Love's Down Tango written and read by Shane Levene
In Love's Down Tango I found myself in a twirl. I wasn't sure what was real or what was not. The city became a place of instant memories and nostalgia. Thoughts of what had passed only five minutes ago seemed idyllic and golden. In the freshness of those summer mornings I'd rise and feel joyous and alive. I'd smell my own skin because it reminded me of her, shower in cold water and sit at the window as the great heat made its way in. I prickled with existence, like I was a part of everything. The floral scents of parks and gardens that blew in on the early breeze cleansed me of something that soap couldn't touch. I collapsed back on life and let it carry me away. Suddenly the cool, damp shade under pine trees, us alone, in huge lost parks, seemed like perfection... like nothing else could ever get better than that. In that time, every past pain and sorrow became a thing of celebration: a journey to salvation – to the very moment: staring across at someone so outrageously beautiful and have her stare back with eyes just as intense and needing as mine. In those eyes I could have sank and died and not have cared a damn. Sometimes I just laid back and let happy tears leak out, thinking of meadows and sunshine and water and sky, and all things free and wild.
In Love's down tango I'd steal secret glimpses of her reflection. On subway trains, in blacked out windows, my gaze fixed on her neck. That's when she'd drift, as if having mental orgasms, sensing my eyes on the tender of her prey. As we rocketed through tunnels I felt hollow, like I had no stomach at all. In less than two weeks in a dirty bed, a lifetime of hurt and pain had been fucked, cried and kissed away. What had only yesterday been a bleak world on the unlucky side of death, was now bursting with hope and promise. The entire place had been transformed. The factories billowing smoke over in the distance now inspired me, so too the river. The flats, which had towered up around the back all these years, no longer held dark connotations. Even the old disused power station took on a a kind of historic and abandoned beauty. Some days we'd walk under its shadow and talk of industry and poverty and love and death. All things were to be celebrated. All things had led to her.
In Love's down tango I got swept away. Strange currents pulled at me and dragged me off. I became romantic to the point of gibberishness. I wandered the city, down tree-lined avenues of shade by the river, my head drunk on what was behind, all around and up ahead. I tore off leaves and rubbed them into my hands, sucked in the fragrant air like it was something healthy. The sounds of life and nature would bring me out in tears of joy. Poetry flowed out of me: sentimental nonsense trying desperately to express what I felt. I became humane. I fell in love with scabby mongrel dogs. I started saying things I didn't mean, and other things I meant so much. One warm evening, with the dusk sitting on the horizon and the last echoes of day ringing out, I told her: “This city is of You now.” The moment was intense. We both felt it, a darkening overhead, as we stared at each other in terror.
In Love's down tango I became a fool. I'd jump up on seats in packed public transport and declare how much I loved her. Other men cringed for me... seeing themselves in my madness. I felt no shame; only pride. I'd walk around town kissing and blessing the homeless. I'd gatecrash counselling sessions and tell the depressed that there was hope. I'd touch blind people on the forehead and tell them: “now you can see!” No one had to be poor if they could feel like this. I bought a writing desk and planned books and novels, films and radio plays. At work I sought out promotions. I Brushed my teeth twice a day and showered before and after sex. Then, one late morning, I washed my hair with washing-up liquid and dried it with a towel from off the floor. She called me a “disgusting dog!” and said that she was leaving. Sitting on the edge of the bed she re-did her scarlet lipstick, clicked her little mirror case shut, put on her blacked out sunglasses and warned me not to come looking for her or phone. She said she'd contact me when she was ready. I tried pleading with her, blocking her path. I smashed my head and fists off the door, screaming: “No! I'm sorry!” Then, facing her, I slid down the door until I was sitting flopped out on the floor. She remained on the bed, her legs crossed, clutching her handbag and turned the other way looking out the window. I shuffled aside and said: “So go then if you're going.” I reached out for the culprit towel and draped it over my head so I couldn't see. I heard her rise, heard her footsteps, heard the rattle of the door handle. In a desperate last attempt to stop her leaving I threw myself out and gripped a hold of her ankle, curling my entire body around her shoe. “Don't leave!” I begged. “Please don't go!” She just stopped and stood there, as calm as anything, staring forward and saying nothing. After a moment I saw what a tremendous fool I was being and let go. She lifted her leg and stepped free like I was a monstrous piece of dog shit. That was the first bust up. I lay in its aftermath shaking and sobbing and having panic attacks. My mind and body doing strange things.
In Love's down tango I lost all notion of self-respect. Saving face seemed futile, and anyway, I was glad to break down because of her. It seemed to validate something. After each new bust-up I'd show up at old friends at crazy hours, frantic, dishevelled and without socks. From the public phone box at the top of her street I'd call my Mum in tears, begging for help and asking her to send a taxi to come and collect me. I lost control of my actions. Weird impulses would have me obsessively redialling her number, sometimes for hours, until she'd finally take it off the hook or smash it against the wall. I'd pay kids a quid a time to knock on her door and deliver love-letters and flowers. One time the kid returned with a bunch of stems where she'd gone crazy and ripped all the heads off. She'd told him to give them back to me. “I think she's mad with you!” he said.
“Did she pay you?” I asked. He shook his head. I gave him another pound coin, took the stems and dumped them over her garden wall. Once I sat on the bench across from her house for three days until she finally came out and took me home. People became embarrassed watching me; my family ashamed to see tears in my eyes again, tears that I hadn't even cried through a childhood of appalling emotional squalor. But this was different: it was my tragedy proper. I had fully invested in this one and was not just a kid hanging onto his mothers skirt and being dragged along to the next fiasco. I was struggling with new feelings and strains inside my body. Things that didn't physically hurt but seemed to penetrate right to the core of my existence. I felt insane, sane, happy, sad, lost, found and dangerous. I was a man capable of marching off to war. I cared so much and I cared so little... both extremes at once, leaving me confused, unstable of mind and scared of myself.
In Love's down tango the nights crackled and fizzed and deep songs drifted out the stereo. The room seemed like a square floating lost through space. It was just us now – astray in a universe of black where things carry on forever but get further away. The only light we had was two little red and green LEDs on the stereo. From the bed we'd stare at them. They became a point of sadness absolute, both of us sobbing away in the dark as it dawned on us just how useless it was and that no-one was really going to be saved. As the last song drifted off to nowhere and left a throbbing silence in its wake we'd hold each other tight, stare into each others eyes, and wait for Armageddon.
In Love's down tango day was always night. Some kind of uninvited darkness now joined us in the room, its hanging presence causing silences and long, forlorn thoughts that were no good. We were a tragedy unravelling, a train heading for the buffers, and everyone was wondering what kind of impact we'd make. I started cutting love letters into my body, and she split herself up between multiple personalities – each as crazy as the next. Some nights she'd turn her head and when she turned back she was someone else: her eyes wide and glaring, covering up in shame and itching and shrieking like I had stripped and violated her. She'd run out the house, 3am, waking the street in just her knickers and vest, tugging at her hair as she collapsed to the floor, screaming: “I know what it is! I know what you are!” From the upstairs window I'd curse her, call her crazy, chuck her heels at her, tell her to “fuck off”, then I'd follow for four miles, trying to cover her with a blanket, saying “Sorry” and lying about other things as well. One night we ended in a park, alcoholics and bums cigarette glows and coughs on the distant benches. Under the same fig tree I had once found a dead cat hanging we cuddled up and went to sleep.
In Love's down tango I was a dangerous man. I lost myself in films and books on crimes of passion and sat staring at my hands and wondering just what they could do. I discovered much about myself in those desperate times, and as the forces of love and hurt and jealousy and obsession converged I realized absolutely that one day the cure I had found to my past ills would be the same force that would blow my future apart. We started talking of death pacts, of going down together, dressing up for marriage and walking ourselves out to sea. Nights descended into pits of depraved perversity, the both of us making insane pledges and promises, and gripping on so tight so as madness didn't drag us off completely. Sometimes it seemed like another morning would never arrive. And then, just in time, her face would show a little more clearly and her body would come out the dark and be shivering slightly in the thin early morning light. Somehow the early bird calls, with industry waking up over the rooftops, heralded yet another depression – something not ours, rather a general gloom that for a while we had escaped. We started putting blankets up against the windows. We slept through the mid summer days, the heat trapped in the dark of the room, a fan whirring but only circling hot air. We'd both writhe and sweat through separate nightmares, straining and reaching out for release. The descent was on. We closed our eyes and let it swallow us up.
Oh, the world was so delicate then. I was almost scared to walk for fear of going right through the ground. I clamped up and stuck, not wanting to twist and risk losing what I had. I sat through dark quiet nights watching intently, looking for early signs of the apocalypse. One night, out the silence, I told her she would destroy me. Her crazy eyes lit up and widened. She gripped me by the hair, pushed her face right up to mine and stared a universe deep into my soul. “You'll destroy me too,” she said, through streams of tears, “I think I want to die.” On the first morning of autumn I woke up and she was gone. At first I panicked, then I surrendered, then I smoked two cigarettes, and then slept for thirty six hours straight.
In Love's down tango she shaved off all her hair. I opened the door and stood staring at her in shocked disbelief, her eyes crazy as moons, tears welling up as she smiled and said “I'm back!” Later that night she became a familiar looking stranger and said she felt like a prisoner. She asked: “Are you sure you love me so much that you want me to be here even if I don't want to be?” I meant to say “no” but instead I said “yes.” Then I said: “I saw Grace yesterday. She was sat in the park, under the old school shed, drinking and reading the old graffiti and looking out with such sadness.”
“Did you fuck her?” she screamed.
“Of course not. Would you be able to fuck with a broken heart?”
“That's when I fuck the best!” she said.
“Then I suppose that goes to show how different we are.”
“If you ever fuck anyone else, EVER, I'll kill you!”
“You're crazier than me,” I told her. Then I said: “It's all very sad, now.”
Without saying a word she rose, left the room, and went downstairs. When she returned she was holding a large kitchen knife. She laid it calmly down on the bedside cabinet then stepped out of her dress, and naked, climbed into bed.
I stared at that knife for three days. It sat alongside her cigarettes and lighter and ear-rings, and made me think of terrible things: of having to grab it first before her. Then she said: “I want you to cut me. While we make love I want you to cut my breasts. I want to bleed in this fucking bed!”
And so we fucked. So hard we almost became one. As I thrust she cried and looked at me with such intensity I thought I was a Devil or a God. She dug her nails into my back and clawed out trenches of flesh: slithers of my skin under her fingernails.
“The knife...” she whispered, “take the knife!” Laying beneath her I stretched out and took the knife. I ran the tip of the blade down between her breasts. She closed her eyes and lent back, her arms splayed like she was about to be crucified. I stared at her, the tips of her milky front teeth behind her partly open mouth; her head tilted back and at an angle; her neck stuck out and taut in total trust. I thought of the knife, of pulling it straight across her breasts, of how ill it would make me if gaping wounds opened up and I saw the knotty flesh before the blood. She opened her eyes and looked at me all dreamy, her head swimming in a sea of eroticism. In that instant I chucked the knife down and told her I couldn't do it, that I didn't want to hurt her like that. She groaned and deflated in anti-climax, like I had finally delivered her the greatest disappointment imaginable. Then she collapsed down close, crazy passionate again. She bit hard into my neck, released, then hissed a vicious death threat into my ear. She said she wanted me to talk to her, call her all the whores under the sun... tell her of men, strangers, who'd rape her and force her to do hideous things in front of me or her parents. As I told her all she asked she squirmed and shivered and shuddered about on top of me, having orgasms that looked more like an exorcism. During the most intense pleasure I ever gave, I wasn't even hard. When she was finished I rolled out from underneath her, terrified at what I had just seen. Later that same night she started up with real life horror stories, telling me about her and friends picking up men, following strangers on the metro, sucking them off in doorways and elevators... of being gang-banged in stairwells. When I begged “STOP!” she said I was wanting to revise her history, put her in chains and deny her her liberty and womanhood. She said she needed to tell me these things. That she wasn't the pure angel which I had created of her in my head. September became an ill month, each day infected by some repulsive history that she needed to get out. Vile things would now come randomly from her mouth. One day, on the number 14 bus, as we were curled up together looking out at the passing shops, she told me that it was in just that very same position that she was first fucked in the arse by her best friend's husband. I removed my arms from around her and watched the world alone. From that point on we took to dressing in black jumpers and dark shades and moping around town like two figures of doom.
In love's down tango I stopped sleeping and stayed awake reading tragic poetry from people who had chucked themselves off bridges. I longed for those innocent days when she'd stood outside the train station, in a light red dress, the summer exuding directly from her. Now I sat there through the nights, watching her as she slept, seeing hideous shapes manifest in her body... her beauty now looking like a deformity. There were times when she'd open her eyes, still drunk on sleep, and for a moment, deprived of memory, she appeared beautiful again. She'd give a shy, dreamy smile, and then the data of her life would re-load and she'd look crazed and lost and sorrowful once more. When I slept, her body felt like a huge black negative presence besides me. The smell of her sticky summer skin and cropped unwashed hair infiltrated and plagued my dreams. I'd dream of the river and turbulent waters, and that furious space either side of the bridge supports where the water divides and rushes around and sucks and pulls down. I'd groan and fight off dream demons, her pushing me away, hitting and elbowing. “Fucking stop it!” she'd hiss. Our pains and torments were no longer endearing, but a burden. That insane obsession and fervour that we had promised to save each other with was now the same force turned inside out and set against us. She kept asking if I loved her, and I did, and I said “Yes!” During the last two months we tried to recreate the first, but the music didn't work no more, nor the candles, nor the inspired verse that love had once forced out by pure overload of emotions.
In Love's down tango I became ugly. Gaunt. Ill. Depressed. A stranger to myself. Inside I was even worse. Our love had turned rotten and unhealthy, but it was still love and it was still better than anything I'd known before. Just having someone I wanted seemed to fulfil a great need in me. When she wasn't with me I'd start imaging what she was doing - who she was doing it with. I'd ring and kill the phone or just hang there silent. She knew it was me but couldn't prove a damn thing. I knew it was crazy but couldn't stop myself: love is a mental illness. In the evenings I started going down to the river, alone, staring over and off the bridge into the big black swirling eddies, or walking around town and picking out the tallest buildings which I could throw myself off. I was miserable in my own skin, and we hadn't even crashed out yet. Now when we'd meet I'd sit around hung with gloom, somehow hoping that my distress would re-ignite something in her: even pity. But forces inside myself were working against each other. While one tiptoed around this house of ice the other took to it with a hammer. My mouth would just say things, and as soon as it had I was apologizing. I started asking questions, getting suspicious of her absences, interrogating her after she'd passed an evening out, accusing her of everything she was capable of and suspecting her of being capable of so much more. Then, in a sudden burst of toughness, I'd throw her out and tell her never to come back again, that she was “history!”. A few hours later I'd be at her door, standing in the garden in the rain, screaming that I couldn't live without her. I started hinting at suicide, calling her up and saying “Goodbye” then, not taken at all seriously, blackmailing her outright with it. Those old tricks that I despised so much in my mother, that I'd promised I'd never repeat, I was now employing for the same ends. The few nights we did manage to spend together from then on were maybe the saddest memories of both our lives, lost somewhere between insanity, hatred, bitterness and base animal sex.
Just before the real cold British weather set in, before the trees were completely bare, before the last of the birds had migrated, before one of us was ticked off and zipped up, love was finally driven off the cliff: she left for foreign soils and booked herself into psycho-therapy. The only contact I had was for her father and he refused to speak to me. On Christmas day of that year, on my pleading, my sister made an international call, and through tears, gave news that the body of a young man had been dredged up from the river and it was almost certainly me. She still never phoned. And all her father said was: “pass on our condolences to your mother.”
In Love's down tango the city smelled of Her. Walking around alone, in the winter of that year, I was tortured and mocked by memories. In specific places I saw our ghosts; heard echoes of time: us laughing, little things we had said, desperate promises we had made. In bars I saw us sitting in the corner, alone, secretive, withdrawn from the world outside. There wasn't an inch of city anywhere which offered any respite. For a brief moment I'd lived joy under London's sky and going back to the rot of yesterday was now punition too much. I became a prisoner of my city... of my memories. My own existence goaded and tortured me; I reminded myself of so much. In Love's down tango I went on a pilgrimage of pain. I retraced my journey so far, crying and making no sound. Sadness and despair just poured out of me. People looked on me like I was a freak... like I'd just staggered away from a bomb blast, unaware that half my head was missing. Mothers would shield their kids eyes as I passed, hold them in tight and block out my vision. There is something about real grief and hurt in a man which terrifies people. It terrified me too. In Love's down tango, in that fleeting, mystic twirl, I opened my eyes and for a moment I saw it all.