A sad beige café lies in the darkening street, two quivering voices inside, deciding if they even want to say the words leaving their lips.
“I don’t know why I came here if you’re just going to belittle me.”
“Jesus, Marie I don’t even know why you came here at all.” I’ve given up on trying to pretend I’m in control of myself. She’s always driven me to say things without thinking, whether I know what they mean or not.
“I’ll go,” she says. If only I could get behind her monotone voice to understand what was going on, even a glimmer as to what she wants, what she’s thinking. The amount of time I have dedicated to wondering how she views me is embarrassing.
I look at the counter, staring intensely at nothing. I don’t want her here. But I don’t want her to go either. I always imagined what I would say to her if I saw her again, but I never planned for more than a wishful hypothetical.
I want her to reassure me I have nothing to be sorry for, that’s the only reason I say it. She looks at me with that judgemental gaze that says clearly that I’m being childish.
The cracking cushion is flattened, and it slowly inflates as Marie stands and walks towards the door, the air returning to the pillow so it looked like she was never there.
She turns back to me, a dim silhouette in the uncertain light. “So this is it then, you want me gone.”
I can’t say yes, obviously, especially when I don’t know if I’d be lying or not. Even in 1962, she would ask me these questions I couldn’t answer, with that monotone she knew would keep me on my toes, never let me feel like I was in control. Once when we were in my office, she looked at me and asked, ‘Abi, do you think that you deserved to fail as a writer?’ The words never felt cruel, just impossible, but over time I’ve learnt to reflect on them, manipulate them to aid in my growing wall of hate for her. The only wall that felt like it would keep me from running to her and falling into her arms. Although it seemed weak when I followed her inside, I tell myself I’m protecting myself by telling her to leave. It feels true.
“I just want some time. I don’t want you gone.” Her voice is steady.
I say nothing.
“I don’t want you gone.”
And without a moment’s hesitation, she strides out into the sheets of rain.
A dark figure strides out into foggy autumn rain, she pulls a cigarette from her coat, tries to light it, but it’s drenched as soon as it leaves her pocket. She throws it onto the sidewalk, and tries not to scream.
I pack away the pastries on autopilot, my brain too full of ragged analytical chaos to pay attention to what I’m doing.
She mocks me, mocks the base of my insecurity, which is that I’m insecure, and she won’t say sorry. She won’t even act like she wants to, she doesn’t think she’s in the wrong. She sits there in that goddamn dress and acts like coming to see me was just a casual trip to a friend on the way to the grocery store.
It’s too much. I grab my jacket off the stool where I hung it to dry, get my bag and after a slow breath walk out into the rain.
I trace my steps home in my mind, it seems so far and too close. I turn onto Walter St, Evans Rd, and finally home, Blacks Crescent. The rain soaks through my clothes and inside of me. I’ve never felt more elated or more despondent. I can’t stop my stupid words next to her delicate ones replaying in my head. I have always found it ironic that I was meant to be teaching Marie literature, not the other way round.
I fiddle with the key, my hands shaking from the cold, and climb the stairs, quietly so as not to wake anyone. Desmond sits and stares at me on the top of my bookcase, tail curled. The last friend who left me, Berry (or Belinda) gave him to me. Sometimes I wish he would die but it’s one more motivation in the mornings, knowing I have to feed him. His look is half curiosity, half admonishment, as though saying ‘Abigail you stupid, stupid woman, what on earth have you been doing.”
“Shut up Dessi.”
I take off my coat, leaving it on the floor. I think it landed on an ancient cup of spilled coffee, but the effort to bend down and place it elsewhere is too much. I haul myself to the kitchen. The bathroom and a shower seems welcoming but the thought of accidentally seeing myself in the mirror – any reminder of how disgusting I am – is too much to bear.
I sit on the couch, reaching into my wine cabinet that’s always left open. I pull out the bottle of cheap red I bought yesterday, weakly trying to unscrew it, put on the television and swig from the bottle. Consider Your Verdict is on, suspect after suspect trying to prove they didn’t, they wouldn’t. It’s so fake but I need the mindless noise.
Dessi jumps onto an abandoned chair next to the bookshelf, then treads across the piles of clothes and food to come and curl up next to me. I stroke him methodically, the bottle’s half empty already and the television has only been on for about five minutes.
I grab one of the books and start reading. The horrible crime show doesn’t do much other than provide some background noise that isn’t the laughter and jovial chatter of the people passing below my window. Sometimes I stare out at them for hours, pick them apart, but tonight I just need drinks and noise.
The book smashes into the wall as soon as I realise it was an analysis piece for the literature course Marie took. I remember putting it in my briefcase on my first day of teaching that course, along with other documents and assignments from my journalism class. before I headed up to the classroom early so I could watch the students as they walked in.
And she walked in, eyes darting everywhere with a green dress and pearls, her waist cinched, her hair tied back in a perfectly combed ponytail. The first time anything proper happened between us that book was on a bookshelf in my goddamn office.
The delay that comes with drinking (the bottles nearly empty) means it takes a while for me to register the knocking at my door. I tread carefully, cursing as I step on an old bowl of pasta, the moulding sauce sticking to my wet shoes.
I take them off, looking for a place to put them then figuring it won’t make much of a difference at this point if I just throw them on top of one of the piles.
“I’m coming, Jesus.”
I regret opening the door at the exact same time that I do, but I figure that Mr. Jameson (who is waiting impatiently outside in his polka dot nightgown) must have seen the doorknob turn and I might as well commit now.
He looks me up and down as I stand there, clothes still dripping, standing on clothes and other miscellaneous objects that have been stepped on too many times to function acceptably, bottle in hand and television continuing mindlessly in the depths of my apartment.
“Mrs. Thomson – .“ He struggles for a moment. I guess I look quite tragic. I giggle a little bit, thinking about what I must look like to him, possibly the derelict old character in a movie who reminds the protagonist to get good grades in a ‘what you don’t want to be,’ kind of way. “I heard a bang, just wondering if you could keep it down, me and the wife are trying to sleep if you please, and it’s approaching midnight.”
“Sorry Mr. Jameson, won’t happen again.” I say, trying to suppress more giggles. “Goodnight.” I say curtly. Suddenly it’s not so funny anymore, the way he looks at me so shamelessly, with a mix of amusement, disgust, and pity.
“Good-.” I slam the door in his face before he can finish his farewell that is meant for politeness. The hollow space where sincerity used to stay is dried up and rotting.
I drop the bottle, then laugh as I realise it landed in the pile which used to be a bin but collapsed too long ago and hasn’t been resurrected.
I head back to the couch, abandoning the books and succumbing to the mundanity that is Consider Your Verdict. There’s a bottle of whiskey next to the couch. I grab it and cradle it, and as it empties, I feel as though the contents hug me back, just a little, from the inside.
In the depths of Blacks Crescent, underpaid workers struggle to close their eyes, to let themselves rest. The big pale woman in apartment 17 lies in the dark, whiskey in her lap, eyes closed, and fingers clawing endlessly at her thinning, greying hair.
Light is piercing through my peaceful unconsciousness like swords. The radio is playing, the morning news, and my head is pounding. As I move I realise the warmness on my thigh isn’t heat – it’s piss. I stand and stumble towards the sofa. I assume I slept on the floor; I don’t think I even tried to get to bed. Fresh empty bottles pile up on the older ones. Although ‘older’ only refers to the ones the night before last.
I pinch myself. I’m still drunk and the headache isn’t helping. I need to eat but I think if I do I might vomit and if I don’t I might vomit too. Slowly I stand, my trembling hands holding onto the armrests clawed to shreds by Dessi.
Tiptoeing over the debris of my apartment with the intent to make some tea to help settle my stomach, I can’t help but start to feel angry. The English Breakfast tea box is almost out, only two more shrivelled teabags left. The anger is directed at many things, of course, it always is. I read a book once that said anger is never pure, but the human mind simplifies it to the source of the anger that makes the most sense to it. I thought about that a lot, I still do sometimes. Hatred for oneself is layered, and complicated. So humans blame others, that’s the whole theory. It must have been a psychology book, this section was called ‘the blame game’. So I’m aware as I wait for the squeak of the boiling kettle that when my anger turns to Marie, it’s not necessarily the most pure representation of why I’m truly angry. Although that’s not to say that I don’t try my hardest to ignore the fact that most of the rage is at myself. I have no clean clothes, I woke up in a pile of old dresses and my own piss, I barely have any food, I can’t look after myself and I have utterly no one else. I think about Marie’s face when she handed me that letter, the one I’m positive her dad wrote. So numb, so defeatist. I’ve given up too, I can’t pretend I haven’t anymore, but I hadn’t then. To simplify the contents of the letter was essentially that I was disgusting, she hated me, she didn’t want me, she would report me. You can imagine, it was cruel and cold and she handed it to me because her father told her to. I hate that.
Then I get a letter out of the blue, her saying she wants to see me. She wants to see me. So I do as she says and she sits and won’t apologise for everything she did, and then she just leaves back to wherever she lives now with those screaming children and him.
Tea’s ready. I roll a cigarette and go to sit by the chair at the window so I can look out into the grey streets and try to find something with which to distract myself. It’s drizzling. She said I should’ve called. I can’t have this, I can’t do this again. I grab a receipt from the floor to write on, the nearest pen leaks on my wrinkling fingers but there’s no one to see them.
Staring at the back of the liquor receipt, I try and think of what I should say to her. Go away, leave me alone, I hate you. I don’t know. I don’t know what to say or what’s true. Why must I be so pathetic all the time? I wish I knew what I was, what’s happening.
I take a long drag, then put the end of the receipt, which I headed with ‘Marie’ but nothing else, to the tip of the cigarette. It sets alight and I hold it until my hand burns with the heat. At the last minute before my hand makes contact with the fire, I drop it and then twist my mug on top of it, pushing it into the carpet to put it out, even though it’s already burnt a hole in the musty old brown rug.
Standing again, I return to the desk and ruffle around a bit looking for the yellow pages. I find Mr. Hummond, Lawyer, dial in the number and call.
As the phone rings I vaguely begin to hope that for some reason he’s home, he will pick up, I’ll tell him everything, he’ll divorce Marie and she’ll be left with nothing like I was.
“Hello?” It’s a kid’s voice, I curse, not fully under my breath. “Who is it?”
“Hello, Mari-Miranda-Rose home?”
“Yes, I’ll get her!”!” I take a deep breath. I feel for some reason perfectly calm despite being filled with rage. The type of calm one reads about in serial killer novels before they kill someone. I’m killing the disease that Marie started and now is forcing to re-emerge.
“Hello? Who is this?” She sounds bored. Purely bored, a boredom any teacher fears hearing from a student.
“Marie.” I can feel her hold her breath. Then she whispers into the phone, I can feel the rage in her tone.
“What do you think you are doing Abigail.” She called me Abigail when she was upset with me.
“What.” I don’t know what I expected, I try not to drop the phone.
“Come over please.”
“Abi, what are you talking about? I’m at home with two sick children – I can’t just come over. You forget that people have lives to live.” I don’t know if that was intended to sting but my god it feels like a slap on an open flesh wound.
I want to scream at her but in a way it makes me even more determined.
“39a Blacks Crescent Collingwood.” I hang up.
Lying back on the couch I briefly consider drinking more, then come to the conclusion that even though I’m hours late for work, better late than never.
I never renewed my hot water bill, and even if I had, I wouldn’t shower. The grime is building up on me, encasing me, and I’ll just let it. The thought of looking at myself, even for a moment by accident. Me naked in the mirror. I can barely stand my face – I have the kind of looks that would be mocked in a black and white silent film. I couldn’t stand it. So, I just don’t take off my clothes.
My shoes are still damp from the torrential rain last night, rain that’s now transformed into a half-hearted drizzle. I fish around the floor for my lime green coat and find it under something else, also damp. It smells awful but it’s better than the wet one from last night. Keys, cigarettes, flask, book. I grab my sad faux crocodile handbag and walk out the door. Slamming it behind me with all the force I can muster.
It barely even makes a sound.
Down the stairs, into the lane, onto the streets, down the pathway, eyes down. I wish she’d never been born. I wish that I’d never been born too.
I’m the mockery of a shadow, transparent.