You remove the dust cover from the glass screen of your phone, picking away at a corner until the sticky plastic comes clean off. Inside, the device hides your encrypted confession; a man whose potential, and an unstable mind took the best of him. You leave these thoughts alone; they are useless now. You see no need in holding onto a forgotten moment. And so you begin your day by telling yourself that you’re safe, that everything you fear is irrational and, frankly, you’re acting like a bit of a pussy. These thoughts are nothing but a cluster-fuck of words, so put down the phone. Man up.
You step out of the shower, throw a dirty towel around your hips and wipe away a smudge of steam from the bathroom mirror. You catch a pinhole reflection of yourself: your dark hair hangs limp on your face. You fill the sink with warm water as you wipe away more steam to fill the image in front of you. You possess what has often been referred to as a ‘cheeky face’: since you were a kid, a gaggle of aunts, nannas, neighbours and friends’ mothers have pinched your cheeks and told you how handsome you are. You touch this flesh now as you pull the razor blade down your jaw line, removing all traces of sleepy stubble. Dark circles sit loosely beneath your grey-blue eyes. These are all fragments of your charm; pieces of power that have allowed you a life of wicked indulgence and delicious sin. You smile at this thought, letting dents dimple your perfect skin.
Without warning you are caught by a strangling memory from last night: a hazy reflection of damp bed sheets and carnal inertia. Her hair splayed out like a mermaid’s forming a halo around her peaceful face. A muffled protest.
Just as quickly as you were pulled into your reverie, you are forced back into reality as you nick yourself below your chin. The cut is small although the pain is sharp. Drops of red fill the sink as you hastily splash cold water on your face.
“Mornin’ bones,” you say to her while grabbing a peach from the fruit bowl.
She looks up from her food and considers you for a moment. “You look like shit Jack. What time did you get in last night?”
You take a bite from the fruit; the sweetness drips down your chin. “I dunno. Around three I guess? Why, you keeping tabs on me?”
“Whatever,” she mumbles.
You sit down on a kitchen stool and look around: this place could look so normal and chummy if it weren’t for the harsh architecture and shitty childhoods it’s harboured. This shelter was where you were conceived and grew up; where you eat and sleep, but the charms are too plastic and ultra-modern despite your mother’s efforts to junk up the joint, and the house is always cold regardless of the warmth radiating from the imitation fireplace. For you, the concept of home was an imaginary place, a figment of your mind that you created to wash away the bad days.
When you were a kid and your dad would fall into a drunken, violent rage, you would attempt to escape through words, fantastical words creating fantastical places. Your favourite was Terry Pratchett, and despite the fact that it took you months and months to read a single novel, you basked in the madness he created, the beautiful madness that took you away from your own. Reading meant that for a moment in time, you no longer had to listen to your mum shouting, or the rhythmic thump from upstairs; those nights were long and cast you into a shell with the your insides growing harder. These days it’s different. Without the childish ability to crawl into your cupboard with a nightlight, you fight violence with violence. He’s calmed down these past couple of years, your old man, but every now and then he gets that mean look on his face and a swagger in his step that indicates the kind of night you and your sisters are going to have.
You can feel your sister watching you. “What do you want, creep?” you ask.
“You’re acting weird.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
“No I’m not.”
She pauses. “Aren’t you going to finish your breakfast?” She points to the peach you hold in your fingertips, its nectar inching its way down your wrist. You stand up.
“I’m not hungry,” you toss the fruit in the bin.
“Told ya you’re acting weird. Where are you going?”
“Oh just fuck off Marie!” You walk back down the hallway to your room where you slam the door with a loud crack.
It’s not enough. You’re full of rage but you’re too hung-over to stomach going for a run just yet. You sit on the edge of your bed, reach down in between your knees and pull out a shoebox from underneath. Inside you find a small, glass bong and a container of cut-up grass. You walk into your bathroom, turn on the fan and inhale the green, each wave of nausea and self-loathing being numbed by your herbal remedy. You lie down and allow your thoughts to drift from the banal to the sublime: memories from high school where you were the king, a reminder to yourself to call Jim for more weed and loose fragments from the night before.
You don’t remember the name of the club last night: overpriced drinks, loud, droning music and sweaty youth – these places are all the same. You were celebrating something, someone’s birthday maybe? Or another mate getting engaged? Either way you were in your element, your happy place. It was just you and the boys: Jim, Luke and Callum. You’d grown up together in this shit-hole town, and you’d probably all die there too. Alex had. You were only grateful that you weren’t the one who had to cut him down, although these things tend to happen a lot in this place.
You went up to the bar and ordered four tequila shots, casually flirting with the bar-chick. You could almost feel her knees tremble. One shot inside you with a pint of beer to chase away the bitterness, and you instantly felt more confident and strong. You leant against the bar and surveyed the club with the eyes of a specialist, counting six girls you’d hooked up with at one point in the last year. You and the boys had two more shots, and then there’s a gap between the shots and how you ended up in the middle of the dance floor grinding with a faceless brunette; her sparrow-like arms wrapped around your neck as your hands cradled her waist. The pit was hot and muggy but you didn’t care: you revelled in your greatness, how lucky you were with your life, how much you loved your friends and family and even the girl you danced with. You pictured your life together with this Jane Doe: summer nights under the stars, planning Asian getaways and large family picnics.
The strobe lights flickered and for a brief second you thought you caught a glimpse of a ghost. You strained your neck as the crowd heaved under the pulse of the music and you saw, this time completely, your high school sweetheart. Chelsea.
You remember the vulnerability of teenage love, how you would question the legitimacy of your feelings for Chelsea because they were so overwhelming. You doubted the chemical love, while getting lost in the blissful, fleeting moments. You adored her home and her mad, European family with the endless cousins and aunts who cooked colourful and aromatic dishes: potato dumplings in beef stew, dense rye bread with chive cream-cheese, and slices of salami and ham for breakfast. You and Chelsea were going to rule the world: after high school, you planned to take a gap year and travel the globe together. She wanted to see rich European history and art, and you wanted to explore the Amazon. You would take pictures that you would later frame in silver squares and keep in your first home together. Even the idea of marriage and kids didn’t scare you with Chels. Needless to say, you fucked it up. You often wonder how your life would have turned out if you’d only kept your dick in your pants, but c’est la vie.
A moment passed and the tequila finally hit you. The flimsy brunette was grinding against you but you had eyes only for Chels. You shouted something clumsy into the girl’s ear and happily wandered over to your past lover. You had her once, and it was only right of you to assume you could have her again; after all, you hadn’t spoken in almost eighteen months. Surely that was time enough to heal all wounds? Chelsea was standing with her girlfriends holding a glass of golden house-wine. Her long blonde hair was curled in spirals and her eyes were painted a smoky black. Her friend saw you and murmured something into Chelsea’s ear. She acknowledged you with an incredulous look on her face, her eyebrows furrowed and her pink lips pointed down. You flashed her your famous smile and casually put your arms around her for a hug. You two were friends now. Her back stiffened and she flinched as you sought to catch up over the year, gently pulling her aside from her friends and the stuffiness of the crowd. You talked outside in a darkened corner: she ended up exploring Europe with her girlfriends, and the thought of her memories without you made your stomach lurch with sudden anxiety. You needed a change of environment, but no one could bear that alone. You needed her, and the least she could do was see how much you’d changed. You became paranoid that she was seeing someone else; making new memories with someone more deserving. The thought of losing her to another man made you feel dizzy , so you tucked back a lock of her hair and pulled her sun-kissed chin closer to your face. She immediately pulled back.
“What are you playing at?” She asked.
You leant in further while cupping her face. “I miss you so much Chels. I’ve never stopped loving you, you know? Never have and never will. Let’s get out of here, yeah? Talk back at my place?” She paused for a moment and looked at her feet. When she looked up again she stared at you hard with a brim of angry tears in her eyes. “Fuck off, Jack.” She said, and then walked away, leaving her glass of wine sitting on the table between you.
She left you standing there dumbfounded and shell-shocked. You felt your heart drop into your stomach and you leant against the brick wall for support. Jim and Callum found you a minute later fingering the remains of her lipstick imprinted on the wineglass. Jim brought you back to your normal self with some hearty advice:
“They’re all cunts, mate. Every single one of ‘em.” He was right although Callum looked away, embarrassed.
You ordered another beer and tried to suppress your hurt; the night was still young after all. You stood leaning against the bar staring into your pint when you heard another familiar voice. Everyone knows everyone in this town. Your rib cage was playfully nudged.
“Jack?” You looked over to find a girl from school beaming up at you. Her elfin face was cropped by her short, dark hair, which only highlighted the marbled green in her eyes. When she spoke again you noted a silver stud in her tongue.
“It’s okay,” she said, “You don’t have to pretend to remember me. We were in Lit together. Lottie.”
She held out her hand for you to shake and you chuckled at the formality of the gesture. She ordered a double shot of vodka with cranberry juice and began to flirt with you, supporting her weight on the bar while you attempted to hold a civilized conversation. All the while you were hoping she wouldn’t realise that you hadn’t the faintest idea who she was. She walked with you over to the smoker’s section while scrambling in her bag for hidden cigarettes. As she walked you wondered how you could have ever overlooked this chick in high school: she wore skin-tight black jeans that hugged the curve of her hips, and when she bent over to pick up her dropped lighter you noticed the small diamond her arse made with her thighs. When she brought the cigarette to her lips you saw a small faded tattoo of a cherry on her inner wrist. Her plunging neckline was leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination, but you weren’t complaining. You wondered what she tasted like. A mere few hours later back at her apartment, and you were to find out.
Ash mixed with sweetness, and a sourness that you guessed was vomit. Fumbling in the darkness, her hands dropped off the side of her bed and her head lolled while you explored her body. You kissed her neck and felt a tremble. In the crescent dawn you awoke and left her apartment without a word.
You take your phone and find missed calls from Callum and an ‘x’ from an unknown number from last night. Lottie. You type ‘I’m sorry’ into the keypad and wait a full minute before pressing send. You roll over and find your game controllers, turning on the TV and settling into your pillows.