Jude knows even before she stepped into the mirror that her afterlife is a problem. While other spirits light up with energy like fireflies on fire, her purple veins pulse grossly in her translucent, pale skin like spiders trapped within her body as a reminder of her death by overdose.
Her stoned lover, a painter, doesn’t know how to fix her—much less wants to. He calls Jude’s bruised presence a watercolor of pain. “You need a grotto like mine,” he says, hiding underneath his stained bedsheets and smoking a joint. “To hide away in forever. To remain the same forever.”
Jude is pigeonholed in this one-bedroom apartment, so she thinks that’s good enough. She squats in the barely decorated space as though she encompasses it entirely. As she breathes, her lover breathes. The room breathes. The furniture breathes. Everything expands and collapses into each other because of her. The stoned painter sometimes says that she is a divinity, but only when he is making art.
When he is lost in this reverie of artmaking, he hums the strange lyrics of The Doors, an absent-minded spell that he casts on Jude. She is wrapped into the lyrics like her purple spidery veins. Slowly becoming entombed in a melancholic daze that only she and the stoned painter know.
One night, while high, the painter tells her how much he loves her, and paints her in fabulous purples and blues. “Like a mirage,” he says, and coughs up some smoke. “A mirage for junkies.” He stumbles into his half-painted paintings and laughs to himself. He doesn’t think she is listening when he says that mirages are just ghosts on the other side of the mirror.
She blushes as she thinks that within this hovel, she is alive. That she, among the paint brushes, stained bedsheets, and smoked joints, is an entity just as much as the painter. When this apartment was hers, it was full of light and air—the windows were open all the time, letting in the wayward spirits at night. She could sleep in their quietude, unafraid of mosquito kisses and hatching larvae. She likes to think that her romance for chaos and decay began when she met the painter at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He, with his burrowing, death-like glare; she, ready to relapse with a needle.
Now, the painter has urinated all over the walls until the mauve pink is a runny-yolk color. The odor is faint; the turpentine of the paint is fresher. While the apartment decays quickly, Jude stays in a consistent state of suffering. As her lover, the stoned painter sits on his stool, carefully stroking the canvas. Jude forgets about the smells and colors, and focuses on the purple spiders crawling within her flesh. I always feel them pop, she says to herself. She doesn’t realize she has said it aloud until the painter asks if she remembers her death.
She doesn’t want to talk about the needle or the blood, though, so she simply says ‘no.’ The painter then launches into her story, but not as a cautionary tale—as a legend really. Jude watches how his eyes light with a hellish blue fire, its ink of poison slowly blotting out the living room light. She doesn’t want to be a ghost anymore; she feels her flesh slowly become numb to the air conditioning, the vibrations of the fan.
As the painter finalizes a paint stroke, he says her name with piety. He doesn’t show Jude his painting, but he doesn’t need to. Maybe he has painted her again, half-muse, half-ghost. Or maybe the canvas is the artifact of a bruise. All Jude cares about is the way her skin moves in the skylight—a purple rune, crying for a total cremation. Maybe if she sinks into the mirror, she will be reborn. Or, maybe, the purple spiders will eat her flesh and then regurgitate her so that she will forever remain toxic to the touch.
When she asks the painter about karmic energy, he scoffs. Says that there is no such thing as reincarnation. “Living is a death in and of itself,” he says, carving a deep blue slice of color against the canvas with a butcher’s knife. “You die more and more every day.” She touches the knife in his hand—the blade and his flesh cold because she is sinking to the atomic level of daily suffering—and he shivers. Blinks rapidly and inhales deeply.
Jude lingers for a long time in this space; she imagines that his sober girlfriend who stops by on Sundays will see this orgasmic tying of fate and kill her/him for the thousandth time. His girlfriend who doesn’t believe in death echoes. But neither did the stoned painter until he had gone on an acid trip and discovered Jude in her pure ghost form in the apartment.
When he comes down, he is crushed underneath a doubled living—he senses Jude in the fiery depths of his brain. She senses him submerged deeper in his body-cavity, as though possession is merely a slight of hand.
The waves of tension release themselves in the painter’s body. His girlfriend visits and they eat Thai take-out, and fuck, and then sleep—all while Jude inhabits his internal space. For a moment, she believes that she is a corporeal entity once again. Alive, full of oxygen and blood, heart pounding a slow code of vitality.
The stoned painter’s girlfriend wakes up, kisses him (Jude) on the tip of his nose, whispers something about how he has the perfect little nose to cosplay as a character Jude has never heard of. Jude pretends to feel blissfully half-awake and mumbles through the painter’s sleeping lips, “I love you, Cherie,” because she wants the girlfriend to leave. Because she wants the girlfriend to never sleep with the stoned painter, her lover, again.
The next day, she doesn’t leave his body. He asks her to, though. “Please,” he says, begging in the murky darkness within the electric currents of the brain. But the neurotransmitters have stopped snapping inside of him; her own spiders have attached themselves to his, and she is suffocating him, she can feel it. She feels more powerful by the hour until she punches the mirror with the stoned painter’s fist, steps through the glass, and transports herself and him through the cobwebs of her purple spiders into the afterlife that she so deserves.
© 2020, Taylor Gianfrancisco