Waking up alone on the lounge is a normal occurrence. Hunger goads me to stand. I quest through the kitchen cupboards for tins of stew. The bread maker sitting on the cupboard sparks a craving for bread. Despite having the equipment and the ingredients, something stops me using it. This too is normal.
Kristine emerges from her room, roused by the blaring stereo and complaining about the smell of burning. Her voice buzzes like a blow fly circling around, and around, and around, under a heavy bass beat that shakes the window frames. She yanks a smoking dish towel off a red hot burner and throws it into the overflowing sink. The scale of the mess I’ve made in thirty seconds after she’s cleaned for thirty hours earns me ‘the look’ again. She probably perfected it on her last boyfriend. Bet he had a tiny prick.
I don’t care, I’m flying on Ritalin. Opinionated women are easily ignored on this airline. She turns the stereo down. I add another tin of stew to the saucepan for her anyway. We eat together like civilised people.
Well, Kristine makes an attempt to be civilised. I inhale my food like a thousand horsepower vacuum cleaner.
A Duramorph puts on the skids post mealus. With pupils pricked by pins I float calmly through the afternoon, bumping into furniture and lazing about in a thought-free world.
Kristine interjects herself into the space I’d prefer kept vacant.
“You OK, Sam?”
“I’m higher than Everest.”
“That’s not what I mean.
“No? Speaketh of what thou meaneth then.”
“The strain of mental stress can...”
“Should the nutter be the person to ask how their own brainbox is going? Well, if you must know, on a scale of one to ten, I’m about a five.”
There’s safety in mediocrity.
“I’m worried about you.”
“Worried about what? I’ve got the same problems as you. The world ended for both of us. Thanks for helping me talk about it. I feel much better. Purged of blame and freed from guilt in fact.”
“You can joke, but you aren’t alright. You’re in a hopeless place, Sam, let me help. Life isn’t...”
Blah, blah, blah. Fuck, I hate platitudes, if she mentions Jesus...
Unfortunately her sincerity burrows down to a vulnerable nerve. It triggers something vast I’ve kept a cap on until now. I never counted on sensitivity and love, things I never understood or could return, to be my downfall. They soundly shake defences that are braced for violence and pain.
An embarrassing breakdown is about to claim me on swift wings. Its severity will repay the cost of leading such an inhibited, down-trodden life if I don't back out of this deadly discussion right now. An explosion of anguish wells up a constricted throat. I choke the lump back down whole.
It hurts bad.
The muscles in my jaw clench and work. My chest aches with pressure. I hide the agony with casual, tough sarcasm, and jab a thumb at my rock like strength.
“Don't pity me, lady. There’s nothing fixable in this write-off.”
I open my mouth wide and flip another Duramorph down my throat from a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.
Kristine’s face falls. She fixes her soft, open gaze on me, full of concern and sympathy. It’s an icepick to the heart. That lump of dead black coal takes the assault with commendable acceptance.
Kristine closes up slowly like a day lit flower protecting itself from a sudden storm. I’ve beaten her this time. She leaves the room. I hurriedly reinforce bent doors that lead to emotions I never want pried open. When she returns her own pain is disguised less successfully.
I pretend not to notice.