The daisies on the patio wilt. The fly-screen taps against the door frame and the fenced sky, beyond, is purple and lilac. Dawn or dusk? I can’t tell. The air is smouldering. Curtains melt in scorched embarrassment. A drift of beige glue slides down the seam of two sheets of floral wallpaper that peel apart in its wake. Blue paint blisters into brown and black welts around the window frame. This world is burning without flames. Effect without cause. No smoke. No furnace. No screaming. It’s ominously quiet, except for …
My name is whispered in full with pleading mercy.
It sounds again in a desperate diminutive, and again, and again, and again, each utterance comes faster and faster until my name has become a sinister chord with sinister intention and breath is short and shallow and ineffective.
I gasp deeply for air, and I'm awake.
The phone is ringing. Reality is calling me. I pick it up. The screen is cracked and black and cold. The phone is off, and the ringing continues. Wrong phone. I get up and venture toward the sound. It’s on the side table next to the sofa. I un-cradle the phone. Last night’s miserable remains glare at me from the mirror above the couch. My eyes throb in their sockets, pink with abuse and black with mascara.
I scratch an itchy nipple, and behind my reflection, I notice a man in my bed.
I don’t remember him.
"Frank? It's Saturday!"
Frank starts to waffle, he always does this, he needs a really long runway, to gather up momentum before he can land some bad news. He’s my editor. I hope he can hear me roll my eyes. He hates that. I walk back to the bed. Listening to Frank’s preamble, I gently pull the sheet down, to inspect what I can’t really remember.
The stranger is asleep and naked. That’s nice. He’s younger than I am. That’s nice. He has a strong frame and defined shoulders, that’s very nice. I continue pulling the sheet over his abdomen and all the way down until I find the tip of a shiny pink nose protruding from its tightly stretched sleeve. That’s nice.
If only Frank could see me now. The man’s eyes twitch rapidly under their lids. I am immediately envious, perhaps a little jealous. I wish I could cut his head open and page through the folds of his brain and read what he is dreaming. It’s an occupational hazard: I need to know what makes people tick. Even if the person is a cock. I find that my very best articles focus on exposing a dick of some description.
And on that subject, I focus on the one at hand.
"Frank, please ... It’s really ... nice that you’re asking, but. It’s not really a question, is it? You are telling me. Aren’t you? Whatever! Just say, ‘Harry ... I’m fucking Sarah now, and she wants the piece.’ Don’t be ashamed, you helped me like that too, remember?"
I need paracetamol, Prozac, prophylactics and most importantly, I need to pee. They're all equally urgent. I cross to the bathroom. As I close the door, Frank starts to stammer nervously.
"Frank ……. stop! Do I have a choice? One-word answer?”
The cruellest room in a house is the bathroom, especially in the morning. I look up and at the mirror, mirror on the wall and wonder what fairness it has install. The recent conversation, with Frank, plays back in my head and conjures images of his new lover and my replacement, Sarah, and her eagerness, her youthful, her beauty, her willingness and her laugh. There’s nothing fair about fairness. The mirror reminds me that soon I'll be sexually obsolete.
Okay then, the pee is done, I file the paperwork and get a string of condoms from the IKEA stand next to me, and head for the sink, where I wash away my stale mascara and pluck the mirror door open. Paracetamol done. Paracetamol done. "And one more for the pot, Harry", like my nan would always say.
Was it Matthew? Or Mark? It was an em name, I think. How the hell did I get home?
I swap the white bottle of paracetamol for a transparent orange bottle with a white child lock lid. Who says you can’t buy happiness? My prescription gets as much as I want. I take some Prozac, and as I reach to put the bottle back, I see a daemon sitting on a shelf inside the medicine cabinet, at the back, behind my stockpile of happy pills.
My daemon is a bobble hair tie. Two shiny red orbs bound together by a green elastic loop. Cherries, plastic cherries. I stare at it.
It stares back.
"What are you doing?" ask the baubles.
A disturbing question because of its tone. It’s not "what-are-you-doing?!" rhetorical and spiteful. No, it’s lyrical and curious. A child’s question, that expects a truthful answer. I search desperately for a reply, desperately, but I don’t have one.
The daemon makes me sigh so deep that I cry. Happiness starts haemorrhaging from my eyes. I try to stop but I just can't hold it back. Tears slide down my cheeks, drip through my fingers and fall into the sink, one by one. I squeeze my eyes shut, but that doesn't help either, the happiness starts dribbling out my nose too. Soon all my happiness will belong to the drain.
"Harry? Are you OK in there? … Harry?"
Oh God, he remembers my name. I quickly wipe my wet, snotty face and do a quick rehearsal in the mirror. I start by nodding, my response, a confidant, absolute but casual "Yeah, yeah, I’m fine". I turn around to perform, and my mouth tricks me into a scream. "Fuck off!" I shout.
Moments later the front door clicks open, and clacks closed. I hold my breath while I search the flat with my ears. I listen to the air in the entrance hall and under the bed and behind the sofa. My apartment is hollow again. In the sanctuary of the unkind bathroom, I sit on the toilet, with the cherry hair tie and sob.