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 use
- References to medical procedures
- References to implied suicide
The Unofficial Infinite Eyes Fan Site
Lyrics to an Unnamed Song by Tyler Brundle – Analysis by Marnie
Hello everyone! There’re so many new people here, and that’s so exciting. For years it’s felt like it’s just us who really care about Infinite Eyes, and it’s amazing to find out there are so many of you out there. Something else amazing happened the other day, and I think it’s because so many people have been sharing around the birthday video. Laura Plath posted a photo of what I think has to be a page of Tyler Brundle’s notebook. I recognise his scratchy handwriting. It always looks to me like he was writing in a hurry. If you’ve read the blog, you’ll know he used to post pictures like that all the time, of notes about performances or ideas for songs, but this one Laura posted on Tuesday is brand new. I never, ever thought I’d see anything new from Infinite Eyes; it’s so incredible, like we’re finally hearing a message we were supposed to get years ago.
In those blanks between the paragraphs
Spaces in between us
Unresolvable like spaces between words
There’s less than half left in this glass
But time itself can be remastered
I dream about the morning after
Waking up with you
It’s strange to analyse a song without having even a tiny clip of Tyler playing it, to hear the tune, to know which words he started to get choked up over. Like so many of Tyler’s lyrics, there’s an aching sadness in these that would have probably really bled into his voice as he sang it. What’s so powerful about this one is that it feels like it’s about not being able to properly express that sadness, that pain, because the spaces between the words can’t be resolved, and the spaces between ‘us’ can’t either, like no matter how hard Tyler tries, he’ll never really be able to say the whole of what he’s trying to.
And it’s probably just a shout into the void
All these paper memories are easily destroyed
Maybe in a few years’ time, you won’t recall my name
You don’t bother me by breathing, my dear
This part of the song really pulled me up, because it makes me so wish he could see that nobody has forgotten him, and we wouldn’t ever. It’s so awful because there’s no way to actually make him know that, now. I wonder if he wrote this near the end, and I wonder if Laura decided to post it now, because she feels that sadness too, that we can’t ever reach him and let him know we remember him, because that space between us really has become as unresolvable as he said in the first verse.
There’s so many things to say that get unsaid
More than there are clouds careening high above my head
Just because you’re lost doesn’t mean you’re alone
Just because it’s empty doesn’t mean that it’s all gone
I think if he’d ever recorded this song, it would have been one of my favourites because of this second verse. The bleakness from before isn’t washed away, exactly. The pain is still there but it’s softened by something else, just as powerful. It’s not resigned, because Tyler never really seems resigned to what’s happening to him, I don’t think, but it turns that into something bright and warm and almost like hope, because maybe he’s lost to us, like he says here, but he knew, somehow, that he wouldn’t ever be alone. I wonder if this part struck Laura, too, when she found it in his notebooks, that sense of things lasting, of there still being something there even though Tyler is dead. I wonder if it made her feel hopeful about it, too. It’s been so long since she even mentioned Infinite Eyes on her social media; she doesn’t even do memorial posts on his birthday like Joel does on his. For us, there really is something there even though it has seemed for so long like there wasn’t going to be; Tyler can still speak to us, even after all this time. And that’s beautiful.
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Fig. 21. Wren
When Wren had last seen Joel, he’d been a bleary-eyed twenty-something with a head of mousy curls and was almost always draped in an over-sized American football jersey. He wasn’t American; he said it was ‘ironic’. Wren was pretty sure Joel had learned about irony from Alanis Morrissette.
His eyes were sunken now, still barely open, the colour of dust. His curls were half-grey and he was wearing a heavy jacket, the kind people wear to climb mountains, even though the sun was beating down and Wren could see the sweat beading on his forehead. Joel didn’t look uncomfortable. He was slumped in the armchair in Wren’s sitting room, the one that had been there since he moved in.
Laura stood in the window, unchanged. She may have not even washed since Wren last saw her. She had a quiet ferocity, and it always surprised Wren she’d not managed to drag Joel up through the ranks of the music industry by sheer will-power. There was ice in the set of her jaw, in the way she appraised the dirty curtains and the dining table piled high with Wren’s most recent scribblings. ‘So, you’re a writer now?’ she asked.
‘No, I was just trying to figure out my head.’ He sipped his tea. Joel smiled over his, taking a deep breath so all the steam vanished into his nostrils.
‘I don’t know what we’re doing here,’ Laura snapped. ‘He’s barely said a word.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ Wren admitted. He shifted the papers on his lap. It burned his eyes to look at them. A step by step plan, reworking the music they recorded in those months after Infinite Eyes toured with Party Shock. Tyler had gone downhill so fast. Christmas had been a blur, January nothing more than a blip in Wren’s mind, days of cuddles and cups of tea, watching the rain hammering against the window of their new little flat. They’d talked about getting a cat, Wren remembered. Tyler had been talking about his birthday, and Wren remembered May feeling like it was a long way away. Tyler talked about going to the beach. He was talking like he was going to get better. He was disappearing before Wren’s eyes. By the time the days were warm enough for picnics, Tyler had been made of pipe-cleaners and dust. There was the picnic, the ice-cream kisses. Thousands of little moments like that which had become almost impossible to pick apart from one another. All the while Tyler kept saying he was going to get back on the horse, how they needed to get into the studio, have a second pass at the recordings he’d done.
‘We’re doing it anyway, whatever you think,’ said Laura. ‘It just won’t be as good if you don’t sign off on Tyler’s stuff.’
Joel sighed. ‘We want your input, dude. You’re part of this, too.’
Wren shook his head. He pushed the papers across the coffee table.
‘Tyler knew what he was,’ said Laura. ‘He was the front man. He’s the thing that gets people in, he always was, and he still is now. I don’t know if you’ve actually read any of the shit people are saying online, Wren, but it’s not about us. It’s all about him. The bastard actually got what he wanted.’
‘Pretty sure he’d rather be alive,’ Wren whispered.
‘Are you kidding yourself?’ Laura stood up and stormed across to the dining table. She tapped one of her rings against the back of one of the chairs. Her shoulders were hunched, frustration radiating off her as it had since she and Laura had arrived. ‘We’re going to do this, Wren,’ she said, for the hundredth time. Wren wondered if Laura needed to eat and sleep like ordinary people of if she could just run solely on rage, like Tyler had seemed to for a while. It was stunning to think that he had seen Laura cry, seen her hold Tyler’s hand and kiss his cheek. He couldn’t imagine her ever being tender like that now.
Joel shifted on the sofa, stretching his arm along the back. He nodded at the stack of plans on the coffee table. ‘Do you think he’d have done it differently?’
Wren blinked in surprise. He tugged the sleeves of his jumper over his hands and clutched them tightly. He’d barely been able to take in any of what he’d read, only vague impressions of tours and light shows and albums left swirling in his head. He didn’t know what Tyler would have made of it. He’d kept all his musical machinations firmly behind the door of the room they rehearsed in, in that ramshackle house just a few streets over from where Wren lived now. He could remember him talking about his dreams, about standing on a stage in front of thousands of people and hearing them shout his own words back at him. He’d always had a distant look in his eyes, this fierce set of determination in his jaw, and it had seemed so definite and real. Every time Wren saw Tyler perform it was as though the entire show had sprung forth from his mind fully formed, with no messy intermediary of notebook scribbles and long discussions and hours upon hours of rehearsals.
‘We’ve already locked in a lot of the album,’ said Laura.
Wren stared at Joel. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The track-list we showed you is final; we’re using the studio clips of everything, we’ve got enough of him singing to make it work,’ said Laura. ‘We’ve got a lot of people interested in doing guest vocals if you won’t sign off. People are queueing for it. Big names, too.’
‘You’d just… you’d throw him out like that?’
‘Wren,’ said Joel, quietly. ‘We still want him to be a part of this. The album, the tour, everything.’
‘We’d have the whole thing ready by now if you weren’t being such a dick about it,’ said Laura.
It was like someone had dumped a bucket of icy water over Wren’s head. He gripped his sleeves even more tightly. It felt like someone was sitting on his chest. He wanted to scream or maybe run from the room. Tyler would have been so furious at her for even thinking it. These were his songs, his darlings.
‘You remember how he was, about the album,’ said Joel.
Wren covered his eyes. He remembered Tyler curled in his lap, holding him whilst he sobbed. It was frightening to see him like that. Things had got so bad by then, Wren didn’t know what he expected him to say. Maybe that it was all over, that he wasn’t going to live another week. They had been offered a tour, to start three months after they released the album. Twenty shows in small venues, for hardly any money. But he’d wanted it all his life. He was crying because he was happy. He’d spent the day having chemotherapy, throwing up his guts, but he hadn’t cared at all.
‘This is ridiculous, Joel. Let’s just leave.’
Laura moved towards the door. Joel stayed in the armchair. His lazy gaze fixed on Wren. ‘Do you think we shouldn’t do this?’
Wren shook his head. ‘I don’t know.’
‘You’re pathetic,’ said Laura.
Joel’s mouth dropped open and he looked at her over his shoulder. ‘You can’t just-’
‘It’s been more than half a decade. You knew him for what, less than a year? This whole thing is ridiculous.’
‘Why not? Tyler should never have left the rights to you. He wasn’t in his right mind. He never fucking was. He was bat shit. We all know why he wore those fucking leather wrist bands. Six months before he was diagnosed with whatever the fuck it was -’
‘Myeloma,’ Joel said.
‘Whatever,’ Laura continued. ‘He was pretty intent on bleeding out on the bathroom floor, wasn’t he? Or have you conveniently let that slip your mind, Joel?’
Joel looked like he’d been slapped. ‘Laura. Stop.’
‘He stopped treatment the minute he could get away with it, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because he wanted to go all gently into that good night. It’s because he had a fucking death wish.’
‘Fuck you, Laura,’ Wren growled. His grip on the handle of his mug had got so tight his whole arm was shaking.
‘This is exactly why it was a fucking stupid idea for him to sign his share of the rights over to you,’ said Laura. ‘You don’t know shit about him.’
‘I loved him!’ said Wren, desperation making his voice sound like it belonged to someone else, someone sad and afraid.
‘We all did! Didn’t save him though, did it?’ said Laura. There was a fire in her eyes. ‘So, what? You want us to throw this opportunity away because you’re still not over it? That’s pretty fucking selfish.’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Well, that’s what I’m hearing,’ Laura hissed. ‘I’ll give Tyler this; he was an excellent front man. He could work a crowd like nobody’s business and make them feel exactly what he wanted them to, but it wasn’t real, not like they think it is. All that shit online, it’s not about the music, it’s about him and his crazy, and that ridiculous blog. That’s all he was. You’re sat here weeping over something that didn’t exist.’
‘He was real,’ said Wren.
‘How do you not get this? Do you really think he’d still be alive, even if he hadn’t got sick? Don’t you get it? Don’t you remember the lies, the way he twisted everything up? Do you think he would have even looked at you twice if he hadn’t seen it all coming?’
‘Jesus, Laura,’ Joel said.
‘Shut up, Joel. You know I’m right because you knew Tyler, you knew how he worked before all that happened. We were both there for all the screaming and the blood and the mess. Wren wasn’t. He can’t know what Tyler was, because he wasn’t there, was he? And we wouldn’t be here right now if Tyler had any sense, because nobody in their right mind would sign over their legal rights to anything to a guy who had barely just turned twenty and he had known for less than a year!’
Laura folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath. A look of something like regret flushed over her cheeks. ‘I’m sorry. I wish I could go back and make him stop. I wish I had sat him down and told him to leave you alone.’
The words scalded Wren. He felt hot and raw and naked in front of the two of them. He squirmed under their combined gazes. ‘I’d never give it up. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.’
Laura pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and multiply-ringed forefinger. ‘Wren. I understand that you’re still cut up about it, but Tyler was not like you think he was. He was a dick. And he fucked you over.’
Wren screwed his eyes shut. ‘I loved him.’
‘He loved you too, in a weird, twisted way. You shouldn’t have to be dealing with this. It’s not right,’ said Laura. She almost managed to smile at Wren.
‘He’s the best thing that ever happened to me,’ Wren croaked.
‘Then your life must be pretty fucking terrible,’ said Laura. All traces of the smile had already vanished.
‘Laura, you’re upsetting him,’ said Joel.
‘Do you disagree?’ Laura was livid again.
There was a long silence, filled only with the sound of them breathing out of time.
‘I really think he loved you, Wren,’ said Joel.
Behind his eyelids, Wren saw a million moments tracking past, moments of Tyler. His smile, the smell of his hair, only half-remembered. The smooth skin of his scalp. Scabs on the corners of his mouth. The rattle of his chest as he slept, a sound like he was filled with loose change and pieces of wood. Holding on, holding him close, holding everything in, trying to hold him together. Trying to hold onto him and never let go. How easy things had been before Tyler ever met him.
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said.
‘Thank you for your gracious fucking generosity,’ Laura growled back at him. ‘Come on, Joel. We’ve got to finish a fucking album,’ Laura hissed, and marched towards the door.
Joel hesitated, looking at Wren with his dusty eyes. Wren just shook his head. They left, and the door slammed behind them. Wren sat frozen, watching their forms disappearing down the street through the gap in the curtains.
Fig. 22. Tyler
Tyler hovered in the doorway of the recording suite. The studio had that play-dough smell of fake leather, the hot stench of big lights and bare metal. He had dreamed about a studio like this for years, weeks to shut themselves in and emerge with something glorious. Joel and Laura were laughing with the sound technician, sitting exactly where he’d left them twenty minutes before. He pulled at the edge of his t-shirt, unsticking it from his damp stomach.
‘Finally, he reappears,’ said Laura. ‘Come on, we’ve nearly got this down.’
Tyler slumped onto the stool next to the microphone and pulled on his headphones. He was so exhausted, the muffled quiet of the recording suite was almost enough to lull him into sleep. He gripped the edge of his stool until his fingers started to hurt. It didn’t take very much. Most of him hurt all of the time. The doctors told him it was a good sign. There’s a sort of Murphy’s Law about cancer treatment, he was learning. The more you suffered with your treatment, the better it was working. That’s how all the nurses seemed to view it, anyway. The worse he felt, the better he was getting. He must be almost cured by now. He felt terrible enough.
Tyler cleared his throat in the mic and heard it ring through the headphones. ‘Right, where did we get to?’
‘Your voice…’ said the sound technician.
Tyler swallowed, running his hand over his aching throat. ‘I threw up. It’ll be fine in a minute.’
‘I’ll get you some water,’ said Joel, hurriedly. He didn’t meet Tyler’s gaze as he hurried out of the room.
Tyler stared at his shoes.
Laura flicked her hair over her shoulder. ‘He’d better hurry up; we’ve been here six hours and we’ve barely managed one track.’
Tyler cleared his throat. The door clattered open and Joel handed him a glass of water. It tasted like sour dust and Tyler grimaced.
‘Better?’ said Joel.
Tyler half-shrugged. ‘Thanks.’
Joel chewed his lip. ‘You look…’
‘Terrible? I know. Thanks for the reminder.’ He took a large gulp of water and wedged the glass between his knees. He glanced through the window into the technician’s booth. ‘How do I sound?’
‘Scratchy, but better.’
Tyler nodded. ‘That’ll do.’ He pulled his guitar into his lap and strummed it experimentally. It sounded shimmery and bright through the studio headphones. They probably cost more than Tyler had ever seen in his bank account.
Laura counted them in. They managed to get almost the whole way through the section of the song that they were working on before Laura slammed her hand against the snare drum. ‘Stop! Christ, Tyler, you sang the wrong words again! You wrote this fucking song; how do you keep doing this?’
Tyler blinked. ‘Fuck, sorry. What did I say?’
‘It’s ‘I still feel that hook in my mouth, I’m still drawn to the flame’, not ‘I’m still drawn in the flames’.’
‘Right. Yeah. Okay. Let’s try it again.’
Laura groaned. ‘Please just pay attention, this time. I want to lock this in today, for real.’ She counted them back in and they got further in this time before she stopped them.
‘Did I do it again?’
‘I can’t understand a word you’re saying,’ said Laura.
Tyler glanced over at Joel.
‘You are kind of… mumbling.’
Tyler squeezed his eyes shut. ‘Are you kidding?’
‘We can come back tomorrow,’ said Joel.
‘Tomorrow? For fuck’s sake, it’s going to take an entire year to do this album at this rate,’ said Laura.
‘Would you give him a break?’ said Joel.
‘It’s fine,’ said Tyler. ‘Come on. We’ll go again.’
‘Alright. This time, could you act like you give a shit?’ said Laura.
Tyler clenched his teeth. He turned to snap at Laura, but his throat spasmed and he choked. He could hear himself wheezing through the headphones, the hideous hacking sounds inside his lungs unfiltered and drowning out almost everything else. He doubled over, chest aching with the force of the coughing, tears streaming down his cheeks. Someone put a hand on his shoulder, but he jerked away, sliding off the stool and ripping off his headphones so he didn’t have to listen to himself anymore. He leaned against the padded wall, fisted hands pressed to his mouth as he spluttered and retched. Finally, he managed to draw a long, shuddery breath. He braced his hands against his knees. The room was swimming.
‘Are you alright?’ Joel was shouting, still wearing his headphones.
‘Fine,’ said Tyler. His voice was thin and cracked.
‘Great, now you sound like an eighty-year-old,’ said Laura.
‘Give me some water, it’ll be alright in a bit.’
Laura laughed dryly. ‘You’re insane. Go home. We’ve been doing this all day. It’s not going to happen.’
Tyler stared at her. ‘What are you saying?’
She shook her head. ‘You can hardly stand. We can’t work like this.’
‘I can, I just need a minute.’
‘You need a fucking hospital, have you seen yourself?’
Tyler buried his face in his hands. ‘Laura, come on. Let’s break for a bit, get some dinner or something.’
‘Maybe she’s right, Tyler,’ said Joel. ‘You should go and get some rest.’
Tyler shook his head. ‘You can’t be serious. We’ve got a record deal. We’ve been waiting for this for years; we can’t just stop because I’m… I’m.’
Joel put his heavy hand on Tyler’s shoulder. ‘Dude, it’s alright. We’ll try again when you’re better.’
Tyler stared at Joel’s fingers. ‘What if I don’t get better?’
‘Don’t be daft, dude. You’re going to be fine,’ said Joel. He squeezed Tyler’s shoulder. ‘Right?’
Tyler pulled away. He straightened himself up and scratched the back of his neck ‘You don’t get it, do you? Either of you.’
He walked out of the studio. His hands were shaking as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. ‘Wren, can you come get me?’
‘Yeah, of course. Where are you? Are you okay?’
‘I’m…’ Tyler cut himself off before he said that he was fine again. ‘I’m at the studio on Goodram gate.’
‘Okay. I’ll be there in ten.’
Tyler closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself against the biting chill in the air. ‘Thank you.’
Tyler held his phone against his chest. Christmas lights twinkled in nearby shop windows, bright against the dark sky. The cold leeched through his skin and shook him right to his bones. He wanted to curl onto the frosted pavement and tuck his head between his knees. He wanted to sleep for a hundred years. He wanted to never see Joel and Laura again.
‘Hey,’ Wren put a hand on Tyler’s cheek and he jumped.
Wren frowned. ‘Yeah, of course I did.’ He ran his thumb over Tyler’s cheekbone. ‘You’re freezing.’
Tyler dropped his head against Wren’s shoulder. Heat soaked through his clothes and Tyler shivered. ‘I don’t want to go home.’
‘We can go to mine, if that’s, like, safe for you.’
Tyler scoffed. ‘Safe? Have you seen my place?’
Wren smiled and rubbed his hand up Tyler’s back. ‘Fair point.’ He pulled away and cold air rushed to fill the place where he’d been standing. He held open the passenger door for Tyler to slip inside. The car was so warm that Tyler’s eyes immediately started to feel heavy.
‘Long day?’ said Wren.
Tyler groaned. ‘Shut up.’ He leaned against the window and his eyes fluttered closed. ‘Take me to your place, groupie.’
Wren chuckled as he turned on the car. Tyler was aware of a few streetlights tracking overhead, other cars flying past on the road, and then he was asleep.
The engine spluttered to a halt. Tyler blinked and peeled his face from the window. He yawned. ‘It’s snowing,’ he said. The fine flakes melted as they met the glass, still warm from the engine and the heaters inside. ‘Maybe I’ll get to see it melt.’
Tyler shook his head. ‘Nothing.’
‘You know you can talk to me, don’t you?’
‘I’m being serious.’
Tyler rolled his eyes. ‘I’m talking now, aren’t I?’
‘You know what I mean.’
Tyler’s nostrils flared. ‘What, do you want my full fucking medical records or something?’
Wren squeezed his eyes shut. ‘You don’t have to pretend with me. You don’t have to keep on like it’s all okay when it isn’t.’
‘Get fucked, I said I’m fine. I’m fucking fine.’
Wren got out of the car and slammed the door. Tyler stared at his shrinking silhouette against the doors to his building.
Outside, Tyler’s breath fogged in the air. He pulled his leather jacket close around himself and followed Wren into the lobby of his apartment building. Wren was climbing the stairs two at a time. Tyler stared at the first flight with resentment. He stopped at the top of it, calves trembling. He gulped the air.
Tyler shuffled towards the next set of stairs. He managed the first two, then stopped. He gripped the railings. Above him, a door slammed. ‘I’m sorry,’ Tyler called weakly. He clambered the rest of the way up the flight and then had stop again. He rested his head against the iron railings, coated with layers and layers of acrylic paint that did nothing to stop the heat-leeching cold.
‘Wren?’ Tyler’ voice trembled. He sighed. He put his hand on the step and the slap of his palm echoed right up to the vaulted ceiling. Perhaps Wren had forgotten him. Perhaps that would be for the best. Tyler imagined the flesh sliding off his bones. His eyelids were heavy. He hunched his knees up. Tired and nauseas. Shaking with cold.
Upstairs, a door opened. Tyler blinked his sandy eyes. Had he fallen asleep? His limbs were stiff and he was cold to the heart of his soul.
He heard stumbling footsteps; slap, clatter, bang.
Wren touched the back of his neck. ‘Tyler. I thought you’d go home.’
Tyler turned lazily. How? His skin was tingling cold where Wren’s fingers had been.
Wren sighed. ‘I shouldn’t have left you here.’
Wren spluttered and laughed.
Tyler frowned. ‘Are you alright?’
‘How can you even ask that?’ Wren sat down heavily next to Tyler.
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘You’ve got fucking cancer, Tyler!’ Wren shouted. Tyler cringed. ‘You’re asking me if I’m alright.’
‘Yeah, I am.’
‘Well, don’t!’ Wren shoved into him. Tyler grabbed the railings in time to stop himself from hitting his head. ‘I’m sick of you pretending all the time like you’re not in pain or it’s not bothering you. And then you blow up in my face and you still won’t talk about it!’
‘What do you want me to say?’ Tyler asked, his voice monotone and hollow.
‘I want to know how you feel! You keep acting like you’re on your own in this, but you’re not.’
Wren’s words made the inside of Tyler wilt. ‘What else am I supposed to do?’
‘Act like you feel something.’
The words echoed between them. Tyler looked up at Wren. His eyes were swimming with tears, cheeks flushed with frustration. His teeth were slightly bared between his parted lips. Oh, Wren. Tyler sighed, but didn’t say the words aloud.
‘You can’t do it, can you?’ Wren accused, tears spilling over.
‘Maybe I’m a fucking psychopath or something.’ Tyler felt tiny and grotesque. He was hurting him. He should leave him, so he never had to feel like this again, but he was too selfish. He could feel mortality hanging over him and the fear of being alone was overwhelming. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘That’s not enough.’ Wren covered his face with his hands. ‘It’s like, I don’t know. Like I’m on a tiny desert island and I can see you way in the distance on this little boat that there’s no way I could ever reach.’
‘I’m not going anywhere.’
Wren lifted his head, eyes burning. ‘Aren’t you?’
Tyler opened his mouth to speak again but the words wouldn’t come.
Wren turned his face away sharply. ‘Do you even want me here? Do you want me around at all?’
Fear and anger bristled over Tyler in waves of alternate hot and cold. ‘This is not about you.’
Wren looked straight ahead. The flush from his cheeks was gone. ‘I want to help.’
‘You and everybody else.’ Tyler was amazed his arms didn’t creak when he covered his face with his hands. ‘You’re treating me like I’m. I don’t know. Like you think that if I’d just sit down and be quiet everything will get better. Like you have any idea what any of this is like.’ He laughed a single note. ‘It’s suffocating me.’
‘Tyler.’ Wren stopped himself short. He wrung his fingers and shifted on the step, the rustle of his clothes echoing around them. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘I hate that you know. I hate that everybody knows.’
‘I… I can’t pretend that I don’t.’
Tyler scoffed. ‘No. The way people act you’d think I was already dead. Nobody looks at me anymore. They look at it.’
‘I look at you.’
‘Half the time,’ Tyler corrected bitterly. ‘I’m going to die, and people are going to say ‘he was such a fighter’ and shit like that and it’s not true. I’m not a fighter. I’m a pushover. I want to lie down and let it consume me but I’m too scared, now. It’s fucking ironic, really. There have been times where I so wanted to die. And now look at me. I’m pathetic.’
‘Wanting to live isn’t pathetic,’ Wren muttered.
‘I’m sick, Wren, but that’s not all I am. It can’t be.’
Wren’s shoulders trembled. Three tears fell and shattered against the linoleum floor. ‘I don’t want you to die.’
Wren cried. Loud, heavy, shaking sobs that tore Tyler to shreds inside. ‘I love you.’
‘Don’t say that now,’ Tyler whispered.
Wren lifted his head just a little, enough to meet Tyler’s gaze with his red-ringed eyes. ‘It’s still true.’
‘You don’t need to say anything,’ Wren insisted.
Tyler sighed. ‘Okay.’
Fig. 23. Marnie
Marnie straightened her mother’s old work jacket over the pale blue blouse she’d bought that afternoon. She had put her laptop on her desk, angled just right so you couldn’t see her bed in the webcam. She’d dragged a chair up the stairs from the dining room and padded it up with her pillows, so she was more-or-less level with the screen. Her hands were shaking as she gripped the edges of the chair. She wanted to jump up and down with excitement.
Instead, she tapped Cherry’s name into Skype and waited for her friend to appear. Cherry’s room was messy; she could see her roommate lounging on the bed behind her. Cherry beamed at Marnie over a tub of ice-cream, a spoon poking over the rim. ‘You look fancy.’
‘I just finished talking to PopJam.’
Cherry’s eyes widened. ‘No way!’
‘They’ve commissioned me to write about the new Infinite Eyes stuff when it comes out!’
‘Ugh, why isn’t anyone phoning me up with really cool job offers?’ Cherry sighed, throwing her head back. She stayed sitting like that for a while, so long that Marnie wondered if the internet connection had dropped, but she could still see Cherry’s roommate turning the pages of her book behind her.
‘Have you seen all the comments on my last blog post? We’re really blowing up now. It’s amazing.’
Cherry sighed. ‘Yeah. I mean. The blog is. Everyone is talking about you, now.’
‘Not just me. Tyler and the band too, and the blog isn’t just mine. It’s yours as well.’
Cherry fiddled with a strand of her hair. ‘Sure thing, Marnie.’
‘Maybe you could write about it for the blog? It’s your week this week.’
Cherry glanced away from the camera. ‘Look, Marnie. I’m really busy at the moment. Can we talk another time?’
Marnie nodded. ‘Yeah. Sure.’
Cherry smiled. ‘Cool. Speak soon,’ said Cherry. She cut the call before Marnie could say goodbye. It sat strangely in Marnie’s stomach. She pawed the string of emojis after Cherry’s name; a sparkly heart, a bunch of grapes, a smiling face with cheeks as flushed as a baby’s. She deleted the heart.
Downstairs, the front door clattered open and Marnie jumped as the sound reverberated through the floorboards. Her mother was calling her name. Marnie cast off the stolen jacket, kicked it hastily under her bed.
‘Marnie!’ her mother yelled again as she burst into her bedroom. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ she demanded. She was brandishing her iPhone. Marnie barely caught sight of the old fuzzy image of herself on the screen. Her stomach tied into a knot.
‘Mum, it’s nothing!’ she said. She shrank against her chest of drawers, knocking over Tyler’s picture with her elbow.
‘Why don’t I know about this, Marnie?’ her mother said. Her short hair was sticking up in all directions. She looked feral. Marnie hardly recognised her.
‘It’s just some stupid thing I do for fun,’ Marnie said. ‘It’s nothing, I swear.’
‘A million views seem a lot more than nothing.’ Her mother looked around Marnie’s room, gaze flitting from the fallen photo frame by Marnie’s feet to the canvas over her bed, from the notes strewn across the carpet to the half-drunk bottle of schnapps on the windowsill. When was the last time her mother had even been in there? Marnie cast her mind towards the answer but wouldn’t grasp it. She couldn’t allow herself to think about that night, about the tears and the shouting. Why did it have to be Kim, her mother had asked, why did have to be her daughter? She’d said it like Marnie wasn’t her daughter, too. She’d not looked Marnie in the eye the whole time and Marnie had known without asking that her mother would have rather they switched.
‘You’ve always been so difficult,’ said Marnie’s mother. ‘You’ve always been a puzzle.’
‘It’s just a laugh mum, I swear,’ said Marnie.
Her mother sighed, ran her hand through her hair, messing it up even more. ‘Marnie… I’m not. I’m not angry at you.’
‘I just don’t understand. How has this happened? How have I managed not to notice…?’ Her mother gestured around the room.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Kim loved this band.’
‘So?’ Marnie snapped. ‘They’re my favourite thing in the whole world. They mean more to me than anything!’
‘Marnie…’ Her mother sounded tired. ‘I know things have been difficult, since your sister.’
Marnie jerked her head towards the window. It was getting dark outside, now. She balled her hands into fists in her lap, ignoring her mother’s faint reflection in the glass.
‘You can always talk to me, you know,’ Marnie’s mum said, so quiet Marnie hardly heard it.
Marnie squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists even tighter.
‘I know I’ve not been here. I’ve been trying to hold things together at the shop, you know, what with your dad.’ She inhaled sharply. ‘I’m always here for you if you need me.’
It was too much. Marnie whirled around. ‘Since when?’
Her mother blinked. ‘What?’
‘You’ve never been there! It’s always work, or church group, or something! You were never here, you never even noticed any of it!’
‘Marnie,’ her mum croaked.
‘You don’t know anything about me, and you didn’t know anything about Kim, either, because you never wanted to. You wanted us to be these perfect little girls, and guess what? We’re not! Kim tried so hard to make you happy, and you never even noticed, and now she’s dead and you’re stuck with me.’
‘I never wanted you to be perfect.’ Her mum sounded like a ghost of herself, eyes unfocused, hands wrapped around her elbows.
‘What did you want?’ Marnie demanded.
Her mother half turned, her gaze trailing over the contents of Marnie’s walls.
‘What do you want, mum?’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know.’
Marnie half-growled. ‘Just go away.’
‘Marnie,’ her mum said distantly.
Marnie’s mother blinked absently and nodded. She trailed out of Marnie’s room. Marnie shot out of her chair and slammed the door shut so hard it might have clipped her mum in the back, but she didn’t care.
Too furious to think, Marnie kicked over her make-shift chair and grabbed at random items on her desk, flinging them to the floor. For half a second, Marnie thought about Kim running to her door and sneaking inside, about the two of them cuddling together down the side of Marnie’s bed and whispering furiously about what had happened. But Kim wasn’t coming.
Marnie flung herself onto her bed, pulling her laptop with her. She could Skype Cherry, but she wasn’t online. She’d have to call her, and for some reason, the thought made Marnie uneasy. She’d never talked to Cherry about Kim. She didn’t want to.
Marnie looked up at the ceiling. There was a fuzzy print-out of Tyler up there, so he could watch her as she slept. Marnie grabbed her headphones and pressed play, closing her eyes. He couldn’t listen, but she could listen to him. She let the music flow through her until she wasn’t thinking about her mum anymore, until she felt that aching loss melt away into something bigger, better. Tyler wasn’t really gone, not like Kim was gone. Marnie could still right the wrongs that had been done to him. That’s what she was doing, wasn’t it? With the blog?
Marnie sighed. She looked up at the picture of Tyler. ‘I’ll make it right,’ she promised him.