The first thing I learn is that she wears handmade clothes. The second is that she’s a fucking Capricorn. You spit the words at me between a swig of beer and a mouthful of garlic bread, shaking your head across the chequered tablecloth.
Like what does that even mean?
I don’t know. I don’t want to spend a rare date night bitching about the latest intern in your office, but I like that we’re talking. I shrug.
I think it’s one of the boring ones. You laugh and begin to reply but the waiter appears with fresh drinks, and when he leaves I change the subject.
The toothpaste thing comes third. We’re sat side by side in bed and I’m reading when, out of nowhere, You know she thinks fluoride is some kind of brainwash chemical? I close my book, holding the page with my finger and turn a polite face toward you.
Really. She uses a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice to clean her teeth. Isn’t that so weird?
Isn’t that just brushing your teeth with lemonade?
You laugh loudly, nodding and slapping your leg. I hope you’ll let me go back to my book, but you spend the evening googling fluoride conspiracy forums and reading them aloud until I roll over and turn off the light.
Over the next few weeks I’m fed mashed up, pre-chewed pieces of information that you bring home with you, as though I’m an egg-wet baby bird. She brought an aloe plant to the office the day she started. She hands out oat cookies every Wednesday that apparently taste like soil. You drop all this minutia as though you’re scattering bread for birds. She has rented the same studio apartment in Putney for four years because she doesn’t believe in home ownership.
I want to say that she seems to have taken out a mortgage on the inside of your skull, but I know you’d become surly and difficult so I default to polite hums of interest and sharp exhales between my teeth that you interpret as laughter. The little facts sit in the carpet and start to mould.
I mean, she’d probably look quite nice if she straightened all that ridiculous hair.
Your hand is in mine as we sit by side on the sofa that slouches just so. Your right thumb is grazing my knuckles, but your eyeballs melt down into your lap as you scroll through your phone. Your left thumb strokes image after image of her, rolling your gaze along each one like a tongue licking stamps. I stare straight ahead at the TV, refusing to look. She makes her own hummus. Yes, she’s a Capricorn but identifies more with her moon and rising signs. She won’t drink tap water. She signs her emails off with ‘blessings’. She watches animal rescue youtube videos when she thinks nobody’s looking.
These little bits of her are piling up in our home. I have to step around them like children’s toys discarded on the floor, the choking hazard kind, the small-parts, ages-three-and-up kind. I avoid looking at your screen when I know you’re texting her or looking at her profiles. She remains faceless to me, a distant moon, an egg, the tip of a pale finger, half-blurred in the corner of my eye. I know so much about her already, I can’t bear to find out what she looks like.
Even so, she accumulates around me like silt on the banks of a river. You deposit her out of your pockets when you come through the door, you turn your phone over in your hand and she drifts to the floor in flakes. She itches in the sheets of our bed and sits against my skin as I lie awake, ignoring the way your phone screen lights up the ceiling in the dead of night, signalling silently to the blank white walls of our bedroom. She’s only got sisters. She requested a yoga class at the office gym. She wears a bracelet with little bells that jingle whenever she moves. At first, she fell lightly, dissolving as she hit the floor but all of a sudden she’s settling, ankle deep. She sticks to my feet like the mulch of dead leaves.
You leave for a night out with work friends and I am left alone with her. I make dinner while she creeps up my shins like a strangling ivy plant. I open the window to try and get her out but instead the breeze gets in and she skitters across the floor like litter on a pavement, gathering around my feet, slippery trip hazards that send me flying onto the couch where I cower as the endless fragments begin to merge. They pull together and lift and congeal into a mass with wild curly hair and the tinkle of bells. A cascade of moving parts in one swirling mass of many things, a restless shoal of fish or a flock of panicked birds. It turns a pale, faceless orb towards me, staring with non-existent eyes, bristling with life. It undulates and lurches, as though it is reaching for me, beckoning me. I give in.
I slide my fingers across the sofa to the solid slab of my phone. It blinks awake as I flip it over and I unlock it, opening apps one by one and searching her name. In an instant her face is illuminated in front of my eyes and then behind it, burrowing into the soft latticework of my brain. I look up at her as she grins with the face I have gifted her and transforms, shrinking and tightening into a human body made whole and alive and blinding with vitality, standing before me in my home, smiling down on me because I’ve finally let her in. I barely have time to breathe before she swoops.
You shake me awake. The light hurts my eyes.
Have you been here all night?
I don’t know.
Come on, go to bed for a little bit. I’ll wake you later.
You pull me gently to my feet and steer me to the bedroom. You pull the covers over me and kiss me gently. I’m left lying alone with the taste of lemon and bicarb fizzing in my mouth.
Isabelle Marie Flynn (she/her) is a writer, bookseller and publishing professional in the UK. She has been featured in NB Magazine and Shelf Unbound, and once went viral for roasting Kylie Jenner’s walnut face scrub. She can be found on Instagram at @foldedpaperfoxes and her blog foldedpaperfoxes.co.uk.