The Unanswerable Mystery by Katie Clarke

A BRIEF EXCHANGE AT THE BRANDED LYNX

He smelt of whiskey. Metal. Cigar smoke. Hops. A musky smell completely unique to him that acted as a warning to any naive soul that considered approaching him. Not that it wasn't a common combination of smells (for many a gentleman possessed a similar scent), the difference was simply its extraordinary strength. It was heavy and sour, so dense it was almost suffocating. The air that followed him was so thick with the smell that even at a distance one could taste the ash that settled on the skin on one’s lips. A stench, it seemed to many, quite suiting for its cold, melancholy possessor: a man who lurched and lingered like such a stench himself.

His face itself was equally as intense. Deep-set, a permanent frown that sucked all definition from his features. Scars were lost in the folds of his brow, though he was the kind of man who would make it his priority to let you know that they were there. The hair on his head was dark and as slick as the fur on a greyhound’s muzzle, and the hair on his chin, whilst patchy in places and uneven, was the same. On his torso he wore a double-breasted waistcoat over a cuffed shirt. Everything was pressed, shoes shined and pointed (though noticeably scuffed at the toe), his daily outfit so perfect that one would believe him to be attending a wedding - or funeral - or both. 

She, on the contrary, was a fallen angel. Her skin was smooth, covered almost entirely with tiny red freckles, which hid the pockmarks and craters upon her face which she had obtained in her youth. Her hair was a fusion of cherries and fire and sex, which contrasted the innocent, childish temperament she possessed. Her breath smelt so pungently of gypsophila that even the loyalest of men were drawn in by scent alone. She, of course, rejected their friendly advances. Not because she believed herself to be above them, nor did she believe the reverse. He would not let her. She would not let herself. Instead, she sat alone (or with him, depending on his own whereabouts), wearing a contented, distant expression. Partially because of her natural curiosity and distance, partially to escape the dullness of her reality. He treated her as he treated his favourite hound, and she would roll over at his every request. Every inch, every emotion, every single fiber of her being belonged to him. All the colour he lacked was made up for by her vibrant personality and he, a jealous and proud man, made sure her vibrancy was always hidden. He couldn’t have her leaving him. He enjoyed her too much. She entertained him, as a good lady should do, and he believed her to be reliant on him. And she, in fact, believed so too.

They often resided in The Branded Lynx, a drinking location that was decided by him, of course. They moved symbiotically, and when he was not at work he preferred to enjoy her company in public rather than in private.The establishment itself oozed opulence and class, with hanging lights suspended on gallows and a large black clock nailed on the wall left of the entrance, which seemed to lack any particular function. This fascinated her. The clock existed only to be admired for its ironic timelessness, nothing more. The timepiece took up almost the entire wall, which wasn’t difficult as it was a small establishment. Yet the place, even on its busiest days, seemed to always be sparse and the few who remained inside were always so miserable and alone, even in their herds of two or three. The only smile in the establishment belonged to the bartender and even then that felt like the smile of a ventriloquist. Fake and forced; there only for the benefit of the matinée. The punters ran like clockwork, with porcelain skin and glass eyes, grasping their drinks in their shaky fingers and rolling their heads to face the door to watch as people entered and, every now and again, left.

She ran her fingers through her hair, watching as he pruned at the fluff which had accumulated on her tights. His fingers were fleshy and covered in matted fur, and as he plucked at her legs she chose to ignore the primitive expression on his face. The bartender had brought over the second round of drinks at this point, a Hennessy for him and a soda spritzer for her, which she sipped tentatively whilst he watched her do so. The liquid in her glass fizzed peculiarly and she pretended to ignore it, ensuring that nobody else could see the little chunks of white which bobbed around like goldfish suffocating in a fish tank. She swirled it around, swallowing the bitter liquid and squinting as she did so. He watched. All the time he watched, his eyes clasped keenly on her lips.

“Our apartment could use a clock like that.” She raised her hand and pointed towards the timepiece. Her voice quivered, as did her fingers, so she clasped her fist back around the glass and continued to sip quietly.

For a while there was no reply.

He cleared his throat. “Ridiculous, the apartment is fine as it is. You’re fussing.”

She hated to fuss. “But Christopher, I get so bored of our white walls. I want something to look at when you’re gone. A small flower, a mirror or-”

“Sophie. No.” He spoke sternly, his fist gripping hers. It was tighter than he had intended but he decided to maintain the grip. She yelped. A nearby punter rolled her head around to observe but he swiftly released his grip, retreated and fixed his collar. “Drink up. I have work tonight so you need to go home.” She obeyed.

The little white rocks slid down her throat, leaving pinkish blisters upon her lips and down her chin. Not once did she flinch or whimper as the fizzing liquid scolded the flesh inside her neck and on her stomach, not even as the organs within her compressed, leaving her in a breathless heap on the floor. She lunged forward and grabbed the cuff of his sleeve, convulsing, foaming at the mouth. The pain was worthwhile. She no longer belonged to him - or did she? Maybe this meant she would belong to him forever, and she could never tell him otherwise (not that she would have anyway). The convulsing stopped and the grip she had on his shirt became weaker, and as she exhaled a heavy, weighted breath she could taste and smell the almonds dancing within it. Every ounce of her was in pain. It was intense and ceaseless, and then not at all. Eyes closing, she smiled. Over.

He smiled, too. It was not like the contented or peaceful smile which she left upon her face. It was malicious and victorious. A smile which could wilt even the most beautiful flower, a smile that could halt the very circulation of the universe with just a glance. It was evil, as evil as the man possessing it. He fixed his collar. Not a single punter within the joint turned their mechanical skulls, not a single eye flickered in the direction of the beautifully motionless woman who rested so peacefully on the carpet, and the bartender continued to grin. He grabbed his glass and drowned himself in the contents, crunching the cubes of ice between the mouthfuls of Hennessy. His waistcoat remained pristine, and after he had wiped the ashy white powder from his trousers he straightened himself up. Nothing about him had changed, he remained calm and blank, and even as he glanced at the clock upon the wall as he opened the door, he did not once turn his head to look at the lady on the floor. Maybe it was pride, or disconnection. He couldn’t let her leave him, and he didn’t. That was all that mattered.