An extract from Cathleen Davies’s new novel And Marvel published 16 March 2023 by 4Horsemen Publications.
He wasn’t the first man I’d ever loved, but he was the first man I’d ever loved who then went on to kill himself, and I suppose that gives him a particular significance in the grand scheme of my life. I remember sitting outside with his mother while she handed over all the things from his will. This was during the part of the grieving process where I drank myself to near-death just trying to get through the weeks. A white butterfly landed on the wooden table of that bright, British beer-garden, and his mother told me, her eyes wet and shining like goldfish, that whenever she saw a white butterfly, she liked to think it was her son saying hello, promising he was still watching over her. I’ve never been able to prevent cynicism from twisting my crooked, facial features. For this, naturally, I detest myself.
In an attempt to improve my future prospects, and also to ease my way into an early cirrhosis of the liver, I moved to mainland Europe where the wine is cheaper and there was no one there who loved me enough to worry about that fact. Through sheer will-power and psychological repression, I forgot everything about my life from before and assumed that this, right now, was it. There was no past. There was no dead lover, no abandoned tombstone, and if I couldn’t gain approval from these new, fashionable Europeans, and if I couldn’t force this updated, troubled boy to shower me with adoration, then life was worthless. My failure would confirm that I was entirely unlovable and destined to die alone. I cried and pined pathetically, giving my heart to anyone who was cold and attractive enough that I thought they might be able to fix it, as though to fix a broken heart you require broad shoulders and good cheekbones. I thought that by seeking approval and caring too much I was demonstrating that I was a good, empathetic person, but I’ve since learned compassion isn’t really compassion if you only ever direct it towards the people you want to fuck.
At home, a sea away, a two-hour flight and a three-hour train, a friend of mine was suffering. This wasn’t a friend I’d ever tried to impress. He knew me back when I had braces and poorly dyed hair, when we made cringey YouTube videos and spent too long putting on Halloween make-up, singing along to Paramore, both deluded in thinking that the future would be better for us. We hadn’t spoken for a while. The last time was the day before my flight when he asked me to keep in touch, and I said I would and then I didn’t.
Away from him, in this new country, I cut off bits of myself to fit into a mould of a clique that didn’t suit me. I tried to manipulate people who couldn’t understand me into loving me, so desperate for a fresh start that I didn’t consider all the loose ends I’d left behind. I don’t know what my friend was doing during all this time. Perhaps it was something similar. All I know is that he must have been suffering to do what he did.
And he wasn’t the first man I’d ever loved, or indeed the first man I’d ever loved who then went on to kill himself, but—as I wish I could tell any teenager, crying naked and lonely between soiled bedsheets—your firsts aren’t always as significant as you think.
After my friend’s funeral, I lay in my back garden, allowing my black dress to soak in the heat, feeling the sweat gathering underneath my breasts and chafing where my armpits met the cloth. It’s impossible to sleep the night before a funeral. I was so exhausted, reality was made fuzzy. I rolled over onto my stomach, resting my head on top of my hands, allowing the sun to burn the back of my legs as much as it desired. Before I slept, I kept my eyes open just long enough to see two white butterflies fluttering around the green and purple flowers, dancing with each other like ghosts, and I wished that I could take a picture before I stopped and wondered, who the hell for? They kissed the petals and so I closed my eyes. I slept long enough to learn that a gentle breeze through summer trees is the most sympathetic alarm clock known to man. The butterflies were gone, but I remembered them and smiled.
I asked myself, if I was really so cynical then why did this image bring me so much comfort? Why did a passing remark made two years before and heard through a haze of drunkenness stick with me when I clearly neglect to remember so much that’s important? Strange, I thought. So strange.