This story originally appeared in Issue Two of Hello Mr. magazine. Go buy it! It was also performed live at the Out and Loud event, hosted by Dubnium as part of the 2014 Adelaide Feast Festival on Nov 27th 2014.
I wanted to write that the mouthwash felt like battery acid on my tongue; but actually it was just like mouthwash, blasting the dank morning out of my mouth and waking me up.
I wanted to write that kissing Sam felt like kissing a cold dead fish; but when I recall it now, it wasn’t cold at all, just unmoving, lifeless, unaffected. His kisses were usually firm, giving no leeway, almost like a bite.
I also wanted to write that when he hit me, it felt like a kiss. But that’s just a stupid song I used to like. In truth, when he hit me, it felt like shock. I was lying on the floor with black dots clouding my vision like a cluster of mini black holes.
I wanted to write that when the black holes dissipated I stood up, left the house and called the police. But we all know I stayed. The black holes combined into a single mass, and I was left whirling in its orbit.
In the end I wrote nothing. I sat down on the couch and let it all wash over me.
I laid down on the black leather couch, my back clammy with sweat in the early morning summer heat. Sam emerged from the bedroom, fully dressed, and began preparing to leave. We didn’t speak. He didn’t even look at me. That’s fine; I really just wanted Sam out of there, and couldn’t think of anything beyond that.
The dog was sitting by the door, panting in the early morning summer heat. As Sam was leaving, he reached down to give him a pat goodbye, but the golden cocker spaniel visibly flinched from his outstretched hand.
“Goodbye, Fred.” Sam spoke quietly, but the dog was already walking away. I felt slightly better.
The day we picked up Fred from the shelter, the staff warned that he was a nervous animal. He’d been rescued from a cruel owner, and it would take time before he would trust us. We took him to the beach, and he was even scared of the other dogs, but within a year this had all changed and he loved chasing them around in the sand and into the water. Cocker spaniels are a happy and good-natured breed, and once these traits resurfaced, everything was fine.
I actually managed to go to work that day. I felt numb when Sam left, but also relieved. The black asphalt was already radiating heat at 7 am. I walked along it tenderly and waited at the bus stop. The old lady from across the road didn’t even try and talk to me today. I smiled at her anyway; it cost me nothing.
In the kitchen at work, I burnt toast and ignored my boss. In the bathroom, I took off my shirt, checking the bite mark on my shoulder, touching it gently and staring mesmerised into the fleshy red and purple galaxy. Yes, he bit me as well. But it’s okay—I tell myself that I’m okay.
My computer hates me today. I let myself fall into the lines of code flashing past on the screen and eventually the work becomes soothing. Most of the bruising is under my shirt, but my colleagues ask about the scratch on my cheek.
“Oh, it’s nothing; I just got hurt playing with the dog.” I wanted to tell them the truth. No I didn’t. I’ve relinquished all control to the dark inky vortex, and it’s drawing me inexorably away from the truth.
Working as a computer programmer is all about compromise—a tightrope walk between perfection and reality. Reality always wins, and it always hurts. The lines of code slowly open up and allow me in. I become absorbed and it’s home time before I realise it. I linger on, enjoying the rare taste of productivity. The thought of Fred at home alone eventually sends me packing. I don’t expect that Sam will be there and I don’t know how I should feel about that.
I think about calling my parents, but I wouldn’t know what to say.
I think about calling my friends, but I already know what they will say, and I can’t face the idea of going to the police station.
I mumble hello to the bus driver as I embark for the ride home, but he ignores me.
I reach home and Sam isn’t there. The quiet stillness feels oppressive, so I take Fred for a walk and buy some wine.
After dinner, I hear a knock at the door. I’m not sure what else to do, so I open it and let him in. My head is throbbing. We drink wine on the balcony, holding hands. The mosquitoes sing for us, and feed on us. I wonder if the alcohol has any effect on them. I don’t feel scared. I feel numb, but not in a bad way. Fred sits at our feet and gently licks my feet.
The night deepens and the stars are marvellous: miniature white pinpricks in the blackened dome of the night sky, twinkling hello to us from outside. The humid air begins to cool, and I know that it’s long past my usual bedtime.
“Let’s go to bed, George.” Sam is quiet and apologetic, but he hasn’t lost his air of firm confidence.
“Okay. But if you—”
“Come on, don’t be silly. You’re a good boy, I wouldn’t hurt you again.”
I leave the balcony. The dog is asleep and doesn’t move. In the bathroom, I brush my teeth and look at the bottle of fluorescent green mouthwash. It blasts the astringent tannins from my palate with a violent shock. In the bedroom, I sit on the bed and try not to think too deeply. I decide to sleep with my shirt on, self-conscious of the bruising.
Sam comes in and we lay down to sleep. He kisses me firmly again, giving no leeway, but not like a bite. He wants sex, so I let him inside me; but I won’t let him take off my shirt. He is gentler than usual, and I don’t even know if I like that.
I decide that in the morning I will ask him to leave.