Part Seven: Emerging

Click to Reveal Content Warnings
Discussions of death
References to and discussion of cancer (Multiple Myeloma)
Depression
Scenes of a sexual nature
References to medical procedures
Drug use (cannabis)

Fig. 28. Tyler

‘What are you doing?’ Wren asked. ‘I thought Joel was with you.’

Tyler smarted at mention of Joel’s name. He put down the spoon and went over to the dining table. One end of it was made up, a red table runner between two placemats with two fat scented candles in the middle. Tyler pulled one of the chairs out. ‘Sit,’ he commanded Wren.

Wren sat down; his gaze fixed on Tyler’s table arrangement. His mouth was pressed into a thin line. Tyler squeezed his shoulder and went back to the oven.

‘What’s all this?’ said Wren.

‘I’m making quesadillas,’ said Tyler. He smiled over his shoulder, but Wren was still staring at the candles. ‘Don’t you like quesadillas?’

Wren blinked. ‘No. I mean, yes, I like them. But. Tyler…’

‘I’m fine!’ Tyler said brightly, with a jubilant laugh. ‘Do you want some wine?’

‘Wine?’

‘You know, the red drink that makes you go funny?’ Tyler flipped one of the quesadillas and slid it onto a plate. He opened the oven and pulled out the other. He picked a bottle of wine from the floor under the table, and finally sat down. He tried to take the cork out, but it wouldn’t come. He hissed through his teeth. ‘Fucking piece of shit corkscrew.’

‘Here, let me,’ Wren offered.

‘No. I’ve got it,’ Tyler said quietly. After a while, the cork came free. He beamed and splashed red liquid into each of their glasses. ‘So, how was your study day?’

Wren gulped. ‘It was alright.’

Tyler raised an absent eyebrow. ‘Just alright?’ he asked, cutting his quesadilla into squares.

Wren’s expression gave nothing. ‘Yeah. Just alright.’

Tyler’s mouth was dry. He sipped his wine. ‘Okay. That’s good.’

‘You didn’t call me after your appointment on Friday. Or answer my texts. Or my calls.’

‘You said you needed to finish your essay. Did you get it done?’

Wren sighed. ‘I did.’

Tyler closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Were you happy with it?’

‘You don’t care.’

‘I do,’ said Tyler. He gulped his wine. ‘Go on, eat.’

‘You’re being weird.’

‘I’m supposed to be weird. I’m a creative.’

Wren pursed his lips. ‘Joel said he was going to hang out with you today.’

‘He left,’ said Tyler, but it was a fight to keep his tone even. ‘You should have heard Joel.’ Tyler’s voice was louder than he’d meant it to be, and Wren jumped. ‘He said I should take it easy. He said I needed a break.’ Tyler shook his head, still smiling. Wren was staring at his plate of food. ‘I can’t take a break. I need to get it done.’

Tyler could feel something bubbling in the depths of his stomach. He wasn’t sure if he was going to scream or throw up. Instead, he kept grinning. Wren was staring at his food again.

‘Don’t you like it?’ said Tyler.

‘I text you, before. Me and Tabby went out to celebrate handing our essays in. I asked if you wanted to come. You could have. It would have been nice.’

Tyler wilted. ‘Oh.’

‘I know you’re… busy. The food looks really good, I just don’t think I’ll be able to finish it.’

‘It’s fine,’ Tyler muttered. He grabbed his glass and drank the rest of his wine in one.

Wren cut a slice of quesadilla and ate it. ‘It’s nice,’ he said.

‘Don’t bother.’

‘No. It really is,’ Wren insisted. ‘Why don’t you eat some of yours?’

‘I’m not hungry.’

Wren winced. He ate another bite, his eyes wide and eager. His cutlery clinked against the plate, the fan in the oven still whirring even though it had been switched off. He couldn’t remember why he’d decided to do this, anymore.

‘You should at least eat something,’ said Wren.

Tyler shoved his plate off the side of the table. One flick of his wrist and it was done. It shattered loudly on the tiles. He stared at the splattered mess of food and crockery shards, but it was like he was seeing it in TV. The tomato sauce was too red to be real, the shards of the plate like too-white bone peeking through. Melted cheese tied the separated discs of tortilla together in stringy sinews.

‘Tyler, what the fuck?’

Tyler said nothing. He got to his feet and went over to the sink. He dragged the bin over and scooped the warm mess into his hands.

‘Tyler?’

‘Shut up.’

‘What did I do?’

‘I said shut up,’ Tyler said more loudly, throwing a tomato-streaked piece of plate in Wren’s direction. It hit the pale tiles and fractured again. Wren cringed away from the shards.

Tyler yanked open the patio door. It was cold outside. The stars were hidden behind a thick grey blanket of clouds. Little smatters of rain pockmarked the patio. He sat on one of the iron chairs, let the water touch him quietly at first, but growing heavier and heavier until it was thick and loud like a shower, soaking through his thin clothes, through the canvas of his shoes and the cotton of his socks, so all of him was sat in a puddle held to his skin by garments.

He felt the cold air in his nose and mouth, felt it burn a cold trail down his trachea and press frost into his lungs. He felt the rise and fall of his own diaphragm, forcing those lungs to expand and contract against the burning chill. He could feel his wet toes against one another, fractionally number every moment, grating against the damp inside his socks. Water ran slick over his parted lips and stung his teeth, streamed over his gently closed eyes.

He could only hear the rain falling, falling and hitting the ground and the house and the trees and his body, pinging off the chairs, drumming against the wood. It felt like soon only his bones would be left, stripped clean of all his flesh and his blood and his cancer and his clothes. All of it would be washed away into nothing. Even his bones would crumble.

‘Come back inside,’ said Wren. ‘It’s chucking it down.’

‘I like the rain.’

‘We can watch it through the window.’

‘I don’t want to watch it. I want to feel it.’

Wren put his hands onto Tyler’s shoulders. ‘Let me take you inside. Please.’

‘I feel alive out here.’

Wren kissed him. It was strange and frictionless. Tyler was shaking. He hadn’t realised. He was icy and hungry for warmth. All of his determination dissipated, and he looped his arms around Wren’s neck and let himself be cradled. Wren carried him inside, right through the kitchen and up the stairs. When had he got so light that Wren could manage that so easily?

Wren set him down on his bedroom floor, his clothes dripping onto the carpet. He swept a finger along Tyler’s cheekbone.

‘You’re freezing.’

Tyler stared at him, still shaking. Wren’s hair was damp, but not soaking. His eyes were absurdly blue. Tyler couldn’t think for the life of him what he was doing there, in Tyler’s bedroom, looking at him like that. Wren was from somewhere else. Another life.

‘What is going on?’

Tyler shook his head.

Wren sighed. ‘Well, you can’t just stand there.’ He took Tyler’s hand and pulled him into the bathroom. He peeled off Tyler’s soaking clothes and they dropped to the floor of Tyler’s bathroom with wet thuds. Tyler yelped as the heat of the shower touched his skin. He stood with his back to the stream, water on his scalp, and dribbling towards his face from behind his ears.

‘Come on. It’ll be okay.’ Wren extricated one arm from Tyler’s grip and the other. Something cold touched Tyler’s shoulder and he jumped.

Wren’s hands worked soapy foam across his chest, fingers pressing gently. Tyler tilted his head back, so his face was right under the shower. Wren’s hands didn’t stop, working outwards from his sternum and down towards his hips. One of them was still bruised from his most recent bone marrow biopsy and when Wren’s fingers pressed the tender skin Tyler tried to gasp but instead inhaled a mouthful of water. He straightened up, choking. Wren kissed his throat, but otherwise didn’t respond.

‘Are you alright?’ Wren’s voice was barely audible over the water rattling brightly of the tiles.

‘You’ve got me,’ Tyler replied.

‘Yeah,’ said Wren. He touched Tyler’s cheek. ‘Turn around,’ he said, showing Tyler the soap still on his hands.

The water streamed between them. Tyler turned around and leaned against the wall. Wren’s fingers moved in wide circles, working into Tyler’s skin. Tyler’s whole body felt like it was slowly bursting into flames. Tyler twisted, Wren’s eyes were ringed red.

‘What’s wrong?’ said Tyler.

Wren shook his head. ‘I want you to be okay.’

‘I am.’

Wren’s eyes flickered, hair dripping with water. ‘You’re freaking me out.’ Plumes of steam rose and swirled around his face.

Tyler opened his mouth, closed it again, and stepped an inch closer. Wren’s hands skimmed across Tyler’s shoulders, timid and barely there. Fierce need flared in Tyler’s bones; he wanted to grab him, claim him, own him. He wanted to see him scream.

Wren’s teeth grazed the skin of Tyler’s neck. The shower hammered against them, bodies slick with soap and water, mouths slipping off one another as they kissed. Wren started to sink to his knees but Tyler caught him by the chin.

‘Not like that,’ said Tyler.

Wren pulled back. ‘We can’t. You’re too -’

‘Fuck me,’ said Tyler. He moved quick, caught Wren’s lip in his teeth, and it was enough to hook him, to bring him in. Still the water streamed down on them both, but it didn’t feel like it was between them anymore. They moved with it, together, closer, entangled. All the months of timid touches and hurried movements of lips and hands spiralled around the drain with the bubbles of soap as Tyler pressed his cheek against the wall.

The moment Wren sunk into him hung suspended, every drop from the shower head poised mid-air as tears prickled in Tyler’s eyes. He was so warm, the warmest he’d ever been, and no amount of water could douse the burning that reached all the way to his toes. Tyler’s heart pounded, terrified of himself, that might cry out or plead for Wren to stop because it was so much, too much, and all he wanted.

It might have lasted days or seconds, time didn’t shift as Wren moved and they breathed together. When Tyler came it felt like the world was ending. He scrabbled at the wall, but there was nothing for him to hold onto, and Wren was still holding him, but not tightly enough.

Tyler slumped right to the floor. ‘Shit!’ Wren hissed. He shut off the water.

Tyler was curled against the wall, his legs like a bundle of useless twigs under his body. Wren crouched beside him, lifting his face. Tyler’s eyes were burning. ‘Tyler? Are you alright? Did I hurt you?’

‘I’m alive,’ Tyler choked.

Wren pulled him close to his chest with an unsteady laugh. ‘Yeah, you’re alive.’

Tyler laughed too and allowed himself to be hoisted to his feet. The tubes hanging from his chest dripped onto the tiles. ‘Oh, shit,’ he said.

‘Are you hurt?’

‘No, the fucking tubes,’ said Tyler. He was ready to curl up on the bathroom floor again.

‘Oh god. Do you need to go to A and E?’

‘No!’ said Tyler, too loud and too fast. Wren looked frightened. ‘No. No it’s fine. There’s stuff by the bed. Help me,’ he said, holding out his hand for Wren to take.

They staggered over to the bed, both still naked and dripping. Tyler pressed an open-mouthed kiss to Wren’s shoulder and Wren batted him away. ‘Stop it,’ he said.

‘You never let me have any fun,’ said Tyler.

Wren narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re killing me,’ he said. As soon as the words were out, he looked so stricken that Tyler laughed.

Tyler rooted through his box of medical supplies for what he needed and set it on the bed, but as he started to tear open the packet his gaze wavered and he slumped sideways on the mattress.

‘Tyler?’

‘Just dizzy,’ he said. He tried to sit up again but there was hardly any strength left in his arms. He was tingling all over, the warmth of the shower and the feeling of Wren inside of him inching away bit by bit. He swallowed and stared up at the ceiling. He had to be able to do this, at least. He forced himself upright, picked up the packet again, but couldn’t make it stay in his fingers. The edges of the central line’s dressing were beginning to curl.

‘Wren,’ Tyler said quietly.

‘What?’

‘I can’t do it,’ he said.

Wren looked at him, and at the stuff in his hands. ‘Talk me through it,’ said Wren.

Tyler blinked. ‘What?’

‘Changing the dressing.’

‘That’s not what I-’

‘Talk me through it,’ Wren said again, his voice firm.

Tyler closed his eyes. ‘Alright,’ he conceded. ‘Alright.’

He coached Wren through the steps. Two pairs of latex gloves later, there was a new dressing on Tyler’s chest, not quite straight, but sealed off from the outside world. ‘Is that okay?’ asked Wren, glancing up at Tyler’s face.

Tyler could barely meet his eyes. ‘Yeah. It’s fine.’

Wren threw the empty packets in the bed and lay down on the bed beside Tyler. Tyler stared up at the swirls in the plaster on the ceiling, at the paper lampshade and the tiny spot where whoever had repainted in there last had failed to cover mint green with white. Wren’s little finger skimmed the side of Tyler’s hand. Tyler curled his palm against Wren’s knuckles and closed his eyes.

The mattress dipped as Wren moved closer. Tyler shivered, and felt the soft brush of fleece as Wren drew a blanket around him. Wren moved closer. Tyler could feel the lines of his body pressed against his side, every line of muscle, every sharp jut of bone, every soft expanse of skin. Wren’s nose pressed into the side of Tyler’s neck, and Tyler lost himself in the tides of Wren’s breathing. Slowly, he rolled so they were facing one another. He traced the warm contours of Wren’s body with his hands and finally opened his eyes.

‘Are you alright?’ said Wren.

Tyler laughed quietly. ‘I’m terrified.’

‘I’m right here,’ Wren promised. He smoothed his hand along Tyler’s jaw, the pad of his thumb pressing to the corner of Tyler’s mouth as though he was trying to coax out a smile.

‘I hate this,’ Tyler whispered.

They kissed, a quiet little thing. The sky outside was grey. The kiss was not so gentle Tyler could barely feel it. It was ragged and occasionally the force of it hurt. Tyler didn’t care. He realized how very little he cared about anything. He could feel Wren’s heart pounding, separated from his own by flannel and skin and two sternums’ worth of bone. Alive, and kissing Wren Abelard. Synonyms.

Fig. 29. Wren

SNAPSHOT

Wren consulted his reflection in the wing mirror as he got out of the car, tugging at his fluffy blonde hair. It was absurd that he was nervous. It was only Joel he was meeting, not Laura. That had been his grounds for accepting the invitation.

He had his piece already rehearsed perfectly in his head. He had to tell them no, he couldn’t let them take the album on tour. It wasn’t out yet, but he’d seen the interviews already flooding the press. It was bad enough, people chewing on the pieces of him they’d already found. He wouldn’t let them turn Tyler’s image into a tatty collage of what was supposed to be his biggest achievement.

Joel’s flat was in the centre of town, a hike from the nearest parking space. The evening sun was warm on the back of Wren’s neck, and the air was wet and heavy on his skin, testament to the clouds slowing closing in around the city. By the time Wren was ringing Joel’s doorbell, his fingers were sticky with sweat.

Joel answered after a long moment, bleary eyed as always. ‘Dude, come in,’ he said, clapping Wren on the shoulder. Wren edged into a narrow hallway lined with dozens of pairs of trainers and boots. A mop was leaning against the bottom of the stairs, a fedora balanced over its stringy locks. That heavy sweat-and-plants smell of marijuana oozed out of the walls. Wren jogged up the stairs after Joel.

The rest of the apartment was similarly cluttered. The furniture was all clearly expensive and possibly new, draped in dirty socks and stray pieces of linen. The rug under the coffee table was thick with ash and cigarette butts despite the crowded mugs clearly put down for purpose. There was a proper ashtray, but it seemed to be filled with M&Ms and loose change. Joel pressed an open bottle into Wren’s hand.

‘Thanks,’ said Wren.

‘No worries, dude,’ said Joel. He slumped on the couch and relit the joint he’d had stashed behind his ear.

‘You wanted to talk?’

‘Yeah.’

Wren nodded numbly. He could hear himself saying his speech, but he couldn’t make the words leave his head.

Joel reached down the side of the sofa and produced a neon orange envelope. Wren raised an eyebrow when he took it. ‘Laura reckons they’re harder to lose when they look like that.’

‘Right,’ said Wren. He opened the packet, produced the stack of paperwork from inside. His eyes slid over the words without reading them.

‘Here,’ said Joel. He took the stack back, flipped through for a few moments, and handed Wren a page with several blank dotted lines between his and Laura’s signatures. Wren Abelard, on behalf of the Tyler Brundle Estate. It would probably be best to sign it fast, like ripping off a plaster. A few flicks of his wrist, and it could be done. He sank into Joel’s couch a little and shoved the papers back into their garish envelope.

‘Sorry about Laura, last time,’ said Joel, briefly engulfing Wren in a cloud of smoke.

‘It’s fine.’

‘I don’t know how I feel about it. You do what you want, dude. Laura had him wrong, she always did. She would have let him set himself on fire if she thought it would make us famous.’

Wren tried to swallow past the lump in his throat and spluttered instead. He sipped his beer. ‘I don’t think he’d have checked with first Laura if he thought it was a good idea.’

‘You got that right.’ Joel sighed and wordlessly handed Wren his joint. Wren raised it to his lips. It had been a long time, but the taste was familiar on his tongue. Joel swapped couches, perched on the arm of the one Wren was sat on, and they passed the smoke between them. With every drag, Wren could feel the courage to say what he needed creeping a little closer. It would hurt less if he could dull all of his senses first.

Wren’s phone buzzed in his pocket.

THEA: I know you’ve probably forgotten I invited you to the show tonight, so I thought I’d drop you a line and invite you again. Band says they’ll put you on their tab if you’re coming, but it’s fine if not! X

Wren’s stomach lurched.

‘Who’s that?’ said Joel.

‘Oh. Nobody,’ said Wren. He put his phone back in his pocket.

Joel narrowed his eyes. ‘You’ve always been a really bad liar.’

Wren ran a hand over his face. ‘A girl recognised me. From, you know. She invited me to go and see her friend’s band.’

‘Shit, dude,’ said Joel. ‘That’s heavy.’

‘Yeah.’

‘They any good?’

‘Oh. I don’t know. I think they’re an Infinite Eyes tribute band, actually.’

‘What the fuck? For real?’.

‘There’s a whole tribute night or something.’

‘Right, okay,’ said Joel, shaking his head. ‘When?’

‘Tonight, at Colloquium. She’s offered to put me on their tab.’

‘Wait, they’ve got a tab?’ Joel’s eyebrows had shot up. ‘They must be head-lining or Colloquium wouldn’t bother paying them at all.’

‘No wonder you lot were so broke.’

Joel laughed. ‘Too right. We practically lived in that place. Man, I actually haven’t been there in years.’

‘Me neither,’ said Wren.

‘It’s only around the corner, really. How’s about we finish this and head over there?’

Wren groaned. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Come on. She’s offering free booze, and I love a good freak show,’ said Joel. He handed Wren the very last of the joint.

Wren was starting to feel heavy on the couch cushions. He couldn’t think of a way to argue that didn’t involve saying what he’d come to say in the first place, and it didn’t feel like the right time. Joel was smiling, bumbling about looking for his shoes. He’d be disappointed. It wasn’t the right time. Without really realising what he was doing, Wren trailed after Joel as he found shoes and the rest of his belongings, and they wandered the few streets over to Colloquium.

The bar hadn’t changed in the slightest since Wren had last been there. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see Tyler in the corner, friends and his handful of fans gathered around one of the rickety tables. Instead, it was Thea who spotted him from next to where a band was already setting up. She waved and bounded over to him.

‘You didn’t text,’ she said. ‘You’ve missed the other bands. My friends are about to go on.’

‘Sorry, I’m a bad influence,’ said Joel.

Thea’s eyes widened as she spotted him, the ghost of her expression when she’d first recognised Wren. She shook Joel’s limp hand. ‘Wow. This is… this is so crazy,’ she said breathlessly. A girl crept up behind Thea and grabbed her shoulders.

‘I cannot believe you let me agree to this,’ said the girl.

Thea blinked. ‘Oh, shit. This is Lila, she’s the front man.’

‘It was an accident,’ said Lila, and then she stormed away.

Thea and Joel exchanged a glance. Wren felt too numb to exchange anything.

Thea settled Joel and Wren in at a table near to their set up. Wren and Joel exchanged amused glances as the rest of the band were introduced to them both. Their names drifted right through Wren’s head without sticking to anything. They didn’t have much time for pleasantries; Thea set several pints on the table, shoving one each to Joel and Wren, as Lila took her place behind the microphone. It was facing the back wall of the bar, towards the framed pictures of old rock legends. There, amongst them, was a tiny picture of Tyler.

‘We are Visions of the Phoenix,’ said Lila, ‘and this is ‘Kitchen Sink Too’.’

The drummer counted them in, and off they went. The thrumming bass went right to Wren’s sternum. Lila curled around the microphone, holding it close to her face. She batted her eyelashes. Wren stared at her. We are Infinite Eyes, he could hear Tyler echoing in his ears. He hadn’t seen any live music since Tyler had gone, had seen precious little before that. He found himself clutching onto the edge of the table as the music swelled into the chorus.

Lila sang, and Wren felt Joel put a hand on his back. When the song ended, Wren lifted his drink to his mouth with shaking hands. By the end of the next, he’d powered through at least three of the drinks on the table and hoped earnestly that he’d not just glugged his way through the entirety of the band’s allotted free drinks.

He needn’t have worried. Thea danced over to them with a fresh pint.

‘Your friends are awesome,’ Joel said, so Wren didn’t have to speak.

‘Seriously?’ Thea gushed. ‘That means a lot, coming from you.’

Lila picked up the microphone and turned it around. She had her eyes squeezed shut. ‘This one is called ‘Nepenthe’,’ she said. ‘You probably know it.’

Wren’s stomach dropped right out of his body. He bolted for the door. The grey clouds had gathered over head, and with all the music he hadn’t noticed the rain hammering onto the street outside. He didn’t know what he’d been planning, but he stopped in his tracks. The music just barely reached out into the street. The familiar dips and falls went straight into Wren’s bones. He felt like they might have been crumbling into nothing, just like Tyler’s had.

The band had put ‘Nepenthe’ in the place Tyler always wanted it; at the end of the set, at the end of the night. The last notes seared through Wren. He looked up at the sky, rain running down his neck from his chin. There was no sign of the stars.

The music faded into applause, and Wren shook with it. He felt like he might throw up. He bent over, steadying himself against his knees. He tried to take a breath, but it came in a gasp. His head was spinning.

‘Hey, you alright?’ It was Lila, the frontman.

Wren shook his head minutely. Lila stared for a moment, before lighting up a cigarette and handing it to him. Wren smoked with shaky hands and juddering breaths. The smoke tasted of Tyler.

‘Were we that bad?’ Lila asked.

Wren shook his head. ‘It’s. It’s just,’ he tried, and failed, to explain. Wren hung his head. Lila handed him another cigarette.

‘That was the first time I’ve ever done that,’ said Lila.

‘You were really good,’ Wren croaked.

Lila hung her head. ‘Thea invited you?’

‘I don’t know, really.’

Lila peered up. ‘She does sort of collect people.’

Wren almost smiled. ‘I know the feeling.’

‘It wasn’t like I was expecting it to be, playing live.’

‘Oh?’

‘I don’t know, it’s stupid. I thought I’d feel different, after,’ she said, laughing.

Wren’s chest felt tight. He clutched the edge of a rain-slick table.

‘Hey, breathe, okay?’ said Lila. She put a hand on Wren’s shoulder and he jumped away from it, shocked as if by static.

‘Christ, I’m sorry.’ Wren laughed, and it didn’t sound like it belonged to him. He leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. He swallowed the air, trying to get his heart to stop hammering so wildly, but the streetlights were leering and his ribcage was caving in, and he couldn’t think except that he was somehow dying, and it didn’t make any sense, and he was stupid, so stupid, always so stupid.

‘Wren.’ Joel put his hand on Wren’s shoulder. ‘Do you want to sit down?’

Wren laughed with surprising force and nearly knocked over a tiny bistro table designed to hold an ashtray and nothing much else. Joel put a steadying hand on Wren’s arm. Wren stared at his tobacco stained fingers.

‘You’re okay, dude,’ said Joel. ‘It’s alright.’

‘Fuck,’ said Wren. Hot tears slid down his cheeks. ‘I’m an idiot.’

Joel dropped his hand. ‘You’re not, alright? It’s not stupid.’

Lila stared at them both. ‘Shit. I thought I recognised you,’ she said to Joel. ‘You’re from Infinite Eyes.’

Joel frowned. ‘How’d that take you so long? You just played a tribute act to us.’

They spoke, but Wren barely heard the conversation. His ears were ringing. He sat down at one of the tables, shoulders slumping as the tension eased out of him just a little bit.

‘You hear that, Wren? One of those originals from the set was about Tyler. He’d have loved that, wouldn’t he?’

Wren swallowed hard. ‘Fuck, I miss him.’

Joel’s expression was strange. His eyes flickered back and forth between each of Wren’s. ‘Yeah, me too.’

Lila had gone. Joel sat in the other chair at the tiny table, fumbling in his pockets for a moment. He glanced briefly at the security guard before he lit his joint. ‘Here,’ he said after he’d taken a breath of it. ‘It’ll help.’

Wren took it, breathing the earthy smoke deep. He wanted it to fill the hollowness that had ripped fresh inside of him. It was funny that such an old wound could still bleed so easily. He wrapped his free arm around his chest and closed his eyes.

Wren laughed, the sound tumbling out of him of its own accord. ‘Do you really think he’d have wanted all of this?’

‘Tribute nights, you mean?’

‘The viral success, people trying to figure him out. An album.’

Joel shrugged. ‘Yeah. I do.’

‘Maybe,’ said Wren.

Joel shook his head. ‘Don’t. You can tell us no, if you want. But that’s you saying it. Laura is a prick and she’s got him so wrong, but she was right about this; he’d have given anything for this kind of a shot.’

Wren took a deep breath. Maybe everyone online was right, and that’s what Tyler had done, in the end. Died for what he believed in.

Wren squashed that thought as soon as it came to him. It was the music, the weed, the booze. It was stupid sentiment getting washed up with hopeful words and tabloid spin. No. Tyler hadn’t died for anything. Wren was there. He saw it. He held him in his arms when it happened. It was not beautiful and tragic. He’d rattled like his chest was full of pennies and bits of old wood. He’d hung on for days muttering words that made no sense. He made Wren promise to take the album tracks off his blog, without telling Joel and Laura. Bury it, he’d said. He told Wren he was going to finish it. That they needed to hide the workings so the answer would seem more impressive. He was small in Wren’s arms. Wren told him he loved him. Tyler was too far gone to hear, by then.

‘It fucking mattered,’ said Joel, abruptly.

Wren stared at him.

Joel grinned. ‘All that stupid shit came to something in the end. Look at that.’ He pointed through the window at the people laughing inside. The sound of an old Infinite Eyes’ recording hummed beneath the chatter, only recognisable for what it was now Wren was really paying attention. Tyler’s voice was drowned by the conversation. Lila was smiling, her arm looped through that of her guitarist as she nodded enthusiastically at something. ‘That’s what it’s all about, for me anyway. People like that.’

Wren closed his eyes. He could just make it out, the buzz of low sound that was Tyler coming through the speakers. The words were lost, but the melody was there, softened by the distance. It wasn’t even a ghost, not really. It was an echo. Old words, repeated, distorted. It barely meant anything at all, the sounds just ricocheting off the walls, not coming from anyone in particular. They didn’t belong to Tyler anymore.

Fig. 30.

KEEP IT TRILL

BRITISH INDEPENDENT MUSIC REVIEW

VISIONS OF THE PHOENIX – ONE TO WATCH

Rising out of the ashes of recent posthumous success-story Infinite Eyes, Visions of the Phoenix are set to bring the new-northern sound to its glittering best

With their raw, lo-fi sound, Visions of the Phoenix are a far cry from most of the acts creeping up the charts this year, with the exception of Infinite Eyes. Visions’ own story of success is closely tied to that of the now infamous three-piece who were finally rewarded for their years in obscurity by a viral video last year. Visions’ own tale is far less tragic, and their new-found platform is much less hard-won. Seeming to arrive out of nowhere and already on a clear path towards success, their EP, ‘We Rise’ is set for release at the end of this month.

The band has its roots in York’s queer-punk scene; lead guitarist, Ash Samsara, met original vocalist Harry Jones at a performance of the much beloved all-lesbian band F**k Off Our C**ts. Within a few weeks they started working on material together, and quickly found themselves wanting for a rhythm section. After months of unsuccessful searching, they eventually poached bassist Katy West and drummer Cyrus Bennett from a Radiohead cover’s band with the embarrassing moniker of ‘Stereoface’.

Despite their jagged sound and the scratchy vocal stylings of their original frontman, Visions were never truly comfortable as part of York’s grassroots queer punk scene. The few articles of coverage they eked out of the student newspapers called them ‘try-hards’ and ‘pretenders’, saying they lacked the raw gumption of other bands on the circuit. Where Samsara’s openness about being transgender and West and Bennett’s vocal bisexuality proved their authenticity as members of the LGBTQ+ community, Jones’ refusal to openly discuss his orientation led some to question whether he ought to be a part of the scene. When he disastrously failed to confirm his support of the legalisation of gay marriage in the USA, Visions found it increasingly difficult to find bands willing to share their bill. After a lacklustre attempt to produce an EP, Visions took some time away from performing and rumours abounded that they had spilt up.

They re-emerged some months later as a cover’s band, playing top twenty hits along a regular circuit of York’s more touristy pubs, as well as at weddings and events. In their spare time, Visions worked on original music they released themselves online, to little applause. After two years of earning a steady income from covers gigs and working on their own material as a side-project, Jones grew frustrated with the lack of movement and defected to join up-and-coming punk band Cyber Militia.

Without a lead singer, it seemed very much like the dream was over for Visions of the Phoenix. Its remaining members saw themselves relegated to playing in garages with various friends stepping in to sing lead whilst they searched for a permanent successor to Jones.

Cue the publication of that now-infamous video about Infinite Eyes last September. Samsara had long insisted that they include at least one Infinite Eyes song in every set they did. He’d been a teenager when Infinite Eyes’ lead singer, Tyler Brundle, died of cancer, but he’d managed to sneak into one of their shows with a fake ID. On his twitter, he talked about this being a defining moment in his life; ‘the moment he decided music was what he wanted to do’. It seemed like a natural progression for Visions to become an Infinite Eyes cover band, but they still had no lead singer.

Of the many friends that had stepped in to sing for the band during their rehearsals, one of them, Lila Beckett, stood out. Making up for what she lacked in stature with her powerful vocals, she wowed the bands’ twitter followers with a version of much-beloved Infinite Eyes song, ‘Nepenthe’. Within weeks they’d been offered the top slot on the bill of the first Infinite Eyes tribute night at Colloquium.

Colloquium has been long known for its live music by York’s thriving student community, but is perhaps most famous for being the venue where Infinite Eyes made their debut. Out of providence, Infinite Eyes’ bass player, Joel Dawkins, had turned up for the event and saw something of himself in Visions. He quickly convinced bandmate and drummer Laura Plath that Visions were worth their attention. They plugged Vision’s new shows and seem to have played a hand in securing them a steady flow of new gigs. In the last month alone, Visions have played in Birmingham, Chester, Liverpool, Huddersfield and Stoke-on-Trent, with more gigs all over the country scheduled until they stop abruptly. It has not escaped the notice of fans that this hiatus is suspiciously close to the date Infinite Eyes’ album is rumoured to be released.

Despite the inevitable backlash that comes with what could be perceived as unearned helping-hand, Visions are cultivating a slew of fans of their own, and with good reason. Visions’ sound is brimming with the promise of relative brilliance, although some of their lyrics are a little on the nose (one of the tracks from the new EP opens with the staggeringly blunt line ‘we are the voice of the misunderstood’). On stage, they are playing for each other as much as for the crowd, and it’s captivating and exciting to watch. Beckett in particular has an eclectic, twitchy energy that is sure to see her gracing the covers of magazines in the near future. It’s a promising start for what is already being called the New Northern sound.

The Visions EP, appropriately titled ‘We Rise’, is set for release on the twenty-ninth of this month, and the album they inevitably have in the works will definitely be one to watch out for. It may well be that this is a band on the rise to brilliance, but only time will tell. It will be interesting to see if they can live up to their own clear ambition and the endorsement of Infinite Eyes, but as of now, Visions look set to fill the boots that they will inevitably leave behind. Let’s just hope it does take the death of the lead singer to get them there.

Fig. 31. Marnie

SNAPSHOT

Good afternoon Ms. DeLillo,

Thank you for your email. We’ve reviewed your request for a press pass to INFINITE EYES: BACK FROM THE DEAD TOUR but unfortunately as press passes are extremely limited for this show we’re not able to pass one on to you at this time.

As all venues for the tour are sold out, we aren’t able to procure VIP or General Admission tickets on your behalf, either. We’d suggest checking directly with the box office at the venue of your choice, as sometimes they have priority waiting lists.

The rest of the email was useless. Other shows she could go to, for bands she didn’t care about, and her usual prompt for her article of the week. She stared at it until the words wiggled on the screen and the letters teased apart into meaningless squiggles. That was it. it was over. She was never going to see them.

Marnie slammed her laptop shut and got to her feet. There was a low mumble of chatter downstairs. The hallway smelled like casserole, and there were vases and vases of flowers on the side-table. They’d started arriving at the beginning of the week. It was just like after it happened, in the first few days. The neighbours had kept popping in, swapping out the wilting blooms with new ones fresh from the florist in the next town over. Marnie had only eaten casseroles cooked in other people’s ovens for weeks. The smell made her queasy.

‘Marnie.’ Her mother was at the foot of the stairs, looking up. She had a glass of sparkling wine in her hand, and her cheeks were smudged with mascara cut with foundation. ‘Come down. Everyone would love to see you.’

Marnie strongly doubted that was true. She could feel tears bubbling in her own throat. Her mother continued to stare at her, expectant. Marnie shook her head.

Her mother closed her eyes and nodded once. ‘There’s food in the kitchen, if you want it.’

‘I know.’

Marnie’s mother waved her hand and turned away.

Marnie kept standing in the hallway. Kim’s door was singing out to her. The foam letters stuck on the wood, spelling out her name, and the wooden sign warning their parents to keep out. Their parents hadn’t paid attention to the sign when Kim had been alive, but they did now. Marnie skimmed the doorknob with her fingers. The metal was cold. She hurried into her own bedroom and slammed the door.

Marnie sat on the edge of her bed and checked her phone. Her text to Cherry about not getting Infinite Eyes tickets was unanswered, but Marnie wasn’t surprised; they hadn’t talked for almost two weeks now, not since the new Infinite Eyes song had come out. This time last year, they’d already been talking about planning Tyler’s thirtieth birthday. Marnie hidden upstairs in her room frantically texting underneath her blanket, waiting for everyone to leave so she could turn up the music. She’d had to turn vibrate off on her phone for fear someone would come and check who was texting her so frantically. Marnie was pretty sure that she’d have been in trouble for talking about Tyler on a day like that. Yelled at for her eagerness. Little twists of guilt had coiled around her excitement as she’d heard the people downstairs swapping stories about Kim that were only half true.

It was supposed to be different this year. They’d had two Christmases without Kim, two of her birthdays. It had all felt so raw, last summer. Kim would have been off to university, sharing blurry photos of nightclubs and strangers along with all of her friends. Instead people talked about her like she wasn’t ever real, like she was a story, and poured over photographs like they belonged to someone else.

The front door closed downstairs, rattling Marnie’s window. She crept over and peered out, watched the Johnsons from next door retreating across the lawn. They’d always been complaining that Kim played her music too loud, that she and Marnie were mongrels, crawling all over the rooftops. Now Kim was a sweet, clever girl, always with a kind word for them. The one time she’d gone around to help Mr Johnson pick apples from his tree had grown, weed-like, into Kim helping him out in the garden, like it was a regular occurrence, like she hadn’t had to go and help pick the apples because she’d been spotted trying to steal one over the fence.

Marnie opened the window and clambered up onto the ledge. She didn’t do it often, now. It wasn’t the same on her own. She lowered her feet so they rested against the side of the gutter, and shimmied over the tiles. She’d never climbed over to Kim’s room. It was always Kim that had come to her, rapped her knuckles on the glass. Marnie touched her sister’s windowpane, knocked it three times. Kim was not there to answer.

Marnie wrapped her arms around herself. She wouldn’t go to visit Kim’s grave with her parents. If Kim was anywhere, it was in there. The window was unlocked, open slightly. Her mum must have gone in there earlier that day. She did that sometimes, sat on the bed with door ajar. Marnie would see her staring blankly forwards.

Marnie pulled the window wide and slipped inside. Her feet were muffled by Kim’s rug. Kim had made it herself from old t-shirts, cut into thin strips and tied together. Marnie crouched down, ran her hands over the surprisingly firm fabric. It had been an art project, for school. Marnie followed a bright pink thread with her finger, scratching lightly at the knots. She imagined Kim squatting in the corner of the art room at school, frowning as she’d pulled these pieces together into something new.

Kim’s walls were plastered with posters, but she had liked more bands than Marnie did. There was one hand-drawn Infinite Eyes poster right above her bed frame. Marnie gulped when she saw it, taking a tentative step closer to trace the edges of the paper. It had been smoothed over a lot, the bumps of sticky tack holding it to the wall standing proud.

There was a pile of clothes over the back of Kim’s desk chair. It was a wonder they hadn’t gathered dust. The fluffy pink cat jumper Marnie had bought for her was at the bottom of the pile, its sleeve hanging like a tail from under Kim’s jeans. The wardrobe, too, was covered in posters around the mirror hung over the door.

There was the corner of a book poking out from the top of Kim’s wardrobe. Marnie had never noticed it before, crowded beneath Kim’s collection of plush animals. She frowned at it, half reach up to grab it, and stopped herself.

Marnie peered at her reflection there. She had a perfect view of herself from where she was standing. She smoothed her fringe, adjusted her now-long hair over her shoulders. There was a photo of Kim right next to the mirror, smiling from between two of her friends. They really did look like each other now.

Marnie grabbed the book, shoving the plushies back so they didn’t fall down with it. She clutched the book to her chest, holding her breath and screwing up her face.

Nothing happened. The plushies stayed put. Nobody came running up the stairs to stop her. Marnie released a shaky breath.

It was a small, leather bound book with a band of elastic holding it shut. A diary. Marnie looked over her shoulder at the door, but it remained closed. There was a triangle of dust over one of the cover’s corners, the part that had been poking out from beneath the plushies. Marnie swiped it away with her thumb.

Marnie’s fingers trembled as she snapped off the elastic. The spine creaked as Marnie opened the book. The first page was blank, and it seemed like only a few of the others had been written on. Maybe there were other, older diaries buried under the rest of the toy bears. Marnie stood on her tiptoes, but she couldn’t see any. Rummaging around up there would definitely have been going too far. Just holding this in her hands was probably too much. Kim would have been angry. She’d have yelled, if she’d seen Marnie about to pry into her private thoughts.

A shudder of relief tumbled out of her as she finally flipped the page; the handwriting she discovered was messy and imperfect. Marnie giggled as she flipped through pages of descriptions; people Kim hated in class; games of hangman with her friends; scribbled hearts with boys’ names cradled inside of them, names Marnie didn’t recognise. She turned another leap and her heart jumped up to her throat. In large letters, traced over several dozen times, Kim had written ‘I LOVE TYLER BRUNDLE’. The words were surrounded by hearts and stars, coloured in with neon pens. There was a lip-gloss kiss in the corner of the page and Marnie traced it just barely with her finger, unwilling to smudge the years-old mark.

Marnie read on.

Infinite eyes are the greatest band that ever lived.
I love them so effing much.
Tyler is the centre of the world.
I can’t believe it went on turning after he died.
It feels so pointless.
He was so powerful, so good.
He speaks to me like nobody else can.
How can that be, when I’ve never met him, and he’s been dead for so long already?
I don’t think anyone will be able to understand me, not like he can.

The breath caught in Marnie’s throat. She turned the page over.

He said it made him feel alive, when he was hurting.
He was so brave, but in so much pain.
I wish I could talk to him about it.
About this.
I think he’d know what it means to feel trapped.
Like there is no way you can ever get out from under all the weight of the world.
That’s the thing about people like Tyler.
The world isn’t big enough to hold them.
It’s not big enough to hold him.
That’s why he had to go.
That’s why he had to leave.

Marnie snapped the book shut. She felt dizzy. She shoved the book back on the top of the wardrobe. The air in Kim’s bedroom felt close. The walls were crowding her in. She could feel rage in her throat and tried to swallow it back. Marnie shrank away from the wardrobe with her hands over her mouth. Her eyes trailed over the many faces of the many frontmen that peered down from Kim’s walls, all of them watching.

Marnie climbed back out onto the rooftop. Was that what Kim had thought? That the world wasn’t big enough to hold her? She slammed Kim’s window shut tight, sealing the tomb again. She shimmied across the tiles and back into her own bedroom, slamming that window shut too. On other days, her mum would have come rushing up, yelling at her, but not today. Today there were neighbours and flowers and casseroles. And Kim was the one who thought she was trapped.

Marnie fell onto her mattress. She curled her knees up to her chest. Tyler had spoken to Kim, like he spoke to Marnie, but he’d said such different things. He’d always spoken to Marnie about pain and bitterness, about how it was too soon for him to disappear from the world, about holding on and holding out, about needing to stay more than anything else. How had he not said that to her? Why had Kim heard something so different from him? If Kim had listened right, if she’d heard what Marnie did in Tyler’s voice, seen him the way Marnie did, she wouldn’t have done it. Kim had got it all so wrong. She’d got Tyler so wrong.

‘She got it all wrong, didn’t she?’ Marnie demanded of the photo beside her bed.

Tyler said nothing. He continued to half-smile from behind the glass. Marnie threw the picture at her pillows, facedown.

‘You got it all wrong, Kim,’ Marnie said. She rolled onto her back. Tyler stared down wordlessly at her from the ceiling. Furious, Marnie stood on the mattress and tore him down, scrunching the paper in her hands. ‘Why didn’t you talk to her like you talked to me?’ Marnie threw the ball of paper across her room. It barely made a sound when it hit the wall.

The Infinite Eyes song she’d been listening to trickled out of Marnie’s speakers. A tiny sob trembled on Marnie’s lips, but she choked it back. ‘Why did you have to be dead?’

She clicked her music player closed. Underneath it, her internet browser was open on Tyler’s blog. A photograph was half-visible at the bottom of the window, Tyler with a thin fuzz of hair on his head. His match-stick arm was around his boyfriend’s shoulders, both of them dappled in the shade of an unseen tree. He would have taken it maybe a month before he died, posted it in late June. She wondered if it was the last time he went outside.

Tyler’s boyfriend’s face was half in the frame, blurred with movement. He was smiling, the expression smeared as he turned his head. Wren Abelard. Something thick and sweet rose in the back of Marnie’s throat. Where did he go, when he needed to be alone with Tyler? Did he even want him at all? Did this half-obscured man have any idea the privilege he’d had, to sit so close to someone so blisteringly bright? To have known Tyler Brundle at all.

Marnie opened a new tab. Cemeteries in York, UK.