I let him into my flat. He puts the empty bottle of vodka on the floor and walks around, lays a hand on the wooden box on my coffee table, the box that looks like it should be from a doll’s house or the Victorian times or something. He opens the lid.

“There’s nothing inside,” he says.

“No.”

I have a few other boxes around the place, one with tiny sea shells on that sits on the windowsill and one in the kitchen for biscuits and one of those footrests that is also a box. He opens them all, like a game.

“There’s nothing inside.”

“No.”

“Nothing inside that one either.”

“No.”

“There’s nothing inside.”

“No.”

He looks at my books on the shelf. I have about fifteen because three weeks ago I thought I only wanted to keep things that really, really meant something to me, not things that were just quite nice.

“You don’t like to read?”

“Not really.” I perch on the arm of my sofa, finger the red velvet of my dress.

“I thought you were getting a PhD.”

“I am.”

“I thought all academics like to talk about their work.”

“Yeah.”

He doesn’t say anything.

“That’s why I don’t want to talk about mine,” I say.

“You have a Bible?” he asks. It’s on my coffee table, separated from the rest of the books. He sits down on the sofa and turns the bible over in his hands, then bobs it up and down like he’s weighing it.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“It’s interesting.”

“How come?”

“In a historical kind of way.”

“Right.”

“There’s nothing inside.”

He starts laughing, because he’s quite drunk; we’d met in a club, and danced for a while. It’s now three in the morning, and the room is amber from the street lights outside.

“I started thinking about those books,” he says.

“What books?”

“The ones where people hide things in them.”

“Aren’t all books some sort of code?”

“Huh?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

He says, “No, I was thinking about those books, that have pages cut out, and people hide things in them. Like chocolate, or a flask.”

I laugh.

He says, “Yeah, and then they sit in church or in a lecture, and everyone thinks they’re really smart and reading and actually they’re drinking alcohol or bingeing on chocolate.”

I sit next to him on the sofa. He laughs and breathes out, and I watch his chest go up and down. His laughter sounds like a child’s.

“Can I have a drink?” he asks.

“Water okay?”

“Sure.”

I get him a glass of water, then sit down in the armchair, which is adjacent to the sofa. It’s quiet for a while. He taps his toes against the floorboards. I stay rigid.

“Do you do this a lot?” he asks me.

“No.”

“I didn’t think so.”

He sips his water.

“You do want to, don’t you?”

My mouth has gone tight for some reason, questions and words all caught up in my head, which is exactly what I’ve been trying to stop for so long, which is maybe why the words aren’t coming out.

“Yes,” I say finally.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

He sips the water.

“Do you?” I say.

“Do I what?”

“Do this often?”

“I had a girlfriend for three years. Until last week. Before that, I guess I’ve done it a few times.”

I nod.

“Actually, while I’m slightly drunk, and here, and you’re here, and it doesn’t fucking matter because she dumped me anyway, I’ll tell you something I never told anyone.”

I try and detach myself from my eyes, and what I can see. No, not what I can see, what I can feel in the air, something that is interesting and worth exploring. I used to always think about what it is that has made me the way I am; is it the cooing of the pigeons that lived in the roof of my old home, or that family friend who used to do magic tricks, or the place with the old tree swing where I used to run away from home, do they make up the story of who I am? But now I think, this is making me like this, right now, as it is happening, and I can’t catch up with who I am changing into. I am trying not to do that.

“I slept with someone else. Just once. When I was drunk. And my girlfriend was back at home visiting her parents.”

It’s fucking awful, but he has blonde hair with dark bits underneath and the curve of his arms look hard and nice to grab on to, and who cares because I don’t know his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, and what would it matter if do? Isn’t everything that’s wrong actually right anyway?

“You don’t judge me?”

“No.”

He sips his water.

“That feels good.”

I had stopped thinking for a while, but now it is happening again, so I go to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of wine.

“Do you want wine?” I call through to him.

“No thanks, water is good.”

“Do you want more water?”

“No thanks.”

I go back into the lounge and sit a bit closer to him. I keep looking at his arms and keep hold of the idea of wanting to grab onto them.

“Are you looking at my tattoo?”

“Yeah.”

He has three crescent moons on his forearm. It doesn’t really make sense because the moons are all the same size and not going in a cycle like they usually do, not waxing or waning, they are just three identical black crescent moons.

“If you want to know what it means, I don’t know. I got it when I was drunk. I think this moon was in the sky and I went fuck that’s cool and told the artist I wanted it three times because it was that fucking cool.”

I nod.

“Now you,” he says.

“What?”

“I confessed something to you.”

I sip my wine.

“So now you have to confess something to me.”

I could tell him what I haven’t told anyone, and not see him again. I look at the box on the table and think of how there is nothing inside, and I drink another big sip of my wine, and then think about how maybe I should get a dog, or a cat, or a goldfish or something to make the place a little more full, and less empty.

“Did you know, that in Africa, there are these fish?” I say, “I think they are called King Fish, from what I remember, and at a certain time in the year they all get together in this one space, and like swim around in circles, dancing, making patterns with themselves.”

He thinks I’m finished and so makes to say something but I just carry on.

“And they don’t know why either. Scientists and fish experts and whoever, have looked into it but they can’t find a reason why. It isn’t for mating, and it isn’t for feeding or hunting, or something like that. They can’t find any evolutionary purpose for it whatsoever. These fish just dance, because they want to. They like to. They want to.”

“That’s interesting.”

“Is it? I don’t know anymore.”

“That’s not really a confession though.”

“Is this some sort of a game?”

“No.”

“So I can’t lie?”

“No. That’s not the point.”

“Do you think I should get a goldfish?”

“Goldfish are pretty cool, yeah. Pretty low maintenance.”

“I like low maintenance.”

It’s starting to get a bit light outside. There are streaks of light blue in the dark blue. I finish the rest of my wine in one mouthful because I am running out of time.

“I’ll confess something to you,” I say.

“Really?”

“Yeah. If you tell me something else.”

“That’s not how the rules work.”

“It’s not another confession. Just an explanation.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why did you cheat on your girlfriend?”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“Because the girl was fucking gorgeous, and I wasn’t really thinking.”

I get up and walk to the window. The light blue is overtaking the dark blue now and its getting lighter.

“Does that make you mad?” he says.

“No.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing, the sky just looks good.”

“Are you cold?” He asks.

“A bit.”

“Come here.”

I go back to him.

“You’re very pretty.”

He puts his hand on the back of my neck and moves his fingers in my hair.

“Don’t you want me to make a confession?” I ask.

“Nah, I don’t care about that.”

He kisses my neck and it’s nice. His hands move down my back, to where they are above my hips. He kisses my lips.

“What’s wrong?” he says.

“Nothing.”

“You’re all rigid.”

“Sorry.”

“Do you want me to go home?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Do you not want to do this?”

“I do.”

“Are you sure?”

I kiss him so he shuts up. It tingles this time and I forget about the changing colour of the sky outside and that he cheated on his girlfriend and the people who just don’t ever shut up about anything. Then he pushes my dress up, and puts his hand on my stomach, and kisses it. I sit up.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“I need to confess something.”

“What?”

“I need to confess something.”

“I thought we were done with that.”

“You started it.”

“It was just a game.”

“Did you actually cheat on your girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Am I the only one you told?”

“Yeah.”

“Then it wasn’t a game.”

“Well, that wasn’t.”

“So it’s my turn.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

“I want it to be.”

“What’s wrong? You’ve gone a bit weird.”

“It’s my stomach.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s nothing inside.”

He looks at me. He doesn’t know what I mean, and that’s good, because I realize now that I don’t want to tell him, that I can’t tell him. Some secrets you keep for yourself for a while.

“I don’t understand,” he says.

He has this weird black bracelet on, made out of leather, the sort I imagine surfer guys wear in Australia. He is playing with it. I’ve made him awkward. He’s nice, his t-shirt feels soft where I am stroking it, and I’ve made him sad and awkward. I would have sex with him, but I can’t anymore, I can’t make myself.

“It’s okay,” I say. I don’t know why I don’t stop stroking his T shirt.

“Is it?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Do you want me to go home?”

“No.”

“Really?”

Before I’m aware of what I’m doing, I’m lying on his chest and curled up in a ball. He puts his arms around me. It feels warm.

“I feel like I am one of those fish,” I say. I think I am drunk again.

“The dancing fish?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“I know why I do things. But no one else does.”

He’s quiet, but he isn’t playing with his bracelet anymore so I guess it’s an okay quiet.

“I feel a bit sick,” I say.

“Really?”

“Just a bit.”

“Did you eat much before we went out?”

“I had a piece of toast and a pear.”

“Do you have any food in your kitchen?”

I sit up and move out the way so he can go and look and I follow him. I sit on the counter and he looks in my fridge. The only thing he finds is some cheese that has gone blue, and half a tomato, so he orders a pizza. When the pizza man arrives, he pays him. I watch as the pizza man looks at both of us and it feels nice. Maybe he thinks we live here together. Maybe he thinks we’re a family. That we have a kid asleep in the next room, that we met when we were fourteen and fell in love. Then the pizza man leaves.

“Here we go.”

It smells amazing. We eat quietly, the pizza warming up the inside of my stomach.

“Are you cold?” I say.

“No.”

“I swear this house is always cold.”

“I’m okay. How’s your pizza?”

“Amazing.”

It’s light outside now. I thought the sky was going to be blue, because of how blue it was earlier, but it’s grey.

“It’s five o clock,” he says, “I have work today.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. I’d better go.”

“You could call in sick?”

“I can’t really, I’ve done that too many times.”

“So you need to go?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

He’s standing up now. I get up too and put my arms around him. It’s quiet for a few seconds. I lean to kiss him on the lips. I kiss him twice. I would have sex with him if I could, it would make him stay, but I can’t so I don’t kiss him again.

“Sorry,” I say.

“About what?”

“Making it weird.”

“It was fine. It was good.”

“Yeah.”

“Right. I better go.”

“Okay.”

“See you.”

“Bye.”

The door bangs closed behind him. There are two slices of pizza left and I eat one but it’s lukewarm. I’m still cold so I get a big jumper from my room and put it on. I don’t know what I am going to do today.

He has left his bracelet on the sofa. He must have taken it off when he was fiddling with it and didn’t pick it up. There are many boxes I could put it in. It would fit perfectly in the tiny one with the sea shells on. I pick it up. I look at it properly. I go to my front door, open it, and throw the bracelet into the empty corridor. I shut myself back into my flat and everything is the same again.

 

© Heather Cripps
[This piece was selected by Damyanti Biswas]