Click to Reveal Content Warnings
- Discussions of death
- References to and discussion of cancer (Multiple Myeloma)
- References to previous abusive romantic relationship
- References to drug and alcohol use
- Scene of inappropriate behaviour by a stranger towards someone (deliberately making her uncomfortable, implications of sexual threat)
- Description of medical equipment (NG Tube)
- Description of throwing up
- Discussion of choosing to stop treatment for an illness
Fig. 32. Wren
Wren stood on the landing outside Tabby’s apartment, the smell of the London Underground clinging to his clothes. The small potted plant by Tabby’s door was wilting sadly. In York, the heatwave had been bearable, but the pavements in London felt hot enough to melt his shoes, and the stairwell of the Tabby’s apartment building was muggy and close despite every window been flung as wide as they could go.
‘How was it?’ Tabby asked. She was organising stacks of paperwork on her coffee table, flitting between that and the desk pressed against the wall beneath her small window.
Wren ran his hand over his sticky face. He felt silly and small, having allowed himself to be dragged all the way across the country. Infinite Eyes’ record label had covered his train fare. They’d even offered to put him up in a fancy hotel. All for sitting in their offices and seeing the full pitch for the tour. The executives in their Ramones shirts and two-thousand-pound blazers had leaned across the table as he watched shiny images of a band on stage, Tyler’s image blown beyond proportion behind them.
Wren ran his hand over his face. ‘The tickets have already sold out. It took five minutes, apparently.’
Tabby paused, dropping her most recent paper stack back onto the pile. ‘I saw on Twitter. People are raging.’
‘Well, apparently it’s a good thing. The staging is going to cost a million quid.’
Tabby’s eyes went so wide it was a wonder they didn’t fall right out of her head. ‘Christ, what are they trying to do, Victor Frankenstein him onto the stage?’
‘Sorry, that was tasteless.’
Wren opened one of Tabby’s cupboards and was faced down by bags of dry pasta and tins of beans. He slammed it shut. ‘Do you have anything to drink?’
‘I’ve got tea.’
‘I was thinking vodka. Or pure ethanol.’
Tabby sighed. ‘Come on, was it that bad?’
‘It looked like a fucking circus.’
Tabby studied Wren’s face for a moment. ‘Isn’t that just what concerts look like nowadays?’
Wren grabbed a handful of his hair. He opened another cupboard and groaned at the packets of biscuits and crisps that stared back at him.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No.’ Wren slumped against the kitchen counter. ‘Maybe? I don’t know anymore. I shouldn’t have signed off on this nightmare of an album. I should have known they’d want more of him.’
‘Wren,’ said Tabby, putting a hand on his arm. ‘Breathe a minute.’
‘I don’t need to breathe. I should go back there right now, tell them where to shove their concept art.’
‘I know it’s a lot. Let yourself have a bit to process before you make any decisions. He’s your ex-boyfriend; it was always going to be a nightmare. Sleep on it, and if you want to go back tomorrow and tell them to fuck off and refund all the ticket sales, I’ll come with you and hand you the megaphone.’
She seemed oblivious to the shock of ice that had just jolted through Wren’s whole body and frozen him completely in place. ‘He isn’t my ex.’
Tabby looked up. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘He’s not my ex!’
Tabby shrank back. ‘Wren, chill out.’
Wren’s hands were fists at his sides. ‘ I held him, right to the end. I was there every minute. I didn’t walk out on him! I didn’t leave!’
Tabby softened a little. She stood up straight. ‘Wren. That’s not what I-’
‘What did you mean, then?’ Wren hissed.
‘Jesus! Would you just- Come on, give me a break! He’s not here, is he? You’re not still together.’
‘I know that! Fucking hell, you’d think it happened last week. You’ve got to let it go, Wren.’
‘I didn’t want any of this.’
‘Christ, the way you carry on it’s like you wish you were dead, too,’ said Tabby with a sour laugh.
‘I do.’ The words slipped out without thought or intention. Wren was as surprised he’d said it as Tabby was appalled. He blinked at her, fury wavering slightly. His eyes were prickling. Wren dipped his head. He wouldn’t cry, not now, not after he’d said that. His hands were shaking.
‘Oh, Wren,’ said Tabby. She made half a step towards him, arms reaching out to try and hold him close. Wren recoiled, half turning from her.
‘Shut up,’ said Wren. His voice was thick. He sniffed hard. He put his hand on the door-handle.
‘Where are you going to go?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Tabby. She sounded like she was crying but Wren didn’t look back to check. ‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’
Wren’s hand slid off the handle and fell limply to his side. His heart was hammering in his chest and there was a lump clawing its way up his throat. Tabby put her arm around him and rested her head on the back of his shoulder.
‘Please. Sit down. I’ll make you a cup of tea,’ she said.
‘I don’t want tea.’ Wren let himself be led to the small sofa he’d slept on last night. He clutched onto Tabby’s knitted blankets, listening to the low rumble of the kettle and the clink of teaspoons on mugs. Tabby pressed one of them into his hands.
‘Come on; it is the cure for everything,’ she said gently, with a small smile.
Wren stared into the pale orange liquid, breathing in the steam. It made the inside of his nose tingle. ‘Do you think we’d still be together?’ he said.
Tabby whipped her head around to face him again. ‘What?’
‘Me and… and Tyler.’ Heat ran to Wren’s toes as he said his name. ‘If he was alive, would we have stayed together, do you think?’
Tabby hung her head. ‘I couldn’t know something like that.’
Wren’s insides ached. He reached out and grabbed Tabby’s forearm. ‘You think we’d have broken up.’
‘I didn’t say that.’ Tabby’s voice was hard. ‘People change. At least, normal people do.’
‘Yeah. They don’t make their whole life into a shrine for somebody. They move on. Maybe you would still be together, but it wouldn’t be anything like this. You were-’ Tabby cut herself off. ‘You were a kid. Tyler wasn’t that much older, I know, but you were only nineteen.’
‘You don’t think it was real,’ said Wren.
‘You adored him. I think you’d have done anything for him. He was lucky that you were there, that you were so…’ Tabby sighed and shook her head. ‘You can’t stay the same as you were the moment he died forever. You’ve got to start again, sometime.’
Wren squeezed his eyes tight shut, willing the room to dissolve around him, to melt into the void, to be retaken by the universe and never have to speak again.
‘I wish you didn’t have to feel like this. Maybe I’m selfish, I don’t know.’ Tabby sat down heavily. ‘I’m sorry. I just hate seeing you suffer. I want you to be able to move on. Maybe that’s unfair of me.’
‘You don’t get it! Nobody gets it.’
‘I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be getting.’
‘If we’d have broken up it doesn’t matter. Laura’s right and it was just because he was sick, and we weren’t in love, and none of it was real. It was just because he was ill and it was nothing to do with either of us!’
Tabby’s eyes were wide and glassy. She dropped her raised hands. ‘Fuck, Wren.’
‘He was dying, he was dying the whole time and that’s the only reason he stayed. He didn’t really love me, did he?’ Wren’s voice was small, like it belonged to a frightened child.
‘Of course he did,’ said Tabby with quiet ferocity. ‘He’d have been a fucking idiot if he didn’t.’
A tear fell from the tip of his nose and landed on his jeans. He watched it soak in, darkening to fabric from pale blue to navy. Another fell and joined it. ‘I know he was sick, Tabby. I know that maybe he wouldn’t have been interested in me if he wasn’t, but I can’t. I can’t think about. If we’d have broken up and it was just. He was so sick, Tabby. He was bleeding and I just. God. Fuck, Tabby. Sometimes I was just waiting for him to die.’
The words fell heavily at Wren’s feet. Tabby wrapped her arms around him so quickly and tightly that it hurt. ‘It’s alright.’
Wren made a sound like an animal in its death throes and pressed his face into Tabby’s shoulder. ‘He hung on for so long and it was just so horrible. He was so ill and sometimes I’d walk into the fucking bedroom and he’d be asleep and I’d think he was just dead and I don’t know how I did any of it, how I kept kissing him and holding him when he was this. When he was just. And I see how he looked and I can’t think. And he was just dying for so long. And I didn’t want him to die but I just wanted it to be over.’
‘I know. I’m so sorry, Wren. I’m so sorry.’
‘I’m awful. I’m horrible. I should fucking die.’
‘No, no,’ Tabby pulled out of their embrace and shushed him. She kissed him on the forehead and picked a strand of hair from his cheek. ‘Hey, no. This does not make you a bad person. You know what this makes you? Human.’
Wren shrank away from her. He thought of Tyler, warm and close, and then cold and distant. Tyler the ghost. Tyler the thing rattling in the hospital bed. The shell of what had been the person he loved. He’d never been back to the cemetery he was buried in. Tyler wasn’t there. Wren knew because he’d seem what was left of him fade into mumbles and shuddery breaths days before his heart finally stopped beating.
Sometimes Tyler’s fingers would twitch and Wren would wake up, and for a few seconds he would expect to look up and find a soft smile waiting for him, brown eyes open. But there was only a slack jaw and eyes-rolled back.
Fig. 33. Lila
‘We’ve been Visions of the Phoenix. Thank you, and goodnight.’
Lila stepped back from the microphone with shaking legs. The lights went down, and for a moment she could still taste the thrill of it, and the faces of the crowd were burnt onto the inside of her eyelids. They screamed and clapped, begging for more, but they didn’t have any. It was a skeleton of a set, barely half an hour, and the execution was messy. She knew it. Ash knew it. They all knew it.
Ash grabbed Lila’s hand and pulled her back into the light of backstage. He kissed her messily, his lips frictionless and salty with sweat. Lila kissed back, her eyes squeezed shut, listening to the muffled shouts as they bled through the door.
‘I think we got it, this time,’ said Ash.
‘I messed up the words in three of the songs.’
‘Ash. That’s half our set.’
Ash rolled his eyes.
They climbed the short steps up to the backstage of the club they’d been playing. Lila had been there before, as a member of the audience. She’d remembered cramming through sweaty bodies to get to the front of the stage. Her favourite band Between every one of their fumbling new tracks, still raw and ripped straight out of Lila’s notes and mushed grotesquely into the band’s old stuff, the crowd screamed. Most of it was wordless, but some of it begging for Infinite Eyes songs they’d seen them cover on twitter. They never budged. Joel and Laura had made it pretty clear; the point of these warm-up dates was to build their own identity. Laura had stared them down; did they want to be a tribute band forever?
‘Maybe we should do one of theirs, at the end,’ said Lila. ‘Just for time.’
Ash sighed heavily. ‘We’ve got half an hour of material, forty-five if you up your between songs chatting game and I can convince Katy to sneak in a couple more solos.’
‘No chance,’ Katy yelled from much further down the stage.
Lila chewed her lip. ‘Covering Infinite Eyes is fun though, and it’s how people know us.’
‘That’s exactly why we shouldn’t do it.’ Ash squeezed Lila’s fingers, and she dropped his hand.
The shouting continued long after they left the stage, on Twitter and in the comments of every article and review, people said they wished they’d covered ‘Nepenthe’ or ‘Dog Fish’ or another Infinite Eyes song that existed only in messy bedroom demos. People still came to the shows. They still screamed, they still seemed to have a good time in the brief flashes that Lila could see them, but even though they were headlining these gigs, they were still only second on the bill.
Ash and Cyrus sat shoulder to shoulder on the battered couch where they’d left their coats. Back stage was far less glamorous than Lila had imagined it. The floor was bare concrete, the walls covered in ageing posters with scribbled notes from every band that had ever played there.
The Visions of the Phoenix poster was unrolled on the small metal table, littered with crisp wrappers and stray tobacco. Under the glaring red bird they’d chosen three weeks earlier to be their new logo, it read Infinite Eye’s best pick for band of the year. Lila picked up the sharpie she’d used earlier to scrawl her name and a tiny heart. Underneath it she wrote ‘bring me’. The last two words of ‘Nepenthe’. Her handwriting was wobbly with her shaking hands.
She’d loved the comments on that first video, about how cool it was to hear someone else singing that song so well. How she was doing Tyler proud. It was like being seen, but safe, somehow. The words were borrowed, and so were most of the fans. People loved Infinite Eyes. Visions of the Phoenix weren’t really anyone. She wasn’t anyone. She was standing in front of the entire world and everyone was more interested in the stuff behind her than in her, herself.
She tried to swallow that thought. She felt queasy as she perched on the edge of the couch, staring at the steel toes of her boots. She kept chanting in her head, good things were happening, good things were happening. She shouldn’t feel like this.
Elliot was right. She just loved attention. She should never have agreed to do any of it. But she wanted it, as much as she really didn’t. It was a twin horror; the fear of trying at all, and the fear of it not mattering. Did she want to be a tribute act forever? She didn’t know. She didn’t know that she even wanted to be an act.
Ash stilled Lila’s bobbing knee with the weight of his hand. He leaned against her thigh. ‘You still jittery?’
He smiled. Lila’s leg was cold where his hand had been.
‘Hey, Lila, it’s your turn for a beer run.’
Lila stared blankly in Katy’s direction. ‘What for? Don’t we need to leave as soon as the room is cleared?’
Katy scoffed. ‘Come on, we could be shit-faced by then if we put in the leg work. It’s free booze. It’s not like we’re actually making any money yet.’
Lila grabbed her purse and hopped back down the stairs. The venue looked different with the lights on. The floor had mostly cleared but was not completely empty. A few people were gathered by the front of the empty stage, using it as a table for their plastic-cupped drinks as the crew cleared away the last of their gear. Lila pulled her hair around her face and wished she’d got changed before she’d come back down.
She ordered drinks at the tiny bar, glancing back at the little throngs of people every now and then. It was clear some of them had recognised her; they were pointing and staring at as they talked behind their hands. None of them had plucked up the courage to ambush her; maybe she could get away unscathed.
Lila felt a hand on her arm, the grip firm and certain. Lila flinched away.
‘Nice show,’ said the man.
Lila gathered the four beers together and braced them with her hands. as she lifted them off the bar, liquid sloshed freezing cold over her knuckles, dripping right down to her elbow.
‘Let me help you with those.’
‘I’m fine, thanks.’
Lila made to dart back towards the door to backstage, but the man stepped just in her way. More beer ran down her arms, dripping onto the concrete floor, the sound drowned out by the music thrumming from the speakers.
‘You’ve not been doing this very long, have you?’ said the man. ‘I read that article in Trill; said you’ve been doing this for less than a year.’
Lila stared longingly across to the door.
‘They were right about one thing; you definitely look the part.’
‘Thanks,’ said Lila, and started to walk away. The man grabbed her elbow. One of the beer glasses shifted and her precarious arrangement of glasses slipped free. She managed to hold onto one of them as the others shattered around her feet.
‘Sorry, that was my fault.’ Lila ditched the last glass on the edge of the stage and bolted for the door, breath caught in her chest and threatening to burst free of her. The street was lined with other clubs and music venues, drumbeats pulsing through the night and chatter radiating from the smoking areas in the row of back doors she’d stumbled out into. Her hands were shaking in the dark. She scraped her fingers through her hair, back against the damp brick wall, and sank down into a squat. She put her head in her knees.
She was so stupid; why hadn’t she just walked past him right away? She didn’t need to stand there and listen to him. Why couldn’t she ever get anything right? She pressed palms into her eyes until lights danced behind them, fireworks of nerves exploding in time with the pulse of her heart, fast and deafening, blood gushing through her ears. She wanted to go home, to her little bedroom at Thea’s, to curl into the old sheets and sleep for days. She wanted to never see the sky again.
Lila jumped back from Ash’ hand on her shoulder.
‘It’s alright, it’s just me.’
Lila shook her head and didn’t look up at him. ‘Don’t look at me like this, I’m being stupid.’
‘What’s going on? Did something happen?’
‘I dropped the beer.’
Ash sighed. ‘That doesn’t matter. Come on, come back upstairs. Katy says she knows somewhere really cool around the corner where we can go for a drink.’
‘I don’t want to go for a drink.’ Lila flopped her head back against the wall so hard it smarted with pain.
‘Everyone’s looking at me.’
Ash was squatting next to her, bobbing slightly on his ankles. His knee poked through the large rip in the left leg of his jeans, and Lila could see the fine hairs catching in the slight breeze. She wrapped her arms around herself.
‘They’re looking at you because you’re awesome. I don’t get how you can’t see it.’
‘I want to go home.’
Ash chewed his lip. ‘We can get the next train, if you want. Katy can Cyrus can follow us in the van when the guys have finished packing up.’
‘I want to go on my own.’
Ash’ soft smile faltered. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be getting the train by yourself when you’re in this state.’
‘Am I being hysterical? Am I out of my mind?’ Lila snapped. She got to her feet. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘Lila don’t be stupid. Come on. You haven’t even got your coat.’
‘Don’t call me stupid!’
Ash raised his hands. ‘Sorry.’
Lila hissed through her teeth and fidgeted, no longer able to stand still. ‘I just need a minute.’
‘I won’t leave you here by yourself.’
‘I’m not a child, Ash, I can manage.’
Ash winced. ‘Okay. Fine. I’ll go and grab your stuff from upstairs. Don’t go without me, alright?’
‘Fine,’ Lila echoed, and she looked sharply away. A pair for girls in platform boots and fishnets were staring at her from the smoking area of another of the clubs. One of them looked away when Lila caught her eye, embarrassed. The other smiled. Lila’s heart squeezed; had she recognised her, too?
‘You want one?’ she said, shaking her packet of cigarettes.
Lila hesitated, but this stranger didn’t seem to have any idea that Lila had just crawled off a stage. There didn’t seem to be any intent behind her earnest smile. Lila folded herself into her own arms and crossed the street. ‘Thanks.’
‘You look like you need it.’
Lila’s hands shook as she handed back the girl’s lighter. She shook her head. ‘You don’t know.’
‘Was that guy bothering you?’
Lila closed her eyes and drew a long lungful of smoke. It scratched her throat and she almost coughed but didn’t. ‘No. He’s just an idiot.’
‘Has the show in Buffalo already finished?’ said the girl.
The girl scoffed. ‘God, it’s only just gone ten. Not exactly getting your money’s worth. Who was playing?’
The girl smiled. ‘Oh, I get it. He dragged you here against your will?’
Lila laughed sourly. ‘Something like that.’
‘My boyfriend is always forcing me to these shitty death metal gigs, but he wouldn’t come to Frieze with me tonight, can you believe it? What a hypocrite. What sort of music are you into?’
Lila shrugged again. ‘Infinite Eyes?’
The girl groaned. ‘God, isn’t everyone? Now, anyway. Me and Millie have been listening to them for years, now all of a sudden everyone’s a fan. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just kind of annoying.’
‘Yeah,’ said Lila.
‘You heard they’re touring? Pretty weird, if you ask me, but whatever, I guess. If Gorillaz can tour a cartoon band why not tour a dead guy? What do you think of this new lot, Visions or whatever? The ones piggy-backing on them?’
Lila glanced back at the door to Buffalo. ‘They’re okay, I guess.’
‘I think they’re alright, but it’s kind of sick, what they’re doing.’
‘Yeah, clutching onto the back of this Infinite Eyes stuff. It’s pretty disgusting, the whole thing. I mean, have you seen the video that started everything? It barely even talks about the music. It’s all about Tyler and how sad it is he’s dead. Nobody can shut up about it. I can’t believe it’s got this far, really. Leave the poor guy to decompose in peace, you know?’
Lila was quiet for a moment. She pulled at the hem of her shorts, damp with rapidly cooling sweat. ‘I suppose it is kind of weird.’
‘Laura Plath and Joel Dawkins are fucked in the head, that’s what I think.’
The ash dropped from the end of Lila’s cigarette and onto the toe of her boot. She shifted her foot, but it wouldn’t budge, grey streaks clinging to the worn leather. She had a surge of desire to blurt out who she was. To explain she knew Joel and Laura personally. She could still feel the grip of the man at the bar on her arm. She thought about Elliot, leering at her from a dark corner. She didn’t want to be small, not exactly, but she didn’t want to be seen either. The thing inside of her raised its hackles and she hung her head, and let the girls tell her about the band they had actually come to see.
They all finished smoking, and the girls went back inside. Ash met Lila at the door to Buffalo and they walk to the train station in uneasy silence, their hands occasionally brushing at their sides. They sat across from each other on the train, and Lila rested her head on the table.
‘Was it wrong of us to take all this help from Joel and Laura?’
Ash ran his hand over his face. ‘Seriously? Of everyone, you’re the one who’s going to make a big deal out of artistic integrity? Did you want years of playing to empty rooms, because I’m sure we could arrange that.’
‘I know. I’m sorry.’
‘You know, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.’
Lila sat up. ‘No, I do. I just. It’s just different to how I thought it would be, I guess.’
Ash frowned. ‘People are loving us. You’ve not been reading hate comments, have you?’
Lila laughed a single note. ‘At least the hate comments are about us.’
In the black window Lila could see a warped reflection of them both, the outline of their bodies blurred and duplicated by the strip lights on the train. Every now and then their faces were fractured by lights outside, speeding carriages of other trains whizzing by, stations they weren’t stopping at. Ash reached across the table and took Lila’s hand.
Fig. 34. Tyler
Tyler woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in his bed. Chest heaving, blinking madly, he peered around the room. There was sweat cooling fast on his skin. He was at home. He was in bed with Wren. It was alright. He had not come apart like a china cup. It had been a dream, the way his skin had split. As layers of tension peeled away, Tyler’s head began to throb. Powerful painkillers were not enough to fight the ache his last round of chemo had left in his skull, and the angry beeping from the side of the bed wasn’t helping.
The beeps were coming from the white box beside the bed. It was the latest in a collection of tools apparently designed to keep Tyler alive. In practice they just kept him in bed. He couldn’t be more than three feet from the little white box, and whenever he rolled over in bed, he kinked the tube that connected him to it and the damn thing would start screaming. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since they shoved the tube down his nose.
‘Tyler? You okay?’ Wren was frowning up at Tyler from the other side of the bed. He was sleep mussed and soft looking. Tyler wanted to curl against him, but white box would probably start shouting again. He tugged it straight, his free hand reaching to brush the tape that fixed the other end of the tube to his cheek. Why it had to be right there, where everyone could see, he didn’t know. He hated it. The tube, the tape, the beeping.
Wren rustled the duvet as he sat up. ‘What time is it?’
Tyler glanced at the white box. ‘Five thirty.’
Wren hummed, yawning, and sank back down onto the mattress with closed eyes.
There was too much heat in Tyler’s veins for him to get back to sleep. He was exhausted, but he could not remember a time where he hadn’t been. It was so quiet he could scream. He could feel it rising in him. He could scream and tear things and smash things against the walls, but really, what did he have left to ruin? It hadn’t helped before; it probably wouldn’t help now.
Tyler ran his hand through Wren’s hair. He smiled but didn’t stir again.
Tyler clambered out of bed, dragging the pole with the white box hanging from it behind him. He didn’t feel sick yet, but he knew it was coming. Whenever he threw up now, it looked exactly like the liquid the box was forcing into him. What a waste of time. Fucking futile.
Tyler sat on the bathroom tiles and rested his chin on the edge of the bath. It was coming. It always did. Like the tide coming in. He tapped his fingers on the enamel. At least they still worked. He could play, even if he couldn’t sing around the stupid fucking tube. Even if he could, he’d sound awful, he knew, from all the puking. They’d listened back to watch they’d managed to get down of the album and it was bad. Most it was unusable. Tyler wanted to scream.
Tyler’s stomach lurched and he retched. Before he could lament about the predictability of throwing up, something in his throat tugged, and he threw up dry nothingness, and the tube, which had previously run all the way down to his stomach, flopped out of his mouth and hung, dripping, into the bath.
Tyler stared at it for a moment. He numbly felt for the tape on his cheek. It was still there. ‘Shit.’
He stood up and faced himself in the mirror. The tube hung like a particularly pathetic and anaemic worm from his lips. He opened his mouth, like that would help. It didn’t.
He glanced around the room. There was a box of medical supplies in the corner; tape for his face, gauze for his chest, new dressings to cover the central line. Nothing that obviously screamed ‘this is for idiots who throw up their feeding tubes’.
Maybe he could just swallow it back down. He ran himself a glass of water, coiled the tube on his tongue, and tried to swallow. He spluttered in the sink and the white silicone flopped out against the ceramic.
He couldn’t just leave it there, hanging. There was nothing else for it. He peeled the tape off his face and held the tube firmly between his fingers. ‘Come on, Tyler.’ He breathed out and pulled, hard. It felt like snorting sherbet. The tube coiled in the sink like a sad, thin snake, trembling under the gush of tap water. Tyler spat at it, only partly to try and get the chalky taste out of his mouth. He left it in the sink, abandoning the pole and the beeping white box behind him as he trailed back into bedroom.
He was supposed to be recording an album. Everything hurt and he still had myeloma. The best any of the doctors could say about it was that it wasn’t progressing any faster than it had been at the start. A steady advancement. A funeral march. Tyler kicked the wall and yelped as a sharp pain split through his foot. At least it was precise, focused, not the blurry fog of agony that was everywhere else.
‘Tyler?’ Wren croaked, blearily sitting up.
Tyler’s toe throbbed. He swallowed the frustration he’d been about to shout in Wren’s face and took a deep breath instead. ‘Good morning.’
Tyler closed his eyes for patience. ‘It fucking came out.’
‘What?’ said Wren, yawning.
Tyler shook his head. ‘The tube, the fucking tube! I threw it up.’
‘You… how is that even possible?’
‘I don’t know, but it happened.’ Tyler wanted to kick something else. He put his hands on his head.
Wren grimaced. ‘Are you okay?’
Tyler shook his head. He walked numbly out of the bedroom, down the stairs. The living room was empty, quiet. There was a half-drunk bottle of Jack lying on its side on the carpet. Tyler thought seriously about draining it down his ragged throat. He slumped against the arm of the sofa and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, counted to ten in his head, and breathed out, chasing the numbers back down to zero, forming their shapes silently with his lips.
‘They’ll be able give you a new one,’ said Wren. ‘I’m sure it’s fine.’
Tyler jerked his chin in the direction of his voice, snapping his eyes wide open. Wren’s eyes were half-open with sleepiness. Tyler didn’t ask how long he’d been standing there. Maybe it would be easier for both of them if Wren just left. It was a fair thing to do. Tyler wouldn’t begrudge him his right to it.
‘I don’t want a new one,’ said Tyler. ‘I can’t sing with it. It hurts.’
‘Don’t be stupid, you need it,’ said Wren.
‘Only I wouldn’t, would I?’ Tyler tugged at the hem of his t-shirt. ‘It’s the fucking chemo, Wren. I start to feel better, and then it starts up again and I feel like shit. So much like shit that I can’t even fucking eat. I’m like a baby bird. I hate this.’
Wren was frowning, his eyes wide. His bottom lip trembled before he spoke. ‘What are you trying to say?’
Tyler didn’t know anymore. He felt like he’d run out of words. He looked expectantly at the carpet, as if it might be so kind as to burst into flames and swallow him. Finally, a single mumbled ‘no’ toppled out of him and he quivered. He’d let himself do it. He’d lured Wren close under false pretences, that he was happy, that he was coping, that he was healthy as a horse. Tyler couldn’t hide, and he couldn’t run. He was so tired of trying. So sick of the medications, the trips to the hospital, the way the doctor smiled when she said they’d try another round of chemo, something different, maybe radiation would work next time.
Wren crouched down beside Tyler and tentatively looped his arms around him.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Tyler.
Wren put a hand on Tyler’s neck. ‘Come on. It’s alright.’
It hit him with the full force of a dam bursting. This was it. It was really, really real. Tyler was going to stop, and there wouldn’t be anything left for Wren to see when he looked for the truth trapped inside of him. It’d be gone. And… and nothing.
Tyler touched the scars on his wrists. For the first time in a long time, Tyler wondered if that wouldn’t have been better if his housemates hadn’t found him that night.
Tyler could feel the blood in his fingers, not the cancer it was taking with it. He was alive still, under the fog and through all the layers. And Wren, too. He was there. Tyler smiled. He reached up and dusted tears from Wren’s cheeks. ‘Sorry for this,’ Tyler whispered, smiling.
‘Tyler,’ Wren said softly, rubbing a hand gently down Tyler’ spine. ‘Talk to me. Please.’ He pulled at Tyler’s shoulder and Tyler let himself fall like a dead thing onto his back.
Wren was looking down at him, his blue eyes ringed red. He looked like he was seeing something more than Tyler felt he could be. He’d always looked at Tyler like that, like he could see straight through Tyler’s scarred and inked-up skin, past the myeloma, past his bones, even the ones that were crumbling to pieces, right to whatever made up his soul. What was the point of anything if there was nobody around you that could see you like that?
‘I.’ Tyler’s throat sealed shut.
‘What?’ Wren sounded like someone was rolling his toes between wooden dowels.
Tyler closed his eyes. ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’
‘What are you talking about?’
Tyler sat up. They were facing opposite ways, their shoulders touching. Wren was watching Tyler, waiting for Tyler to say something, but he was already sick of explaining this to him. He got up, wavering slightly, and trailed slowly to the corner where he kept his guitars. Wren’s face was unreadable as Tyler picked one of them up and sat down on the sofa. He strummed a few idle chords, floating free. Wild music he didn’t want to capture. Wren stood up like a charmed snake.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Wren. His voice was thin and empty, like someone had drawn the outlines of the words but forgotten to colour them in.
Tyler’s hand froze over the strings. ‘Don’t be stupid. I thought I was going to have more time than this.’
‘You have time.’
Tyler turned to him. ‘I don’t.’
Wren blinked. His cheeks were lined with creases from the bedsheets and Tyler skimmed over them with his thumb. Wren grabbed his hand again, pulled it down into his lap. He took the guitar and put it on the ground. ‘Stop talking like that, Tyler. You’re going to get better.’
Tyler closed his eyes. He leaned forwards over his knees, like he was on an aeroplane hurtling out of the sky, one engine blown up and setting the wing in flames, some ocean beneath them, salty depths looming.
‘I’m not going to get better, Wren.’
Wren stared furiously at a patch of carpet, a little crease between his eyebrows. ‘Yes you are. You’ve been good. You’ve been resting. You’ve been doing the chemo.’
‘This isn’t a rewards scheme, Wren. You don’t collect points and cash them in for immortality,’ said Tyler.
Wren scowled. ‘Fuck you.’ He started to pull away but Tyler caught him. The skin of Wren’s wrists was so smooth, unbroken by scars, soft, almost downy under Tyler’s fingers. All of Wren was soft, like that. Thinking about it hurt. Wren deserved better than this.
Tyler dared to glimpse at Wren. He was shaking his head, eyes narrowed.
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Stop saying that, you’re freaking me out,’ said Wren.
Tyler shuffled closer, touched the tip of his nose to the space just under Wren’s ear, where his jaw met the skin of his neck. He smelled like clean linen and fresh tobacco, there. ‘It’s alright.’
Wren jerked away so they were facing each other again, but he didn’t meet Tyler’s gaze. ‘What’s alright?’
‘I need to stop.’
Wren shifted even further away. ‘Stop what?’ His voice was thin and panicky.
‘Chemotherapy. I think it’s time to just. Yeah. Accept that it’s going to happen. Because it is going to happen.’
Tyler sighed. ‘Wren, come on. Please.’
Wren stood up, shaking his head. ‘You don’t know what you’re saying.’
Tyler studied his face. ‘Yeah. I really do.’
‘You’re not in your right mind,’ Wren squeaked. All the scarlet from his cheeks was gone and he looked gaunt.
‘It’s alright,’ Tyler whispered.
Wren whimpered, shaking his head. ‘Don’t do this to me.’ These words came out as one, a solid line of mumbled noise. He grasped Tyler’s fingers tight like someone was shoving a twenty-five-millimetre tube of metal into his iliac crest.
‘Fuck.’ Wren let go of Tyler abruptly and got to his feet. He stood by the window, one hand on his hip, the other over his eyes. Tyler’s fingers buzzed as blood rushed back into them.
Wren threw his head back. His shoulders bobbed up and down. ‘For god’s sake,’ he hissed miserably. He turned around, eyes blazing and streaming tears down his face. ‘Please.’ He stumbled back towards the couch. Tyler stood, opening his arms slightly to receive him. Wren staggered close and grabbed a fistful of Tyler’ jumper. ‘Don’t do this to me, Tyler,’ he said. He slid miserably down to his knees and pressed his face against Tyler’s stomach. Tyler carded his fingers gently through his hair. ‘Don’t leave me here alone.’
The Unofficial Infinite Eyes Fan Site
‘Us and Everybody Else’ by Visions of the Phoenix – Analysis by Marnie
I know this is a blog about Infinite Eyes, but in researching their new show, I came across this song by the band that are going to be their support act and realised this blog might soon be taking another direction. I know not everyone is pleased that Infinite Eyes have become so popular in the last few months, but it does mean that for the first time, we are really seeing the impact of their work on other artists. It’s amazing to see the power of Tyler’s words reflecting on other people’s music, and I think it’s something he’d have been incredibly proud of.
A few months ago, many people, myself included, thought we’d heard every Infinite Eyes song we’d ever be able to listen to. I was really glad to know there were more things Tyler had to say that we would get to hear, but it was clear that this new Infinite album was going to be the very final word he’d ever get to say. That was why I was so excited to discover this song by Visions of the Phoenix.
The one we love’s a line and we are never letting go
We keep our ghosts alive in photographs stuck on the walls
We lay awake at night and dream about the words we spoke
But in my heart I know I’m only holding onto bones
This first chorus is explicitly about falling in love with someone who is already dead. The references to ‘ghosts’ and ‘bones’ speak volumes to that. What speaks most loudly to me, though, is the use of the word ‘we’. The band are making themselves part of a collective, part of a community, and given that their rise into the mainstream is so dependent on Infinite Eyes, I think it’s fair to assume that they are talking about this very community we are a part of. Their absent love is the same as ours; Tyler Brundle.
And I know that I’ll never know you
Oh but maybe it would change your mind
Oh, if only you’d have known we’d find you
The chorus reinforces the message of the first chorus; it speaks about a love that can never be but is nonetheless transformative. The final line of the chorus is a battle cry; if only Tyler could have known the impact he has had on these peoples’ lives.
We’re all down here and you’re up there, you’re just a silhouette
We are the faces of the crowd, a thousand to forget
You turn your back on us and pull upon a thousand threads
We close our eyes and vow that we will be your best regret
The second verse is a sad lament. ‘We are faces in the crowd’ rightfully acknowledges that Visions will never be able to fill the void that Tyler and Infinite Eyes have, will, leave behind. ‘You turn your back on us’ is a declaration of a sense of betrayal. Tyler is gone, and he can’t ever come back to us. Those ‘thousand threads’ are laced into everyone that has ever been touched by this band, and they are ‘tugged’ by his death, pulled along into a sadness that doesn’t really belong to them but at the same time is the only thing they have left to hold onto. ‘We will be your best regret’ is a desperate plea; we will be as loud as you ever were, and you’ll never know.
You are more than just emotionally distant
But we’re determined and emotionally persistent
There’s no quick fix
We live like this
Us and everybody else
The song’s fade out is its most poignant moment to me. Tyler is ‘more than just emotionally distant’; he can’t ever be reached, no matter how hard we try, how ‘determined’ or ‘persistent’ we are. He can only exist in our hearts now. There is no way to repair the loss we’ve felt, or to repay the debts we owe to Tyler. All we can do is accept that he has given us something incredible, and carry on living in the world, just as everyone does, for the rest of our lives.
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WHAT I DEFINITELY DON’T WANT
Tyler being some kind of spectacle
Loads of pictures of him when he was sick
All the interviews to be about Tyler
Everyone forgetting what Tyler actually did and how incredible it was
Talking like the best thing Tyler ever did was die
Talking like dying was the most interesting and important thing Tyler ever did
I want people to know what it was like to see him, when he was doing what he did best. When he was on stage, he was incredible. I know there’s not a lot of footage of it, but really, he was enormous. He didn’t want to be a dead rock star, he wanted to be alive, and brilliant, and he was already a rock star. He owned it; he was perfect. He was brilliant. Fuck he was so sad, but my god did I love him. One time I had to carry him into accident and emergency because he couldn’t stand and the first thing he said when he woke up was ‘where is my guitar’. It’s hard because he thought this was all he was, and that being this thing was all he had to give to the universe. He was never just a rock star, rock star that he was. He was kind. He let me cry when I needed to cry. He was frightened, and he was afraid to show anybody that in case they tried to stop him from doing what he loved most in the world. He should have had years and years to work it out. He should have woken up one day in his thirties and realised that he had so much more to give the world than just his music. He should have been able to stand in some doorway somewhere and realise that being famous wasn’t going to fill that big hole inside of him. He should have had the time and the space to curl up inside of it until he realised just how much of himself he had left.
I know, really, if he hadn’t been so sick, he’d probably have left. I know I’m just the groupie that was there when things got bad. I know that by rights I should have had a one-night stand with the coolest guy I’d ever met and dined out on it for years, and I should have never, ever seen him again. I should have been looking at all these posters and saying to my friends ‘you know I fucked him once’ and have none of them believe me, because he’s Tyler Brundle, and how the hell could I have ever even been close enough to touch him?
I wanted so much more, and I’d have always wanted more. I could have had everything I wanted, and I’d still have asked for more because it was him, and none of it would ever be enough.
Do whatever you want.