The time slips by. Minutes. Hours. There is something vague in the back of his mind, a kind of confusion, like there is something he should be doing. Something? What? The keys of his typewriter click loudly, the sound fluttering nervously in the room. The heavy silence is disturbed, and glowers. Another minute ticks by. How long has it been? Too long, or not long enough. He looks up at the bottle of Absinthe, the poison coiled inside distorted green glass.
Too often when he was a boy, he dreamed dark things. He dreamed fears and prophecies. His mother threw herself from the top of the house to spare her grief. His father wasted away until he was a faded print of himself, and he demanded a short service for his funeral. His sister went out into the woods at evening and lost her way, and they found her body ripped to shreds by creatures of the night.
What would it be like, his morbid curiosity wondered, if his nightmares came true? What change would mar his life if his mother killed herself? If his father died? If his sister was murdered? Dark fantasies twisted themselves in his mind as heimagined. He spun a life out of dreams of death.
When he was a young boy, five or six perhaps, his little brother died. He was very sad, because he'd always wanted a little brother, and he never even got to see him. He remembered waiting outside the birthing room, watching his father flip tensely through a book and flinch every time his wife's cries penetrated the walls. There was a nervous energy that hung in the air, tangible. Then all of a sudden his mother was silent. A nurse came out of the room, her head bowed sympathetically, and said one word.
The days were a flurry after that, rather like laying on one's back and watching stormclouds gather. Rapid, powerful surges. He remembered his mother, paler and more fragile than before, floating through the empty halls of their mansion singing children's lullabies. His father, tall and stern even as they lowered the tiny coffin into the ground. His sister, two years younger than him, understood even less than he did.
Death is a strange thing. While it lurks outside your life, it seems untouchable—existent but in a vague sort of manner. Then without warning you are hurled right into it. That is where the experience comes from. Oh, perhaps when you were younger a distant aunt died, or a grandparent, but after a period of mourning and remembering them sadly, you get your life back.
Clack clack clack. The typewriter makes a noise of its own, struggling to be heard above the clamor of his sobs.
Is that what was supposed to happen, then? He was just supposed to get his life back now that she was gone?
He had no life anymore, but rather, the skeleton of one. After Satine's death events had blurred into one long play that he was watching rather than partaking in. Time existed outside of his musty garret, while Death had long ago taken up occupance.
Instead of a schedule of orderly events, his life was being lived upside-down. If he was not too drunk to remember the day's events, they went like this: he woke up feeling a ripping in his heart because he remembered, even as he first opened his eyes, that she was gone. Toulouse often stopped by to drag him out of bed, cook him something to eat, listen sympathetically to his cries and moans of pain. Then the real fun began. Alone in his own world, he would sit down at his typewriter and write. Write! He laughed, a little hysterically. He had been a foolish boy, innocent and stupid. He thought "writing" was about a fairytale, where the princess marries the prince and they lived Happily Ever After. Where was the Happily Ever After now? Suddenly the fairytale became morbid, no longer a child's bedtime story but the dismal events of one man's ruined life.
No one would buy it, he thought ridiculously. A gloomy story about a man who had lost all he had, which was pathetically in the form of a beautiful, untouchable courtesan? Pathetic. He imagined the book—oh, the day when that story would be published—sitting ignored on a shelf in the back of the bookstore, the customer's eyes passing by it and settling on thick, pleasurable novels about the scandalous goings-on of Paris society. Fat, bumbling mothers who strictly refused to let their frail, wispy daughters cavort around with the latest dashing gentleman. His book was not, as others were, a recounting of events, merely. Desperation in every word, as if his fingers bled as they pressed each key on the typewriter. Something was wrong. The author did not love telling his story.
Outside, on the street, people are living their lives. Going to the store. Calling on a friend. In a hidden street corner, perhaps even meeting a secret lover. Their lives, even if they have been touched by grief, are a perfect order of events, as his once was.
He sits back from his typewriter, musing. Last night the Argentinean, drunk, stumbled into his garret and screamed at him, swearing in Spanish. "Good-for-nothing, lazing around and moaning about your stupid whore. Get your life back, you pathetic son-of-a-bitch. She's dead and buried in the ground. There's nothing you can do anymore."
With the trace of a smile, he leans back over his typewriter and lets his fingertips move over the keys again. What a strange concept is "recovery". Recovery—an eventual return to the natural order of life. If one is ill or injured, one recovers and goes back to normal life. If one makes a mistake, the mistake is gradually fixed or forgotten and everything is alright once more. If one loses something so terribly important that nothing else seems to matter, then there can be no recovery. He wonders why people can't grasp that. When you wake up and see the sun streaming through your window, you begin to recover, just a little, just a trace. There's sunlight inside and birds chirping outside and you feel like you are waking up to a new day in your life.
Then you remember. She's gone. GONE. Not—coming—back.
You can't go back.
The recovery slips away, along with the joy of sunlight and life. Another day wasted writing nonsense, downing the Absinthe and then, in a fit of anger, hurling the bottle against the wall where it shatters into a million tiny shards of green light, and then the crying comes on. Emerald tears seep through the floorboards and his pain is out there for all to see. Unvanquished. The landlady heaves a sigh as she hauls her bulk up flights of stairs and patiently asks him to keep the noise down. She leaves in a hurry before he can fling another empty bottle at her.
What's the point of living anymore? His days are a waste, no one would care if he died. Ah, there. Toulouse might weep, spend a few drunken nights moaning for his lost friend the writer, and tell everyone about his loss. Then he might forget. Satine, the only person who would have cared about his death, was already gone, so why not?
He picks up the knife, feeling its dark and heavy weight in his hand. A feeling of excitement mingled with fear coiled itself in his belly. His skin prickled, forseeing his intentions. He laughed once, without humour—what a glorious way to die, impale yourself on a kitchen knife. If he had a little more time and energy he might find a better way—hurl himself from the top of the Eiffel Tower, drown himself in the Seine. Unfortunately he is a writer and nothing more, so his fantasies remain in his head or wandering aimlessly on paper, set down in perishable ink.
His hand trembles. The knife laughs at him—Fool! Coward! You long for death but know not how to die! You tell yourself, There is nothing left to live for, dying will spare me any more pain—but then you cannot even move me an inch towards your flesh!
In anger at the taunting knife, his hand jerks forward. The knife bites into his arm—his arm? Where was he aiming, after all?—and the blood begins to drip, slowly at first, then he realizes he is staring at a pool of his own blood on the floor. His head feels dizzy and he wonders if it would be better just to faint and not feel the pain.
Coward! screams the knife, lying discarded on the floor. You cannot even bear the pain of a single cut! You are a weakling. Pain is a part of this life. You wish to kill yourself just to escape from it.
Ah. There. The discovery.
Desperate, his agony. Would it not be better just to not feel pain?
What did he have left to live for? His book, which would gather dust forgotten on a shelf? His memories of her, dancing kissing loving, which brought him anguish like a thousand giant bells clanging, drowning out other noise and pain? If he did not kill himself he would waste away, like his mother after his little brother's death, no one would notice him or care. He would not be living, in this state of invisibility, he would be like a ghost. What was the point?
The true bravery lies not in escaping pain, the knife whispers harshly, but in living against it. You can make a life again, as surely as you can rewrite a passage in a book if it does not fit the story. It is not as easy as tearing up a sheet of paper and writing something else instead, but it can be done.
The fascination—make a new life?—stills his shaking. New. The word tastes in his mouth like a whip of fresh air, like the promise in a seed of beauty.
Moving slowly, occupied in his thoughts once more, he binds up his arm. He makes his way over to the window and lifts it carefully so that the air streams through the musty room. Sitting back down at his typewriter, he begins to write, starting with a single word.