Last summer cars full of us headed east, piled out onto the sand, poured into the sea and rolled each other up in towels and body heat. We shared biscuits and boxes of chips, flasks of tea and hips of whiskey, revived by company and cold water, at ease with questions held between us about the future of love and work.
Over winter everything was lost, and new, more resilient versions of each of us climbed into this year. We drove up hills for the view and stood in the sleet, closer together, straight talking, hearts on sleeves, ready to learn new movements, power surging through our hopes for a better way of being together. We danced for hours in basements and kitchens and bedrooms to celebrate.
It was hard to shut that energy indoors when the spring came, hard to pull away from the future, scale down the shapes of our lives just as heat was returning and green unfurling.
And I didn’t want that future. I didn’t want to go to a place where seasons go to die. I wanted to forget about us in the most simplistic way possible, to shut out higher pleasures in search for more basic comforts. I hated to think of your curls blocking my sight, and those questions. Ah, the questions.
What was I to do with my singularly precious life? What was I to do in face of river creeks and glowing glaciers after returning to the city bore? Where will I leave a footprint — my mark in the world? You believed that it was a matter of how rather than if.
If a stupidly tepid summer decides to reinvent some memories for me, then so be it. I struggle to understand why I keep coming back to them.
We are waiting for summer. I at the window and he sat on the floor by the radiator.
Yesterday we pulled all of the keyrings and boxes of matches and elastic bands and candles and keys for other people’s houses and rolls of tape and drawing pins out of the drawer, and into that space we put summer to one side, until we have some more clues for imagining it.
Our clothes are too clean and the days are too short, too similar to make out one from the other, saving tasks to eek out the potential for distinguishing features.
The radio tells us we are in it together but we’ve nothing to say.
The woman on the golden oldie radio station we’ve been listening to since the news got too much suggested there were options. Our friend called late last night to report that the police have been given a different briefing.
With each day the corners of my life fall further and further out of focus, to stretch to reach the edges an infinite and expanding task of imagination that generates a dizzying number of futures. It’s better to imagine cooking or conversations, don’t stare at the fade out towards what comes next. Hold on to the eventual waking up we are all hoping for, when the world will be new but we will be more.
Around the same time each day we find ourselves listless in the kitchen. The antidote is either bathing or dancing.
I listen to the cry of a side plate colliding with the kitchen tiles.
I am on my lounge carpet, it scratches my bare back and irritates the skin.
I concentrate on prolonging the ringing sound.
and wish to be the new person.
There are five cookies left and no sugar or chocolate.
I have eaten the other forty myself.
No absent minded voice to accept my offering.
The berries must be plump right now - i think
as i rise.
Their juices must be sweet - I imagine
as I enter the kitchen.
The taste must linger - i hope
as i stretch my fingertips into the ceramic crash site.
And their skins peel easily
as my wall papered life bleeds red.
My hands keep tearing, my knuckles bleed mysterious injuries. The woman downstairs says she’s been using olive oil because the shops have run out of hand cream. We started texting after I flooded her kitchen and couldn’t help her clean it up.
I haven’t been to the shop for two weeks. We have everything we need and I keep a small list of luxuries I’ll get when I absolutely have to go out, biscuits and marmite. He hasn’t mentioned the shop or supplies, but we watch each other eat. I stood in the hallway this morning and watched as he stood in front of the cupboard and ate three biscuits before the kettle had boiled. The noise of the water and the dull ache of boredom distracted us from each other’s presence. The warmth of the sun cut through the doorway.
The hall has become a new and different space; a place to wait, dance, think, imagine other people inside their own houses, leaning on radiators and moving objects, decide what to do next with the hours.
What do I do with my hours? Endless flower arrangement. Reading the same book until its pages are damp with my fingerprints. Composing songs quietly to myself. Watching him.
Yes, my eyes drill into the only other human in the world. I wish we had a pet. There is something transfixing about life, the undulation of living beings; I want to fill the house with hamsters, cacti, barking yorkies, children. Little avatars of the universe, to watch.
I remember from my months on the farm that there are companies who will send you ducklings in the mail, day old hatchlings shipped cross country, subsisting on hydrating gel. Now I search for them, praying the vendors remain active, planning to welcome a brood into our dying home.
We are waiting for winter. I am almost through the window and sat on the floor by the door.
Tomorrow we’ll push all of the fobs and alarms and boxes of scissor and cellotape into another large box. And this box will be closed and put into storage. To wait for winter. We hope we won’t need it, nor any clues to what will happen in it. Hopefully not a second wave.
Our clothes are too dirty and the weeks are too long, too different to make out one from another, postponing hobbies to seek out the potential for strange apparitions.
The television is never on. But when it is it has faces on which say so much about that’s happening.
I am high on secretions and am learning how to control this process.
Distant in a comfortable corner.
Comfort in a distant corner.
This shape-shifting, insidious corner where heartbreaks, pains, happiness, love disappear. Only momentarily.
Today, my fingers touched that wallpaper again. Without stretching. It punctured a hole. The corners laughed. It wasn’t the laughter I expected. I heard the sound of a sigh. Relief under rough edges.
I had forgotten about that hole.
After all these years. rushing in rushing out, day after day, I hadn’t noticed how damp the room smelled.
Chocolate chips, stews, bar-b-q scented memories freed.
They came strolling out, rolling out, reels of them in that hole that I had punctured.
A spot of blue under the floral wallpaper peeped out.
“Can you pass me that glue?”
That distinct baritone voice contained in the blue wall cloth beneath flowers. His eyes squinted at the offending cavity in my new wall. We had glued the now frayed fabric over that first hole. My floral patterns covered the second. The scent of his Armani cologne was still lingering on it even after five years.
‘Thank God for windows!’
I pushed it open to let in the cool air.
Clouds had begun to gather into pleats.
Pleated sky over ordered land.
We had played that game as children, giving names to those passers-by. Even when they drift apart, there is no noise. Just silent,elegant, broken vapourous mass continuing a journey onward.
The city planners had done a fine job of organizing - arranging streets and lanes, highways, gutters and lights leading from suburb to city. The air was clear. We could see now.
When this all started to get real last Spring it was rapidly apparent that there would be no compromises. You’re either together or apart, you live together or you don’t. Sure, we all talk on the phone, like it’s 1996 and we’re back on landlines, but there’s no room for ambiguity and decisions had to be made fast. So I agreed. I have enough room for two and I said he could live here. I barely knew him, but I trusted him, and it was clear he didn’t have many other options. It took a few days to persuade him I was serious. It felt like a time to be human, in the most basic ways available.
I didn’t know he’s allergic to dust. I didn’t know that he can’t cook. I didn’t know he would walk around the house whilst brushing his teeth. That he doesn’t wash his jeans. That he doesn’t read fiction. That he talks in his sleep. That he doesn’t like mushrooms. That he would eat all of the biscuits. That he would ask me too many questions about the past.
But now we live together and we can’t do anything about it. He sleeps in the spare room now - in his room. He’s my guest. He asks for permission. We’re sort of used to each other. It’s not ideal.
Zelda, darling— I wish I were coming to see you soon.
The postcard was old, the blue ink had faded a little, but it still smelled like his sunny seaside town. The postcard was old, but time had lost its relevance anyway.
The silence that morning had felt, I dunno, particularly lonely? So I had tried to clean. That’s always what they tell you to do. Avoid losing your mind to passivity at all costs!
Half an hour later, I sat cross legged on the couch again. The chest of drawers in the corner wasn’t organised at all, it just looked a little grotesque, gaping out at the living room, with all of its contents strewn on the floor.
My guest came twirling into the kitchen, wearing a purple robe, seemingly listening to something incredibly cheerful in his headphones. He found me sitting with the postcard, neither colourful nor cheerful. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, as though we weren’t only a few meters apart: “What’s wrong?”
He dramatised meaningless things. I had gotten used to it.
But before I had time to come up with a less-than-truthful answer he had already jumped down next to me and yanked the postcard from my hand.
Zelda, darling— I wish I were coming to see you soon.
He inhaled sharply, clutching his heart unnecessarily. “Deary me, it looks like we have a case of star crossed lovers on our hands!”
“Oh I assure you, there’s no case of anything” I laughed a little and took the postcard back. Though too loud and colourful for my apartment, his presence was thankfully absurd enough to pull me out of that deadly passivity, a self-inflicted cross legged hell.
“So, who is he?”
Still too many questions about the past.
Determined, as always, he changed his approach.
“Darling” he turned to me, grinning, “why are you named Zelda, anyway?”
Rolling my eyes at his attempt at a read thread, I explained. “My mom has a thing for Fitzgerald. I’m sure she was a little disappointed when I turned out to be a girl and she couldn’t call me Scott or Francis. Zelda was the next best thing”
Like I said: doesn’t read fiction. It’s not ideal.
Two nights ago I watched a small, though not tiny, spider dawdle around the beams above my bed. I watched its black legs navigate the textures of the white stucco paint, climb through the soft glow of my bed time. I pondered the possibility of it finding me in my sleep, gently, unknowingly meandering across my body, into the warmth of the sheets, over the skin of my eyelids. Gradually my mind wandered to other scenarios, joyous dancing at the party we’ll all go to in months’ time, a white skirt, hair removal, hands motioning towards one another or onto the smalls of backs, the measurements of days until then.
This morning the spider was on the wall. I held my gaze on it long enough that I couldn’t tell if it was moving or not; vibrating, dancing the tarantella for me before breakfast. Suddenly it vanished - really disappeared, evaporated, teleported, ceased to exist.
I thought about telling my guest while I was making us coffee, “I think I hallucinated a spider this morning”, but it never came out of my mouth and I felt ambivalent about how the conversation would proceed.
He lies in my arms, and shows me his gums. I lay him down like an unwholesome monarch. His nape smells warm and that’s where I place my teeth and nose and eyes and soul. And that’s the dream, that’s when I wake up, and I feel bereft that it’s not real. This slowing down of life is allowing dream logic to seep its syrupy way into the stretching gaps. Its making it all bearable. The guest I installed like a cat, or a boiler, is becoming very bearable. Adorable sack of crap.
Yogurt does not freeze well. It comes out milky and grainy and loses its cream. And it’s getting a bit late in the year for porridge, we don’t need the oats to stave off the cold and we’re not doing the labour to burn off the fuel. I seem to have set myself the challenge of not going for provisions until the first month is up. It’s day twenty-two.
I seek out hills, heights to increase the heart rate and look down on life, blow away the cobwebs and fill the time. He doesn’t seem to need the distance.
Last night we watched a film made up of a series of short vignettes of famous people drinking coffee in black and white. All films tell of proximity and crowds now, human relations played out at close quarters. I fell asleep on the sofa, dropping in and out of consciousness thinking of the spider drawing lines around the bedroom walls upstairs.
Because I cleaned the bath the spider can’t crawl up the sides. I watch it when I brush my teeth sliding between droplets of water, wondering if I’ll fish it out or accidentally fill the tub. And then my mind wanders to the activities lined up to fill the next 24hrs and the spider vanishes. I have lost track of how many days this has gone on for.
I wonder if it’s okay to maintain this in-between drift, allow the gaps to stretch syrupping wider. It could be an experiment, like the month marker. I should have to not give the slippage away to my guest, or to those I speak to on the phone, checking in that I am still alive and not feeling sad. Limit my language so as not to alert suspicion. I won’t tell him about the spider.
He finds out about the spider anyway, when he falls into one of his cleaning fits. Billowing huffs of irrated breath that turn to wheezes as dust is shaken from the couch cushions, the tops of cabinets, in the corners where the spider and its family has spun their webs.
Spiders, he hisses through clenched teeth. His skin is blotchy and his cheeks are uneven red patches. He looks sunburnt. There hasn’t been sun in days. His eyes are swollen and watery, in his most honest show of emotion yet.
In fourth grade I was made hall monitor and would turn a blind eye whenever my schoolmates snuck out with their cigarettes and cellphones and little bags of cookies. As a small runt whose growth spurt would only come the next year, I had no choice. I turned a blind eye also when Big Greg, dribbling crumbs of the peanut butter gingersnaps he stole out of my lunchbox, began gasping for air and clawing at his throat.
Allergies? I ask politely from the kitchen counter. Spread out before me are the ingredients for PB and J. I haven’t started on his portion. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make him one.
He flashes a pained smile at my supposed concern. I’m not allergic to spiders, but this dust… He brandishes his feather duster. This dust is symptomatic of a wider concern.
Which is an odd thing to say, considering he had no concern for anything.
I have three tablets left, in my bedside drawer. The last time I collected my prescription it seemed like I had an endless supply, and back then I was only taking maybe one a week. I should have checked before this all started. I am annoyed with myself that I always do this and I feel disgusting sniffing and wheezing in someone else’s company. It takes me hours to wake up without them and now we are stuck here, I can’t even get outside for long enough to make the symptoms fade.
A friend once said to me - or was it a columnist - that the health service is built for acute pain, injury and accidents, not chronic conditions. It is institutionally unsympathetic to ongoing health concerns that make your life just a bit shit but not unliveable. I had to cry and refuse to leave the consultation room to even get the tablets in the first place, so I could go to work, wear clothes, visit friends, without feeling like I’ve got a mammoth hang over fogging up my presence in the world.
She doesn’t give a shit. I saw her just staring at the cobwebs hanging in the hallway last week. We’re all bored, but what the fuck? It’s not the spiders that bother me. It’s not the cobwebs. It’s the fact that the house is so dusty that grey tendrils dangle above our heads as we move through the corridors.
I think about regretting being here and then remember that I don’t have any other options.
I saw it again this morning. Balancing along the seam of my duvet cover. When I lifted the fabric it crawled inside. It wasn’t how I remembered it. It was grey. Which makes me sure that it must be real.
The house is spotless - apart from my bedroom. It feels nice, bare feet on hoovered carpets, clean kitchen work surfaces. When he’d finished he stayed in the bath for two hours. He’s gone to walk a loop around the outside of the park now. It’s getting warmer outside, the idea of anything other than this situation is becoming increasingly unimaginable. I guess that’s what happens; gradually every shape your life takes precludes you from imagining others.
“I’m so far inside the way my life turned out I can’t see the edge.”