Imagine, for once, that there is a circular pudge of pitch underneath your feet. Expansive enough to trap those who come into it, without them clinging to your body. Embracing you but freeing enough for you to move. You travel the whole world with your little pet pudgy, or you lone yourself in the back room of a unit in one of the outer city suburbs. It makes it easier to come into work – when you want to. There’s no reason, no logic to scrubbing your feet in the shower. Morning or night. The showers you take in the middle of the day, forgetting to wash your hair, too, or reminding yourself you will scrub it until your hands bleed later in the day. Once you’ve walked in the park or something – you need to keep yourself fit. That would be such a dream. Your body might stop aching and sagging – after you lapse and make it ache and sag more. Maybe you will sleep better. Maybe you’ll start kissing at the pudge, licking it up with your cold tongue. I wouldn’t know, I’m not you.
Robin realises he’s been banging his head against the sliding closet door. At the back of the fblock, tucked in the corner, the only window let in the late-afternoon light. There’s definitely a bump formed over, an egg – he’d laugh, as a kid, when his mum used to call it that. Something waiting to be born, right there. Oh, how malleable skin can be. He gnaws on the bridge of a finger, forgetting the names of things like that. Fingers, bones in his body, the names of superheroes that can obscure themselves with the manipulation of their body. Elastic. Girl who becomes the size of the giant’s wife, from that musical. Golden egg formed on his head.
In the bathroom, he runs cold water over his hands and does a crude job of cooling down the swelling. He finds a plain band-aid and sticks it against the flesh. He smiles back at his reflection, almost as if he’s greeting an old friend. Maybe someone from high school. It’s been a few months since he saw any of them.
Robin hadn’t yet slipped out of the work uniform. The buttons of the polo slip out of his fingers. The hairs on his chest tickle his palm. He undresses, standing there in front of the closet door, grateful it isn’t a mirror like the one in his old bedroom, back when he lived with his parents. The four walls echo him back. It’s good to be alone now. Lying there in bed, stripped down to his underwear, Robin fights off a swarm of half-formed bees – but there’s nothing so interesting about the ceiling to keep him awake, so he slips under.
The first thing he notices when he wakes up isn’t the taste in the air. That comes later. He expects to run his hand across his face and find an egg, pin the lump on the donkey, like a lame party game. Nothing. An instant thought that maybe he had been dreaming, imagining hurting himself. The room is flipped, too, escaping out of replication. Then, the taste. What is that? Oxygen is suddenly a delight to swallow down with each breath. Different to not suffering, different to not being in pain. The air tastes sweetly of fast-food milkshakes, and Robin takes another long, exhausting breath.
He fumbles round for his phone, checking the time. 10:22pm. Robin peels off the layers on top of him – the doona, the silver sheet – and he slips his head through a shirt he had left half-hiding underneath the bed. Something to keep him warm, protect him in the dark. The cool air of the night starts tickling at his hairy legs. He’d thought he fell asleep wearing nothing but his underwear, short and cropped, but the pair lie haphazard in the corner. Someone’s scissored off the legs of his pajama pants, leaving zigzagged edges. Don’t go swimming in their home. He doesn’t remember doing it. He doesn’t even remember putting on pants.
Then, toes sludge through a pool of spilt milkshake.
There’s the explanation then for the smell.
He palms his forehead – no prize-winning lay. There’s a sharp ache in the rise of his back. A brief vignette, a fantastical stop-motion, of some medieval Christian whipping himself with a cat-o’-nine-tails plays out in front of him.
‘Exhaustion is running on, then,’ he whispers to himself, quiet enough as to not disturb whichever little monster could be fast asleep underneath the bed, now lapping up spilt milk.
In the main room, he sits down on the couch, smooshing the stickiness into the carpet. He could turn the TV on, terrorize the quiet black, but there’s something so hypnotizing, he thinks, about the hesitation. An undecided reality.
Am I awake or am I asleep?
Does it make any difference?
There’s a bitterness in being so absolute, in being so cold. It’s the right weather for it.
He scrubs his feet clean in the shower, hesitating to wash his hair. Like a mophead of blonde on top of his head, and there’s fresh nihilism in pondering on that sweet, coconut smell. He bats his eyes, about to fall asleep in front of the mirror. Are his eyes a different colour here?
Someone else flicks on the kettle, boiling tap water, readying it for tea. In one reality, he could have sworn they had run out of tea bags, and out of something else, too, the memory rubbing off like chalk. In some other reality there was no water gushing from the tap.
From bed, he listens to someone pour themselves a warm mug, dunking in some English Breakfast in the middle of the night. It’s weird that it bothers him. It has never bothered him before. Let strangers do what they want in the dark. He became roommates with some friend from university – it felt like shacking up, moving in together so fast. Maybe he doesn’t know who he is without living with his folks – without being halfway between child and drained-out adult.
He thinks someone, more than just the one someone, would laugh at him for that. It’s easier to bury everything when someone else is paying the rent. When you can bang and thrash your head against the closet door, and someone else will clean up the blood.
When there’s silence, but it doesn’t feel so unfamiliar.
Keeley Young is a fourth-year creative writing student with his head constantly in the clouds. He is interested in writing everything from fantasy fiction to queer literature to hopefully-engaging pieces about human emotion
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz