You were a seed inside of me. Tiny like a fruit stone, spat out and then left to grow up.
I couldn’t quite believe in you.
I expected you to become green eyed, with a greed for edible presents. I wondered what I’d give you for your birthdays, and whether I was expected to buy you a gift when you arrived.
I hoped that someone would bring me flowers or a packet of bulbs on the day you turn up. I always liked the idea of daffodils being planted on that day because I wanted them to be the first flowers you saw. I’d use them to teach you about seasons, and dying, and about holding onto wilting things until they smell and seep sadness.
What a long time I had to wait for you.
I usually arrange next day delivery because I’m impatient, and I use the closest sharp thing I can find to open up boxes, even though I know there are better tools to use in the flat. I once sawed my own skin like Mans crusted loaf trying to pry a cardboard box open.
That was another thought- would I piece your ears and give you scars you wouldn’t remember getting? I could. The decision was mine.
Driving back, I listened to radio crisp in rare traffic and shaved the saliva from my tongue with the jagged edge of my front tooth. It was raining big heavy globules when I realised that I’d never had a best friend before, that you were to be my first, and I decided to celebrate. I turned off the car on the road and melted out of the stiff door. The brake lights in front flicked off and farmer men were sounding horns all over. I wanted to have a big fat beachaball belly already to use as an excuse. I wanted to hobble to the corner shop, glowing with beautiful mother nature, the ultimate hall-pass. You were only a pip at this point though, and so I slipped back into the mouldy and molded seat from damp and thighs, parked next to the clock tower at the end of the street and walked through the rain to grab supplies.
Guy was at the till, attaching price tags to the fingers on her left hand while eating a chocolate biscuit with her right. Little flakes of brown were all over the counter, and I watched her as she licked at the scanner before looking up at me with my wet hair in rat tails.
“Alright?” she said.
I replied, then asked about leftovers. “- out back like last time’’.
When I got home, plastic bags sagging at my wrist with eggs, milk, chocolate spread and pulp bananas freckled like my nose in June, it was already seven. I dropped the bag on the floor and it lumped like the drunk ladies outside of the pub down the road. Then I got to making up the pancakes. I found some booze in the hidden cupboard and glugged a bit into the bowl for crisp edges. Delicious and burning at the back of my throat, I gave you a little bit.
I ate until the batter was gone. Using the side of my fork to break them apart, and the other hand to ladle the beige wet on the flat top, burnt butter bathing in my nostrils. With the last ladleful, I made a thin, lumpy one, slapped it into the cracked soup bowl and took it to the sofa. Cheap syrup crept onto my fingers through the crack I’d botched with super-glue. I slipped my fingers across the remote, all sticky from sugar, and rubbed over the pebble-like button. ON. I prodded each digit, thinking about how my belly button was going to change.
Lying on the swollen sofa, settled with my soup bowl, I looked over to the breeze-block blue screen on wheels in the corner. I licked my spoon and chucked it at the screen. It snapped, flicking from dancing fuzz to focus.
The Nurse looking like she’d just been born eyes red and piercing
the same as white rabbits.
The gel on my stomach
thick like the stuff pulled through hair of teenagers at gates.
My eyes glaze
skin cold on the wipe-clean bed
as I’m reminded of my first Man, the one who smelled like pot-pourri and toast.
As I watched over the footage, I thought of all the things I’d change. Straighten the camera. Scrape the hair on my head away from my face so that the screen light was reflected in my eyes. Ask to brighten the ceiling lights- but then the gel wouldn’t look glossy or thick, and you, seed on the screen, would have been drowned out by the bright.
I pause the telly as Nurse begins to point you out in the blackness.
A star in the sky or mystical creature in a dark lake. “And there’s baby” she signals
“- your first?”.
I watched the reel until light drained from the sky and I was asleep. In front of my closed eyelids rested four years of clutter and confused charity shopping. The soup bowl seeped syrup onto the cluttered glass coffee table. It was basted in a light film of plain flour disguised as domestic dust. Decomposing teabags and shed skinned tights with ladders in them scattered the floor. Across from the stained sofa I lay sleeping on fully clothed, was the wheeled television unit. Pixels danced in formation to show the video footage of every single day I’d lived over the past four years. As I dreamed, I heard Happy Birthdays, doors slamming in arguments, goodnights. Moments caught in a net I had laid out- sometimes discreetly, others in plain sight. The rustle of wind blowing past microphones, harmonious hello’s to the camera.
At this point, my dreams, edited tightly to the music of these memories, had been recalibrated, rehashed versions of my life for a while. Diffused, familiar moments in fancy dress, recognisable but detectably different. People were younger in those dreams, their arms longer than they should be, lips taking up more of their faces than usual.
I heard his hollow heels hit the corridor floor and opened my eyes, one at a time. I heard his weighty stride dulled by a day's worth of dried up dough on his soles, and then the sugar from his pockets tipping out onto the unvarnished wood, piling up in a mound. Later on, as I did every night, I sat undressed and pushed the sugar through the cracks of the floorboards, rolling the grains under my palms and into the darkness. This was before the mice.
His voice pushed past the unflattering coats hanging along the hall, forcing its way through the din to me in the living room, past the landing.
“What you watching?”
I searched for the sticky remote control between the cushions and turned off the screen. I could smell icing, yeast, eggs, spices. Practice meant that I had become very good at recognising ingredients, and what, when combined, they’d make.
Cinnamon Buns. He always brought four from the bakery and three would
make it into the living room.
*The first bread he made for me was brioche. Buttery, soft, light, full of air. In a crumbling apartment, he pressed his
elbow into piled flour and cracked eggs with one hand so that he didn’t have to let go of mine. Leaving the dough to grow, to cloud up in a mound, soft like sun, we waited on the balcony and watched it swell underneath cling film, bare feet ignoring the dirt underneath. Excited to watch what we’d made together, grow.
Any other person would have to rely on the words exchanged between themselves and the person who shared that memory to resuscitate those moments. They’d have to look back at small details, retelling them using different words to keep the people they used to be, alive.
“Just an advert”, I called out, stretching my neck over the side of the sofa, “-how was work?”
He filled the kettle all the way up, unable to hear me over the excited rush of the tap. Then he forced the fridge open, breaking the suction seal. The hollow sound of a milk bottle and jam jar clinking together bounced down the hall towards me and I pictured what he was seeing. The ripped paper of a packet of butter, a cardboard carton delicately holding the cracked skulls of three eggs, a goldfish-glazed baking dish holding the remnants of a, now hardened, lasagne I had pretended to cook the night before, decanted from a foil dish.
Shifting his weight from left to right, he began lifting and lowering food packages one by one as though playing an intricate musical instrument. He navigated kitchens with harmonious ease, intuitively able to make delights out of drivel. Unlike me - I flit around an empty fridge like a nervous, trapped butterfly. I’ve never been able to make something out of nothing. I have to manipulate, outsource, look outward, go and find.
In our first Autumn, leaves brown and wrinkles in the mattress suggesting a new routine, I decided to make Man breakfast before he woke up for work. I had money in my account from the film at that point, so I bought anything without checking the price.
While he slept, coiled and rolled in a blanket, I pulled on a towelled dressing gown and picked up my wallet, zip taut under the strain of coins. In the car, slippers licking the pedals with puddle water, camera and purse in the passenger seat, I listened to the engine bite at the deep night and framed the breakfast scene in my mind. Him, bleary eyed and gawking at a fully fried plate. Then, a fork on ceramic, sipping juice from a precariously balanced tray on his lap, eyes encrusted, followed by thankyous, and have-a-nice-days.
Miles of aisles to myself, I picked up packets with bees on them, torn paper bags of vegetables on vines, wrappers with cursive and cartons covered in free-flowing green fields. The tinny sound of tannoy announcements and pop songs past their best-before dates crept through the speakers as I pushed the trolley in front of me, turning around corners and reaching high shelves. Slowly others joined me, queuing for fruit and lining up at the freezers. I didn’t notice at the time, but the film shows gaggles of them shuffling in suits and office-wear, rubber soles and toothpaste. It was morning. The world had risen.
Three and a half hours of video later, with an unloaded boot of food now sown across the wooden surfaces, I was in the kitchen arranging the tray. I didn’t notice that his coat was gone. I didn’t notice the moisture on the tiles near the kettle, suggesting it had recently been boiled.
Lens propped behind a jar of sauce, hidden, I carried it carefully, juice spilling across the lip of glass and yolk throbbing with each step.
When I saw the imprint of his body in the sheet, a cotton carcass or skin, and felt relieved, that was when the idea was born.
Man walked through the door and blundered towards me. I made room for him.
“Here-”, he offered, a snail of pastry cemented in white icing, from the same tray, now paint chipped and worn- “two for you, one for me”.
“Only one for you?” I asked, grateful.
“You know I ate the other one on the way here”, he dismissed.
Already knowing the answer-“you ate the whole thing in the car?”,
“No, I ate half in the car, then the other half waiting for the kettle to boil”.
I laughed as I spoke, “thankyou”.
After eight years, he knew to eat half of his portion without me- in the car, on the bus, at the doorstep, out of sight, before giving me the whole of mine. Having to endure the sight of him eating, savouring each bite while mine was gone was something we eradicated early. I had always been greedy, whereas Man was slow. He took his time, at ease with a belief that the food, the moment, wasn’t going to disappear, or dissipate.
In the early months, trying to hide my darkness from Man, I exercised endurance, leaving untouched bakewell tarts and custard slices in the other room while we lay entwined on the sofa. I nibbled at the flakes of pastry and burnt raisins that fell from his mouth and onto my legs, biding my time with crumbs. Once he’d finished, I would go into the kitchen to find mine, rigor mortis, sugar hardened and crusted over.
Eventually, he noticed my behaviour and shifted habit, evolving his routine with the ease of changing a shirt. I’d find morsels of baguette in the gearbox. Specks of rye on the doormat outside. I was grateful and frightened in equal measure by his willingness to adapt.
“That’s disgusting”, he spat, the honey on his breath somehow making what he’d said seem less bitter. He was talking about the way I used my cracked front tooth to plane the icing from the top of the cinnamon bun.
“I can hear you doing that from here”.
I pressed the paste against the roof of my mouth. It tasted good enough to distract me from responding to his retort. We sat in the thick silence of a gurgling boiler, looking at one another's reflection in the blank screen across from us. I smiled wide at what I could see, despite the lack of feeling it gave me. Man turned to face me, pastry pulverised and resting on his tongue.
“When are you going to get that fixed? You look ridiculous”.
I drew my mouth together, covering up the proof that I had forgotten, again and foolishly, to hide.