By Anna Royle – Creative Writing Editor
When my living room turns golden, I make my first cup of coffee. Just two hours later, my blinks begin to get slower and I realise I overestimated myself. I skip the milk steaming and diluting, sticking to straight espresso every thirty minutes, accompanied by continuous mugs of own-brand instant. My tongue becomes bumpy and dry from attempting to gulp the boiling liquid so I adapt to adding ice cubes. But the crescent moon moulds won’t freeze quick enough, so I put on my coat and make my way through the drunken crowds towards the newsagents.
A man hollers at me from outside a bar, leaning against the painted green brick, a pub grub menu to his left, a window into the dimly-lit orange world of carpeted booths and pre-mixed cocktails on his right. His cigarette joins the rest of the butts squished into the pavement as I walk over to him. This is the first time his technique has worked, and he can’t quite believe it. He buys me a tequila shot, or three, and before I know it, he’s snoring next to me.
When his lumpy single pillow starts to look appealing, I walk myself around his flat. I use his coffee machine; it’s the kind that uses the plastic pods so there’s no unnecessary effort required. I test out how loud I can be, creaking open his wardrobe doors. I realise I don’t need to be on my tippy toes, I pry through his clothes, his fridge, his bank statements, anything to keep myself entertained. His alarm going off at 7:00am is my cue to leave. I walk to work, expecting the morning air to help with my exhaustion.
I had to stay late in work to finish my emails, as I spent most of the day fighting the fictitious weights on my eyelids. My usual hot bath would only worsen my situation, so I opt for a cold one. It takes twenty minutes for me to step in, and a further five to slide in my shoulders. At first I pant, my body struggling to heat up, but after a while my skin becomes numb, being reminded of the coldness only when I move. Worried I may be too relaxed, I get out.
I feel refreshed. I open the windows wide, letting the wind beat against the blinds, not caring that the window sill will get wet. I sit naked on the hard wood floor, my towel draped lazily around my torso and pull out my laptop. I start with watching a documentary about a missing woman and a few hours later I find back-to-back videos of serial killer interviews. Eventually, I end the night on a website with chaotic pop-up adverts, homing videos of factory accidents, finally deciding to get ready for work when I see a man’s head turn into a strawberry smoothie.
I don’t know if I got all my work done. But it’s dark and the streets seem drunk enough, so it must be late. I’ve lost count on how many cups of coffee I’ve had. I need ice. I empty my freezer in preparation, starting with two tubs of ice-cream. I feel my stomach awakening, when was the last time I ate? There’s half a loaf of frozen bread that I naw on, and before I know it, my jaw is tired, the crumpled plastic bag is empty apart from shards of thawing ice. There’s a full bag of broccoli florets. I suck on one until it’s able to be chewed. The motion is oddly soothing and I feel myself cosying into my kitchen tiles.
I splash water on my face and make my way to the newsagents. The snow or sleet or rain soaks through my blouse. The crowds are blurry and someone shouts at me. Same cigarette, same skinny jeans, he begins to follow me. I tell him I’m not coming home with him. I tell him to leave me alone. He’s no longer behind me, but I can see him looming behind the light of the streetlamp. I focus on the shop, which is now in view, but I see him in my peripheral, moving closer and closer until he’s breathing in my ear. I spin around, screaming at him that I’m not interested. A different man grabs my elbows, asking if I’m okay. The coffee pod man isn’t there. I run home.
I push my sofa against the front door. He’s knocking to get in. I shout for him to leave and he stops knocking. My clothes are sticky with sweat. Hes waiting for me to leave to get ice. I open my laptop and order thirty bags of ice from Tesco with next day delivery. Then, I find a tall standing freezer for £479.00, along with £49.99 next day delivery. I shout at the door, telling him there’s no way I’m leaving so he may as well go home.
I didn’t go to work. I’m pretty sure he’d left by the time the birds began to sing, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Plus, I had to be there for the freezer delivery. It was meant to arrive between 2:00pm and 4:00pm, and at 2:30pm there’s a knock on my door. I make the delivery man call out my order number before I open it. Staring at my phone, the numbers in the confirmation email are melting into one another, and he’s saying them too fast, so I take my chance and heave the sofa away from door. He asks where I want it. I say here is fine. He says I paid for delivery so he might as well take it into the kitchen for me. I insist that he can just leave it here. He tells me suit myself. I sign a few things and he leaves.
My Tesco delivery arrives. The guy makes a comment about me having a party. All sound takes a detour in a padded tunnel around my head before its received by my brain. I don’t reply in time. I begin guzzling instant coffee once again, the ice cubes cooling it to the perfect temperature. I even make myself a few iced coffees. One second I’m sitting on my floor slurping away, my back against the freezer that sits in the middle of my living room, the next, its dark, the moon staring at me through the open blinds. My phone is dead. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here. I change my clothes, into something less comfy, something stiff and susceptible to the winter air thats swirls throughout the house. I put on makeup to occupy myself. My eyeliner looks perforated, my lipstick looking like I just got home. Pulling the lid off my eyelash glue, I spill it over my fingers. I get an idea. I smear it over the crease of my eyes, then fold my eyelids upwards. The air tickles the fresh jelly of my eye, the exposed veins stain the white like the lipstick on my teeth.
I open my laptop and search up the same website from the other night. I don’t even finish a video before something runs behind the luminous screen. It was black. Like a cat, or a bug. A massive bug. I peek around the sofa. I peel back the curtains. I peer behind the TV. The smell of smoke sneaks into my nostrils, and I see a cloud flooding in from my peripheral. There’s a man with a cigarette. When I turn to face him, I’m met with may blank living room wall. Something in the corner of my left eye scuttles across the room. When I spin to look at it, it’s gone. My eyes are stinging with dryness, as if bits of pinky-white flesh could start flaking off at any moment. I decide to make myself a coffee to calm down.
I open the jar and spoon my usual two heaps of instant. But when I pour in the water, the brown granules are replaced by thousands of shiny beetles, fighting their way out of the mug. Hot water smacks onto my wrist. Large bulbous blisters form, breathing, ready to burst. Slug-like maggots pierce through the skin. I rush towards to sink. My eyes are burning as bad as my wrist. Masked by my tears, I only see black and white shapes, but I feel them escaping the water, crawling up my arm. I try to close my eyes, but the pain of my eyelids ripping away from the gluey skin is unbearable. I bury my face in my duvet, but quickly shoot up when a wave up relaxation comes over me.
I open the freezer, filling my bare arms with bags of ice. I make several trips, dumping the bags into the bath. Once it’s empty I slip into the cool coffin, thudding the door closed. In the darkness, I can’t even see the silhouettes of beetles or the maggots or the man. The iciness against my exposed upper back is helping my fatigue. My neck is crooked towards my bare feet, so I’m in no danger of getting too comfortable. I stand there for hours, until every inch of my body goes numb. Until I’m finally settled, finally feeling awake.