Eventually, she gets rid of the double bed and replaces it with a single. The room looks twice the size.
The skirting board is dotted with grey puffs. Slut’s wool, her mother called it. She picks one up and it doesn’t fall apart. If she closed her eyes she’d barely know it was there.
A long hair coils like wire, holding the whole thing together. She tugs. It doesn’t come loose. She carries the ball to the kitchen, slides it gently into a plastic food container, snaps the lid shut.
In her new bed, she thinks about dust: how it’s formed of flakes of skin and other discarded things; how the human body replaces its cells in a seven-year cycle.
She is a completely different woman now, her past self scattered around the house in tiny pieces. Pieces of who she used to be, and lost hold of.
At 4am she gives up on sleep. She wrestles the vacuum cleaner upstairs, hoovers the bedroom more thoroughly than ever before. She unclips the loaded bag, shakes it into the tub containing the scrap of slut’s wool. It won’t all fit.
By a quarter to nine the following morning, she is at the local shopping precinct waiting for the bargain housewares shop to open. She buys a stack of sandwich boxes and spends the day vacuuming, decanting dust into the boxes, vacuuming again. She finds a sheet of labels left over from that summer she didn’t make jam, writes dining room, stairs, spare room, bedroom.
She makes a cup of tea. So many hours until it’s reasonable to go back to bed.
She slides her forefinger along the windowsill and it comes away smudged with a half-moon of dirt. Remnants from those nights spent with her forehead pressed to the glass, staring at the empty driveway, waiting. She finishes her tea, gathers the stuff trapped behind the sofa cushions, the thick velvet on the top edge of the books she never read. She collects every last bit.
That night, she falls into an exhausted sleep, but wakes suddenly. A sick feeling writhes in her stomach and it takes a while to pull herself together. The clock says 4am again. She hauls on her dressing gown and staggers to the kitchen. The table is neatly stacked with plastic boxes. She holds one up to the overhead light. Even though it’s been months since it happened, bits of him will have infested the carpet. She hadn’t thought of that.
She prises open every box, dumps the contents onto the floor. She has no way of knowing which specks are her, and which are him. She kneels beside the mess, scoops it into a heap. Squeezes harder and harder until a lump forms, the size and shape of a newborn child.