Memories in Cadmium

Who was he?

He was beautiful once–a creature drawn to our time from the days of marble and soft sunlight on the Mediterranean–beautiful, and mine.

When I close my eyes I can still feel his hands on my neck, or his lips pushing through the tangles my hair to whisper meaningless phrases that to me meant everything; mine was a happiness that I would never had had the hubris to dream I deserved.

The first time I sketched his picture he was playing with my feet, laughing and tugging at my painted toes and teasing while I tried to focus on the charcoal and textured paper perched on my naked knee. The sketch was good; the strong jaw was captured in a thick line of black that faded gentle gray beneath the softer curls of the hair outlined in pale drags of pencil to create the illusion of his flaxen locks. He continued his kisses in an exodus to my shin while I drew, relishing in my ever-so-slight frustration at capturing a moving target in shades of gray.

When it was done I flipped the pad and showed him; he had reached my stomach with his lips. I remember the curious look in his eyes as he looked between the paper and my face.

“You’re good.” He smiled.

“You’re pretty easy to draw.” I quipped in return, biting my lip.

A few seconds later, the drawing lay forgotten on the floor.

I carried that picture with me after he vanished, and the world came to an end. I showed it to everyone I met while we traveled North, trying to keep my voice calm and natural. Every time I could see the pity in their eyes as they clearly saw the sorrow in mine.

Some part of me died with every shake of every head; each, “I’m sorry” pushed his memory further from me. I would lay awake at night and stare into that sketch while outside the sounds of weeping were only silenced by the occasional groan and echoing crack. I touched that strong jaw line and those soft curls so often that they started to fade and blur–just like my memories.

I didn’t care where we went; the caravan moved and so I would too–a living zombie fleeing the dead; I was portrait of irony inked in pain and shaded in loss. They told me we were headed to an airport.

On the way I found a cheap set of paints in the broken window of an art store. That night I pulled my sketch from my pocket and pressed it flat with loving care. With the light of a nub of candle I hid in my tent–my shadow dancing on the nylon as my heart leaped. I smoothed every worn wrinkle with gentle fingers that caressed the outline of his face as I had done so many times for real, and yet not enough.

I made a brush from my own hair, bound to the end of a pair of broken chopsticks. For the first time in weeks my hands stopped shaking as I dipped my curls in shades of flesh and yellow cadmium, covering the gray gradients with swaths of sun-dappled peach and filling the fading outlines with gold and yellow. Twin emeralds shone playfully from the hallows of his eyes. Eyes that seduced me; loved me; cared for me for a painfully brief eternity.

I remember wiping my eyes and noes so many time, saving my refreshed memories from the ravages of snot and saline. I didn’t care that outside people had started screaming, and the sounds of gunfire and grating moans had crescendoed around my flimsy tent.

The ripping tent flap brought me back to reality and white eyes flecked in crimson gazed pitilessly down at me as broken teeth gnashed  for my flesh. I grabbed my painting, still glistening wet, and scrambled for the open flap opposite my undead assailant.

I felt the grip of its rotting hands in my hair, twisting and ripping where once he had caressed and passionately curled his strong fingers. I didn’t scream, but I was still weeping as my curls came ripping free of my scalp with a sickening squelch.

I fell and kicked backwards away from this nightmare, my love pressed to my breast as I struggled to stand. Around me the darkness was spotted with fireflies and muzzle-flash. Some figures ran through the inky black, others stood and slowly shuffled in chaotic  formation–terror in slow motion.

Arms enfolded me in an embrace from behind, and I felt a mouth nuzzle my neck. The flash of a shotgun let me see matted golden curls falling around my shoulder. I didn’t feel him bite me…he was only teasing…he was like that.

I don’t know who pulled him off me; I don’t know why I lost him a second time. I wept and pushed myself against a signpost erected sloppily in the grass beside the road. In the gleam of a fresh firebomb I read the scrawled orange paint.

“Zyracuse. 3 Miles.” The arrow point off to the North where I could just make out a gleam above the black silhouette of trees and shambling undead.

My hands started to shake when I looked again at my painting. The blood splattered his face; it streaked his strong jaw and stained his curls. His green eyes gleamed red in this fresh hell around me.

So here…take it. If you see him…could…could you tell him for me…

Tell him…I’ll wait for him here.

I’m so tired.

I just need to sleep.

You have a gun–you can keep watch.

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