In her handbag, she’s got this pocket-sized map of the world. She leafs through it from time to time looking at all the places she’ll never get to visit. It makes her sad, but she keeps such grief to herself. Also in her bag, there are the small stones she collects at random named after computer game characters as well a note written by an old lover. She still thinks of him, but that too she keeps a secret. As she stands on her doorstep wrapping a scarf around her neck and putting on her gloves, she frowns at how cold it is before setting off. Her nose is pink, as are the tips of her ears, and as she walks into town, she loses herself and thinks of what it would be like to wake up happy. To taste a little freedom from the drudgery of these days that always seem the same. Mustn’t grumble. But grumble she does as her feet slip and slide across the icy ground.
As she throws out her arms to balance herself, I’m already back from work. Making myself a cup of tea and rustling up some breakfast, I eat it on my bed before stripping naked and lying down looking at the ceiling. At first, it feels as if I’m going to fall asleep, but then I think of her mid-drift and what it felt like to hold her in my arms while sniffing her hair. Such nostalgic thoughts make me warm, and then they excite me. Putting on some Sufjan Stevens, I think of her beneath me and the colours of her body and the redness of her lips while touching myself as if my hands weren’t my own but hers. The band of frayed fabric around her right ankle. The fleshiness of her thighs- such thoughts take me to the brink, and when I see myself kissing her neck listening to her hushed words, I lose control and shoot my stuff. Motionless as a sigh escapes my throat, I swim in memory a little more before sleep pulls me under.
By the time she gets to where she’s going, all the bones in her body ache and feel somehow dead. Is this what it feels like, she thinks. Is this what will happen when I’m dying? Unwrapping her scarf, she sits down at a table that overlooks a sea of buildings and streets. People move anonymously. They drift like water. The thought makes her thirsty, so she opens her bag and takes out a bottle of juice. It used to be Coke, sometimes Dr Pepper, but now she takes better care of herself. When she swallows half the bottle, she puts it back and eyes up the zipped compartment that holds the note. She doesn’t like reading it too often because it’s not wise to live in the past, but she decides to do so this morning on account of how cold it is, and how many hours she’ll be away from home. Pulling back the zip, she slides out the folded piece of paper and places it on the table, and when she slowly opens it like the petals of a flower, the words make her smile. They ease the ache in her bones and for a few seconds, she feels like the world moves around her, followed by the sun and the stars and everything else. After all, that’s what it says in the note.
When I wake an hour later, the music’s stopped and the seed on my belly has dried. Hobbling to the bathroom, I run a shower and stand there shivering. There’s an ache in my mouth. Cancer, I conclude. Scrubbing away the dirt and sweat, I peel back my foreskin and sniff. It’s whiffy, so I take extra care and attention and massage some expensive shampoo into my tender parts until I can no longer smell myself. Drying off and moving downstairs wrapped in a dressing gown, the clock in the kitchen tells me it’s a little after one. Lighting a cigarette, I look out the window at a cat balancing on top of a fence. It walks it as if it were a tightrope. Unaware of my watchful gaze, it inches forward not sure if it wants to stay where it is or get off. Lost in thought, my eyes never leave the brown and orange of its fur, and yet it’s her I’m thinking of. Flicking ash into the sink, I blow out a mouthful of smoke and picture her smile. It colours everything. Like paint smeared on canvas, it continues to have a life of its own so long after the initial act.