I could never see clearly, no,
But five times blind,
Five times declined.
She stared into the cloudy surface of her tea, and tried to remember the song. It was on the tip of her tongue, she was sure of that, but she couldn't quite find the right words. With each idle spin of her teaspoon words swirled like dried leaves. She used to sing that song every night when she was young. How could she not remember?
I could never be happy, no,
But fives times broke,
Five times a joke.
"It sounds so close to what it was, but it's not. Never is. Ain't it so, Taps?" the old wolfhound lying motionless on the threadbare sofa turned his head slightly, but made no reply. Taps wasn't much of a talker most days. Was… was his name Taps? She could swear it was something with a 't'. Tangle? Torpor? She couldn't recall. She'd forget her own head if it wasn't loosely screwed on her scrawny shoulders. "Comes with age, Tansy" she told the dog, who turned his one working eye at her direction. A baleful glare, that dog had. Hmm… must be hungry.
I could never find love, no,
But five times hate,
Five times too late.
She went to the kitchen to get the hound something to eat. The fridge was empty, as it always was, so she went to the counter to see if there was anything canned left. As she searched the mostly bare shelves she felt her eyes drawn to the wooden cutting block. There was a knife, a butcher's cleaver, stuck right in the middle of the scarred wooden surface, though she couldn't for the life of her remember how that got there. Wasn't because she was cutting any meat, since she couldn't afford any, not for a long while now. And how was it stuck like that? She didn't have the muscles for that, unless that thing was incredibly sharp. Why did she own a cleaver anyway? When did she get that? "Is that yours, Tipsy? Been cutting some meat, have you?" she asked the hound. He didn't bother answering, of course. Ungrateful pest. She couldn't find anything to give him. "Sorry, boy. Ain't nothing left for you to eat. You'll have to wait until something shows up, I suppose."
I could never have a life, no,
But five times dead,
Five times I fled.
It was raining outside. Seemed to her it was always raining lately. She returned to her chair by the window and took another sip of her… coffee? Wasn't that tea just a second ago? She could have sworn… ah, but never mind that. Tea, coffee, cocoa, hemlock, it was all the same when push came to shove. "Did it rain so often when I was young, Temper?" she asked the dog, but the thing just kept staring at her, gaze unwavering, unrelenting. She remember when she used to like dogs, before that mangy thing somehow found his way into her apartment and on to her sofa. Or… did she like cats? Birds? Someone once brought a bird to the old club, when she was singing. She remembered its feathers, as it sat there in its cage below the stage. Reds and blues and greens, and the low lights played on them, making them glow in a thousand different hues. When she reached the high notes it would squawk and flap its wings, like the sound made it feel like it was flying again. Nostalgic, the silly thing. How could she remember that bird, but not the song?
I could never find a voice, no,
But five times mute,
Five times a brute.
A knock, followed by two more. Polite yet hesitant. She sighed and reached for her purse, looking for something. Mints, maybe? Cigarettes? Did she smoke? There were no cigarettes inside, so she decided she probably didn't. Another knock, a bit less polite this time. She rose from her worn rocking chair by the window and went to the front door of the tiny apartment. Had she still been young, she might have stopped to peer through the peephole first, but those days were long gone. She had nothing left worth taking anyway. So she opened the door to find a small bespectacled man in a white coat, holding a brown paper pad in front of him as if it was a shield. His bald head glistened in the dull florescent light. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut his mouth again. He looked at her, looked at the dreary grey corridor he was standing on, attempted to look behind her shoulder to see what was inside her apartment. He again opened his mouth, again shut it back without saying anything. He began to sweat.
"Can I help you with anything, honey?"
His eyes darted to and fro, and the sweating intensified, dark stains appearing on the white coat around the man's armpits.
"You alright there?"
"I'm…fine? Yeah, I'm fine. I just… I don't know what I was expecting when I… huh. Not this, that's for sure."
"I'm sorry, I don't really follow. What is it you wanted?"
"Um… to find out about… something."
"You'll have to be a bit more specific, sugar."
The man cleared his throat and looked desperately around him. Finally, his gaze settled on one of the other doors in the hallway. "What's over there?"
"Over there? Just an apartment. People, I suppose. You'll have to excuse me, I don't exactly go out much."
"People? We never expected… none of the others said anything about people, or apartments. Hmm, they wouldn't though, would they? I don't understand, why couldn't they remember? I can remember just fine, I can-"
With that, he retrieved a ballpoint pen from a pocket and began scrawling on the paper pad, first rapidly and with great certainty, then increasingly slowly. As his hand slowed his eyes became increasingly unfocused, pupils dilated, rolled to and fro on the white surface of his eyes. It reminded her of camels, for some reason. Once, one of her rich suitors took her on a trip to the Sahara, and they rode on fine Arabian horses to the top of a dune, where they could watch that endless, pristine waste that was the desert, its surface broken by nothing but the occasional herd of camels. Or… was it Alaska, and were the camels elks? She couldn't remember. Whatever it was, it reminded her of the man's eyes, which now stared at her in a dazed confusion. The hand stopped entirely. She reached out to shake the man's shoulder when she felt a presence at her side. Looking down, she saw the wolfhound, Tapper, practically boring a hole into the poor dazed man's chest with his single eye.
"What's that, boy?"
The hound slowly advanced on the bespectacled man, never taking his eye down off him. It appeared that the sight of the hound was enough to make the man come to his senses, as he began to slowly back away from the dog, pen poised at the ready like a saber. The dog didn't bark or growl (and she could never recall him making any sound at all, now that she thought about it), but she still got the sense of what he wanted. It was in moments like this that she remembered why she let the thing sleep on her sofa, why she kept him fed. He had a way with danger, that dog. He could smell it. So she withdrew her hand and left the bespectacled man standing there in the hallway, sweating a hole through his shoes, pen raised, and closed the door, the wolfhound silently padding in as she did. She crossed the tiny room and returned to her seat by the window. She lit a cigarette from the packet that was surely there the whole time, and watched the smoke blow out through the open window, saw it disappear in the watery dance of the rain.
I could never find no peace, no,
But five times strife,
Five times a…knife?
There was something about that pose the bespectacled man took before she closed the door. Something familiar. A… a knife, was it? Yes, she remembered a knife. In the kitchen, stuck in the plastic cutting board. Metal in plastic, yeah. "I don't think that man meant us any good, my boy." she told the dog, as she pulled the long-handled dagger from the cutting board. It was odd, the hole it left seemed like it came from a much wider blade, but that really wasn't worth worrying about. A blade was a blade, after all. That was a universal truth if she ever knew one.
I could never have a soul, no,
But five times took,
Five times a hook.
"All those… people coming here, bothering us, it's not wholesome, my boy. Don't you think?" for a moment, she could swear the dog was nodding, but that couldn't be right. His eye was so steady, after all. Like a… like a little sun in the abyss, casting its baleful shine on all those poor lost souls.
"They always come around but it's never because of what was, isn't it? It's because of what's now. And what's now… I don't understand that at all. But they keep on coming regardless, and they ask and they prod and they sweat on my carpet and they only see the wrinkles, my boy, only the wrinkles and nothing more." Not a blink from old Tatters. He knew all of this already.
"Do any of them remember how I used to be? Do they even care that I was like a bolt from the blue, everlasting, iridescent, incandescent? I used to live, my boy, I was young, I was strong, I was beautiful. I… sang. But they don't care how that old song went. And they don't care that I can't remember anymore."
I could never keep a secret, no,
But five times spoke,
Five times I choked.
The blade felt so light in her hands as she stepped through the door. The small bespectacled man didn't even move as she plunged the blade deep into his forehead. Didn't even scream. They never did, after all. They just forgot to.
I could never be alone, no,
But five times owed,
Five times a load.
What was behind those doors which lined the corridor? She remembered he asked that. They all did, when they showed up. She didn't remember how many, but she knew it was enough. Enough for what, though? Enough to forget. Yes, that was another truth, wasn't it? You had to have enough in order to forget. She dragged the body with some difficulty, aiming for the apartment to the left of the fire exit. "Could use some help here, you know." she told the hound, who followed her from her apartment and was now silently regarding the cooling corpse. Lazy bum, that dog. Finally she managed to drag the corpse to the doorstep and open the door.
"Hmm. Going to be a tight fit, don't you think? I always remind myself to make some room around here, but I never seem to get around to it. There's always so much nothing to do, you know how it is."
White coats, and note pads, and pens, and spectacles. She wondered why they never bothered to search for those who were gone, but she didn't wonder for very long. There was work to be done, after all. It was a tight fit, aye, but she made it work. She was old, and weak, and she couldn't remember the song, but some things you never forgot how to do. And flesh… mmm, flesh didn't forget that easily. It dented, and flowed and molded and moldered until it was piling up to the ceiling. Room after room of it. So much flesh needed just to let one old woman forget. What a world that was. She could feel the song fade away once more, strangled by the muted cry of a thousand corpses, sacrifices to oblivion. And she was glad, though she didn't know why. She thought she wanted to remember, but that was a lie. Aye, you never forgot how to lie to yourself, that was another truth. A truth that rotted like meat. She closed the door after her and shuffled back to her apartment, old hound in toe. The bespectacled man's blood was already gone. Why, she'd forgotten he was there at all. She was humming under her breath, though, humming a song that was always there hiding, hiding with all those universal truths that no amount of meat could hide for very long.
I could never remember, no,
But five times wrong…
Yeah. Five times gone.