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Amor Platonicus || by L. B. Limbrey

THE TWENTIETH OF NOVEMBER, 1300 hours; a woman gets on a train.

She is not quite young, not quite old: all in grey, she resembles a dying moth.

There was no plan to be here, but here she is: a primeval mania has gripped her.

In a window seat, she leans with her cheek pressed against the window. It purples, suggesting the bloating of a corpse. 

Life flickers past.

In London she gets off the train. She passes through the barrier ticketless, unnoticed by the guard. She lopes through the crowds unseen. 

The sun through the vaulted roof bathes her in a sickly light, making her colourless appearance almost translucent.

She scans the boards for somewhere she recognises. But feels only the tug of the underground, and follows.

She descends; the crush of the city above her makes her queasy: there are buildings, and bodies, and all the weight of all those existences above her. Putting her hood up, she skitters to the train, counting the seconds until she gets to her stop. 418… 419… 420… Apt, she thinks, and almost smiles. Once, she thinks, I would have laughed.

Now another station, another platform, where the light is starting to turn, evening is descending.

From here she goes south. 

Then there is the changing of trains, and she must go further out.


It is as if there is a thread looped around her heart, tugging her towards something, someone.

The train goes out into the countryside, out into the places of her youth, where there were drugs to laugh about, and people to laugh with, and so much to love. The train is a slower beast out here, a clanking brute, its belly starved of passengers.

She alights on a platform an hour and a half out of the city. 

She is here. 

There are only two platforms.

On the other side of the fence there is another line, where faster trains scream as they fly past, on to Gatwick, on to the coast, on to anywhere but here.

And crossing the railway bridge (to the left, not to the right across the faster tracks, which leads to the woods), she feels recognition bloom within her. 

There are no barriers, but she stands in the station’s limits for almost an hour before she decides she can continue. Here, she thinks, I am here, and it has been so long.


A man sits at his kitchen table staring into a glass. Industrial strength bleach stolen from the morgue where he works. It reeks; the sting of its stench burns his throat, like a promise.

He decided a month ago that he wanted to die. 

He was no longer young, but instead fat, cancerous, and lonely; more than enough to kill a man from the inside, he just didn’t want to wait.

So that day, as he swept the mortuary floors, he had made up his mind.

He would finish his work without hitch. He would walk home, across the fields, eat a final, fat-dredged meal, perhaps get a little drunk, or very, very high …

Then he would drink the cleanest wine of all; he would purify his soul; he would finally die.

As he sat, gazing into his cup, he thought about everything that he had loved in his life: women, and weed, and women, and women, until all their faces blurred together in the haze of smoke, and oblivion. For fucking is different to feeling; it is but an extension of sensation.

And he knew that no one would miss him, stuck in his mother’s festering house: family, gone; friends, gone; women, not so easy to charm these days.

Anyway, he reasoned, he swept away the last scraps of the dead – why shouldn’t some other poor bastard come sweep his life away? He couldn’t be his own ferryman, or he could, but only up to a point.

Ashes to ashes, isn’t that the saying? Dust to dust.

He raises the glass to his cracked lips.


And there’s a knock at the door. Timid, but precise.

He sets the glass down. Shakes his head. Clasps the cup once more. Raises it.

The knocking comes again, a little louder, a little surer.

No, no, he thinks, I’m not home, I haven’t been for years, leave me alone, leave me to die in peace. The rim of the glass rests on his cracked bottom lip, he tips the mixture slowly. 

The knock at the door is so fierce he almost drops the cup, but his fingers are so locked around it that he only spills a drop on his shirt. The skin beneath it begins to itch.

“Fine!” he growls, slamming it down on the table top: finally relinquishing his grasp on death.

He lumbers to the door, opens it with a scowl, and sees a woman with her back to him, clad in grey, barely visible in the evening’s half light.

She sees the light seep from the house to her feet and turns to him. 

He says her name, and she nods uncertainly. 

And he crumples at her feet, weeping; hiding his face from her, hiding his tears.

“Come on, love,” she says, hauling him to his feet. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

Her voice is older; rough now as a cat’s tongue, or a concrete wall. 

She sits him down, “Now what’s all this about?” She eyes the bleach pointedly.

“I want to die,” is his reply. He won’t lie; he has never lied to her, though sometimes he wishes he’d tried to.

“No you don’t. Don’t be so bloody silly,” she washes the bleach down the sink: first the cup, and then the whole bottle she finds on the kitchen counter. He watches it go, a lump in his throat where minutes before there was certainty. At least the pipes will be clean.

She makes him coffee.

She makes herself a cup too, but doesn’t drink it, only cradles it in her hands, as if it were a dying bird.

They sit in silence; steam rises from her cup and obscures her features into a grey smudge; her expression is bleak. 

“We never would have worked, you know,” he says.

She inhales, “Starting off light, aren’t we?” But then she nods, “We’d have loved each other too much.”

“We’d have been too involved. Someone would have got hurt.” He has to say it; he has to get all the words out.

“More than they did, you mean.”

“You said you forgave me – the second time around, you told me you didn’t hold a grudge. Look, I was a fool. I was young. Both times. You know I couldn’t have handled it.”

She nods again, inhales her coffee steam. It almost seems to flush her cheeks. But he is not sure if this is because he sees it, or he remembers her so.

“Where did you go?” he asks.

“Everywhere.”

“Where did you end up?”

“The North, lately…’

“You always preferred it up North.”

“I did,” she smiles, not looking at him. “I do.”

“Then why did you come back?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I just followed my feet. It seemed important to be here.”

“Thanks, I guess,” his words bite.

“Oh don’t be like that!”

“Like what?”

“Don’t sulk. I just saved your life. You owe me a drink at least.”

“Ha! Just looking to get wrecked. That’s so like you sweetheart…”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I…”

“I’m not your sweetheart, or your honey, or your best girl. I’m the fucking past, in your fucking kitchen, trying to keep you alive.”

He looks away from her, “It is a bit. Like walking into the past, like seeing a ghost, having you here.”

“Yeah?” She smiles and shakes her head. “It is pretty weird.”

He stands up. “I’ll get us that drink,” he says.


He pours them each an over-zealous cup of whiskey.

“Just like old times,” she says, and knocks it back it one.

“I hope not…” he replies. He wants her to know that he doesn’t want her. That he doesn’t want anyone.

“Hah! You really think I’d be interested?” she snorts, seeing through his fumbling attempt to put her off him. “You have not aged so gracefully my friend.”

He gasps; face suddenly alive with mock-indignation. Almost immediately he remembers himself, and his face falls back to its usual frown. He has not spoken to another person like this in so long.

They are silent for a minute or so, collecting themselves.

“You left,” he says. There is no reproach in his tone.

“I had to,” she replies.

“Why?”

“Because you chose her. You always chose her.”

“Only once. And I’ve always regretted it – you know I have. I loved you.”

“You never said it. Or if you did you made sure to take it back.”

He looks into his whiskey, feeling regret rise in him like the tide.

She continues, “You were happier to dwell on how awful she was, than to be with me. Happier to know that I loved you, without having to love me back. You were a coward.”

“Well if I’m so awful, why won’t you let me die?” he spits it out. He was always better at anger than sadness. The tide ebbs.

“Life is punishment enough, don’t you think?”

He barks a laugh. “God you were always such a heartless bitch.”

She smiles. “Probably, yes.”


They drink into the small hours of the morning, reminiscing over old times. 

They kiss. It is too full of too much to define. 

They go to bed, but only to lie quietly in the darkness; naked not with desire, but comfort.

He tries to find the words to make her stay, but cannot; he knows that she will never accept them. 

He falls asleep in half light, the whiskey-haze making even the pillow spin. He thinks he is holding her in his arms, but she is so light, he is not exactly sure. 


He wakes and she is gone; dissolved into a few strands of hair on the pillow, and a small pile of clothes at the foot of the bed. It is as if she had walked out into the world naked, and stepped in front of a train, or melted into the woods, or the roads, or into the dust motes collected on top of his television set. 




MEET THE AUTHOR:


L. B. LIMBREY is a non-binary poet, horror writer and environmental activist. They have work published in Rituals and Declarations, Dust Poetry, Corvid Queen, Grimoire Silvanus, Cypress Journal’s ‘The Red House’ anthology and Dynamis Journal. They write the Queer as Folklore blog and do talks on women's fantasy writing and queer folklore. You can find them on twitter and Instagram @ScornaLott and their work at www.scornalott.wordpress.com

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