CODE OF FRIENDSHIP

A dark night on the festival of lanterns, the black cold of June twinkling like tiny fingers. Lanterns glow, painted and oiled, held in the small hands of children. Colours stream under the moonlight, whilst others lurk in shadows. The stalls sell exotic sweets or hot pastries and the aroma dances on the breeze. Glow in the dark necklaces, perfect circles around perfect necks. What a wonderful scene for murder. Blood seeping under the door, leaking into this winter tableau.
I can’t stop, not now and I feel no guilt, she always steals from me. The code, anything goes, except each others boyfriends. I reach the plush entrance hall, smelling of new carpet and paint. The walls in duck egg blue, a colour to calm, I am not calm. The lift doors open and I enter, press the number seven. Seven, lucky number, lucky Fleur. It’s quiet, there’s no one around.

He shopped at the same greengrocers where I went after work, looking to buy something for dinner, something last minute for a single girl. I’d seen him a few times. Tall with black hair, blue eyes. He looked shy but not awkward. He looked at me but he did not speak.
“Hi. You live around here?”
He looked startled. Was that too strong? “Yes. Just moved here, for work.” He held out a hand. “Drew.”
“Bridget. What do you do?”
“I’m a journalist.”
The beginning, a beautiful man and me, chatting over onions. Layers that bring out tears, should have seen it coming.

I got up and made myself a coffee, hungry but unable to keep anything down. As I sat at my kitchen table, lights off, only the grey light of pre-dawn for company. I could make it look like suicide. Crush pills and put them in her drink. Then push more down her throat when she became drowsy. Weed killer. I would tell her it was a new herbal brew. For strength, the one thing that Fleur always lacked. Like most beautiful things she was delicate, she wouldn’t be hard to snuff out.
Night falls around me, red and white, scarlet and pearly, blood-stained tiles. Images of half-baked plans of murder.

I asked Drew to go for a drink with me. He shrugged which I took as a yes. We arranged to meet at Harry’s Bar in town. I dressed carefully in black with a red beret to keep my head warm. My body trembled at the thought of him, I wondered about the smell of him, the touch. I walked there despite stilettos and waited at the bar sipping my drink, which was red too. I stared at my watch as the hand slipped towards the appointed hour. He wasn’t coming.
But he did and he looked serious, dressed in black, like a mourner, like me. Had anybody died?
“I wasn’t sure you were coming.”
“I said I would. Sorry I’m a bit late.” No explanation. “What are you drinking?” He nodded to my empty glass.
“A Bloody Mary. Please.”
In the quiet of Harry’s Tuesday night trade we hit it off, I thought. At least we drank too much and ended up in bed. His place. It was closer.
The soft yellowy light of dawn fell across the room. The curtains hadn’t been drawn. Awake before him I shielded my eyes from the light and turned to look at my prize. I watched him until his eyelids flickered. His dark hair disheveled as always, the blackest lashes on blue eyes. He stretched and groaned.
“Oh, shit. God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
My heart sank to my naked toes. “Thanks a lot.” I said, not meaning it. “Do you have any food?”
“I’ll make coffee.”
We sat across from each another at his kitchen table, each nursing a cup of coffee. His flat, sparsely furnished with piles of paper on the table and the breakfast bar; bills, photography magazines, A4 notepads filled with spider-like script.
Weeks passed and I didn’t tell Fleur, I didn’t want to dilute our experience but really I didn’t want questions. He hadn’t called. One day she rang me, full of news. She’d met a beautiful man. She told me he was a writer who buys her unusual presents, bright coloured journals, postcards of Paris, an exceptional man she says.
We arranged to meet at Harry’s Bar, her choice. I walked in wearing my black suit and white blouse and found them sitting in a booth, hands reaching across to each other. And I just knew he hadn’t arrived late for her.
Fleur saw me first, dressed in pale blue, she waved. “Bridge. Drew, meet my best friend. Bridge, this is Drew.” She smiled, she shined.
He stood to meet his lover’s best friend. Tall and dark, he cast a shadow over me, at least that’s how I remember it. Drew. My Drew, who’d never called. He looked at me and recognition hit behind the eyes.
“I’m sorry. I have to go to the bathroom.” I dragged myself to the ladies. Wrapped my arms around cold porcelain, my head leant on the toilet seat. Tears stung my eyes. Fleur could have anyone. Why him? Bridge, this is Drew, she said. Am I her bridge to Drew? What about the code? No crossing lines to get to each other’s boyfriends. Of course it only works one way; no boyfriend of Fleur’s has even been interested in me.
I washed my face and made my way back to the happy couple. They don’t see me at first, hands clasped, eyes searching one another’s. Drew frowned and Fleur turned her pretty head. She smiled, she had reason to.
“I’m feeling a bit off-colour. I think I’ll go. Nice to meet you, Drew.”
“Oh, Bridge. You poor thing. Will you be alright getting home?”
I nodded feebly and walked out of the noise and warmth of Harry’s into the coldness. Spring never felt so icy, leached of colour, dull though the sun is out.
My nightmare began, my own private hell. I imagined them together. His hand gentle in the small of her back, guiding her through expensive restaurants. Having breakfast together, Fleur wearing his dressing gown. So unlike our breakfast of bitter coffee and silent recriminations amid prayers for a hangover cure. Fleur would have orange juice and pancakes, real coffee.
I thought of her, how it easy it was, how men wanted to give everything to her. Did it come down to her looks? I knew the answer. She was a lovely girl, a lovely girl I’d like dead.
They asked me for lunch. Just me, at his apartment. I arrived early. I’d been awake since five, the lonely hour before dawn, the time when lovers turn to one another to keep the fears away.
“Oh Bridge! I’m so glad you came. No trouble finding it?”
No, I had no problem finding it. I noticed Fleur had tidied up. Papers cleared away, photographic magazines on the shelf, those notebooks put away somewhere safe. Drew appeared less disheveled than usual. Had she tidied him up too? He said hello and we sat down at the table.
Fleur had prepared a seafood banquet. Lobster, prawns and crab meat. The lobster flesh exquisite but when I closed my eyes Fleur’s flesh swims before me. Only her white flesh has a bluish quality to it. Dead meat.
“Are you okay Bridge?”
“Yes. I think so. I haven’t been so well since that night at Harry’s.”
“The night you met Drew?”
“Well. It was that night. But it wasn’t the first time we’d met.”
Drew shifted in his seat, his face flinching in preparation. Would I be that cruel?
“Isn’t that right, Drew?”
Fleur looked between the two of us, a shadow of fear in her eyes. Oh, how lovely. I had them both holding their breath.
“We shop at the same greengrocers. Don’t you remember, Drew? You must recognise me.”
“Yes, of course. I thought you looked familiar.”
I could almost hear the collective sigh of relief between them. Drew stared at me, eyes loaded with meaning. “Oh, course, I don’t shop there anymore.”
“Really? I wonder why.” I used an acid tone that might pop up in Fleur’s subconscious, late at night when night nurtures doubt.

Standing in the kitchen at the centre of a storm, devoid of movement whilst all around us spins and spins. Fleur’s fitted kitchen, white cabinets, the orange walls which stimulate appetite. Outside the dark night marked only by children holding lanterns for the town festival. Candlelight blurred into rings, thin red rings.
I lunge, the small fish knife in my right hand. There is a flicker of recognition before the knife slips easily into her white neck. It turns red, the colour of blood red roses. There is an arch of it, the devils rainbow. Her arms reach out for me. For me, imagine it! She falls to her knees, her eyes bulging in her face, green eyes that men love. Fear in them, panic. She slumps forward onto her white shiny tiles which are usually so clean.

Fleur rang, those nighttime doubts, and we met for coffee. Her pretty face looked pinched, white areas where she frowns and her hair isn’t as shiny as usual.
“Bridge. Before I met Drew, was there anything between you?”
I counted to thirty in my head. Flirty thirty. Hurty thirty. I smiled. “What do you mean? Did Drew say something?”
“No.” Fleur stared down into her cup, brimming with blackest coffee. Was she staring into hell too? She stirred it with a spoon.
“He looks uncomfortable when I mention your name. Do you know why?”
“Sorry. I don’t. Why would he look uncomfortable?”
“I get the feeling he’s hiding something.”
Fleur looked up as if in pain. Well, we can’t have that can we? “You’re different too,” she accused.
I shrugged, mumbled something about having to go. I left Fleur in the café next to the theatre. Plastic flowers in tiny glass vases at every table. Where you picked your food from photographs on a laminated menu. Good coffee, I don’t know how long Fleur sat there stirring hers. Maybe a tear or two fell to the formica table top. I’m glad I held back with the fish knife. I imagined the contract I had on her life dissolving until gone. No longer consumed in hate I still can’t bear to see her face, the face I would have had underground.
We don’t see each other for a while. One day Fleur phoned me and wanted to meet in the park and I figure I owed her that. Winter again, the skeleton branches silhouetted against a white sky, we wandered through the park, the ground frost twinkling in the opaque light. Our fingers pressed deep inside our pockets, our words suspended in the breath of an icy cloud.
“We’ve split up.”
“What?”
“Drew and I. We broke up last week.”
“Why?”
“There was something he was hiding.”
“Do you know what it was?” My heart beats in my cold ears.
“A girl he couldn’t forget.”
“Who?”
“I don’t know. He only spent a night with her. I don’t know her name.”
Drew did nothing and neither did I. But I thought about it, late at night, when being alone laboured my breath and I sobbed until my bones ached.

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