'The Anniversary Party' by Cath Humphris

There is a slice of blue bread in the toaster.  The machine burned out weeks ago, filled with years of dust. 

            ‘Women’s work, cleaning,’ he says.

            Our friends think he’s joking, mine that I am.  ‘What are you still doing?’ They ask.

            I love him.

            But this feels like a long slow goodbye.  My reluctance is out of time and I should accept disgrace, instead of these building tensions.  Habits have formed and fouled the dreams I once had. 

            I am descending from the improvised coat-room, dithering to watch couples dancing in the sitting room, when I hear his voice rising in the kitchen.  He dissects, displays as crudely as a stirrup couch, the internal life of someone he admires. 

There is laughter, the chink of glass on glass and the sound of someone searching the cupboards. Don’t ask him, he can never find anything in this house. Standards form a wavering line between us, pulled and pushed by our polarities.

I back up and wait on the corner of the stairs looking out of the window, ready for him to find me.  Ours is a garden of weedy veg.  I pick bitter leaves for breakfast and our supper is distilled from soporific bird song, that’s the secret of our survival.

            Once, our meetings were structured coincidences.  I crossed the high street to the indoor market and he stepped out of the Quayside alley to greet me, only an hour after I had seen him leave for the east. My heart skipped into a new rhythm.

            It seemed romantic then.  Now, I have forgotten how to laugh.

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