Second Person

You’ve reached your flat, your doorstep. At last, you stop, but you’ve scarcely any breath and your head goes on echoing with the harsh ticking of your heels. You still can’t quite believe yourself, how you forgot your phone. Today, of all days. When you promised you’d call as soon as you’d told him. There’s somebody else. By 2, you’d said.

You drop your keys. Bend awkwardly to retrieve them, unbalanced by your heavy bag. It slide-slumps from your shoulder to your elbow, the strap catching, snapping, at your hair. A battle to simply get past the door and even once you’re in, you go on fighting yourself. Knocking your knee on the hall table so that later there will be a bruise, not unlike those others. Those perfect, purple petals circling your wrist. Not that any of this concerns you now –

The pathway to the kitchen, where your mobile surely waits, becomes a wind tunnel, sucking you on.

And it’s there. Thank god, it’s there.

Lying on the counter beside the fruit bowl (two browning, wrinkling apples, a skeleton of grape sticks), like something innocent. In relief, in triumph, you pounce. A greedy child grabbing at the last fat wedge of cake. But in your hand –

The phone is lifeless.

You don’t take your eyes from its screen as you rush through to the bedroom, to where the charger waits amidst a tangle of other wires. Irrelevant leads. You squat clumsily to plug it in and your skirt rides up, revealing a milky slice of winter thigh. While you wait for the connection, the acknowledgement, you grow aware of the different places where your blouse is sticking. And that exposed skin distracts you. The pale, dimpled meat of it. Hastily, with your spare hand, you tug flat the crumpled cotton. You can’t afford to think about your imperfections. Of how, even after everything, you might not be enough. With the first pulse of the battery bar, you dial.

Except apparently you can’t. Not yet. At least not without a glass of wine at your side. You return to the kitchen, where the light is changing, pinking. Reaching into the cupboard, you look deliberately past the way your fingers tremble through that pink. Only you can’t help wincing when the glasses knock together; their thin, piercing ring reverberates right through you.

It’s the fear. The fear that despite all the planning, the daydreaming, the reality of your freedom will change everything. The fear that though you’ve kept up your side of the bargain – that you’ve actually done it, you’ve left him – you might after all, remain alone.

You go to the fridge, and as you pour, you’re suddenly, distinctly, struck by a whole new guilt. A cold, far brighter and sharper than the slow, pervasive, mud-like sensation that you’ve been carrying for months. So clearly, you feel the waiting beyond yourself, and you know that this delay is madness. In your renewed haste, clenching your Dutch Courage, you leave the fridge open, purring, behind you.

Still, the phone goes on lying in the soft dark beneath the bed.

You needed to finish the glass first. Although between each starched sip, your afternoon snapped back at you in pieces. How he slumped forward when you told him, the colours changing in his face. You’d never seen him cry like that before. Such a slow, sad breaking… And it’s all wrong. Of course it’s wrong –

You ought to sound happy when you ring. You should raise your cool glass to your new future. You need to believe in that future, to trust it, to move beyond the fear. After all, you’ve done everything you were begged to do. Except even now. Even now.

There’s too much love inside you. Too much hope. You return to the kitchen to fetch the bottle. You go on pouring, drinking.

The bottle’s empty.

Though you lost the last half-glass of it, tipping it stupidly, soaking your skirt. For a moment you just sit, watching the stain. Feeling the wet, feeling caught out. You don’t know how you’ll explain this wait, why you still haven’t called. When you said 2. What if it’s unforgivable?

In the next moment, you’re up, fumbling with your waistband, desperate to be rid of the sodden fabric. The zip’s tearing sounds far louder than it should. You feel it in your teeth. And there’s your body again. Your legs. You cover them quickly. A pair of ancient pyjama bottoms, the first thing to hand. You can’t stand your skin, that sallow gleaming, made worse by the shadows. Grey flowers, cobwebs, in every corner. The scent of your own sweat turns your stomach. And your breath’s rough with the wine. Something sourer underneath.

Your dread becomes clearer. What if you get what you deserve?

But with it, the longing –

You’re calling.

The phone damp already in your hand.

You’re calling.

And between the ring tone and your heartbeat, it occurs to you that its small, glowing screen revealed no new messages. No missed calls.

And you look at the bruises on your wrist. The bruises that I put there. And I join you in your wondering, about whether I’ll reply.