She was five tequila shots in when she first saw him, staring at her from across the bar, his golden hair a mess of ribbons sprawled around his face. Her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend had cancelled plans on her last minute and her friends had spotted him grabbing a laughing girl’s ass in Queen Street. Their time together was short, but his absence was well-toasted. All night, eager men approached her, but the golden ribboned man from across the bar kept his distance, resting on a couch in a far corner of the venue, the drink in his hand undrunk.
The next time she saw him was at a club in the valley. Her drink had been spiked and he had found her alone on a red velvet couch, failing to unlock her phone so that she could message a friend to pick her up. After he helped her, he sat by her side, an appropriate distance away, and waited for the friend. Together, they carried her home and tucked her into bed. He showed himself out without prompt.
The third time she saw him was the first time she wasn’t drunk. She ran into him in the ‘home’ section of Myer and recognised his woolly smile. In the daylight, she realised his eyes were wide and plush-toy-like. His skin looked smooth and his hands bulky. Everything about him was somewhat cartoonish and deeply comforting. She imagined hugging him would feel like being held in a tight embrace as a child. When she thanked him for his help, he smiled and introduced himself as a ‘good guy’. He didn’t ask for her number like she thought he would. He felt so familiar to herthat she became convinced that they had known each other from school.
The fourth time they met was by far the strangest. It was during her father’s funeral, months after they had spoken last. She didn’t understand why he was there but didn’t care to ask. His presence there gave weight to the theory of knowing each other from school. She felt awful that she couldn’t remember his name, but was pleased to see him again. His soft features were comforting, and that’s just what she needed.
The wake was held at her house and, somehow, they found each other standing alone in her old room. When he took the liberty to sit down on her bed, she decided he looked like he belonged there. As he sat there, doe-eyed, she felt the urge to cuddle him. Instead, she remarked how long it had been since she had last visited, and how much the room had changed since she had left. What seemed the strangest to her was that he agreed.
The fifth and final time they met was at his apartment. When she arrived, she couldn’t remember how it had happened, when they had coordinated it, or what she was there to do. She had bought biscuits with her and a carton of Golden Circle Punch— the least sexy things she could think of. Was it charming when he opened the door with a smile and said ‘Ah, a play date’? She didn’t know.
Inside, they spent the afternoon talking about various things, but nothing in depth. Mostly, she ate biscuits while thinking of ways she could trick him into reminding her what his name was. She had eaten half of the packet and drunk almost all the juice before playfully forcing him to have some as well. But the playfulness wore off once he began choking.
At first it was a muffled cough, more like a closed mouth throat gargle. But then he started gagging, the corners of his mouth drooping under the weight of the juice. His body jerked to the beat of a chesty coughing fit, but very little sound emerged to match the scene. And then, the funniest thing happened. Cotton, white and soft, sprung out of his throat.
He excused himself immediately, his face contorted.
She wanted to leave but waited to say goodbye. Put off by the food, she focused on the lack of décor instead. The apartment was eerily clean and vacant. No dirty plates left in the sink, no messy shoes by the door except her own. Earlier, they had both laughed when he had told her not to go lurking around his apartment. But indisposed, he couldn’t monitor her curiosity. The kitchen and living room were so clean they made her question the state of the rest of his apartment. Had he relocated his mess to the bedroom so he could hide the chaos of living from her? She was flattered by the hypothetical effort. When he returned, she asked for the bathroom and excused herself.
The bathroom was as orderly as the kitchen had been. There were no toothbrushes in cups or toothpaste tubes scrunched up on the counter. It was the tidiest bathroom she had ever seen for a man his age. It irked her that she couldn’t analyse the traces of his most routine habits. Determined, she slipped out and into the last room, expecting to find the messiness she craved.
But the bedroom was nothing out of the ordinary, a large bed in the centre of the room, some plants on the windowsill, some posters on the far-left wall and a chest of drawers to the side. What was entirely extraordinary about it, however, was that it was almost an exact replica of her current bedroom. The closer she looked, the more familiar it became. If not for the sewing needle and thread on the bedside table, she could’ve mistaken this room for her own. The only noticeable differences were the imprint of a large man in the middle of the bed, right where a teddy would normally sit on a child’s bed, and a pile of white cotton building up right where her laundry would be.
Author: Konstanz is a third-year creative writing student with a passion for magic realism in all its forms. Sometimes, she likes to write short stories that are creepy and unexplained. You can buy her chapbook and read her published works and passion projects online at @konstanz.marie or @KonstanzMarie | Linktree
Artist: Willow Ward
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey