The veins in her temples swelled and looked fit to burst. Watery globular organs rolled back as a small string of saliva fell out of the corner of her mouth. Throat squeaked. Eyes bulged. Larynx gargled.
The ‘CONGRATZ’ badge was pulled off his jacket and he was pushed back. Acquaintances who had been his best friends just moments before, looked away. Warm welcomes turned to cold shoulders, as he was flung out the front. They were meant to be celebrating him and this is how it went. After slurring something and making rude gestures at a disinterested door, he stumbled on. The rain hammered down making hulking phantoms of all those passing on the sodden street.
He must have cried himself to sleep. The next thing he saw was the shadow of his father spreading across the floor. Still groggy and bleary-eyed he didn’t have a chance to move before he was flung against the back wall. His father continued until he was breathlessly lifting his son by the scruff of the neck and whispered in whisky, ‘it’s over and she’s gone. Now man up.’
‘I AM A MAN!’ He exploded at the darkness. The rain continued to pummel his face and shoulders as he looked around, bewildered. A glowing ember giggled through blackness. He stumble forward, confused.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘A man, are you?’ The ember replied, quivering with suppressed laughter.
‘What?’ He demanded, her voice took him back, made him feel like his nervous spotty teenage self again; but he wasn’t that any more, he was everything he’d been told he wanted. Her cackles struck him like his father’s fists as prickly anger churned in his stomach. As it engulfed the rest of his body, he felt it reach his arms out and grab her by the waist. As he yanked her forward, a voice that wasn’t his, asked, ‘want me to prove it?’
Cringing over coffee cups, she sat annoyed she’d got there first. And annoyed she’d ordered a latte for him. He was supposed to be the eager one, begging for forgiveness. But instead she was here, waiting. He staggered past the transparent barrier and nearly missed the door with his face buried in his phone. He stumbled through in a cloud of booze. The first thing she noticed was the white crust gathered around his left nostril.
‘This for me?’
‘Did you bring my stuff?’
He patted his pockets, taking the piss.
‘I forgot, I’m sorry. I haven’t been the same since you left.’
‘Sounds like you haven’t changed at all.’
He runs to the toilet.
She waits. Liquid shakes.
His phone gently vibrates, illuminating, revealing the image that made him miss the door. The image that made him forget about her. Averted eyes strain away, but curiosity prevails.
He clattered back to his seat, nose stained pinker. He quickly locked his phone, but it was too late.
‘I’m not doing this. I saw it. How many times, it’s revolting and you know that’s how I feel. This is why I fucking left you, and you’re watching it on your phone on your way to come meet me?’
‘That wasn’t a thing…’
‘What the fuck are you talking about, how can you possibly deny it now? All those times I found it on your laptop and now on your phone. All those nameless holes, this has gone beyond disgusting.’
‘I know your name. If I could forget all the others I would. If I could I would only ever know your name.’
‘That’s not the point and you know it. After everything that’s happened. After everything we spoke about.’
‘Don’t leave, you can’t. We’ve been through too much.’
‘WE haven’t been through anything. I have. Why couldn’t you have shot That One into a tissue?’
He was so stunned all he could do was mutter something about his saviour as the door swung closed and she was lost in floating heads.
He’d worked so hard, he’d sacrificed his whole life for success but all he wanted was her. He was going to invite her to the work-do he had that night. He’d made a big sale and they were going to celebrate. His phone flashed a text from Charles, ‘u still want?’
He sniffed and walked out.
Clouded sheets cocooned me in soft memories of her smile, the sleep in her eyes, the sour taste of her morning breath. After the first time I didn’t choke her, we lay together and I discovered what pillow talk was. She asked what had changed and I told her I wasn’t so angry anymore. I told her seeing the faded finger-shaped bruises on her neck made me feel sick, as I tried to kiss them away. She asked me why I did it and I asked her why she let me. She answered honestly, that she acted like a porn star so the guys she’s with wouldn’t watch it; she knew some friends from school that had got into glamour modeling and it didn’t end pretty. She asked me if I watched it and I lied and said no, not since being with her. I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of how she’d let me mould her, she seemed so vulnerable now and I had unquestioningly taken advantage of that. I pulled her toward me as she melted into nothing.
She was screaming at me again, something about the fucking computer. I screwed up my eyes but that just made the headache worse, so I waited. The door flew open and cracked a flash of lightning in my head, but she was angry so I thought I’d let her scream it out. I hadn’t noticed she’d stopped screaming until there was the harsh rapping of tapping keys on my window. Her voice and things were gone. That morning’s bright yellow sun had disappeared and everything looked cold and grey. The shadow of whoever was outside loomed ever present so I pulled the net curtain back.
It was Dad, the same as ever, unavoidably poisonous. There was vomit on his collar and a hip flask in his hand. I didn’t need him today. I couldn’t think why he’d be here, until I saw the date on the clock by the bed. Twenty years ago today.
I should’ve remembered and fucked off out the house in time. I needed to find Grace. But he’s seen me now.
I always hated this ground floor flat.
‘Can we meet?’
‘But, what about … face-to-face?’
‘Not this time.’
‘Don’t I deserve a chance to explain?’
‘Personally, I think we’ve been through too much.’
‘… Fuck you. Fuck, fuck, fuck you.’
‘That’s where the problem started.’
‘One last time. Bring my stuff.’
His fingers twitched, rested on her neck. He traced the jugular with the tip of his index finger. Her pulse beat, syncopated with the steadying rise and fall of her chest. A little pool of sweat had gathered in the dip where her collarbones met. It was his sweat too. He liked her skin, milky white. He liked it clear and unharmed. Before he made his women wear black and blue necklaces, he liked hers the way it was. When they started it was the same as every other, he’d whip her, grip her, choke and flip her. Tie her to the bed frame and blindfold her so he couldn’t see her eyes see him. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but seemingly overnight everything had changed. He no longer wanted to hurt her in search of pleasure; he wanted to pleasure her to ease the hurt. As he looked to the window he saw the motes of dust floating, suspended in a ray of warm morning sun and couldn’t help but feel as peaceful as a piece of dust, caught in the warm glow of Grace.
He sighed and rolled as much of his body as he could over hers, without completely smothering her. She asked what he was doing.
He said he wanted to be touching as much of her as possible.
The tears fell with increasing speed as she looked longingly up, longing for it to be up. Too much insolence will earn you a slap. Disembodied hands wipe away exploited tears.
He couldn’t remember getting an erection, or undoing his belt and trousers. How had he done that?
She’d stopped struggling but he didn’t notice as he lifted her by the throat and pushed her into the soaked window of the shop front. He wasn’t there she wasn’t there. He couldn’t even feel anything, but every thrust became a triumph. She was a stranger, nobody. She was everyone. Freedom. She was every girl that turned him down, every girl that used to laugh at his stammer. She was the girl he lost his virginity too, the one who saw him cry after coming inside her for the first time. The one who told everyone. She was every whore he’d bought and every slut that just wanted his money. She was the way he acted. She was the life he’d always wanted.
And then she was Grace, the one he couldn’t blame.
The blood. So much blood. There was shit too and tears, horrific sobs that shook me, but what really got me was the blood. It’d all happened so quickly, there was a splattered trail in toe prints across the linoleum floor. It seemed so simple, just take a pill and it’ll all go away. But nothing can ever just disappear, they don’t tell you it goes away but only if you flush it. She held my hand and nodded and I said yes. I had never had so much control yet felt so powerless. It was my voice that rung out in both our ears, cementing this outcome. She made it my fault.
After hours of tears that led to faint sobs, lying in bed, I tried to kiss her. I was scared of change and wanted to know it was still we. I moved my hand down her side, just how she liked it. But she pushed me off, said she felt sick and left for her mum’s. She made it me who agreed, my voice and me. There was nothing more I could have done for her and she didn’t care how it affected me. She just fucked off to her mum’s.
I’ll break her.
I clicked to open the browser on my computer and felt safe. I was in control here. All I needed to do was search for power and I’d find it.
As he came it was like an icicle had pierced through his hot stupor of hatred. His erection dissolved immediately and he fell back. She crumpled to the floor, lifeless and he felt sick. He moved forward to see if she was OK, but she stirred and his cowardice wouldn’t allow her to see his face and he ran out into the wind-whipped streets. Mind spinning, eyes gushing he ran not knowing where. He wanted Grace to know what he’d done, to know it was her fault but he forgave her. He wanted her to know he’d sold his soul and he hated himself. He wanted her forgiveness.
He wanted her.
He ran on until the lights were blinding and the world was on its side. The rain stopped, or kept on unnoticed as he lay still, engulfed by the morning sun. He stared at the motes of dust, floating effortlessly, suspended in a golden ray. He turned to look at her, face relaxed, breath shallow. He felt like he could feel her heart beat, felt it fade as he melted and became nothing more than a weightless mote, wafting, kept warm in the glow of his sun.