I’m painting a garden wall when her mother calls, and she laughs at my never seen in all our years together enterprise. “You really are bored, aren’t you?”
The truth is I’m far from bored, my mind’s geysering ‘round the clock, rolling my eyes back and forth behind their lids as I pray for sleep to come take me. I was hoping physical activity might help after Kelsey pointed out one night that I was jumping from foot to foot, in the kitchen. I started with push ups and now have unliquid biceps for the first time in my life. I got into the push ups over-zealously for a few weeks until I hurt my back and now they’re the size of small oranges. As I’ve not done any since, they’re also shrinking, slowly, like oranges left on a fruit bowl. I consider asking Megan, Kelsey’s mother, if she wants to see them while she can but it seems somehow inappropriate.
“You want to see my arms?” I ask. “They got big.” What the hell, she saw more than that, back when.
“Not especially,” she replies. The theory that Past, Present and Future coexist, their separateness a fallacy, a limitation of our perception, there just one constant ongoing moment? Scientifically proven by the tone of those two words.
We discuss when Kelsey might go back which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. The present expanding to the horizon in all directions.
THE INSTAGRAM CHALLENGE
Kelsey shows me the photo. I pull a face.
“I thought the idea’s to show solidarity against patriarchal legislature and the murder of women. You look like you’re put out they’ve cancelled ‘Dawson’s Creek.”
I see the blank, stop myself from explaining what Dawson’s Creek was.
She turns the screen to herself, muses, says “I like it.”
“It’s a good photo, I just don’t see how it… Maybe submit an angrier one? Where you look like you’re fighting!” I throw a pose and feel foolish.
“No,” she says. “I like this one. I’m leaving it.” Backpockets the phone.
“You do look really nice in it,” I insist. “Will you send me a copy?”
Both of us dying deaths here.
She spends most of each day working in her room, wrapped in a blanket. It’s late July. If she’s not on a chair, in the blanket, she’s under the duvet, laptop on her stomach. I’ve given up talking about long term damage to her posture.
“I’m making tea. You want some?”
She takes her headset off. I repeat myself.
“Please. And a biscuit.”
Does she ever cocoon, in the blanket, under the duvet?
“Go,” she says, “I’ve got another call.”
I nudge the door to behind me.
I have an idea for a novel or a film or I don’t know what, if only I could figure out where to start it. A young kid, late teens, early twenties, turns up at home having disappeared for a day or so after a party. None of his friends who went with him saw him leave so they’d assumed he’d walked home on his own or caught a ride from someone else. The party’s on some farmland, remote. He could easily have staggered off drunk, stoned, into the fields to sleep off whatever, nobody’s especially worried about him until he reappears and his face is scratched up, his clothes scorched, slightly, like a hot iron had been sat on them for too long in several places. That and the fact that, when asked where he’s been, he tells his family he was abducted by a UFO, which makes them really mad, why can’t he ever tell the truth and so on. His older brother, convinced he knows what’s going on and what’s always been going on, thinks another guy’s involved, and maybe it turned sour, these not being the most liberal parts they’re living in. The plot thickens when it transpires that a girl who was at the party has also not been seen in days. The kid, instantly a suspect, tells the police, “yeah, I saw her on the UFO, I didn’t know who she was” but of course nobody believes him only, for lack of a body, neither can they arrest him for any crime. She never turns up, dead or alive. His whole life thereafter, he’s treated as a freak and possible girl murderer, struggles to hold down a job, stares into the night sky for hours, is a general mess.
“My god,” Kelsey says when I tell her my idea. “This really happened to you, didn’t it?”
I decide I’m maybe drinking too much tea and start to cut down. I tentatively restart the push ups. The oranges already look less dried up.
I decide to do the garden fence, since there’s paint left over. Many of the slats cross over like my bottom teeth and, if you stand in the right spot, you can watch the neighbours sunbathe, except the same gaps mean that they’d see you back. Were you to do that. I do my best to straighten the boards.
I’d barely started with the painting when Kelsey startles me. I can’t recall the last time I saw her in direct sunlight. Her eyes don’t seem too familiar with it either so I toss her my sunglasses, which she misses, and one of the lens cracks on the paving but the gesture, I feel, is appreciated and she puts them on. The cracked lens outright falls out the frame but she more or less fumbles it back in.
“You missed a bit,” she says, wonk eyed. I stand there. She stands there.
She comes and takes the brush from my hand.
Nick Black’s writing has been published in lit mags including Okay Donkey, Splonk, Ellipsis Zine, Entropy, Bending Genres, and Jellyfish Review. He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.