When her fist closes over the cube, all the colour in the room goes out of existence. Black, white, grey, that is all that is left. Other patrons of the pub look in their direction en masse, some displeased, others blinking as if to adjust.
"I should take this into the vault of my body," says Angelica, her fist pressed against her breastbone. "I should press this into my endless heart, where you would never find it in a thousand lifetimes."
"Please," he meets her black eyes, speaking earnestly. "Don't."
"What were you thinking, you son of a bitch?" For the first time, Angelica looks like a hellion now. Menacing, baleful, looming, her beauty dark and stark. "That life was a problem, something to be solved? That it was a game you had to quit while you were ahead?"
"Do you not understand joy and sorrow?" The soldier hangs his head. "They struck me together in the core, they knocked the breath out of me and left me yielded and broken."
"And didn't you think-"
"I was in too much pain to think," he says. And, looking at him, at his honesty, her resolve wavers.
Angelica sits down abruptly where Fantasy has been. Slowly, as if reluctant, she brings her hand away from her bosom. Lays her forearm on the table, presses the Rubik's cube forward. "Take it, lost one!" she hisses.
Then she opens her hand.
The colour red returns first, flooding those Cupid's-bow lips, that devil dress. The fireplace regains its warmth; someone peels a tangerine and the citrus scent spreads. Soon there are yellows- Camus' shirt, a glass of bad champagne somewhere. The colours continue in this fashion, marching home in single file in order of wavelength, until even the deepest purple is done. Angelica's eyes are brown again and she looks sweet and approachable.
The cube had been mixed up when she'd first taken it. She watches him dazedly realize that each side is now only one colour.
"It was never unsolved in the first place!" Angelica gestures to the child's toy with her other hand. "It was never unsolved, just unorganized!"
And then it clatters onto the table (just below the word themes) as her face presses into her hands, elbows on the scarred old wood. The perplexing Angelica begins to cry into her own soft palms. The tears sizzle and fizz away, steam rising like ghosts.
"You've got it all," she sobs, "you've got everything there is. Every place you've ever been or seen, every sound and song in endless colour, every story ever told and everyone you know... Your very own catalogue of perfections, full of flowers and tropical birds and lush life!" Her voice cracks apart, crumbles into more tears.
She sniffles and sobs and Jade reaches into her pocket as if for the antidote to sadness, coming up with an electric-blue handkerchief instead.
He passes her the handkerchief and she takes it, nodding her gratitude. There's a momentary lull, the tense peace before comeuppance.
"You have Paradise inside you, soldier. How can you say you are unhappy, how can you let your smile droop and eyes fade?" Angelica dabs at her own eyes with the handkerchief. "You would rob the world of your Paradise." Her sultry voice grows in vehemence and heat. "I tell you as true as there is sand on the beach, a suicide is the boldest of thieves!"
The spark in the voluptuous spirit's eyes is searing-sharp as she looks across the table. "Fuck you, fuck you!" she cries out, lashing him with her gaze. "Robbing chants from the mouths of revolutionaries, tearing dreams from the heads of children on a whim!" She waves the handkerchief like a flag in his face. "A thief, a thief!"
He recoils as if burned from the words, the glances. Angelica can see the strokes of her fiery tongue char his thoughts. Blood and something bright orange run from one corner of his mouth, there are squiggling welts on his arms and across his collarbone, she can hear his pulse.
"Yes, alright," says Jade. "It's true. I'm bleeding out on the table somewhere from my wrist. It's a very stereotypically feminine way to commit suicide; probably the most ladylike thing I've ever done." She leans heavily on the tabletop. "But you do not see through my eyes. You know only that it is wrong, not why it happened anyway."
He puts his left forearm face-up on the table. The blood flowing from it smells of tears and cinnamon, and carries tiny, five-pointed golden stars in its tide. "Taste it, beautiful one," he says, his voice low and slow. "Taste it and tell me I'm a shithead for spilling some."
They lock eyes for a long time, each daring the other to see their point of view. Jade is struggling not to fall face-first into the tabletop, battered and scorched. Her shirt is burnt and laid open to expose the flesh over her heart. She could swear she tastes cinder and woodsmoke, that she holds hot coals of truth under her tongue.
Angelica reads regret in him- in the curve of his shoulders, the way he holds his head. "Fine," she says. "I'll do it."
Reaching out to his arm, she strokes her fingertip along his wrist, wiping blood onto the pad of her index finger. With mere skin contact there is a sense of collected and powerful force. She brings it close to her face with a pause. "You are Canadian." She knows now for sure.
Then she puts her finger in her mouth.
In an instant, flowers bloomed and died and dried, burned to ash, the wind whisped them away. Explosions flashed and rattled until all was barren and torn-up. A firefighter vomited violently from radiation poisoning. A chorus of birds around the world dropped dead species by species, learned to cuss, tapered off into silence. The last human being on earth wished in vain for a cyanide capsule.
There were the same number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy as synapses in a newborn baby's brain. One person out of a million achieved enlightenment. There were evergreen trees so large that rather than cut them down, humankind cut an overpass through them and still they lived. The constellation Orion stopped running to take a piss. Two birds debated string theory. The English language had children, then died...
All of this has just happened on her tongue. And more.
The blood of a suicide never tastes of copper in the underworld. This mouthful simply tastes overwhelming- the concept, not overwhelming-ly anything.
Angelica carefully folds shaking hands in front of herself. There are tears evaporating on her face again, and she's struggling to keep control of trembling lips. "I'm not sorry," she says.
"You don't have to be," says Jade. "You just have to open your mind, and you've done that. Do you know how I felt now, when I did it?"
"I do, I do," says Angelica. "I cannot hold you in contempt anymore." She swallows. "The Lower World will always exist. Suffering can be conquered by sheer courage here, and the virtuous practice one could call attachment is easier. Your world must constantly move to stay afloat- here we are free to stand still." She reaches across the table again and takes his hand, just to demonstrate the sincerity of her statement.
Jade experts her to feel hot to the touch, but Angelica is no warmer than any other human.
"I was mortal once," says Angelica. "That's why I have a discernible nationality and The Proprietress doesn't. Thank you, lost one." Angelica wipes the golden stars off her tongue, and they stick to the handkerchief as if welded on.
"You've reminded me what it's like to be afraid."