Mark stood in the doorway, eyes hot and dry from the computer screen and ears ringing from the phone as he loosened his tie.
‘Don’t suppose that there’s dinner in your immediate plans?’
Jenny turned, ran a shaking hand through the greasy fringe of hair on her forehead. Nodded and got up. She was in his college sweater, the sleeves hung past her wrists but it carried the scent of her now. Like something left too long in storage but too dry to rot. A stale,greasy perspiration that made him breathe through his mouth when she drew too close.
His nose wrinkled with disdain, the smallest sign of his disappointment and she took in a deep breath, vacuuming the pain back down into the warm,fetid pit where the creature within her lived. Winston Churchill called it the black dog, to her it was a panther, subtle and beautiful in its destructive domination of her. It would swipe her apart with a single blow of it’s paw. She came in to embrace him, the unspoken admission of her failure and the cure at the same time.
He turned away, resigned to cooking for himself again. He had the decency to wait until he was out of earshot before he sighed with frustration. The sink was infected with unwashed dishes and cutlery. He heard her unpause the television and blinked away his tears before gingerly reached and pulled a crusted plate free.
She sat there, leached of warmth and comfort as she watched the movie without actually seeing anything.
He brought through grilled cheese sandwiches and a bowl of Campbells. Mushroom. Sick people food. They ate on greasy trays without speaking. Neither of them were sure if it was that they had too much to say or nothing.
The Chinese character for relationship translates roughly as ‘flowery combat’. Jenny and Mark had long since moved past that point. An incompetent physician and a stubborn, mute patient. Neither of them could have said which was which.
They sat there. Jenny with the television and Mark playing a freemium game that he had started chipping into their savings account for additional weapons and levels.
Jenny used to read. Now more than a paragraph makes her head hurt. Mark had a workshop full of tools. A place whose only product was dust, pillows of it rolling in the faint breezes whenever the door was opened.
They watched and played until midnight. Holding onto one another like frightened children whilst something blank and monstrous seethed under the bed or rattled the hangers in the closet. She woke him at around three, her breath coming in chirping gasps, his fingers found the warm trail of tears.
He murmured and exhaled heavily through his nostrils, hoping that he could be asleep before the dull guillotine of the alarm cut his colourful, sensually rich dreams off at the neck.
‘Am I starting to look like my mom?’
He thought about Ellen. The delicacy of her manners that looked fragile on Jenny. The indifferent observations and the offhand remarks. A protective instinct arose in him, uncensored by his conscious resentments. He pulled her tight to him.
‘Oh god no, baby, not at all’
Jenny petted the sparse hair on his chest, whispered that she loved him, from a distance she thought, but loved him all the same.