Part Two: Embers

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 (fitting PIC Lines, chemotherapy)
References to alcohol and drug use
Description of throwing up
Mentions of sex

Fig. 6.

POPJAM! Your No.1 Music News Source!

October 21st, 2019 06:45


Have you heard of Infinite Eyes? Me neither! Here’s why they should be your new favourite band, but make sure you have a box of tissues nearby, we certainly needed them by the end of this video!


You can find more Infinite Eyes music on their blog here, and more from the amazing Marnie DeLillo here and here. You can also follow her on twitter and Instagram! What was your favourite part of the video? Did you cry as much as we did?! Be sure to let us know in the comments!

10,487 views * 4,001 Sad Face! * 892 WTF!?!?! * 302 likes * 422 dislikes


DeanAndCo98: the snowflakes are taking over music

Beetlebum says: dude I was not expecting to cry at a youtube video before I even had breakfast. Rude. But that was seriously amazing. Definitely going to check this band out now

PhoenixBoy99 says: These were my jam when I was a teenager! Psyched to see they’re finally getting the love they deserve!

CasGetOutOfMyA** says: Dang girl, you’ve earned yourself a follow! So sad that I’ve only just discovered these guys, these songs are just so perfect and you’ve captured them so perfectly in this video. I wish we could hear more from them, it’s so sad he was lost so young. Why do the worst things always happen to the best people?

Fig. 7. Lila

Lila crossed out what she had written and tore the page from her notebook. She scrunched it in her hands and threw it over the coffee table, where it joined the growing pile on the floor. She chewed the end of her pen. What they never tell you about the people that hurt you is that you miss them when they’re gone, she wrote. She sighed, threw the notebook onto the table, and flopped back against the sofa.

Lila’s phone pinged on the table. She picked it up, expecting a text, but instead found that someone had liked her comment on the Infinite Eyes video she’d first watched with Thea. There were still only a handful of comments, all of them gushing over Marnie, the girl with the razor fringe, or Tyler, the beleaguered popstar that was her muse. Lila clicked away from the video to Marnie’s website. She almost dropped her phone when it started blaring out a scratchy recording of very loud guitars, quickly muting the player at the bottom of the page.

The website was not what she’d been expecting from the lavish praise of Marnie’s video. The background was off white, the site’s name, ‘Infinite Thorns’, printed simply at the top above a knot of scratchily sketched thorns. The only colour was in the tiny, half-bloomed roses scattered along the branches. Lila scrolled down, passing numerous analyses of song lyrics and prose pieces waxing lyrical about the band. Finally, she stumbled across a picture of Tyler standing on stage. It was black and white, taken with the flash on so his skin was washed blindingly white. His shirt was ragged, sticking to him with sweat that glistened in his dark hair. The picture was unremarkable; at a glance it could have been any number of front men. She wouldn’t have blinked if she’d seen it on the wall in a music shop somewhere.

What caught her eye was the edge of the bar, just creeping into the frame, and the picture of fruit hanging on the wall just behind Tyler’s shoulder. He was not on stage at all, but crammed into the corner at one of her favourite pubs. It was only a short walk from Thea’s flat and they’d been there just a few nights ago. Elliot had never liked it in there; it was too gloomy, he said, and they didn’t serve enough whiskey. By this virtue it was one of the few places in York that Lila could go to where she didn’t feel the need to check over her shoulder so often. She and Thea had been to see Ash, Katy and Cyrus’ band play there before the lead singer had quit, playing from that same tiny corner. Someone had tripped over the lead to Ash’s guitar on their way back from the loo. Despite standing less than six feet from the door to the disabled toilets, Tyler Brundle managed to look like a rock star.

Lila had always assumed Infinite Eyes were a big deal somewhere else. Ash and Thea seemed to love them with a kind of ferocity she only associated with the properly famous. Marnie’s site wasn’t very well frequented, though, and when she looked them up on google all she got from before Marnie’s video went live were a handful of sad social media posts, a blog that was full of directionless ramblings, and a single article by the university’s student paper, Nouse. The videos and sound files only had a couple of thousand plays each, even though they’d been online for more than half a decade. They were nobodies, and it was probably only because they came from York that Ash and Thea had even heard of them.

‘Happy Wednesday. Everyone I know is a prick, and I’ve brought wine to celebrate.’ She held the bottle out for Lila to take. A tiny little picture of the devil leered up at her from the label.

‘Oh, an eight quid bottle. You’ve splashed out.’

‘Only the best for my best girl,’ said Thea. She peered around the flat, a frown slowly replacing her smile. Lila blushed and hurried started to gather up the crumpled paper from the floor, bundling it in her arms. It kept skittering across the laminate flooring.

‘I didn’t realise the time,’ said Lila.

Thea picked up the now incredibly slim notebook from the coffee table. Lila snatched it off her, losing a few crumpled paper balls in the process. ‘Is that poetry?’

‘It’s nothing,’ Lila snapped.

Lila rubbed her eyes. She wasn’t sure what had been trying to do, exactly. For most of her life, she’d kept a diary. She had them going all the way back to when she was five or six, writing about playground squabbles and the toys she’d got for Christmas. She’d left a lot of them back at her and Elliot’s flat. She wondered what had happened to them, if he’d kept them, if he’d read them. she imagined him turning the old pages, reading the thoughts she’d poured onto the page. He’d said it was stupid; why did she need to talk to a book when she could talk to him, instead? He’d probably just thrown them out.

Lila snapped the notebook shut and carried on tidying up. She’d written him an email, the first week after she left. It had taken days for her to write, tiny words eked from the darkness deep inside of her. It had been angry, pleading, desperate, depending on her mood when she’d opened her laptop. Her intent swung on a pendulum between wanting to say she was sorry and wanting him to understand what he had done. It was just that he didn’t understand, she had thought. They’d been together from when they were both so young, they’d lived in each other’s pockets. They’d fought like siblings had fought. He just didn’t understand that he was six-foot-tall, and she was not able to fight back the way he could.

Thea said he knew that. Thea said that there was no point in trying to explain that he had hurt her, in trying to make him understand that it was wrong. He knew it was wrong, he knew it before he did it, he knew it as it was happening, and he still knew it afterwards. Thea had taken her laptop, blocked all of Elliot’s contacts. Lila was no good at computers and didn’t know how to undo it. She could have googled it, found out. It couldn’t have been that difficult. If she had really wanted to talk to him, she could have just gone to the pub where he worked.

With Thea’s help, the floor was clear and the recycling bin overflowing within minutes.

Thea launched into a long anecdote about her day, assembling the tools to make a stir fry. Lila was grateful for her, as she often was. She had a solid kind of presence that Lila thought anyone would find reassuring, a quiet firmness underpinning everything she did, as though she always knew exactly what she was doing.

Lila thought it unusual that Ash and Thea got along so well. She was a fan of his band, but she was decidedly not the groupie type, and had a pretty terrible ear for music when it was called for. Infinite Eyes was a part of it. Ash, Thea, the rest of Visions of the Phoenix – Ash’ band – they all grew up in York, went to the same high school, hearing rumours about Infinite Eyes and spotting their ratty old posters where they peeked out between ads for new cocktails and the numbers for taxi firms.

Lila had only come to York with Elliot. It was where they were supposed to be making a home together. He had some family nearby, aunties, uncles, cousins with children and dogs. The plan was to take a year, earn some money before they started at the university, but he said they still didn’t have enough money, twice, three times. He thought Infinite Eyes were a bit of a joke. Lila had thought so too, and never listened to them, for all of Thea’s raving. Now she wished she was in on it.

She pulled up YouTube, searched for Infinite Eyes and was returned with dozens of videos. Tyler Brundle was a lot fiercer looking that he had been in the clips in the video Ash had shown her. Something was sharp about him. Lila couldn’t stop staring. He oozed with an angry energy that seeped right into Lila’s bones. She was hungry for it, desperate for it. It was four in the morning when she finally closed her laptop and sprawled into the single bed in Thea’s spare room. Her heart was pounding in her throat. The image of Tyler was burned into her mind. She wanted it. That boldness, that rage. She wanted it for herself.

She rolled onto her back and pulled her phone out of the pocket of her dressing gown. Hey Ash. I’m in for the lead singer thing if you still want me.

Fig. 8. Tyler


Laura knocked on the door of the tiny bathroom. The walls were covered in layers of scrawled messages, the messy autographs of a hundred local legends, quickly inked advertisements for tiny shows. Tyler had written his name the first time they’d played here. Remember Tyler Brundle. He’d meant it as a warning. Now it felt like an obituary.

Tyler’s chest was throbbing, a dull ache radiating out towards the numbing pain in his back. He threw up. Again. They’d told him to expect this. They said it would be better by Monday. Monday felt very far away.

‘Tyler, are you done yet? We’re on in like three minutes, so get your shit together,’ Laura shouted through the door.

‘Hang on.’ Tyler dabbed his mouth with a wad of toilet paper. He felt the thin tubes through the fabric of his shirt. The plastic ends knocked against his clammy skin. The place where the tubes disappeared into him was covered by a clear sheet of plastic. The nurse hadn’t managed to get all the bubbles out and the creases in the dressing were already getting on his nerves. They’d have to change them every week, they said, and he couldn’t get them wet. No more stripping off his shirt on stage. Joel and Laura were going to notice. They were going to find out. Maybe Laura wouldn’t care but Joel would want him to stop, to rest, to be a good little patient. Tyler’s skin prickled. None of that would matter if he couldn’t make it through tonight’s set. Monday might as well have been a decade away.

‘You can have forty seconds,’ said Laura.

Tyler heard the step outside the door creak as he walked off. Tyler threw up again; horrible disgusting tasting water-based puke that kept coming up no matter how certain he was he had nothing left in his churning body. He put his hand over the Hickman line in his chest, pressing against the gentle throb. He refilled the plastic cup he had in his hand with water from the tap and took a delicate sip. It tasted like cleaning fluid and made him gag. He threw up again, gasping.

‘Christ, what the fuck have you taken?’

‘About eight inches of silicone, right in the chest,’ said Tyler, on impulse.

Laura growled with annoyance and didn’t ask for an explanation. ‘Can you stand on the stage and hold your guitar?’

Tyler heaved himself to his feet and peered at himself in the mirror. He was a mess. He could feel himself trembling slightly. The stage would be dark; it would hide the worst of it. He was sure he could make it through this. It was just a matter of perseverance. ‘I can do it.’

‘Come on, then. You can die in half an hour.’

Tyler straightened his shirt and opened the door.

Laura grimaced. ‘You look like shit.’

‘I know.’

Laura fished a stubby pencil from the pocket of her jeans and hesitated with it only when she was an inch from Tyler’s face.

‘Go ahead,’ said Tyler. ‘I let a complete stranger drive a needle into my pelvis last week. This is nothing by comparison.’

‘Is that an innuendo?’ Laura asked.

‘Unfortunately, no,’ said Tyler. He lifted his guitar from next to the sink. He slung it over his shoulder and took a deep breath before following Laura down a short flight of stairs. The stage was a pop up, not quite solid under Tyler’s feet. The black-painted wood was worn thin in places and the cheap pine shone blue under the stage lights. They were only a couple of heads above the crowd, a mass of back-combed hair and see-through shirts. Selling out a sixty-person venue was still selling out.

They’d played this set a hundred times before. Tyler knew the rhythm in his bones, but they were crumbling, now, and his breath kept catching between the lyrics. He sang louder, played harder. He looked back at Laura and she grinned from behind her drums. Joel stepped close, leaning over his bass, but he kept shooting Tyler worried little glances. At the end of the second song Tyler grabbed the mic in both his hands and spat the words, ‘stop looking at me like that’.

Only a few feet away, the small, sweaty throng of the audience screamed. The walls were plastered with posters of bands that would never have been seen dead playing there. Laura faltered counting in the next song in the sudden rush of it. The noise was for them, for him, but he could barely hear it over the sudden ringing in his ears. His throat was aching, and his mouth was sour. He could feel sweat on his brow and a dull, splintering exhaustion at his core that made his knees tremble. Everything was blurred and spinning. He shuddered, clinging to the mic, blinking deliriously at the faceless crowd and the posters of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix leering from the walls.

As Tyler’s gaze settled, he spotted Wren. He was at the front of the crowd, his head appropriately level with Tyler’s waist, only three feet away from him. He was smiling, and in the soft green stage lights, he was radiant. Tyler had almost forgotten he’d invited him. The party where they’d met was five days and a lifetime ago. Before Tyler had tubes in chest. Before the thought had even crossed his mind that maybe pretending like nothing was wrong was a bad idea. Wren was there, and he was watching. He’d turned up to hear them play music, not watch Tyler have a breakdown in front of a hundred people. 

Tyler glanced over his shoulder, looking straight past Joel and over to Laura, waiting poised behind the drum kit. He nodded once, and Laura grinned wide.

‘One more song?’ he said. His drunken crowd were delirious. Wren threw back his head as Tyler met his gaze. ‘Alright then,’ he said. ‘Let’s go out on Nepenthe.’

‘Nepenthe?’ Laura yelled from behind him.

Tyler took a breath and closed his eyes. ‘Yeah.’

‘It’s only half-written. Do Dogfish, like we planned!’

Tyler opened his mouth to argue but was instead of words he had to clap his hands over his face to stop himself from throwing up right at Laura’s feet. She looked at him with furious confusion from behind her drums, Joel standing awkwardly with both hands in front of his bass.

After the heat of the cheap lights, backstage was freezing as Tyler barricaded himself back into the tiny bathroom. He was drenched in sweat, much more than normal, and his arms were shaking as he clutched the edges of the toilet seat.

‘What the actual fuck!’ Laura pounded her fist against the door. ‘You can’t just storm off when you don’t get your way, you know!’

Tyler slumped back against the wall, trying to catch his breath. His mouth felt disgusting and the pain in his chest was becoming astronomical. Laura kept yelling and hammering the door so hard it was a wonder she didn’t reduce it to splinters. Tyler’s heart hammered too, as if his own body was just as angry with him as Laura was. He looped his arms around his knees and closed his eyes, the ringing in his ears getting louder and louder until it was the only thing that existed.

The door knocked into Tyler’s side and he started awake. He’d fallen sideways, nose just inches from the grimy underside of the loo. Joel offered him a hand and tugged him upright.

‘Laura didn’t even check if you’d locked the door before, she started trying to fight it off its hinges,’ said Joel.

Tyler peered past him into the dusty hallway.

‘She’s gone down,’ said Joel. ‘Her exact words were ‘I can’t be fucked with this’.’

Tyler smiled weakly and dropped his head against the wall. The draft from the hallway was freezing but felt glorious against his clammy skin. He watched with half-open eyes as Joel took out a pouch of tobacco already cut with tiny flecks of pale green and expertly rolled a long, thin joint. Joel glanced at the fire alarm, which was hanging off the ceiling, and lit up. The smoke was thick and cloying in Tyler’s mouth, but it rolled through him. He sighed a cloud of it above his head, and Joel copied him.

‘Is something going on?’ Joel asked eventually. ‘Are things, you know, bad again?’

Tyler looked at him for a long moment. Joel wasn’t asking about the myeloma, he was asking because of the mess Tyler had caused not long after they’d started playing together, when he’d very nearly ruined the only thing in his life that mattered by severing the tendons in his wrists. The little finger on his left hand had never been the same, wouldn’t press hard enough against the strings of his guitar. Any chord that needed four fingers always had a strange, half-muted note that wasn’t in the right key. So many times, he’d come so close to taking himself apart, and now he was falling to pieces anyway.

‘I don’t want to die,’ said Tyler.

Joel nodded and took another long drag of smoke. ‘Is it the boy?’

‘What boy?’

‘The blonde one who came to our afterparty last week, after Colloquium.’

Wren. Tyler laughed softly. ‘No. It’s nothing to do with him.’

‘He was here tonight.’

Tyler half-smiled. ‘Right at the front, yeah.’

He wondered what happen, if Wren found out. Maybe he’d just sit beside Tyler through the worst of it, content to be quiet and present. He had felt so solid and unshakeable in Tyler’s arms, asleep that morning.

‘You want to go and see if he’s still here?’ said Joel.

Tyler took a last drag on the stump of his joint before throwing it into the toilet and heaving himself to his feet.

By the time they got downstairs, Wren had gone. They found Laura and a gaggle of her friends in the corner of the club, and she pointedly ignored him as she threw pint after pint down her throat. Tyler sipped on a glass of water, the music fuzzy around him. Songs bled into each other and someone grabbed his wrist. With silent words, he followed the guy in the pale blue shirt out the back door and into an alley filled with beer kegs and the smell of rotting fruit. The guy sank to his knees, and as Tyler wound his fingers into his hair, he was glad for the few speckles of rain that fell on his cheeks, and he did not cry.

Fig. 9. Marnie

Marnie woke up on Saturday morning a month after Tyler’s birthday with what felt like a small drill on the inside of her skull. She was lying on her rug, the front of her body draped over her beanbag. Her laptop was open on the comments section of the birthday video. She heaved herself upright, rubbing her eyes, and the leather bands on her wrists jangled down to her elbows. Stiff from sleeping on the floor, she hobbled, goose-like, to the window. Her mother’s car was gone from the drive. This was the sixth Saturday in a row.

Her laptop chirped brightly, and Marnie nudged it with her toe. A girl called Lila had been messaging her all night about the birthday video, and then about the rest of Marnie’s site. She’d only discovered Infinite Eyes ‘like, last week’ and was thrilled to have found Marnie’s resource. Marnie’s body creaked when she stretched. She pulled on her dressing gown and headed downstairs.

The door to her father’s study was closed. ‘Hey dad?’ she called. He didn’t reply. ‘I’m going to make eggs. Did you eat already?’

‘No,’ he said faintly. Marnie sighed. She looked up at the photo of him on top of the mantel piece. He looked almost handsome. Nobody would say that about him now. He hadn’t shaved for weeks, and she didn’t want to get close enough to find out if he’d showered. It was probably a good job that his brother was happy to take over the restaurant for a while. Marnie knew it was not her place to say, but she was certain the while would be a long one.

Before Kim died, her parents had been ruthless. Neither Marnie nor Kim had ever got away with so much as a putting a blue sock in the with white laundry without being severely reprimanded. Marnie had never minded; she was happy to work hard if it meant she could have her own space when she wanted it.

Kim had never protested either, at least not openly. Since they were both very small, Kim had climbed from the balcony outside her room and on top of the porch. In the summer, she’d climb right into Marnie’s room with no warning. If the window was closed, she had a secret knock. Three short raps, a beat of silence, and then twice more. They would lie side by side on the same purple rug Marnie had just woken up on, heads touching, hands clasped, and whisper stories under their breath so their parents wouldn’t hear them. It had seemed to be in the dead of night to them, just small children, but looking back Marnie realised it could only have been eight or nine o’clock. Kim must have known their parents would be awake and vigilant or else she wouldn’t have climbed, she’d have come right to the door

Kim’s stories were always better than Marnie’s. Sometimes they were so funny she’d laugh or so scary she’d cry, and once she even cried out and their parents came in and caught them in the act. What they couldn’t figure out was how Kim had managed to get from her room and into Marnie’s without them spotting her. Despite this quiet rebellion, when Marnie had stumbled across Kim waiting tables, she was as surprised as either of her parents would have been.

‘They took my phone,’ Kim had told her.

‘They’ll give it you back next week,’ Marnie had reminded her.

Kim had shaken her head. She had looked strange in the unfamiliar uniform. Adult. ‘They’ll take it again if they catch me sneaking out.’

‘You’ve been sneaking out?’ It had been many years since Kim had rapped on Marnie’s window.

‘I don’t want to talk to you about this.’ Kim had looked like a ghost when she said that. Her sister, with whom Marnie had grown up symbiotic, had a secret, separate life. It was frightening.

Marnie looked a lot like her sister. She would look more like her if she grew out her hair, wore a little make up, and spent more time scaling buildings. It was strange to look in the mirror and see the same ghost that she had seen at that diner. Kim had her hair tied back then. She had been wearing an ugly brown tunic over the nice black sweater with the cat, the one that Marnie had picked out for her for Christmas. Looking at each other Marnie had felt this horrible distance between them. She had wanted to reach out to her sister and shake her, but she hadn’t.

Kim would never know Marnie again. They would never share their stories. Marnie wondered sometimes if it would be worse if she did decide to grow her hair, or buy mascara, or tone her abs, or if that uncanniness would be lessened. If she wore Kim’s clothes and slept in her bed and spent time with her friends, then perhaps it wouldn’t matter that Kim was dead.

Marnie took her father a plate of scrambled eggs and slunk back upstairs with her own. Her head was still tender, and after she’d eaten, she slipped right back into sleep without noticing. When she woke up again, it was sunset. Her laptop was trilling at her. Her phone buzzed a few inches from her face.

Marnie yawned. Her mouth felt like cotton wool. A sweet, foul taste like the smell of rotting flesh lurked at the back of her tongue. She rubbed her crusty eyes and sat up, knocking the empty schnapps bottle from under her pillow. A car sped past outside, headlights flashing past Marnie’s window, searchlights on the hunt.

She had twelve messages from Cherry. Her email inbox was inundated. Marnie fumbled with her password and finally got in. Cherry’s last text read, I can’t believe how much they love it! Her emails were from YouTube and the host for the Infinite Eyes site; hundreds upon hundreds of comments from people with their own two cents on Infinite Eyes, on the song, on Marnie.

Another text from Cherry; you’re trending on twitter!

Marnie’s social media notifications went to a separate folder in her email. She didn’t like to know there were people waiting for her to respond to something. It wasn’t until she had been scrolling through her twitter feed for almost an hour that she noticed meteoric rise in followers. Her heart thumped, twice its ordinary size and packing punches to the inside of her sternum. She felt heat creeping up her neck, dying her skin scarlet. She had gone from a meagre three hundred to almost ten thousand followers in just twelve hours. Twelve hours.

She called Cherry immediately. ‘Oh my god,’ she said.

‘Oh my god,’ Cherry repeated. ‘Have you been to the site yet? There’re hundreds of comments. Someone reblogged the birthday video and it’s just exploded everywhere. It’s got more than two hundred thousand views.’

‘Shut the front door,’ said Marnie, hurrying to open a new tab on her browser. Cherry hadn’t been exaggerating. ‘What do we do?’

‘Don’t ask me,’ said Cherry. ‘It’s your baby.’

‘My parents are going to kill me,’ Marnie groaned. Another awful thought dawned on her. She was going to have to go to school on Monday. There was no way that her classmates would have missed something like this. Her name was in the trending section on twitter. She felt sick, and it had nothing to do with her hangover. She curled her knees to her chest.

‘Are you still there?’ said Cherry.


‘Think about what you’ve done.’

Marnie cringed. ‘I’m trying my best not to.’

‘No, seriously. There’s thousands of people listening to Infinite Eyes right now this minute who had never even heard of them before they saw your video. It’s incredible, Marnie.’

Marnie sat up. ‘Oh my god, you’re right.’

‘Just think what he’d say, if he could.’ Marnie could hear the smile in Cherry’s voice.

After she ended the call, Marnie lay on her rug and closed her eyes, her laptop playing a tinny rendition of Kitchen Sink Too. It was one of the few tracks they’d recorded in a studio, and Marnie thought you could hear the beginnings of brilliance hidden within the unfamiliarly polished sounds. She thought about Tyler’s hopes and dreams. He must have had them, even if he never really talked about what he wanted for his band. There was such a hunger in his voice, Marnie thought. He wanted to be famous.

He’d be grateful for what she’d done, wouldn’t he? He’d smile at her softly and pull her close. Maybe there’d be tears in his eyes when he realised it was finally happening, that he was finally happening. She imagined him nestled into the clouds, looking down at her on her rug, listening to his voice. She smiled.