Rumour had it that she set fire to her hotel room on purpose, to make herself more interesting. Once, when we went out for beers, she wrote a sentence down on a sheet of paper and held her lighter to it. Mischief flashed into her eyes, and she half smiled as the paper caught. She said something about how there’s more of a story in the ashes. I remember looking at her softly. There was a childishness to her that almost negated her self-assured arrogance. The words burned and Viv seemed pleased with her poetic ash.
I met her in London when I wanted to be an artist. I walked into this crumby pub, the name slips my mind, because it was the only place still open past 1am that didn’t play Top of the Pops and serve two-for-one shots. I wanted a nightcap. It was a sea of black leather and turtlenecks and I felt self-conscious in my stained T-shirt and ill-fitting jeans. I walked in anyway because it was Saturday night and I was sober. She was at the bar alone, so I stayed near. It was easy to feel small amongst people who talk so large. She offered me a cigarette, which I took, and she asked my name.
‘Julia,’ I told her. We shook hands.
‘Mazzy!’ She yelled across the room. The music was loud. She started waving. She had caught the attention of a boy about our age who weaved his way over.
‘Mazzy, this is Julia,’ she said.
‘Hi, I just got here,’ I told him as he pulled me in for a hug. The blood rushed to my face and I needed a drink. He was handsome, very tall, knight-like. He wore the same heavy black eyeliner as Viv, and only now do I realise how young he must have looked. She leant back in her chair and pulled him in to her.
‘Julia’s here alone and she doesn’t have a drink yet,’ Viv told him. He offered me a sip of his, but I declined and leaned into the bar to catch the bar tender’s attention for a beer.
Later that night Viv took me into the toilet and branded me with her eyeliner. We stayed up late. They were feeding me with a constant flow of whatever Viv could find, and I crashed on the sofa at their apartment. I was staying with a cousin I barely knew at the time. He said I could stay for free if I cleaned up after myself and stayed quiet. It was a pretty cheap deal. It wasn’t long before Viv asked me to move in with them. I accepted because her apartment was closer to the bars and it would mean I could actually start setting off from the place that I tended to end up in. I started borrowing her clothes and she eventually took me shopping, stating that I needed to find clothes to better fit my taller frame. She was still a student then and my job at the café barely paid rent, so she taught me to go shopping in clothes two sizes too big. We would take the items we wanted into the fitting rooms and wear them out underneath our clothes. I could get away with an entire outfit for the price of a hat or hairpin. I wasn’t used to this. I was brought up honestly, without corruption. That changed swiftly after I met her, but I was grateful for it. I felt wanted.
The apartment became a nocturnal paradise where time didn’t exist. Mazzy made films and we would spend a lot of time together, writing scripts and re-organising the flat as different sets while Viv smoked in the corner and spouted some shit about gods and monsters that we ate up like she was Jesus. She thought she could change the world and we believed her. Some of the stuff we were writing at the time could have been something, but Viv kept the notebook and it got burnt up in the fire. Talk of tomorrow was our downfall because we were too invested in today. Once or twice, we put posters around town to try and reel in an audience for our living-room plays but the largest audience we got was a group of five. They were grey hippies and I’m not entirely sure they knew where they were. Sometimes we’d get strangers knocking on our door to tell me my parents were calling the phone box at the bottom of our road, so I’d drink a pint of water and run to the end of the street to lie to them about my budding career and how much I was eating.
That was pretty much how it went for a month or two, the only consistency was in the emptying and refilling of our ashtray. We were in love. We kept the world shut out because we thought we didn’t need it, and in that room, we were everyone and no one. We were safe. One night, Viv was really upset but wouldn’t say why. We kept bugging her about it, but she just kept saying she was fine.
“I want to go to the bridge and light a candle for the suicides,” she eventually told us.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s dawn.” Mazzy said.
“Exactly.” She insisted, and we went.
We found a candle each and picked up a four pack on the way. Viv did a speech I can’t remember, but I know that I cried. She threw her ring over the edge and called it a sacrifice, then we lit our candles and held hands. It was sunrise and Mazzy liked the quiet and the birdsong. We caught the city in its only moment of sleep. Viv took my hand.
“I never want to be old,” she said.
“Me neither,” I replied
“I think I won’t be.”
I looked at her, and then she said, “I just think it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
I didn’t know that this wasn’t original when she said it so I thought it was one of the most beautiful sentences I’d ever heard. We got home and she painted it on her wall in red. Mazzy got mad because we were renting, and the landlord didn’t know about me, so he didn’t want to draw any attention to us. Viv didn’t care.
What I remember most clearly from the month I stayed with Mazzy and Viv is the end. The rest is mostly a mismatch of neon nights and faceless days where the only reality existed in us. I woke up in the ER to Viv with her legs up on my bed as she smoked out the window. When she saw I was awake she fluttered over and kissed me on the head, congratulating me on my first OD.
I was let out the same day with some pamphlets about rehabilitation centres and psychoanalysis. I was hesitant. I’d seen the textbooks at school about lobotomy, so I threw them out. Later that week I returned to work. My boss laughed me out of the door. I hadn’t been in weeks. Mazzy had gone wild on the spending because they had my rent money to tide them over, so when I couldn’t pay it, we were fucked. We tried to put on more plays and charge for tickets but they weren’t very good so it didn’t last long. Eventually, I had to ring my parents and ask for help. I am a crappy liar. I always have been, so they didn’t believe I was fired unjustly. They refused to pay. I was lectured about responsibility and told to come home. When they pulled up outside the apartment, I could see my mother was shocked at how my clothes hung off my shoulders. They sent me to a clinic in Salisbury.
There was no real goodbye. It ended as it began; accidentally. On the ride home I was trying to piece together memories, but it was like trying to remember a dissolving dream.
Nine years later, I found myself in London again for work. I was always scared that it wouldn’t feel like mine anymore, like going back to your family home after a new family has lived there and redecorated. I don’t think I went to seek Mazzy and Viv out, but I kept finding myself looking for signs of them in the graffiti or gallery spaces. I even went back to the bar where we first met. By the end of the week, I realised South London was bigger than I thought. It existed beyond what we claimed as ours. I was actually in Henry Slick’s, a laughable excuse for a bar, when a man around my age with dark, short hair and glasses walked in. He sat down at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. I sat near him and lit cigarette.
“Julia?” he said. I recognised the voice instantly.
“Mazzy?!” He kissed my hand. “I didn’t recognise you!”
“Nobody calls me that anymore,” he said.
“Oh, I never knew your real name.”
“Matthew,” he told me.
“Oh, okay.” There was a pause. I didn’t, still don’t know how to act in the ugly face of change. I felt the London dream falter. I felt old.
“Even Viv?” He looked at me.
“Even Viv what?”
“Not even Mazzy to her?”
He looked at me. “Oh, Viv’s dead.”
“She never learnt her limit.”
“She OD’d?” My voice cracked and he nodded. “Fuck.”
He gave a sort of laugh and took a sip of his drink, then motioned to the bartender for another, which he gave to me.
“I’m sober now, Mazz.”
“Me too,” he said and clinked my glass. We both drank. The tonic water hit my tongue and I scrunched up my face, so I ordered a lime and soda instead. There was another pause.
“About six years ago, two years after she almost killed herself in the fire. You ever read about that?”
I nodded. “Her poor family,” I said.
Mazzy looked at me with furrowed brows, “Viv and I met in a group home. We don’t have family.”
I lit another cigarette. My sacred memories instantly rewrote themselves. I guess I was arrogant to think that I knew them better than anyone. They really did exist outside of what I knew them to be. I knew a fragment of them, what they wanted me to see, and yet they knew all of me.
I said goodbye to Mazzy. He gave me his phone number and made me promise to call, and I left for the bridge. I went via an off license and picked up three candles and a beer. When I arrived at the bridge, I lit the candles and raised my can to the sky before emptying it in the Thames. I thought about her, us, the Mazzy with blonde hair and no surname. I said goodbye to it all. Everything felt so fragile, like if I stepped down too hard the world would fall apart and reshape into something unrecognisable. There was a small breeze, and one candle wouldn’t stay lit, so I took off a ring and threw it over the bridge. It was sunset and I felt everything.