As I walk through the door and climb the stairs you come toward me, carrying two big black trash bags.
‘Hiya,’ I say, stepping aside.
‘Be with you in a minute.’
I sit in the kitchen, dark except for the streetlight leaking through the water-stained window. Minutes that feel like hours go by as I listen to you vacuum in the other room. I brought chips, not because you asked me to but because I had them anyway. It takes you another five minutes and two loads of dirty dishes to come and get me.
I follow you into your room and sit on the bed because there’s nowhere else to sit. It doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned at all but I keep that to myself as I take off my jacket.
‘Do you fancy a drink?’ you say.
‘What you have?’
‘We’ve got cider or…,’ you raise an eyebrow, looking at me. ‘Did you bring beer?’
‘We’ve got cider or cider.’
I furrow my brow and pull at an invisible goatee.
You look around the room and grab the four pint cider bottle beside the bed.
‘Is that fresh?’ I point at the half-empty plastic bottle.
‘Bought it this morning,’ you pour me some.
I take a sip, spit it back into the glass and put it down by the foot of the bed. You take a swig from the bottle. I wish I’d brought beer. You sit down beside me and lean in. I lean away and reach for my bag. I take out a half-eaten bag of chips and hand it to you.
‘Here you go. Good as new.’
I smile so wide my face dimples.
‘You brought crisps?’
You take the bag from me and start eating. I watch you as you cover your shirt in crumbs. I’m hungry too, but you don’t offer.
‘I haven’t eaten all day,’ you say through a mouthful of chips.
‘I could have come by earlier.’
‘I slept late. I felt sick all morning.’
‘Did you catch a cold?’
‘Yeah, and then I got smashed yesterday night.’
‘But now you feel all better?’
‘Mustn’t grumble,’ you spray me with wet crumbs as you say it.
I wait for you to look away and wipe at my face.
‘You kept calling me,’ you say.
‘I didn’t know you weren’t feeling well.’
‘So you kept calling?’
‘A couple more times. You picked up but I didn’t hear anything. I think your phone is broken.’
‘No,’ you stuff another handful of chips into your mouth.
‘But I didn’t hear you on the other end.’
‘You kept calling. So I picked up, threw the phone in the corner and went back to sleep.’
‘I thought it was broken.’
‘It probably is now.’
You texted me right after I had hung up. You called me mate. I didn’t call again. Now you’re sitting next to me, so close I can hear your jaw creak as you chew. I can hear your tongue moving the salivated chips from side to side inside your mouth.
‘It’s dead quiet,’ I say.
‘Want to choose some music?’ you say and I nod.
You put away the chips and lean forward to open some file on your computer. I can see your butt peeking out over the waist-band of your jeans.
‘Here, choose whatever you like.’
So I bend forward and scroll through your music and I choose.
‘Not that one.’
And I scroll some more and I wonder if my butt is hanging out like yours did and I choose again.
‘Not that one.’
‘Why don’t you choose,’ I sit back down.
You choose, I don’t like it but at least it’s not so quiet anymore. Once the music is playing you lean in again, your hand creeps underneath the back of my shirt and I shiver.
‘Is the heating on?’ I say.
‘No, it broke last Wednesday. You cold?’
‘Hm,’ I wonder if you want to warm me up.
‘I can run down to the basement and fetch the electric heater.’
I nod and that is enough to drive you off the bed and out of the door.
‘I’ll be right back,’ you call from outside.
I sit in the cold and consider changing the music. Your room is tiny, more of a furnished cubicle. Rectangular with a bay window at one end and a door at the other, in between the bed, a closet, a coffee table with your computer on it and a sink with a dripping faucet. Everything is littered with your things and your hair and tiny invisible particles of your skin. Dirty clothes cover the floor; clean clothes hang from the curtain rod instead of drapes. The whole arrangement looks dodgy but maybe you’re dodgy and I’m dodgy too because I’m sitting in your dodgy room, having a dodgy non-relationship with you.
After ten minutes you’re still not back and I’m bored, so I take out my phone and film the whole tragedy. I hear your footsteps in the hall much too late and turn off the camera, tuck my phone away. It feels a little like you caught me scratching my fanny but you don’t say anything, so I don’t say anything either.
The electric heater looks like a giant sized egg-cutter, as soon as you plug it in the room starts to smell rather burnt.
‘Better now?’ you say.
And I nod and try to breathe through my mouth. I fiddle with a loose thread on my shirt. My fingers twist and pull it. You shift your weight closer to me.
‘Why did you come here tonight?’ you say.
‘You know. You must want something.’
The thread comes loose and I let it fall to the floor. I have a feeling that it will stay there to see you move out. My fingertips are red and swollen from the twisting and pulling.
‘Everybody wants something,’ you say.
‘Don’t make me laugh.’
‘What do you want then?’
‘Have some crisps,’ you hold the bag to my face.
‘No, thanks. I’m trying to watch my weight.’
‘Why? You’re not fat.’
‘Yeah, I could be a swim-suit model.’
‘I didn’t say that.’
This shuts me up, as I try to think of something to say that’ll sting you like I’m stung now. You offer me another go at the bag but I turn away, feeling all sorts of repelled. By you and by those chips, crumbling into my cavities and crevices until I’m rubbed raw and the crevice becomes a cut.
‘Then I’ll eat ‘em up now,’ you empty the bag into your mouth.
A small part of me wants you to choke on the chips. In a dark corner of my head it crouches and curses you. It rolls its eyes and spits a lot when it opens its mouth and reminds me a little of that manic street preacher I saw on the high street in Glasgow. And I don’t know how to deal with that part of me so I leave it there ranting away and pretend I can’t hear it and kiss you instead.
My mouth meets yours and you said I never kiss you but that’s not true, because I’m kissing you now and the rim of my glasses digs into the flesh of your cheek and your skin smudges the lenses and because everything is smudged anyway I take them off and the world is a fog and I can’t see anything beyond you and I can’t feel anything beyond you and I tingle and I ring and I push you away just to pull you back to me and I roll my eyes and cry louder than that small part of me that hates you.
The faint light of the street lamp makes your figure glow as you stand in front of the window. I’d like to be this at home in my body to stand there in the light and not care about anything that isn’t my smokes. I’m a pale heap of flesh on the bed. I push against my skin from the inside, scratching and rubbing, and the air in the room pushes, scratches and rubs back and I have too many nerve endings and they all fire at once. I feel sick of myself and too big and too pale, so I put something on.
‘Don’t get dressed,’ you say but I can’t help it.
Once I’m dressed and my skin stops hyperventilating, I feel much more relaxed. You get dressed too and sit down next to me and take my hand and smoke. We sit in silence and for a moment I stop shaking and hurting as much and that part of me that hates you shuts up.
I lean my back against you and feel you wanting more. Like a loose thread you twist and pull me and I let you and I’m afraid that one day you will rip me off and let me fall to the floor and forget that I’m there and move away and leave me behind. You turn off the electric heater and the smell of smoke replaces the burnt stench and my stomach churns.
‘What time is it?’ I say.
‘Dunno. After four.’
‘Already? Where did the night go?’
You have finished your cigarette and let go of my hand. I hope you won’t ask me to leave, even though I might want to. Staying in your dodgy, smoke-filled room is better than being asked to leave, no matter how much I crave to sleep alone in my own bed. Sleeping with you feels a little too close, the way you encase me with your limbs, trying to absorb my body into yours. Your breath on the back of my neck, warm and humid, forms drops of condensed water that run down my skin and gather in the folds. And I can’t just lie there and pretend I don’t care but it’s all I do.
‘Do you want to stay the night?’ you say.
‘Do you want me to?’
‘Then I’ll stay.’
You hand me one of your pajama bottoms. They don’t quite fit.
‘I feel much fatter than you wearing these.’
And that makes me sting again. And I wonder if you ever sting like that. I wonder if these things touch you like they touch me sometimes, in places inappropriate for touching. And I lie down on the bed and you lie down beside me and I feel like I don’t know you at all. I turn to face the wall and you turn to face me. You wrap yourself around me, your arm around my waist, your leg over my legs and I feel that nothing in this world has ever been as heavy as your leg on my leg right now.
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