RED

By Rachel Donald All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi

Chapter 12

Back pressed against the balcony door, she was already irrevocably bored by the mess of tools scattered before her. Her bustling productivity had led her to cover the counter in pots and pans before running out of whatever bizarre steam had encouraged her to cook in the first place. The shopping bags were still packed and now wilting on the kitchen table. In her hand she cupped a glass of wine with all the delicacy of an elixir, hoping it would enliven her and produce her own delicacy. The bottle was chilling in the fridge and she thought of it with comfort as she wrinkled her nose at the stench of blue cheese hanging in the air. She should have taken Kathy’s advice and faked it with a home-cooked delivery.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had used her kitchen. Logically, she knew she ate, but faced with the unused utensils that had been gathering dust in her cupboards for months she couldn’t quite recall what a normal meal looked like. Well, barring one component. She swirled the wine in its big-bellied station.

A buzzing sound whined around the kitchen, its tinny echo producing a monstrous, bulbous image that melted into nothingness when her eyes found the culprit whirling around a pot. The fly settled on the steel handle, silent for a moment as it cleaned its two front legs as if rubbing its hands together in glee. It reminded her of the clients who made her twitch with repulsion in meetings watching their eyes gorge on predicted figures and become swollen waiting for opportune moments to flood a drowning company with capital investment as saving grace.

‘Aren’t you meant to show up when everything’s rotting?’ she asked the fly. But she took the hint, and peeled herself off the door to put the perishables - ironic, really, considering they had already perished - into the fridge. She hoped seeing all the ingredients together in one place would strike a flash of inspiration through her. It didn’t.

She pulled the bottle of white out of the cooling rack and topped up her glass. Maybe Robert would find it endearing to find her half-drunk with no food prepared. She could say she wanted his input - she could make it into a game, some kind of feminist anti-establishment refusal he would laugh at. Or maybe she could start and when he arrived in twenty minutes he could take over and save the day. And then everyone would be a winner.

‘For the damsel in her,’ she said, closing the fridge door and toasting her reflection, a smile flirting with her face as she recalled throwing a man out of bed for pulling out a condom with that despicable slogan branded on it. She had nicknamed him the ‘fragile beast’ when relaying the story to her mother.

Her brain was firing fast, pulling in more directions than normal. She was excited, of course, and why shouldn’t she be? Robert had entranced her so thoroughly on Tuesday (and if his kiss was anything to go by, the feeling was mutual) she had suggested dinner on Friday, and somewhere in those messages she had offered to cook. Between the lines, however, this read as thinly-veiled a suggestion as a ‘nightcap’ at hers would have been had they gone out to dinner anyway. She just thought she should continue to cut the crap, as was their little joke.

They had shared a lot of jokes together at dinner and he had made her laugh so hard she thought she might wet herself at one point. He was animated and charming and so very interested in her with a not too subtle trope of piss-taking sewn through his line of questioning, which she adored. His vocabulary was endless and, at times, mystifying, which was an unusual experience. She had since downloaded a dictionary app so that, when they were texting at least, they were on a somewhat equal footing. After he had revealed he thought of her as ‘bloody intelligent’ that night she had taken great pleasure in point blank asking him what some of the words he used meant and watch as he paused in surprise each time. She dared him to re-assess her. He didn’t.

Over their starter he disclosed he was a writer by night and had a geeky passion for spending hours trawling through newspaper archives and jotting down old headlines for inspiration. He liked to create poems using these headlines. That was his real passion, journalism just brought home the bacon, kept the wolf from the door - although there were more wolves running around Zone One than knocking on doors in where he lived in Four.

Kathy had had trouble reconciling his job title with his Zone and insisted they spend their Thursday lunch hour trawling through the back end of the internet trying to find him. But there was no trace - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vine, Periscope, Google, Pinterest. Her attraction for Robert Pilgrim burned brighter instantly, as much as Milo’s topless selfies had the opposite effect when they scarred her newsfeed.

Robert had talked about hiking on weekends and the sadness that mounted in him whenever he, very rarely, was sent to cover a story in the Outer Zones. Although she had kept her face calm, her beating heart betrayed rapturous disbelief and she felt a searing, blinding connection to the man, like those shared between soldiers caught in the midst of a drone attack holding onto each other as the earth shatters around them.

When they had left the restaurant he smiled at her, gaze shifting between her eyes and her lips. He moved slowly towards her, sliding a hand around her waist. But in the bitter London wind that whipped scores of people around them on the pavement the drawing in seemed drawn-out and she saw the flashing red light of the CCTV camera trained on them at the exit as his insistence made her lower back sway against the night air. First kisses were never - rarely - perfect and so she pushed back with hunger despite her full stomach. Anyway, the wine had made her thirsty.

Now, here she was standing in her deliberately casual-sexy ripped jeans and t-shirt combination taking a five-minute break from the five minutes she’d just spent chopping vegetables to have another cigarette on her balcony. For a split second she was struck with the fear he wouldn’t show. She’d kill him. Then she imagined if he showed up in a yellow scarf. It might kill her. That scarf was tightening around her own neck the longer she spent holding it to her chest, invisible to everyone else around her. No matter its colour, she thought it was made from the wool of a black sheep and marked her as such, too. She was waking up at 3:20am now and tired through to her bones. The kind of tired that chilled you in a manner no scarf could battle against. Not when the cold seeps from the inside out. Secrets are ice to the heart and it wasn’t just Britain’s god-awful weather that had kept her in perpetual winter since she was the child who could not share the dancing wonder of the waves.

Just then, the buzzer sounded through her flat and she loudly yelped a panicked, Bugger!’ Stubbing out the cigarette on the railing, she slid indoors and froze in the middle of the kitchen, confused by the havoc. Should she try and tidy some of it away? The buzzer grated a little longer the second time around and she tore to the intercom to answer.

‘Yeah?’

‘The name’s Pilgrim - Robert Pilgrim.’

‘You’re not some bloody missionary, are you?’

‘Only in the beginning.’

She buzzed him in and flicked her tongue against her bottom teeth before biting her lip in a coy smile. By the time he reached her front door, however, her lips had started to quiver so she let it slide from her face just before he knocked.

‘Happy Friday,’ he grinned when she opened the door, holding up a bottle of wine in each hand. ’I didn’t know what we were eating so I went for red and white.’

She groaned and moved aside to let him in, rolling her eyes theatrically. ‘You and me both.’

He stepped into her hallway and took a sweeping glance around her untidy living room before looking at her over his shoulder, grinning. ‘I thought you said you were a domestic goddess?’

’Domesticated goddess,’ she said, putting her hands on her hips. ‘And somewhere between now and two years ago when I last cooked I became undomesticated.’ She motioned for him to follow her into the kitchen.

‘I’m afraid I’m just a wild, feral goddess now,’ she said, opening a cupboard to remove a wine glass for him.

‘I don’t have a problem with that.’ He raised an eyebrow and put the bottles on the table. She wished he would move towards her and kiss her.

‘I’ll bet you don’t,’ she purred. He stayed where he was, mouth crooked in a smile. ‘Red or white? I’ve got a white chilling in the fridge.’

‘Fine with me. So, what are we eating?’ Me, she thought as he spread his palms and looked about for a clue among the mismatched pile of shopping.

‘No idea. Whatever we can make out of this.’ She filled his glass and handed it to him before picking her own up off the table where it had been sitting next to a parsley plant. She waited for him to pick up on the ‘we’ but he didn’t. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the fly run over the label of one of the bottles he had brought with him.

He moved slowly towards her, his crooked smile becoming limp as his eyes burned with intent. He kissed her softly with one hand on her lower back to manoeuvre her so they didn’t spill their wine. But they had four bottles and she wouldn’t mind. Instead, he broke the rhythm momentarily to put his glass down on the table beside them. Then he placed that hand on her waist. His large thumb pressed hard above her appendix, again causing her to bend at her lower back, which would soon begin to hurt.

She heard the fly wheel above their heads before settling somewhere again. Robert’s kisses were slow and languid and his tongue chased hers with their heads locked in position. She pushed into him and quickened her breathing, leaning to put her own glass on the counter so she could get both hands in his hair. She tugged at his curls and bit his bottom lip. His thumb pressed harder into her abdomen and began slowly moving up her waist. Sex before dinner, she thought, very sexy. She tried to lose herself in the heavy pattern of her own breath, but still the pace remained the same. After a few minutes of them swaying back and forth like bowling pins rocking from side to side in near miss, they disengaged. She looked to her wine glass and saw the body of the fly floating on the surface of the yellowy liquid. Her nipples were flat and she hoped he wouldn’t notice.

‘What are we going to do with this?’ she said, grabbing her glass and fishing the fly out, jerking her head at the pathetic, uncooked scene.

‘We can have a think about it on the grand tour,’ he said, taking a sip of his own wine as he backed out of the room. She rolled her eyes but obliged with mild embarrassment, shrugging as he pointed out the lack of ‘stuff’ and ‘memorabilia’.

‘Are you a robot?’ he joked, standing at her bedroom door and looking at her bare walls. She quibbled over whether or not to tell him about her own art but had automatically waved off sid the door next to her bedroom as a cupboard.

When they moved back to the kitchen she refilled their glasses and he took a seat at the table.

‘Nice place.’

‘Cheers.’ She started chopping vegetables again. ‘I’m just going to throw everything in the wok.’ He must have nodded.

‘Have you always been in Two?’ He patted his pockets and then pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his jeans, removing one. He picked up his glass and stood to move towards the balcony door. The packet sat on the table.

‘Nope, I started out in Three after I graduated,’ she said, turning to throw oil and the vegetables in the pan together and turning the heat on high. He was outside by the time she pulled another cigarette out of his packet. He noticed, but didn’t say anything.

‘Started out?’ He laughed. ‘Four will be like the slums for you.’

‘Not at all,’ she mumbled trying to light the fag. He held both hands around the end to shelter it from the wind and she smiled at him as it caught. ‘Believe me, I’d rather be in Four than here.’

‘You only say that because you’re not,’ he said leaning over the railing and looking out over the skyline.

‘Well….’ She paused, thinking about everything she wanted to say to him, discuss with him, show him. But something held her back, like it always did, as if she was trying to push through gauze with an umbilical cord hooked around her spine.

She joined him over the rail and glanced at his strong profile, the ‘neolithic’ bump on his brow he hadn’t realised he sported until she’d pointed it out to him. She drew on her cigarette and saw pain caught in his beard like barbed wire, and hardened in his lines like plaque in arteries. No matter her own, more than anything, in that moment, she wanted to know his story.

‘Why are you in Four?’ He looked at her coolly and she ploughed ahead having made sure of her calculations with Kathy on Thursday. ‘It’s just, surely if you’re a deputy editor you’d qualify for Three? Maybe not concerning salary but with everything you must do online-’

‘Bingo,’ he interrupted her, ‘I’m not online.’ He looked out again over London and raised his cigarette to his smile.

‘What?’ She was gobsmacked, even though they had guessed this from Kathy’s investigation. Being offline, in a sense, would take a huge potential chunk out of anyone’s DV, let alone a journalist whose online presence was their bread and butter.

He shrugged and stubbed his fag out on the railing between them. ’I don’t agree with it - documenting your personal life for financial reward, making them money from ads on your page. It’s sick.’ He turned to her and laughed at her raised eyebrows.

’But you’re a journalist-’

‘I know,’ he said, raising his hands in mock defence. ‘You think I don’t get told it’s stupid day in, day out? That I’m slicing my DV in half?’ He smiled at her and put a hand on her hipbone, playing with her belt loop. ‘I guess I value my privacy more than a fancy flat in Three - no offence.’ He frowned and looked into the kitchen. ‘I think something’s burning.’

‘Shit!’ She threw her cigarette over the balcony and bolted to the cooker that was also smoking. He laughed when she wrenched the wok off the stove, cursing and adding more oil.

She turned when he closed the door behind them and flashed an impressed look, pushing out her bottom lip and nodding. ‘I’ve never heard of someone doing that before.’

‘That’s because you’ve been hanging out with the greedy tribes of Two and Three, kid,’ he laughed, moving behind her to put his chin on her shoulder. ‘Smells awful.’

‘Still better than Four,’ she muttered under her breath and then shrieked with laughter when he squeezed her waist.

‘Cheeky minx.’

After they finished the surprisingly tasty result of her mismanaged cooking he nipped out to buy a tub of ice cream for dessert. She dumped the plates in the sink for tomorrow’s self to deal with. There were already a few corks rolling around on the counter but he came back to find her placing another bottle of red next to the two teaspoons waiting on the table.

‘Teaspoons? Really?’ He dropped the ice cream on the table.

‘Makes it last longer.’ She picked up the wine bottle and tried to shove the corkscrew into the black waxy skin.

‘Allow me, Madame,’ he rumbled in a French accent, taking it from her. Then he put the bottle down and looked at the corkscrew in his hand before turning to her. ‘You do know this is a screw top?’

‘I’m a genius!’ she proclaimed. ‘Always buy your second a screw top, just in case, you know, you can’t get into it,’ she explained when he threw her a confused look.

He said something about her being adorable as he filled their glasses. She took her seat and eyed up the ice cream, but he had other ideas, pulling out his pack of cigarettes and offering one to her. She nodded and, taking one, stood up to light it on the stove, shrugging when he pointed at the balcony door.

‘Damned cold,’ she muttered.

‘You know, I’m not sure how long you’d last in the wild, goddess.’ He sat down and lit his from the lighter he pulled out of his pocket as he looked at her with laughter bursting behind his eyes.

‘Longer than you,’ she replied after taking a long drag on the cigarette. She ducked her head to remove her eyes from the path of the lazy smoke that trailed around her head and swiped at it with her hand.

‘You speak with such confidence,’ he sighed theatrically, ‘and such little evidence.’ His tone sparked the muddy feeling of drunken irritation and her tongue rubbed against her teeth that had clamped instinctively, forming a barrier of bone to hold in the coiled spring.

In her mind’s eye, the banks of the River Cam flooded her mind just as it had burst its banks one spring, and she saw a thicket that had grown near campus, and the different berries it sprouted depending on the time of year, its dark green leaves shrouding black, shiny cones that darkened from red blisters. The first time she had seen it boasting raspberries from afar she thought the thicket was bleeding.

‘I have my advantages,’ she said eventually, looking through him at the brambles that choked her eyes even now as she felt them resting on the crown of her head.

‘As do I,’ he said, standing up to tap his cigarette in the sink. She offered him a mug as an ashtray, pointing at the cupboard by his head. He brought one down for her but stood by the sink, continuing to ash on the dishes.

‘You see, kid, I was born in the wild.’

‘Raised by wolves, were you?’ she giggled, taking a drink.

His face darkened. ‘If that’s what you want to call them.’ He smiled thinly and then suddenly moved forward to stub his cigarette out in the mug in front of her. He did this a lot, she had noticed, stubbing out half-finished cigarettes. She couldn’t think of a time she had chosen to leave a cigarette half-smoked.

He pulled the ice cream towards him and ripped open the lid, contemplating the teaspoon unenthusiastically. Without saying anything, she fetched a bigger spoon for him. He winked at her in thanks.

‘See, Four’s a bit of a luxury - certainly enough of a luxury - for me, considering where I’m from.’

She frowned. His accent was so neutral she hadn’t thought to ask if he was from anywhere but London. ‘Where are you from?’ She picked up her teaspoon and pulled the tub towards her, trying to hide her glee.

‘Aberdeen.’

‘Aberdeen?! Jesus, that’s North. Were your parents in energy?’

He pulled the tub back aggressively. ’No. They worked for the people in energy. Their DVs were low. Very low.’ He hacked at the tub even though the ice cream was soft.

‘You grew up there?’ He nodded. ‘Where’s your Scottish accent?’

‘Neutralised it at school and then even more for work. I was streamed high with a lot of posh kids so…’

She thought of Kathy and her dreadlocks and knew an accent could be just as much of a target for children, if not as visible.

‘Are your parents still there?’ she asked, shovelling a heap of ice cream in her mouth in a bid to sober up, even slightly, for the conversation. She blinked through the brain freeze.

‘Yeah, of course. I had to board, obviously not qualifying for my family home anymore, so I didn’t see them much. Then I went to Glasgow to for Media and Communications and saw them even less.’ He pulled the tub towards him again and hollowed out a small spoonful before raising it to eye level and staring at it. ‘Mum was so proud. She always said I was going to be a writer so I pushed for journalism. My DV dropped a little when I chose it but I didn’t mind - I did it for her.’

‘You had a choice?’

‘I had options. Didn’t you?’

’If you think ‘your highest potential lies in the financial sector’ sounds like an option…’ She mimicked, trailing off as he swallowed the ice cream that had started to drip, tapping her own spoon on the table. They caught each other’s eye and the corners of his mouth twitched, pulling apart two or three times before revealing a small smile. She held his gaze.

‘Do you see your family now?’

‘Hardly. I was encouraged to lead a very different life from the one we lived on the outskirts of Aberdeen in a tenement flat with single glazing that the cold ripped through even in summer.’ His voice had deepened naturally, like a growl, and she followed his shifting timbre intently. Her heart fell with his lilting cadences.

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ he continued, putting his spoon down to pull another cigarette out of the packet lying on the table, ‘I’m grateful to the system for my opportunity and my chance to escape that bastardised excuse for a life, but it’s not fair on those I had to leave behind - on those who have to suffer it.’

He lit the cigarette. ‘And the worst thing is the powerlessness - there’s nothing I can do. I can’t transfer my DV, I can’t buy them a nicer property because the tenants have to qualify for that area, right? I could send them things but they don’t have the room. So what’s the point?’

Smoke curled from his nostrils like seahorses and he leaned forward, placing his palms flat on the table, speaking gravely. ‘The system didn’t fail me. But it caused me to fail them. And now? I go home for Christmas - sometimes. We barely speak the rest of the year.’ He took a long draw on his cigarette, looking at her with narrowed eyes.

‘That’s why I say I would survive in the wild,’ he said finally, ‘because when you can suffer being the cause of your own heartbreak you can survive anything.’

Her heart crowed, beating with the strength and character of a war drum. Her jaw had dropped open as he spoke and hope burned in her stomach, sparked by the flow of oxygen shooting down from her mouth. She wanted to shake her head or ask him to repeat, almost disbelieving of everything he’d said. Surely, she couldn’t be so lucky.

He was waiting for her reaction, trying to discern her expression as she fought down the beaming smile that would, rightly, make him angry.

‘I’m sorry, Rob. I really am,’ she whispered, leaning over to put a hand on his and squeeze his fingers. He looked out again over London like a husband unable to tear his eyes from his mistress in a crowd. She squeezed again and bobbed her head to disrupt his line of vision.

‘And I do understand,’ she said. ’Every day I ascribe to this system and its empty promises and deathly values my own heart breaks, too.’

He offered her the last cigarette and then stood, moving to stand by the glass door with his back to her. ‘There isn’t enough choice,’ he intoned. ’But we hide that. We falsify it. I see it as a journalist day in, day out - we use hooks to get people reading, spins to twist the information. By the end of the piece the reader’s parroting whatever line we want them to.

‘But it’s not out of nastiness, it’s just a bid to sell stories, because it’s bloody hard to get a public that’s not interested in the truth reading the news, especially if that truth will hold their beliefs accountable. You need to dress it up, make it dance. Paint over its average quality with glamour, just like they do to these filthy cities.’

His shoulders sagged. ‘And I thought London was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen when I arrived. I got lost in it. Blinded by it.’

She stood up and moved behind him. ‘Hey,’ she said, tapping him on the shoulder. He half turned to face her and she moved into the door so they were face to face.

‘It’s hard to see the truth. Most people never do. Most people think it’s fine to forget their families and spend all their credit on things that will never fill that void, to call their fellow man rats. But you don’t.’

‘So?’ he asked wearily as she stroked his beard. ‘So what? What does that make me?’ He laughed. ‘Special?’

She shook her head. ‘It makes you, and everyone else, equal in your eyes. There should be nothing special about seeing that.’

‘What do you see?’ He pulled her towards him by her belt loops and smiled at the throbbing pulse in her neck.

She glanced out through the window. ‘I see a world made grey by greed and lack of compassion, of kindness. A lack of love.’ He leaned in towards her and she could see the red stain from the wine on his lips at the border where the soft skin met wet flesh.

‘We’d better go make some, then,’ he whispered in her ear before putting a hand in her hair and kissing her hard, with his teeth bared under his lips. He pushed against her before melting into another long, wet snog. She hated that word, and tried to banish it from her mind as it crept into her consciousness when he parted his lips, and hers with them. Her heart was still rattling in her ribs with the echo of all he had said; she had never spoken to anyone barring the professor about the inconsistencies and lies that had been fed so effectively by the government to the people that the people now force-fed each other those same lies, maintaining the dogma through self-oppression.

One of Robert’s hands moved from her belt loops to a breast and squeezed with the same pressure she had squeezed his hand just minutes earlier. She shuddered. She only had a few minutes before she gave into the desires of her body when really what she wanted to do was sit and chain smoke and thrash out their combined knowledge and get angry together.

But it would have to wait. Her mind’s excitement was mutating into her body’s and she gave a soft moan at his lips before thrusting her hips into his. He responded in kind and she exposed her neck, pressing down on the back of his head so his mouth met her skin. He skated over it with his lips and nipped her gently with a tooth. She reined herself in and the thicket once more bloomed in her mind, its plump berries bursting and begging to be picked. She wondered if the plant was like a mother’s breast, desperate to be relieved of its nectar by the students who traipsed past it every day, unseeing.

Robert was still at her neck and she opened her eyes to see the scene in the reflection of the glass door. He was hunched over throat, unmoving as the red drained from her lips like the berries that fell too soon. Outside, another fly landed on the glass and crawled across the surface where her face looked back at her.

Despite her bouncing hips, he liked it slow, the equivalent of a trot. Nothing short of spurs could have sped him up, until the very end when he bucked like a bronco among her sheets. When he got out of bed to go to the bathroom she saw her trademark red lines marking his back. He was gleefully shocked. She doubted he’d even left her with a hickey.

When he came back to bed he looked smug, even through the yawn. She liked how he looked: he was sculpted, verging on skinny, with surprisingly prominent collarbones that she hadn’t seen before on a man. His auburn chest hair smattered across his pecs and then trailed off neatly down the middle of his faint six-pac. Nestling in his chest hair was the ring. She thought about asking but, just as she opened her mouth, decided against it, realising it was probably his mother’s.

He sat down on the side of the bed and leant over to grab his phone from his jeans pocket with one hand. He stretched the other behind him to stroke her stomach. She curled under his touch and flipped onto her front. Swivelling round to kiss her between her shoulder blades, he reached over her to place his phone on the bedside table.

‘That was great,’ he murmured on her skin.

‘Mmm,’ she sounded into the pillow as he stroked her back. Popping her head back up and looking over her shoulder at him she asked, ‘Wine?’

‘Sure,’ he yawned again, clambering between the sheets. She got up and padded through to the kitchen, shivering, having finally sobered up. She threw the ice cream in the freezer and tidied up quickly for the morning, smoking a roll-up as she filled the sink with water and hopping on her feet to stay warm.

Holding the wine and glasses in one hand, she turned off the lights and made her way back to the bedroom. The faint drone of snoring met her ears and, from the doorway, she saw Robert sprawled on his back with his arms above his head and the ring rising and falling, nestled in his chest.

She stood still for a moment and watched, thinking him undeniably cute, smart, funny, independent…

‘Equal,’ she whispered to herself before shutting the door quietly and tiptoeing to her side of the bed. She put her loot on the floor and filled one of the glasses, gingerly placing it on the bedside table before she slid between the sheets. He moaned and rolled onto his side so he was facing her.

It was neither early nor late, but she wouldn’t sleep for a while and so she sat back against the headboard with her wine and watched his face twitch as he dreamt. She glowed thinking of the nights to come. Of the talking and sharing. Of the sex. She thought of him by her side and bit her lip, imagining the pressure of his hand gripping hers in the darkness they were backed into.

Smiling at his softly parted lips, her stomach full of marvel at this body in her bed and the havoc it was wreaking in her ribs, she almost didn’t notice his phone chime on the table. She looked over but it was face down. Her tongue moved behind her bottom teeth recognising the text tone, but she shook her head, loosening the hold of doubts grown long before his arrival in her life. She drained her glass and switched off the light, nestling near to him.

When they woke the sun was limping through her open blinds. Facing away from each other, she heard him yawn and rustle towards her, dipping his hips behind hers and gently squeezing her thigh. She pressed against him and stroked his hand.

‘Good morning,’ he grumbled in her ear.

‘Morning,’ she crackled sleepily, blinking at the light and turning her face upwards to his.

‘What time is it?’ he asked absentmindedly as he removed his hand from her thigh and reached to flip his phone over. The lock screen showed 9:46am. ‘I slept like a baby.’ He yawned again, rolling onto his back and dragging her onto his chest.

She linked a leg over his thigh. ‘Me too,’ she said, wondering where the message on his phone had disappeared to.

It was Sunday evening when she waved him off with an empty plastic tub to throw in the recycling on his way out. They had kissed endlessly at the front door as the round handle dug into her back. When she shut the door behind him with a giggle and turned to assess the mess they’d made in their forty-eight hour lock-in she smiled even wider.

To her right she could see the door to her ‘cupboard’. It grew monstrous in her peripheral vision and she scratched the back of her left hand as if to scrape off some of the guilt. Tongue flicking against her back teeth, she moved quickly into the living room and began cleaning up with her back to the door. She grabbed the remote on the coffee table and turned on the TV, choosing a music channel she could sing along to loudly. It was the first weekend she hadn’t painted in years.

She finished cleaning the kitchen and pulled the bread bin towards her to pull out the roll up cigarette she had hidden there when she couldn’t sleep the night before. As she dug around for it her fingers brushed something other inside. Frowning, she picked up the wooden oblong and shook it. The cigarette fell out followed by two flies, their busy legs curled and silent in death.

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