The flames rise all around her. Fumbling. Licking. Fingering. She screams and I smile.
When someone you love loves someone else more, it does strange things to your mind. I’m not proud of the person I’ve become these last few years, Michael, don’t ever think I am. But you didn’t have to make me this way. You could have loved me. You could have put me first, like you said you would. That’s all I ever wanted.
“Stop it, Rachel. Please don’t do this…”
I’m sorry, dear, but I can’t hear you over the screams. You’ll have to speak up. She’s making such a terrible racket, can’t you hear?
I suppose I always knew I didn’t have you entirely. That there were others who caught your eye, stole your time, took you places you felt you couldn’t go with me. I know I couldn’t compete. I’m not as smart as they are. I couldn’t ever make you laugh like they do, or think, or feel. But you used to tell me that didn’t matter. We both know that isn’t true any more.
When someone you love loves someone else more, you have to teach yourself to stop loving them. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes the only way to do it is to exchange that love for another, equally powerful emotion.
I should have known it would end like this. The first time we met, that bookshop café, even then I could tell your eyes were wandering. You did that trick with the reflection from your watch. Moon rising over bookshelves. It was the sort of thing a boy would do to impress the girl who sits next to him in class. Charming. Mischievous. Then you recited some line. It wasn’t yours. But you didn’t expect me to know that. Besides, I was giddy. Putting on a show of my own. I made a muffin case tutu for my fingers and ballerinaed them up your arm. It was only so I could touch you. I wasn’t usually so forward.
Look at her twisting in the fire, Michael. See how her jacket catches, flares, engulfed. Watch her, still struggling. Warped, contorted, violated. Know that it’s not me doing this to her, darling. I’m sorry, but that responsibility lies entirely with you. How does that feel?
“You bitch! I can’t believe you’d— What’s wrong with you, Rachel? Why would you do this? Why?”
Oh, Michael. You used to say it was love at first sight, and at my worst, I believed you. I think you convinced yourself to believe it too. You’ve always trusted in the clichés. I bet you think if you keep struggling against those ropes, you’ll eventually work your way loose and stop me. The way it always happens in stories. Just in time. But that’s not the way it’s going to go. I’m sorry. Some knots only get tighter the more you wrestle them. That’s something I’ve learnt at my cost. No, you have to watch this, darling. You have to watch it all. It’s for your own good, believe me.
When someone you love loves someone else more, it’s like they’ve stopped being with you, even when they are. You think I didn’t notice, how every conversation we’ve had these last few years always started with me? What I did at work, the latest gossip from my friends, where I’d like us to go this weekend… Oh, I know that since you lost your job, you don’t feel like you have anything to contribute. Nothing happens in your life anymore, except that you spend all your time with them. And you don’t like talking about them, do you? Not to me anyway. You don’t think I understand. But even when you do have something to say, it’s never yours. That way you had of describing the rainbow (‘a hundred and eighty degrees of illusion’?); all those crazy theories on global warming; the story you told me last week about the squirrel… you got it all from them. From one or another of them. I don’t think you could have an original thought if you tried. Maybe this’ll change that. I doubt it.
If only you could have come and watched TV with me. Just once a week, sat with me on the sofa; I’d have let you have the remote, pick the show… I’m sure there’d have been something you’d like. Something we could have watched together. Something to take you away from them, if only for one hour…
“Nazi! That’s what this makes you, Rachel – do you realise that? You’re no better than a Nazi…”
Yes. Well. I think she’s dead now anyway. The screaming stopped a few minutes ago, but I’ve been watching the fire eat what’s left of her. Shrivelling her spine. Splitting her headband. Silencing her words. Ash – that’s all she is now.
But there’s plenty more where she came from, Michael. A whole library of your whores to burn. So… who’s next? Go on, I’ll let you choose…