Originally appeared in The Stranger; volume 1, issue 1; September 1991 under the byline “Tony Ramirez”. It has been edited to remove some errors and inconsistencies in the original.
My conversations with Lydia Bordland began in the late 1980s, when I was researching my thesis on Sexual Degeneracy in the Decline of Western Civilization. She was living in Portland at the time, working for a telephone marketing organization, subsisting on meager wages. It was during that time I first called her for an interview. She rebuffed me. Two weeks later, I called again. She accepted and offered to meet me at a cafe near her home.
At our meeting, I asked the usual questions: Why did you do it? How did you do it? She was obviously put off by my unimaginative queries. Having no other questions, I took my leave, wishing her luck in life.
I had two other meetings with her that summer. The second was much like the first, with me merely following up on questions I asked the first time. I must admit that her usefulness to me was only to provide color for my thesis, which I worked on feverishly all that year. She understood this and was polite, but offered little extra input.
Our third meeting was in September. Over coffee in the cafe, which had become our meeting place, we discussed less dark topics. I found she had an obsession for the occult akin to my own. We happily quoted Crowley to each other, breaking into giggles. Time had gotten late and she invited me to her apartment for a game of chess. I accepted. My thesis had been finished for a few weeks and I was more interested in Lydia Bordland as a person than Lydia Bordland as a necrophile.
Her apartment, the second floor of a three-story building, was dark. What little light from the dimming sky it would have received was blocked out by close-standing buildings on either side. The interior was done in dark, finished wood and white, cracking plaster. Bookshelves set into the walls over flowed with dark tomes. Tapestries hung from the ceiling and walls, giving the room a womb-ish, organic feel. But the feel was of a dead womb; the cloth, dry and worn, was dark as if clotted with brown, dried blood.
Lydia lit candles and placed them around a low table on which a chess board had been set up. She replaced pieces from positions already won to their starting order.
“I play with myself,” she said sleepily. “I’m the only challenging opponent I can find.”
Somewhat taken aback by her statement, for what reasons exactly I am not sure, I asked for water.
“I have some wine. Or water. Which would you prefer?”
I gladly accepted the wine. She left the room to get it while I finished setting up the chessboard.
Our game began after she returned with two jars filled with wine. I eagerly gulped from mine and settled down almost immediately. The room, though warm, had a feeling of cold running through it. I asked if she had problems with drafts.
“No, I have no problem with drafts. Do you?”
In all honesty, I must report that she soundly thrashed me in the first game we played. I had barely begun my offensive when she announced, “checkmate.” I polished off my first glass of wine and set up the board again while she left the room to refill our glasses.
“An outlaw is beyond love,” she announced when she reentered the room. I was not sure to what she was referring with the statement, so I asked her to explain.
“I mean, what I did was not out of love. But I did love them, oh I did love them…. I did what was in my nature to do but because I am an outlaw, or maybe despite it, I didn’t need love to accomplish the act.
“Just as when a woman makes love to a living person, she does not need to love, it can be just for pleasure. Because it is a woman’s nature. It was the same for me.”
This, she had never told me before. And I was not sure what prompted her to tell me this now. Perhaps it was the wine or perhaps she had waited for me to ask for too long and now, she had given up waiting for me and blurted it out.
It was as if this confession had opened in my mind a whole new understanding. I was eager to know more about her loves and about the passion she had felt for them. I asked probing questions. Intricate questions. I shudder now to think of the things I asked and the answers she gave! I know it was the wine that softened my resolve to not know things I should not.
In another part of the house I heard bells ring. It was a clock of sorts, chiming the hour. As if preordained, as if by cue, I asked the question. Oh, the one question I asked that has driven my life from that moment on. To go back and un-ask the question or to have it go unanswered.
But I did ask the question. And whether it was due to the same wine or whatever else that coaxed me into the asking, Lydia deigned to answer. We found our coats and journeyed outside into the black night. In my car we drove to the outside of the city where the darkness was full and there was quiet.
We parked on a residential street and walked to the cemetery, then through it to the funeral home. The graves loomed up from the ground like moons, reflecting the sky’s pale glow. My body shook from either the chill or the thought of what I would witness tonight, I know not. Lydia was calm, though a little excitable, a wan smile drawn across her face.
Entry to the building came at the rear. Lydia fumbled with a credit card at the lock, mumbling that she had done this before and that it had worked. At the moment that I was sure it wouldn’t and that this whole adventure would come to an ungruesome if unsatisfying end, the lock opened and Lydia swung the door outward, holding it open for me.
Poking my head inside, smelling for the first time what, to Lydia, must be the perfume of her passions, I was sickened. But also — should I admit it? — I was strangely electrified by the ghastly flavor of the scents. Oh, to admit that it was this feeling, beneath the initial disgust, this lingering desire. It was this single feeling that drew me inside the room with Lydia at my heels, her hand on the small of my back, almost pushing.
Walking down the hall, Lydia moved past me and took my hand, pulling me down the dark passage. She turned and opened a swinging door into a harsh, cold, metallic room. The smell of death was unbearable. It filled me with dread and desire. I stood, transfixed in my mood brought on by the smells that filled the room, sorting the flesh from the chemical.
Movement in the corner of the room drew my eye from my mind to see Lydia drawing back sheets from the corpses that lay on the tables. Her eye expertly roamed the length of the bodies, some covered with gaping wounds, others withered with age, until she — like an expert clockmaker — discovered the one.
If I had been transfixed before, I was paralyzed now. Lydia’s eyes slowly consumed the body as her hands drew away its covering. All this in the pale red light of the exit sign, illuminating the scene in no comforting way. No, it was if the frozen fires of Hell were on hand to light her way, to guide her hands as they languidly encompassed the corpse’s flesh.
She went about her passion as if I were not there, though how she could have noticed me in my stock still stance, my unbreathing silence. As she climbed atop the body, she removed her own garments in a painfully slow emergence, as if she were pulling off her own skin. She pulled him into her, both bodies naked and lilac-hued in the cold room, and made love to him.
Shrieks and cries of the dead and the living. What noise could this little room hold? Echoing off the steel walls and floor, the howling and panting of this woman, this demon, this outlaw. The creaking of the table, the sighs of ecstasy, the quick drawing of the breath, then the release, the primal scream of losing consciousness, the gasping, the breathing, the quiet purr.
Oh, my God. What was this. Why had I asked to see this? What part of me before now — for surely, I am not the same man as then — could have even dreamed of watching this?
And, oh! What did I see then, but another corpse, but this time that of a woman? Lydia had, in her examination left one of the bodies uncovered to the breast and oh, to see her purpose! Her evil purpose, then, was clear. That woman’s corpse; that poor, dead woman’s body was offered for me to love. Could she expect!? Could she have dreamed that I—
To this day, I will swear I did not take the first step. I know even now, even after experiencing all that I did, I was not even after experiencing all that I did, I was not changed so much that I would willingly take that path. What hand moved me, then? Was it the hand of the devil or the hand of that demon far worse, my desire? Such was the level of passion that had arisen inside me.
Still paralyzed but no longer immobile, I watched my body move closer to the corpse, take her clothing, her sterile white covering in my hands and draw it slowly back to reveal the rest of her. She lay washed in the dim light of the exit sign, naked beneath me, a strangulation burn on her throat like a ring of jewels, her skin was cold as the metal table beneath her. But that cold burnt me like fire, as I caressed her skin, that warmth moved up my arm and engulfed my being. I pulled off my coat, my shirt, all my clothing until I lay atop her, our bodies naked and bathed in red light. I kissed her softly at first and then deeply on the lips. Pulling away, my lips moist with the thick, black blood that had begun to ooze across her cheek from her lips where I had bitten them. I entered into her and ceased to be aware of anything but a burning blackness inside me, my passion, spent in a cry.
“Get up, someone’s here!”
Oh, God! My mind shot clear, my surroundings came into focus in an instant. Lydia was hurriedly pulling on clothing. We were both covered in patches of our lovers’ thick, black, clotted blood. I jumped up from the table and quickly grabbed my clothing from the floor where I shed it. We left the parlor the same way we entered and ran through the cemetery to my car. I dropped off Lydia at her apartment and drove the twenty miles to my own home.
I spent weeks in black isolation, contemplating my situation and combatting my growing obsession with the dead.
If it had only ended there. If the sequence of coincidences had only been broken in one pace, I would not be here. I would not be facing my own execution.
It was a month later. Though I had not forgotten the morbid adventure of that night, neither had I repeated it. Lydia and I spoke once on the telephone, our conversation was short and uneventful. Neither of us discussed the affairs we had shared.
I was visited once by a police detective. He asked me questions as to my whereabouts on the date of our adventure. I provided an account of my actions for the entire day. glossing over the late-night hours in which the detective seemed to have no interest. I was taken in for questioning. Samples of my blood and other fluids were taken.
I have never known Iris Donnelley, except posthumously, was my contention during the trial. How could I have been implicated? Could the coincidence of our being in the same bookstore in downtown Portland on the day of her death be enough to seal my fate?
The bookstore clerk’s description of me caused further inquest into my actions of that day. My meeting with Lydia Bordland immediately thereafter could not be accepted as an alibi due to her unexplained disappearance. My own hermit-like behavior, understandable given my experiences of that night, lent credence to the accusations that I was a criminal hiding out after a murder.
But my final fate was decided during the autopsy. The morgue was filled to capacity with the dead. Bodies were transferred for storage at a local funeral home. There had been no autopsy before Iris Donnelley’s storage that evening, and on the following day, it was my rotting semen they found inside her.
Having no witnesses to or verification for my grisly love affair, it was a simple job for the prosecuting attorney to convince the jury that I was indeed a madman, a rapist, and murderer; and that I had no right to go on living.
This, then, is my story to those who will listen: That I was executed not for the murder of Iris Donnelley, whom I loved, but for learning from an outlaw and for yielding to my desire. Would that it be so.