When you swing your legs over the side of the bed and stand up, a vibrator and a dildo fall down the inside of your left trackpant leg and catch inside the elasticated ankle. You stretch the ankle open with one hand and let them drop fall out onto the floor. You pick up the duvet with arms that still haven’t quite remembered how to be awake and find your phone among the crinkles of the sheet, but its batteries are flat. You roll your stiff shoulders as you walk to the bedroom door. You turn the half-broken handle, pull the door towards yourself, and walk out to the kitchen.
You pour a few handfuls of coffee beans from the big brown paper bag into the little grey grinder and hold down the button for fifteen seconds, while a blade whirs the beans into tiny bits. You forgot to turn on the kettle. You do it now, but it turns off a few seconds later, fizzing. You pull the lid off, put it under the tap, and barely react when the cold water hits the overheated element inside and spits and steams your arm. You plug it back in, put the lid back on, set it boiling again. You get your favourite mug, with its solid curves, and set up the one-cup filter on top of it, pouring in more than half of the coffee you ground. The kettle clicks off again, and you pour the water into the filter. It drips very slowly. You can’t see the level change, but you can hear the invisible progress.
It is two days until your husband will get home, it is eight days since he left. Every dish you’ve used since his departure is piled to the right of the sink, dirty. All of the clothes you have worn since he left are piled on top of the washing machine’s closed lid, dirty. The bed sheets still smell of his feet, the pillowcases still smell of his shampoo. Today is the day you will change that and make everything smell of chemical flowers instead. Now that his return is closer than his departure, it is safe to wash his leftovers away.
You go to the bathroom and stand in front of the mirror. You pull your hoodie off over your head. Underneath, your skin is bare. A pink imprint of the metal zip runs between your breasts, down your stomach, slightly to the right of your belly button, ending where your track pants start. You think about opening your flesh, peeling it away like another layer of clothing, seeing what is underneath. You don’t like that idea. You turn away from the mirror and take off your trackpants. There is blood smeared down your inner thighs, almost halfway to your knees. It smells metallic and warm. That explains why you were horny last night, and why you walked around the supermarket for almost an hour yesterday afternoon because you couldn’t decide what you wanted most. You left crying, with ginger kisses and Nutella, certain that you had never made a good decision in your life. You thought it was probably time to quit your job and send your husband an email asking for a divorce and find a new place to live, but you went home and masturbated instead.
Now you put the trackpants into a bucket, put the bucket under the cold tap until the pants are fully submerged, pour more than a capful of Napisan on top and try to dissolve it into the water by mixing it around with your hand. The cold sinks into you, and the powder shrivels your skin. You wash your hands with soap and dry them, but there is a slick Napisan layer that nothing can remove.
You run yesterday’s facecloth under warm water and squirt hand soap onto it, then gently wipe between your legs. It feels like somebody is looking after you.You didn’t shave your bikini line yesterday, and the dark half-hairs poking out of the pale skin make you feel ugly. Your new wiriness spreads much further down your legs than you would have expected – a tamed creature gone wild again. You put an arm across your chest and a hand over your crotch and walk naked through the open-curtained lounge back to your bedroom.
You have told your husband that you find it hard when he leaves. You tried not to sound too much like a crazy person, but straight away he said, ‘Maybe you should stay with your parents when I’m out of town,’ as if you were a pet he looks after, unable to eat or go for walks without him.
‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ you said.
Now, whenever you bring it up, he likes to say, ‘There are women all over the world whose husbands go away for much longer than I do. Think of… um… soldiers, sailors, flight attendants, cruise ship chefs…’
He always talks slowly after he says, ‘think of,’ leaving gaps between the jobs as if he’s thinking them up on the spot, but it’s always the same absurd list in the same order – soldiers, sailors, flight attendants, cruise ship chefs. Inside your head, you always think, ‘Yes, but I didn’t marry a soldier or a sailor or a flight attendant or a cruise ship chef…’ but you only said that out loud once and he shrugged it off. You haven’t said it again because sometimes you worry that one day he just might not bother to come home at all. You wouldn’t want a stupid little comment like that to be the reason.
You find a little brightly packaged square in the bottom of the cupboard, and underwear in the usual drawer. You climb into the underwear, pull it up to your knees, open the package, peel away the paper with the interesting facts on it and stick the pad to the fabric. You pull the underpants the rest of the way up, put on your dressing gown and go back to the filter in the kitchen. It is still dripping slowly. You put too much coffee in. You shake the filter gently from side to side over the mug. You can feel a slight tickle where the blood is slowly exiting your body. You can feel a clawing inside of you, where what was part of you for a while has realised that it is unnecessary and is peeling itself away, ready to leave. What a strange routine in return for the privilege of maybe one day stretching yourself wide around the beginning of a whole new human.
‘Actually,’ you practice saying to the kettle, in case one day you get to talk to some sort of science or god, ‘I have decided I would rather be the kind of human who doesn’t bleed all the time.’
You take the lid off the filter and stir the wet grounds with a teaspoon, scraping gaps on the fine metal grille for the wetness to disappear into. Soon the coffee is mostly in the mug below. You put the filter into the sink and put milk into the coffee. You drink it in gulps and don’t really taste anything, but you feel warmer and a little bit nauseous. You run the tap over the filter at full force until the sink is full of coffee grounds, then set it back up on top of the mug with the rest of the dry ground beans inside, boil the kettle again, and pour the water over. There is one ginger kiss left. You put a knifeful of Nutella on top of it and eat it in two bites. It sticks to all the inside bits of your mouth and you wish there was coffee to wash it down with. The coffee is still dripping slowly. Your tongue works away at the goo on your gums and your teeth and your cheeks until chocolate and ginger aren’t nice anymore.
When you first moved in with your husband, he was your boyfriend and you were his girlfriend. That night, you thought that you had just signed up to spend the rest of your life listening to someone else breathing.
You used to call and say you were stuck at work, and then pull up in supermarket carparks to eat handfuls of foods that he said were unhealthy straight out of the plastic packaging. You used to tiptoe out of the bedroom at night, when he started snoring, and curl up on the couch under a blanket, with an alarm set for 5:30am so you’d be back beside him by the time he woke up. And then he started working late and you stopped making dates with friends because you never knew which days were the ones when you might actually see him. You didn’t marry a soldier or a sailor or a flight attendant or a cruise ship chef; you married him. He was a man who seemed very satisfied with his job, a brisk twenty minute walk from your shared front door.
You wash dishes, opening and closing your sludgy mouth every now and again. Washing old dishes is a time-consuming process. You dampen them, work off their crustiness with the plastic wedge on the back of the dishwashing brush, rinse, push the chunks through the small holes in the plughole with your fingers, rinse your hands, rinse your sink, start over for a second, cleaner clean. When the dishes are finally finished, you realise your coffee has gone cold on the bench beside you. You microwave it before you add milk. You drink it mouth temperature and this time you do kind of taste it.
You put all of the dirty clothes from the top of the washing machine into the giant plastic laundry bag. You drain the trackpants’ bucket into the bathroom sink and then tip them into the bag too, dripping wet. You take the bag into the bedroom and add the pillowcases, blankets, sheets, duvet cover. In the bedroom laundry hamper, you find the last outfits you and your husband wore before he left, and you put those into the bag too. At home, this bagful would be three machine loads and then it would hang on the airing racks for days, refusing to dry, sucking in a mildewy smell. At the laundromat it will all fit into one giant washing machine and then dry in one giant tumble dryer. You won’t even need to take anything out for special treatment – he’s taken all of his good shirts with him.
You leave the laundry bag by the front door and go back to the bedroom to choose clothes to wear to the laundromat. Jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, sports socks, not-sporty sneakers. Jeans are the outside version of trackpants. They are much less comfortable than trackpants but they show people that you didn’t try very hard so it’s not your fault that you don’t look good. Skirts and dresses are more comfortable than jeans, but if you wear those you also need to tidy your hair and wear makeup. Last time you left the house in trackpants was two days ago, when you took the rubbish bags out and put them on the other side of the road, because the truck had already done your side. A man honked and wolf-whistled as he passed and you thought he probably felt sorry for you.
You will need to shower before you put on these clothes, even though it’s only jeans and a sweater. It is embarrassing enough to tip all of your dirty laundry out of a giant plastic bag while there are a people around; you don’t want to smell bad while you do it. And sometimes people sit very close to you on the bench where you wait for your load to finish. Last time you went to the laundromat, a nice man from Nepal asked you lots of questions about your job and your house and then asked whether you would consider marrying him. You didn’t tell him you were already married, because you don’t like using that as an excuse. You just said, ‘Huh, I dunno,’ and let him put his number in your phone and never called him.
In the shower, you shave everything that you shave when your husband is here. This is so that you can be sure that by the time he sees the parts of you that you shaved, the surprised rash that your skin bursts into when you shave for the first time in a week will be gone. Tomorrow, you will shave again, with the same pink razor and the same hypoallergenic foam, teaching your skin to deal with the scrape. The day after that, you will switch from the foam to a gel that smells sexier. In the shower, you will try to remember how it feels to have him breathe you in, but all you will be able to feel is the warm water.
He will arrive in the evening, when dinner has been sitting cooked in the warming drawer for an hour because it was ready too soon. He will give you flowers or chocolates or maybe both and it will feel like it’s a first date and he is a stranger.
You will say, ‘Sorry, the dinner is probably all dried out by now.’ He will say, ‘That’s fine. I don’t care. How are you? I missed you.’
You will say, ‘Yeah, fine. How are you? Sorry, don’t touch the plate, it’s hot from being in the warming drawer. I’ll carry it to the table for you. Just sit down, you must be tired.’
He will say, ‘I’m not tired. I’m excited about seeing you. Can you put that down for a minute and give me a kiss?’
You will kiss him and it will feel like kissing a stranger. He will put his hands under your clothes and it will feel like you have a stranger’s hands under your clothes. He will press up against you, up against the kitchen counter, and you will push back gently and say, ‘We should eat dinner before it goes cold. It’s already all dried out. Sorry.’
After dinner, he will lie on the freshly made bed with his shoes still on and watch your skin become naked. Without realising he is doing it, he will appreciate your cleanness, your smoothness. He will breathe in the smells of your shampoo and your body wash and your musky shaving gel. You will close your eyes and keep trying to remember who he is; that is him, right there.
When you wake up the next morning, you will be two curves curving out from each other in the middle, but your knees and noses will be touching. When you blink, your eyelashes will almost touch his. When he breathes out, you will breathe it in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caoimhe McKeogh lives in Wellington and works in community disability support. Caoimhe’s poetry and prose has been published or forthcoming in journals across New Zealand and Australia, including Landfall, Overland, Headland, Geometry, Cordite, Meniscus and Brief.