You got up from the bed with an echo of laughter still vibrating in your chest. I had said something funny. Your body had shaken; soft, rapid, smooth motions of your shoulders up and down and eyes dark blue, comical.
“Where are you going?”
“To get the ice cream.”
You were by the door now, looking back at me. The credits of another film rolled lazily out from the laptop by my feet. Piano notes and the crashing of waves were interrupted by my door’s creaky hinge.
“Don’t miss me too much.” Your cheeks puffed outwards and under your eyes little lines gathered like kindling. The door swung open and out you went, a playground vigour in your step.
You’d be gone for not longer than five minutes. Or maybe a little longer; you probably didn’t know my pantry well yet. I imagine your clumsy fumbling for cutlery, a whispered curse under your breath at not finding any in the normal drawer, opening each cupboard then from floor to ceiling until you found them under the sink.
On the bedside table were the spoils of our trip to Newcastle. Two ceramic mugs brimming with chai latte, creamy foam bubbles resting on the surface. In the shop, you had made a beeline for the exact jar of powder that now stood on the desktop. Behind the till, a female shop assistant had raised her eyebrows at your back. You’d raced in such a hurry with the plastic Waterstones bag swishing dangerously near other containers of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and the woman’s eyebrows drawn back into the creases on her forehead stuck themselves into my mind. You took the shop under your siege. A still life painting. You, no earthly being but a storm, rain, heat parading ceaselessly together and over me. Underneath me the bed murmured gently, as if it shared the same memory.
Beside the cooling coffees laid your copy of Madame Bovary. Yellow pencil jammed into a page, it stuck out jagged and telling of your progress. On my lap, my own copy open, though not as far as yours. Each page had that fresh staleness, pages brittle and likely palmed by countless others before ourselves. Between the books we stood in silence together, so far away from each other. The sight of your face under the dimmed lighting so in focus on the writing in front of you. Instinctively you raised one finger to your mouth and little spots of yellow appeared on your knuckles clutching the book. I’m not sure what you were thinking, but it did not really matter. You said you wanted to buy it. We bought two copies; they dropped to the bottom of my rucksack, a paperweight tied to you, and now me.
I would not call myself selective when it came to buying books, or my choice of hot drink. But to this new book — although its content alluded me and I had not even seen the cover — I felt a pull, my fingers dancing along its cover and down its spine, flicking pages fast to produce a burst of cold air. I gripped my mug and let its warmth seep into my palms until they were salmon pink and when I pressed in, splotches of yellow came forth.
You were still in the pantry. But I had you in my mug, comfortably under my nose. In my book, in those pages, words, letters. In the credits now finished in front of me. On the door handle and the air that had whooshed in from outside when you had opened it. Staring at the duvet, I realised that you were all around me. It all pulled at something dormant and deep behind my ribcage and a lightness in my stomach floated. A familiar feeling. My twelfth birthday party, Christmas back at home, a week in the Lakes. My bedroom on an early autumn night, dying embers of a Netflix show, book closed on my lap, hot drink in hand.
Footsteps gained in sound outside my door, and it swung inwards. Red face, dishevelled hair, white cotton pyjamas. Hand clutching the tub of ice cream, knuckles tinted yellow.
“Under the sink. You disgrace me.”
But you smiled at me, and I smiled back and pulled the covers back to let you in.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova