You have no new text messages. Your mailbox is empty. You sit on your cracked, leather sofa and stare at the dirty yellow wall. You pick up the phone and dial his number - a well-learnt mantra of sevens and zeros. A Smiths song blares back at you, ‘there is a light that never goes out’. You know what it means: unreachable. You hang up.
You run a hot bath, add some lavender oil and climb in. You savour the feeling of weightlessness; embrace the heat as it scalds you. Small flecks of candle-light dance around the room.
The next time he reappears, he goes straight to your bedroom and sits down. He wants to talk. You can tell by the way he sits, tense and uncertain - his short, sharp breaths. He has that flighty look in his eyes that you have come to recognise. This is the closest room to the front door and gives him the quickest route of escape.
“My mum’s really ill, you know? I’ve been looking after her. I don’t know what to do.” You hate yourself for not believing him. Last time it was an ex-girlfriend.
“She’s fucking crazy. Did I tell you she killed someone once? She did all this black magic and they died a week later. She did the same thing to my dad.” This startles you. He’s never mentioned his father before.
“My dad was a fucking nonce.” The pain on his face when he talks about his father breaks your heart. There are some things he will never tell you. He doesn’t need to. You wonder if he has ever told anybody. He breaks down sobbing into your chest. You hold him there, stroke his head, tell him it’s ok. You bring him cigarettes, a drink from the kitchen, silently offer him your pulse.
This is where you both fall asleep, at the end of your bed, him cradled in your arms, against your chest. When you wake up, you are at the end of your bed alone. You find a piece of paper propped up against the computer in the lounge, next to the space on the couch you most frequently inhabit. A note, something tangible. You trace its curling lines, wonder if there is anything in them you can use to decode him. ‘Thankyou, I really don’t know what I would do without you. xxx’
For a second, you feel like crying. Instead, you pour a vodka and coke.
Things have escalated, it leaves you always wanting more. You have hedonistic nights on ecstasy together, occasional brief violent kisses. In bed, you both remain clothed.
The next day is always painful. The curtains remain drawn, candles flicker. No food is taken, only vodka or beer. Sometimes, he will weep in your arms. More often he will sit in your bedroom in the dark, privately mourning a past he cannot lay to rest. Sometimes he will go days without eating, refusing all that you offer. When he does eat, you hear him retching later.
When he leaves again, you feel he has taken something with him. You sit on your sofa, hollowed out from inside.
It’s getting to the point where he sleeps in your bed more than not. There is a small, yet ever growing pile of his clothes in the corner of your bedroom. In another person, you might call this behaviour territorial. In him, you don’t know what to call it. In his absence, you sometimes wear the jumper about the house. It’s black, heavy, consolatory. You like how big it is on you, how it swamps you. You like how it smells: tobacco and summer nights, musty and sweet.
During an absent period, a text message from an old flame prompts a new top, red lipstick, high heels. You waft out the door and click-clack down the road, a hot sweet scent trailing behind you like a stray dog.
This boy is all eager smiles, compliments and offers of fine wines, which you take and drink too quickly with a shaking hand.
He asks, ‘how have you been?’ and ‘what have you been doing?’
You mention parties and outings, a terrible visit to your mother, a friend you used to see. What you don’t mention: nights at home staring into nothing, a pain that eats at you night and day, how much you are drinking. You omit one name from every story.
This boy talks of work: an office job, his flatmate, their cat. After two drinks he talks about you, in increasingly positive language. ‘It’s really great to see you. You’re looking really great.’
You smile, but don’t respond.
After two more drinks you leave together and head into the cool evening air. The sky, lilac and mauve, swoons above you. Wisps of cloud paint shapes and faces over the brightening stars.
Back at your flat, you make more drinks, yours slightly stronger than his. You talk more, casually brush shoulders, allow hands to linger on knees.
You masochistically wonder at the consequences, in this time, in this presence, of three short, sharp buzzes at your door. They don’t arrive.
In the urgent press and rub of bodies, in the breathing and the groaning and the sweat, you try to remain present, keep your eyes open, remember who you are with. You wish you had managed to knock back just one more vodka.
In the morning, this boy kisses your forehead before he leaves to go to work. You feign sleep. At midday you get an email.
‘Last night was amazing. I really, really had a good time :-)’
You hit delete.
You sit and stare at the wall for a while then take a shower, get dressed, do your make-up.
You look in the mirror. Who is that, you wonder?
You lift up the receiver and dial the number you know so well. He answers on the fifth ring, surprising you.
‘Please?’ you hear yourself say into the receiver. The word leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that repulses you.
Two hours later, he is there.
Things are spinning inside your head: a mixture of vodka, hash and a four-letter word you hope never slips from your mouth, hungry and selfish and unreturned. You want to cry but you just keep drinking, knocking back vodka, toking on the spliffs he hands to you. He knows something is wrong and it’s making him jittery. He’s not used to being the strong one.
‘Do you wish you never met me?’ He says it quietly, staring at a stained patch of the deep blue carpet.
You laugh without smiling. ‘No.’
‘Do you hate me?’
‘Of course I don’t hate you,’ you snap.
‘Then promise me.’
‘That we’ll be friends forever.’
He sounds like a child. You laugh again.
‘We will won’t we?’
‘Be friends forever?’ He’s still staring at that same bit of carpet.
‘Why? Why not?’ His eyes widen.
You exhale slowly, measure one word against another. ‘Isn’t it obvious?’
‘What? Why not?’
This really isn’t helping. You knock back another vodka and take a deep breath. ‘You’re my unrequited love, for fuck’s sake, it was born to be tragic!’
There. You said it. The word unleashed from your mouth, wild and dangerous. You wonder what he will do with it now? Throw it in the bin or put it away for safekeeping, to be taken out and admired like a prize when times are low.
Beside you, you feel his body tense. He doesn’t speak.
© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.
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