He says my flat is like the Tardis, loads bigger inside than it looks from the street. He’s right, too. It’s got a tiny doll house front door and a staircase that goes round and round and up in a barley sugar twist, my living room blooming high and wide as you go in. My rooms are pretty like a chocolate box, soft furnishings of quiet pastel; the porcelain figurines my Gran left me lined up in rows on the shelves and along the mantelpiece, and on the top of the telly.
He calls our Fridays date night, but we’ve never been on an actual date. No dinner in a candlelit restaurant, or necking in the back row in the pictures, no dancing hip on hip, and lip on lip. I’ve never put on a nice dress for him or painted my face, and gone walking into town holding hands. But, just look at him. Tall and lean, hair thick and clean and blond like the beach in holiday brochures; close my eyes and I smell the sea, same as when you hold an empty shell to your ear and the water laps on a shore, right there.
One Friday, I watch from the bedroom floor as he’s pulling his jeans back on. The belt buckle slaps against his thigh.
‘I love you.’ It’s a shock when he comes out with it.
He blinks. ‘I love you.’
My words whoosh out. ‘Me too.’
‘Really?’ More age slips from his face.
‘Of course.’ But my larynx sheds rust.
Air is snatched from my lungs as it hits me. I’m not in love, am I? I don’t love him, not at all. I don’t even bloody well like him. Not as a person. This isn’t what I want. He isn’t what I want.
I want to be in love.
I want to be happy, the sort I read about in books. I want to die of summer, feel the sun kissing my face more surely than he ever could. I need the feel of a firm hand curving my hip and pulling me close, lips resting softly on my temple, the small of my back moist and sticky, cheeks flushed and pink, my pulse racing in my wrists. I want it all, and more.
And yet instead, I gift him a shy smile. Coquettish and coy, I get up and walk over. He covers my mouth with his. As our tongues dance awkward and slow, bumping this way and that, moving out of time, the figurines around us, my figurines, curl their spines into round shells, strike a pose, and freeze frame. The pile carpet thickens under my feet and, the ceiling pressing the top of my head, it bends my neck crooked, the walls around me closing in.
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