Kit, The Storyteller
rating: +16+x

The Duvet Queen, Kit came to realise after being stuck in his home with ‘flu, wasn’t all that bad.

She wasn’t big, or scary, or unexpectedly angry. She didn’t have the paws like a lion, a face like a rat’s, and teeth as sharp as daggers. She had an image that flickered like a VHS on pause – a short, ageless figure, always covered from shoulders to feet in blankets - and sometimes she just hid as a big lump under her duvets in the hallway, not emerging for hours. Mostly, though, she pulled cats out of portals, but none really stuck around, apart from Peaches, who had decided that Kit’s home was as good as any.

She was a weird cat, really.

And the Duvet Queen was a weird person. She proudly announced she could go ‘anywhere in the world’ but, when Kit challenged why she was in a council flat in Brighton, she went very quiet and hid in her duvets for a day and a half until Kit said sorry from his bedroom, tucked in his own duvet, sweating out a fever (he was pretty sure that was what you were meant to do with a fever).

The Duvet Queen couldn’t do much for him, but she was nice to have around, once Kit had learnt not to ask why she was here and not anywhere else in the world. She seemed to feed on stories, explaining that she couldn’t read things properly anymore, and she missed that. So, she perched on the end of the bed and listened to Kit ramble, a deep wheeze in his chest, whilst her flickering head rested on what he assumed was her knees.

When Kit was feeling a little better and could sit up without the world spinning, she found him looking out of the window one day, looking unusually thoughtful. With none of the tact in the world, she asked what he was thinking about, and settled in for a story, because there was always a story behind Kit’s thoughts, even if it was disordered.

“It’s an anniversary, of sorts. Not a particularly big one. I think it’s been over ten years now. I think. But, if I don’t think about it, I may forget it forever.”

He paused to cough chestily and pop a pill into his mouth, swallowing dry.

“However long ago, there was this… girl, Maria. She was dumb. Well, not really dumb. But she was too pig-headed, goddamn stubborn, to realise that people cared if she lived or died.”

The Duvet Queen looked at him, watching a bead of sweat trail down his face. “…And what happened to her in the end?”

“The same thing that always happens. She –“

Live happily forever after?

“…Died.”

“Oh.” The Duvet Queen said, with just the right amount of sadness in her voice. She had learnt from Kit, learnt how to display just the right amount of any emotion for any situation – she had learnt by looking at the way he reacted to everything, and toning it down by at least fifty percent. She hadn’t really had a chance to study these hu-man things up close, not in their own territory, so every day was an interesting one when she was stuck here, with him. “So… If that was the end, what was the beginning?”

Kit furrowed his brow, tapping his packet of cigarettes gently against the windowsill. “Some stories start at the end. Maria was gone by the time I realised her story.

So, firstly, to correct her misconception - people did care. About the living/dying thing. I knew before her funeral, because I cared, but it really hit me at the funeral, proper. All the flowers, spelling out things. ‘Friend’. ‘Daughter’. ‘Mum’. People crying. Guys I had known to never get out of their PJs, even for court, wearing suits. Goth girls with dreadlocks wearing bright yellow, just for her. But after that day, her name sorta fell out of use like it was cursed.”

Kit shifted, flickered his lighter on and off. He knew it would stay lit forever if he bothered to press the button that long, but his hand was absently shaking, and second-degree burns hurt.

“Every day, we forgot her a little bit more, even if none of us liked talking about it. Forgetting about her, or suicide, or death, or all three. No-one realises what suicide really does to a group of people until it happens to them. In less than a year, we drifted apart like a wet cake.”

An odd idiom, and Kit wasn’t sure where it had come from, but he found himself using it – well, when he had need to.

“And, even now, every day, I forget a little more of her. How her hair looked the last time I saw her. Why yellow was her favourite colour. The name of her little girl. Why she got so sad. How it all went wrong.

Then I realised I didn’t even have a photo of her, not really. Just those… sideways on ones at parties, in a group, the kind where she had red eye and she was always looking embarrassed and not like her, not even when she was drunk.

After she left us alone, I would go to town. I would go to town alone, and I would feel lonely. Everyone in the city feels lonely, because cities are hollow and empty and cold, really. They eat you up and you get stuck in their stomach with tons of other people, but no-one really talks to each other.”

“I know cities are lonely. I’ve lived in loads.” There was that pride again in her voice, tilting her head up, challenging him to ask why she wasn’t living somewhere better now, but it didn’t come. Kit was still somewhat lost in thought, half-listening and not-listening. “Paris, Rome, New York… they all feel the same, after a while. I would walk a lot. What would you do?”

“Oh. I would go to as many of those little photo booths as I could. The kind where you get your photo taken for passports. I would set up to take four photos, and I would pull four, different, silly faces. Sometimes, I would try and get a real photo of myself, looking like I saw myself, and like I would like people to remember me, because… I don’t want to be a cursed name, when I die. And no-one likes being forgotten.

But I didn’t have many friends, then. The whole ‘wet cake’ issue. Instead, I would leave the photos in the little dispensing part for people to find. Probably most of them got chucked away by the next customer or disinterested staff at shut-up.”

You mean ‘close-up.’

“Maybe some of them made people curious about who would spend that money, but not take these photos with them. Maybe some of them made people curious about who I was. …It was pretentious as shit.” He laughed, awkwardly, the sound unfamiliar even to himself.

“You gotta know, I was only… something not-old-enough-yet to understand that I was acting like a pretentious asshole. Point is, I was young, and I had lost too many people close to me that I felt like I shouldn’t have lost, and I had to do something to control my own destiny. And taking those photos, every couple of weeks, made me feel like maybe someone would remember me when I was gone, even if it was just in a way that I was a shitty customer, or a weird kid.”

He finally lit a cigarette, even though smoking would leave him chesty and uncomfortable for hours. He just couldn’t seem to give it up. It was almost like it was a painfully addictive habit, taking years off his life (or something).

“She left a letter. Maybe more than one, but she left at least one, addressed to her friends. She asked if anyone saw that woman smile. No idea what she was talking about until I was in North Laine one day, and there was this…”

Kit absently spread his hand out, as if he could still see it in front of him, which maybe he could. His cigarette-holding hand had gone limp next to him, tip mostly ash, as lost in the memory as he was.

“…Graffiti, of a woman, I think it was a woman, and she was, she was smiling, and she had never smiled before. I had seen her before, almost every time I went into the city, but she had never smiled before. Not in as far as I could remember.”

Kit let his hand drop, and his head drop too, musing quietly.

“It was an ad, sorta, for a suicide awareness app. I know Maria had been using it, ‘cos, man, she tried to get me to use it too. Said it saved her life. But then she got tired. Or she said she was tired, anyway. Started cancelling stuff all the time. Coffee? No, tired. Grab a beer? No, tired. Just… hang out? No, tired.”

He sighed heavily, sounding like a man beyond his years, if even for just a moment.

“She wasn’t tired, not really. I know now she was despondent. I’ve been told survivors of suicide – that is, friends of friends who offed themselves – use that word a lot, to describe the attitude of the dead. I hope I never have to use that word again, not for someone I know. Not in fear or memoriam.”

He finally remembered to suck on the cigarette, tapping ash out into the overfilling ashtray. It spilled onto his bedding and he absently rubbed it in, alongside the other stains on the duvet covet.

“I didn’t know what to do. I knew it was… insane, to accuse this advert or the app for her killing herself. Misplaced blame because I couldn’t bring myself to blame her. Still can’t. Not after… well, it doesn’t matter. But many years of experience later, many years of seeing things, going places that aren’t really here or there, seeing people like you…”

He looked over to the flickering VHS Duvet Queen, who had summoned Peaches into her lap, where the cat had curled up, purring happily.

“And now I think maybe it wasn’t as insane as I thought. To think maybe the advert, the app, the smile – they did something to her. Hypnotised her into thinking this was the best idea. But I’m not stupid, even now. I know if she hadn’t committed suicide back then, she would have done a month later. A year. Ten years. Today. Some people just don’t get over the idea; some people don’t get the right help. And an app is never going to put a chair under swinging feet or staunch bleeding wrists – not like friends can. Could. If they knew. But we never knew. She was just… tired.”

He turned to look out of the window again, seeing a leaf still stuck to a tree lose its fight and go spiralling into the wind.

“So, I guess now Maria’s story is part of my story, because she chose not to continue it, and I choose, for now, to stay here. Every time someone I know dies, it’s another story to carry, and grasping memories of them before they drift apart like…”

“Wet cake,” the Duvet Queen finished, softly, gently picking Peaches up as she stood, replacing the cat at the end of the bed, where she happily curled up in the warm spot left by her owner creator.

“I have to go again, Kit. You know I can’t stay here forever, and you wouldn’t want me to, not really, even if all your fears were, as you found, unfounded.” She stood and watched him. Based on how she had heard, even in his own stories, how he coped with abandonment, she expected yelling and tears. Dramatics.

She wasn’t expecting Kit to slowly raise and lower his shoulders in a slow shrug. “Of course you do. That’s okay. Thanks for staying here whilst you could. If you don’t come back… well, you’re another story under my belt.”

He looked over at her, managing a small smile.

“A story no-one would ever believe, but aren’t the best stories totally unbelievable?”

The Duvet Queen gave him an equally small smile, then went into the hallway, where Kit observed her opening a portal that led to a light so blinding he had to look away. And, when he looked back, she was gone.

“Just you and me again Peaches, huh?”

The cat sleepily chirped and rolled onto her other side, and Kit gently moved himself so as not to disturb her, before curling on his own side.

“Good idea, buddy. Good night.”

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