The heatwave chokes down on another endless day. Somehow, when we open the windows, the air in the flat becomes even heavier.
We both gave up smoking soon after we got together – it was one of those positive, proactive things that couples do when they launch their campaign of romance and optimism upon the world. But now I notice we smoke-smoke about three times as much as we ever smoked. Beer begins soon after breakfast. We are creatures of habit: rosé wine in the afternoon, gin after dinner. Unless of course we have no gin or rosé; in which case, anything.
The TV is always on. The flies this year are in metallic green. They rise and circle angrily as I add another bean-smeared plate to the pile in the sink. I will attack these any day now.
Too hot and bored even to fuck, it feels like we are trapped in a Lloyd Cole song. I think of sharing this thought with her – I think she might have been mildly charmed by it once, perhaps even laughed a little. Her lovely laugh is precious but distant to me now, like a sepia photo in an old album. Now I think she’d just resent the effort required to acknowledge my words. We each hate it when the other talks.
We didn’t really decide to live together. Lockdown decided for us. But we wanted to believe it was fate, wanted to believe life was pushing us as a couple towards the good stuff. At that point, we’d never really even had a row. There hadn’t been time.
Then she got furloughed, and my work dried up, and now here we are. Alone together, together alone. Time seeps through the walls and under the doors, but not nearly fast enough. It’s no one’s fault.
Sometimes we fight. It doesn’t clear the air, but it does make a change from the guilty stares and the loaded silences. I find myself doing slightly out-of-character things, like throwing plates of spaghetti against walls or jogging round and round our local dogshit park. Occasionally she hits me, and I am glad.
It seems odd to crawl into the same bed at night, like enemy combatants sharing the same trench. We lie in silence and pretend to read. Outside the hum of traffic slows but it never ceases; headlights float up one wall, drift over the ceiling and fade out behind our heads. Her lamp goes off first, and her back turns pointedly away from me.
Sometimes I hear quiet sobs, and I get up and go next door. I watch telly, smoke some more, stare down at the drunks in the street. I feel the heat bearing down on my organs, effecting some obscure internal compromise of lung or heart.
One day I will come back from a desultory run to find her things piled up in the spare room, along with a note full of honesty and affection and the best feelings. And, envying her courageous, candid soul, I will go to her and try to fight for us. Try to make each of us say things we do not mean, keep promises we cannot keep.
But her eyes will tell us both there is no pretending any more. And soon she will close the door behind her one last time, and step out into the first warm mists of a merciful rain.
Dan Brotzel’s debut story collection is Hotel du Jack (Sandstone Press)