We had a running joke that if one of us died, the other would spontaneously combust. The plan wasn’t to have a plan, but to keep speeding until life’s curves were faster then our reflexes and we smashed against an obstacle. Splattered in a car crash, cut in half by a train, shot in a fight, et cetera. And not to go out swinging, but to be present and laughing while everything went insane around us. Like the orchestra playing while the Titanic sunk or the suicide parties in occupied Berlin, or that guy in Jurassic World who saved the margaritas during the pterodactyl attack. Drinking and smoking until everything goes pop. Losing your life like change in the couch cushions.
And when one of us died, somewhere else in the world-- no matter where it was, no matter how far the distance-- the other one would know. She’d lift her head up and speak her last words; “It’s time.”
Then she’d erupt so quickly chunks of meat would blast through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. A single arm would break the sound barrier as it shot into the air, flames sputtering in the thin atmosphere until gravity reclaimed it. The arm would drop, tumbling as it went, and yet through a series of cosmic coincidences would be gently guided across the world to the site of another, completely unrelated death. Years of coked-up promises cross the rift between life and death to gently push a single disembodied arm down to the scene of a horrific crime. The hand dropped from the sky and landed in a pile of corpses, fist clenched and knuckles perfectly aligned with the knuckles of one female corpse.
A plainclothes detective holding a cup of coffee, one hand in his pocket, nodded tiredly. “Ah. A suicide pact.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Asked a private, batting long eyelashes over watery eyes, pen out for notetaking.
“Well, you see, their fists are bumping.” the detective said, sipped his coffee.
I still hear that line in Claudia’s voice. I imagine us sitting on her bed, her room is fucking gross, we just did a rail of coke and are trying to calm down with a six pack. The tv is on, music is playing, I’m so overstimulated I might throw up just so I can leave the room for a little bit.
“Well, you see,” Claudia laughs, pointing between two imaginary sets of knuckles, gripping the back of my neck. “Their fists are bumping.”
Puppy is scratching at the door and whining. He is like an enormous ponytail, a great blonde featherduster with an unusually deep bark. He is not allowed in the room when coke is present because he licks it. He hunts for it when he knows we have it, rubs his face against the rug hours later looking for stray particles.
“Just like mommy,” Claudia will say later, picking him up and letting him kiss her face, pushing him down when he tries to get his tongue inside a nostril for a taste of blow. “Just like mommy, he’s a little cokehead.”
Our relationship was intense, but not unique. From a far-away perspective it was just another story of a flashy rich girl and a mousey friend who propped her up. She lived in midtown, I lived in Queens, at a time when the borough was only known as a sprawling tower of Babel, a place where neighbors rarely spoke the same language. Meanwhile, Claudia lived in a place where the smoke from the New Years’ Eve fireworks filled the living room and drunken diplomats ploughed their cars through shopfronts after UN parties. Her mother wore a Giants sweater from September to January, but maintained appearances by draping a floor-length fur coat over her shoulders when she went shopping. Claudia wore glitter and heels, dyed her hair blonde and pushed up her breasts. My clothing prospects were so poor that she eventually began giving me clothes, encouraging me to wear lower cut shirts, higher skirts, smaller heels. Someone once called her ‘Miss Piggy’, and she just laughed in their face.
“Yeah, that’s me. I’m Miss Piggy.”
She loved being incongruously macho under hyper femininity. She loved to stomp through life in stripper heels and a silk negligee, arm wrestling men and snapping bottle caps off of beer with her bare hands. Miss Piggy, that vain, hedonistic icon of hidden athleticism, was the perfect icon for her. Her goal was to reach a sort of high-femme barbarianism; to wear silk gloves and false eyelashes, and carry a keg on one shoulder, her boyfriend on the other.
I dyed my hair blonde at her enthusiastic encouragement. Our goals were to look, in our words; ‘related or gay’. I couldn’t maintain the illusion; the low shirts and high skirts were always falling out of place, and I got tired of physically holding my outfit together. After a few hours I went back to my t-shirts, jeans and combat boots. The boots took ten minutes to lace up, which halted every run downstairs to meet the dealer.
Claudia sometimes didn’t take my calls, with reasons ranging from; she had a boy over, she was arguing with her mom, she was too hungover to speak. She could never just to say No, I don’t want to, or even No, I’m busy. Usually she’d text me back within a day, but when she started dating her future husband, the time between calls began to stretch.
The next time I heard from her was months later, after her mother lost her home. I tried to keep in touch, but it was hard without a regular phone. It was easier to run into her on the street, holding court in an open sleeping bag with the same bravado she carried on 52nd street. The only sense that anything was different was the way the light changed as the sun passed across the sky.
In 2017 I checked her Facebook, just to see how she was doing. I thought, maybe we could get a coffee and catch up. It looked like she was living in New Jersey, which would make it a bitch and a half to link up, but still possible. I kept putting it off. Her sense of humor was still stuck in the 00s, but I wanted to see her. Before I could send her a message, I saw memorial messages posted by people I didn’t know. I thought it was another bad taste joke until I found the post by her husband, which confirmed she’d been dead since Christmas. Not only didn’t I know, I hadn’t even been thinking about her. There were no fireworks. There was no spontaneous combustion. There wasn’t even a crazy story to tell about how she died. There was nothing but a jarring tonal shift from edgy inspirational poster memes to new friends expressing their sympathies to her husband. I wasn’t invited to the funeral, and I doubt Nick would have thought to reach out to me, if he knew how to contact me at all.
It’s been two years and I still haven’t exploded.
O F Cieri is a novelist and amateur historian in New York City. Lord of Thundertown, her first novel, will be published by Nine Star Press in 2019.
Her work examines the lifelong effects of trauma, grief and poverty through the exaggerated lens of the supernatural. She draws from the Romantic literary movement and contemporary horror in order to magnify her plots’ conflict with surreal elements.
Her historical research is largely focused on the cultural impact of science and art, where the phrasing of new scientific advancements are influenced by culture writing, and vice versa.
O F Cieri is a contributor to Expat Press and the Antiques Freaks podcast. She has appeared on the Write podcast to promote her debut novel, Lord of Thundertown. She collects art, insects and antiques and can usually be found in close proximity
For further information about her writing, visit her on twitter @obfvscate
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.