he walked up to my stool, he leaned over and in a deep voice said he had a story for me. I tried to laugh it off. Worst pick up line I ever heard. The guy shrugged. He wasn’t interested in that sense, he said. And then he said . . . he said he had no control over who he told the story to. He was just a messenger.
Well, what had I to lose? The brunette hadn’t looked over in half an hour, and I was starting to feel a bit conspicuous all by myself. A pint is a pint and a crazy story is something to take home with you, if I won’t get anything else out of this Friday night.
“Huh. Urban legend,” I repeat, “is it?”
He smiles again. A smile does strange things to a face that is half paralyzed, one eye missing from view. It’s like a mirthful spasm of the flesh, one that retains only half the humour, the other half rigid in awkward silence, the dead eye hiding.
“You could say so,” he says as he sips his lager.
The Diamanti sisters want to marry her off.
They have an antique shop at the end of Bollo Lane, in West Acton. It’s mostly junk for the Chiswick rich, but some of it—colonial stuff from Haiti—is original. You can find them there, most of the time. But when they’re not at the shop, they roam around this part of town with their diamond eyes and white canes, looking for bachelors. They’ll approach you if you are sitting alone and staring at the bottom of a beer glass. And if you think yourself unjustly treated by fate, blighted by the insipidness of loneliness, they’ll sniff you out.
Not hard to imagine why one would make up such a story in a place like this.
Even the chairs here smell of over-excited groins. A blond girl with fleshy arms bursts into raucous laughter as a hipster guy tickles her breasts with a straw. It’s the drunk switch, as an American girl once put it. They don’t even look at you, she told me, and then suddenly they leer and whisper to your ear: ‘wanna fuck?’
This chap with the eye-patch would never do such a thing. He might be a creep, but he’s a dignified one. He appears to be some sort of retired navy officer, his disfigurement making him look older than he really is, I guess. It’s not like I can really understand what in the name of sweet fuck is wrong with his face. Seems like he’s wearing a transparent mask, only he isn’t. I prod him about the old sisters. He smiles—half-smiles—takes a sip, then says:
“Did you know that mayflies mate in the air? Some drift to the ground post-coitus, intertwined. And that’s how they die.”
I look around, suspicious. Is this some sort of secret code, to mark me as a victim? Would they rush me in the street? Had he spiked my drink? But the eye-patch guy doesn’t feel dangerous. He feels . . . scared. By his own tale, maybe. And maybe by something else too. So I nod, as if what he said made perfect sense. I motion, ‘go on’.
You see, their sister’s unmarried status is the cause of great discomfort for the Diamanti sisters. For her deformity doesn’t change the fact that the young woman is ravishing. I know, it’s not easy to understand if you haven’t seen her, but take my word for it. She is truly beautiful. And not only that, she has the finest taste in clothes. And she can draw, and she’s played the piano and the violin since she was five, all the neighbours used to come to her window to hear her play, while she hid behind the curtain. But most of all, since she reached puberty she excels at singing, her voice exceeding all expectations.
“Yeah but how can she sing,” I ask, and that’s my first mistake.
“She moans,” says the man with the patch. He takes another sip.
“Though maybe moan isn’t really the right word for it. More like she hums. I think it’s called harmonic resonance. Sometimes, when she’s upset, glasses and bottles and even windows respond, humming. Sometimes people’s flesh responds too.”
“Like she’s a fucking banshee,” I croak.
The dead side of his face turns to me.
“Not really,” he says, “more like she is ghosting you out of your flesh and bones. That’s what her voice does to people.”
Turquoise haired—like they wore storms on their heads—the Diamanti sisters have petrified gemstone eyes, cataract-clouded irises. How they get around this cruddy part of town is a mystery, their white canes tick-tacking on the pavement before them. When they look at you, it’s like your soul is made of glass, their stares diamond cutters, incising right to the core of your neediness. They know you want her, even if you don’t know it yourself.
They pick you up in pubs like this one.
You look down at your smartphone that never rings, you look up, and there they are, the short one on your left, the tall one on your right. They startle you at first, but then they are so nice; they talk a little about themselves and their family, and you don’t want to be rude or anything, and before you realize it you’re asking about their little sister, and then they smile hugely, lipstick smudges on their impossibly white teeth.
“She sits by herself all day,” says the taller one, “by her bedroom window, reading. Quite often, she looks down on the street. But so few people go down the lane where we live that she gets to see few faces besides our own. And though she loves us, she really does, as she should, as we feed her and provide all her books—
“Wait, how do they feed her,” I interrupt, “if she is mouthless?”
That’s my second mistake.
“Oh, this they explain in great detail,” he says, “if you ask. One of their regular customers is a gastroenterologist. He’s provided them with a special tube. It’s called nastro-gastric intubation, and if done well, it can reach the stomach. In her case, the trip is shorter, as behind the veil of flesh she does have a functional mouth. So they plug her right nostril—”
“Ok, stop right there,” I say, hand raised.
“You asked,” he shrugs.
“She has read so many books,” says the tall one, “and of course she can’t speak, but she can write, in fact she writes the most beautiful notes, with the most touching handwriting. We keep all her notes in the attic, like paper mayflies containing all her secrets. And they are truly tender. They talk of her love for us and her craving for company, how she wishes for someone to take care of her. To love her for how she is.”
“But if all this is too lofty for you,” adds the shorter sister, “let me assure you, she has all the juicy parts: childbearing hips, a behind like a round melon, her breasts small but supple, nipples the colour of dark wine, ready for tasting. Her tummy is a white mount of cream with a little extra, just a touch, perfect for a preliminary bite as you go down on her.”
They roar in mirth at this, two old lions yawning behind bars. Only, there are no bars here. You lock your arms, afraid they’ll smell your shudder, and you shouldn’t say it, you really shouldn’t, but their diamond eyes have done something to you, something their story has brought to light, a desire untamed; and so you say it.
“Can I meet her?”
You walk with the Diamanti ladies, they walk with their canes, each by your side, as you pass house after house, until you come to a street by an abandoned schoolyard. You walk up this crooked path of uneven bricks, and at last reach this odd building, dark violet like a storm cloud. The house is two storeys high, brick and wood like most London houses; but the front wall stops you. It’s painted in painstaking detail: thousands of mayflies, a whirlwind of transparent wings, they enfold the upper-storey windows like a glittery tornado.
“Mayflies,” says the tall one, “don’t have mouths.”
And it all just feels so wrong, and suddenly you turn to go—to hell with politeness—but then you glimpse a speck of white and stop and look up.
She is sitting in the deep niche of her bedroom window, a book on her lap, her neck arched over the pages. Her head is wrapped in a white turban; she wears a laced dressing gown—like a Neoclassical painting, you think—that leaves her arms softly bare.
She hasn’t turned to you yet, but her posture has become rigid; and then you realize she is in fact looking at you, from the corner of her eyes, and shyly too.
Is she afraid as you are? More so, because you can always walk away, she can’t.
Then her sisters elongate their white canes and start tapping at her window. She shakes her head, stubborn, but her older sisters insist, and in the end she has to give in: she turns and looks down at you.
“It’s not that they are born without mouths,” says the man with the eye-patch, “it’s worse than that.”
“Mayflies. They have mouths before the adult stage. But when they moult into adulthood, nature doesn’t provide them with one. That’s why they die so fast. It’s not some mysterious genetic time bomb: they simply starve to death. Until then, they have only one drive left: to reproduce.”
“Don’t we all?” I say, raising my glass.
It doesn’t even register; he stares blankly at the distant wall. There is pain in his one eye now, one I know all too well. Regret. And for the first time, I have a sense he isn’t telling the story to me, but that remembering it for his own sake.
As she looks at you, your mind ceases.
Her mouth is a scream stifled for eternity. And yet, what makes your blood run cold is her eyes, so painfully aware, so lonely. There is more than a flicker of compassion in them as they sweep over you. No one has ever looked at you that way, not with that hunger, not with that yearning. It’s as if she wants to devour the aching space inside your chest with all the eagerness of her youth. And then, bit by bit, you realize how beautiful she really is. Her skin almost shines under the mother-of-pearl light; her eyelashes are glossy wings. Her eyebrows frown slightly, then relax as she keeps watching you.
And then she smiles.
She has no lips but you can see it in her eyes. A terrible hope has now taken residence in her face. The girl takes a card from her bosom, a fountain pen from under her pillow, and starts scribbling madly. At last she stops, nods at you, and with both hands opens the window. You catch her scent from twelve feet away, the mild odour of hand cream. A white rectangle flutters down. You catch the note in mid-air, and turn it over.
Tonight, it says.
“And?” I say.
The man with the eye patch is silent; he is staring at his empty glass.
“Would you like to know,” he says after a while, “what happens when the mouthless girl comes to you, when she emerges from your bed sheets and tries to kiss you?”
“Well,” I say, clearing my throat, “I’m not stopping you.”
He smiles, not his creepy half-grin, more like he is tasting bile in his mouth.
“She moans, of course. It all depends what kind of moan is it. Pain. Or pleasure.”
“I am not sure I understand.”
“There are two kinds of moans. The first is the one you can talk about. In fact, you can’t stop yourself from talking about it, even if you don’t want to. Then there’s the moan you don’t get to talk about at all, the one only mayflies know.”
“Sorry man, I’m lost,” I say, “I truly am.”
“Good. Not understanding means you’re not there yet. Soon, but not just yet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That I’ll tell you,” he says “but not now. I’ve got to take a leak.”
The eye-patch man staggers from the bar to the restroom.
I have to say that I am more than a bit relieved. I look around, stunned to see how crowded the place is. The pub is packed now, and I really shouldn’t feel like we were the only ones left among upturned chairs, whispering to each other secrets best left untold.
Though I didn’t tell him much about myself, did I? But then I wonder if the simple act of listening to his story is already a confession of sorts. I wonder if there was reason he came up to me.
A guy with a fuzzy beard and a biker jacket nods at me, then winks. “I overheard a bit. Quite the story this bloke has.”
I laugh out loud, more loudly than I should.
“There’s no bloody antique shop in Bollo Lane,” he says, “take my word for it. I was born and raised in Acton, so that’s a fact.”
“Fuck yes to the beauty of facts,” I toast, glass raised.
“Though,” he adds, “the house with the painted mayflies, that’s real enough. Rather, was. They tore it down when I was a kid, to build the Acton tube station. I saw it once, with me mum, when it was already half a ruin, the windows all broken. If I ever saw a haunted house, that was one. But what do I know, I was just a kid.”
I’m not a kid, but suddenly I feel like one. I keep on telling myself that the biker chap is like, what—in his forties?—so the house must have been demolished ages ago, and why does that even bother me? Yet I feel nauseous, the pub floor slipping away from my feet.
I decide I’ve simply had too much and head for the loo. I’m worried I’ll run into the guy with the eye-patch, but he isn’t anywhere near the queue. I do see something though, there, right by the ladies’ door. Turquoise hair. Cold fingers seize my testicles and squeeze.
The turquoise-haired old woman slowly turns. But she’s neither old nor a lady: it’s some fat kid with a stud in his nose and his hair all parrot-coloured. Fuck you, kid.
As I finally reach the loo and relieve myself, I feel one bodily relief mixing with the other. On my way back I’m much more confident. I want to see where all this was going, what the punch-line is all about. But, I don’t see the eye-patch man anywhere. I look for him for a bit, until I see the biker guy glancing up at me.
“He went straight for the door,” he points, “and didn’t look back.”
It takes me a while to realize what this means. The eye-patch guy is gone. I don’t have to listen to his shit anymore. And I’ll never know: about the mouthless girl, about what happens when she rises from your bed sheets, about her pleasure and her pain.
It was as if some immaterial hand had plunged into my chest and torn my lungs away. I feel sick, as if I had a gulped down all the loneliness of this place, I am choking on it . . .
When the night outside hits my face, I feel the drunk switch click inside me.
The street is rotating away from my feet, and I have to stumble to the alley behind the pub, where I spew up what I can. It’s not just beer, but some dark sediment I’ve no name for. As I begin to feel the bliss of an empty stomach, I lean my back against the wall, eyes half-closed, breathing in. I’m thinking of the eye-patch guy, of his last words to me. There is the moan you can’t tell about. And the one you have to tell, even if you don’t want to . . .
I almost don’t notice the tick-tack sound approaching, but I do see the black tips of their white canes when they point at me. Here they are. They don’t say a word, they just wait for me, turquoise storms on their heads. And I shouldn’t say it, I really shouldn’t, but her story has planted its roots in me, and when I open my mouth, it blossoms out of its own accord.
“Can I meet her?” I say.
I prepare everything for the night.
I pick out the cleanest sheets I can find; the softest pillows; the nicest coverlet. And when the time comes, when finally night falls, I find myself waiting for her like I’ve never waited for anyone in my life. Or anything.
I wait and wait, until my expectation turns into the foretaste of a long fall into nothingness. There’s a full moon outside, and it’s rising, a pool of light creeping over my coverlet. Why, then, is it darkening all of a sudden?
I get up from the bed and walk to the window. It looks like a storm cloud. But clouds don’t slither on cars and lampposts, they don’t glitter their tiny wings against the moonlight; they don’t swarm. I close the window as tight as I can. The black crawling is so thick on the glass that the window is a blinded eye now, letting in no light from the street.
Will the window hold? Will the glass? Or will they get in?
I lay down again on the bed, bedcovers to my teeth.
Something is happening to the sheets. They pull away from my mouth, pooling around a single point on the bed, converging in a milky whirlpool, forming the white turban on her head. Finally, she appears. First her forehead, her eyes, her nose; and where her mouth should be, an impossible smoothness of skin. Here comes the rest of her, emerging from below, her naked body appearing still under the sheets. First I see the roundness of her knees, of her hips, and legs, the hairy triangle of her sex. As I savour its salty smell, her labia begin to open and close, wetting the linen.
I look up. Her chin tilts downward, eyes coy. My heart thumps hard like a fist pounding at the door, as if it wanted to wake me up. But this is no dream, and why am I so scared if I wanted her here? She is all mine now, just like the good old sisters said, her fresh cunt a pomegranate ready to be sucked. But her coyness has been waiting for quite some time now, her head tilted, her eyes looking sideways with obscene obliqueness.
She looks up. If you look her in the eyes she will kiss you.
Of course she already knows. She knows I am going to turn away from her eyes, that I’ll try to unsee her, to reject her. Only then will she moan her cry of unbroken solitude, the one I will have to tell about, exactly like him, at the pub, like countless others . . .
It’s then that I decide. I take her hand. She almost jerks away. Of all the gestures she expected from me, this was the most unexpected. I look her in the eyes.
Tears rolls down her cheeks. I see her pain as I feel mine.
Thank you, her eyes say.
And so I pull the sheets away, and I kiss her on her only lips. Her sex tastes of the sea, of deep algae and salt. Above, I hear her breath becoming heavier and heavier. One hand clutches the bed sheets but the other never leaves my hand, tight.
I feel the moan coming before I even hear it, vibrating in her chest, then in her throat, finally inside her mouth. The veil of flesh on her lips trembles, along with the water bottle on my desk, the tin with my pens and pencils. A glass of water crashes to the floor.
And yet, where I feel it the strongest is on my own flesh. My nerves are on fire, my blood ebbs as if her voice was a moon, it wanes on me like a tide of desire. And then it goes deeper, to the marrow of my bones, ghosting me out. I rear my head up, and scream.
They burst from my mouth, from my eyes, from my ears. What was me is now wings. As my skin breaks, we emerge by the hundreds of thousands, engulfing her in a whirlwind of love. She tries to embrace us but there is nothing to embrace, only flight.
The window shatters as we run into it. In a blink we are outside, united with our brothers and sisters, copulating in mid-air over the quiet rooftops and the lunar hills, thinking of nothing but her beauty and the perfection of our silence.
For this is the story we will never tell.