All this time trying to convince himself he had to squash his pride like a piece of bubble wrap and ask her. “Do you want to move in with me?” After four years together, it’s just natural procedure. He could have slipped it into a conversation, mentioned it as a joke, or, better, pointed out the oddity of their situation as a rhetorical question.
“Isn’t it bizarre that we’re still not living together?”
He would have pronounced these words very casually, pretending not to care about the answer — that’s if an answer would actually come. Maybe she would have taken the hint, and encouraged him in some way, turning his struggle into a mutual effort; but Joshua never dared alluding to the subject, and his hypotheticals remained hypothetical. It was Quinn who finally brought it up, at the end of a party she hosted at her place — when everybody left and they were alone.
He was picking up beer bottles from the dining table, as a crushing sense of relief washed over him.
Would you like to spend more time with me, here? she said.
His uncompromising desire to feel wanted, to feel needed, had dominated every genuine impulse to convey what he wanted, what he needed, ever since he could remember. A week later, sipping a glass of port on his tangerine velvet armchair, his elbows leaned on the cherry wood armrests, he felt vaguely content with himself. Quinn’s place was much more intimate and far less tastefully decorated than his, but it was a legitimate punishment for having escaped, once again, the strain of self-expression.
To celebrate, he even bought the bottle of ruby port, which he wasn’t in the habit of drinking at home. He preferred to get a glass at a bar and watch the bartender lift his gaze from the wet, strong scented counter to give him a certain kind of look — curious and disinterested at the same time. Port is such a pretentious drink outside Portugal, it’s like ordering a Johnny Walker neat. Drawing his sketches for the scenery of Betrayal, the play he was working on with his production team, he was looking for the right focus, but the objects lying around him kept distracting him. The etched glass lamps on the wooden accent table, the ’60s jukebox, the Italian coffee grinder, the old cinema seats. He had spent a decade furnishing his apartment, bargaining for anything he could get at flea markets, antique shops and online auctions. Yet, most of his furniture seemed either too delicate or too eccentric to match Quinn’s flat.
When the pulpy taste of blackberry and cinnamon made him thirsty, he put down his pencil and got up to get a glass of water in the kitchen. At that moment, his cell phone lighted up, and the name Mya appeared on the screen. He picked up. Hello? he said.
Hey, what are you doing?
You’re one of the last people I know who still makes phone calls.
You’re not good with texts.
Why do you always avoid me on weekends? she said.
When was the last time we hung out?
Last Wednesday, I think.
When Quinn was teaching her workshop.
She’s doing one tomorrow too. Do you want to come over?
Are you busy now?
I’m drawing, and it’s late. Tomorrow’s perfect though.
You could help me packing some things up. I’m moving to Quinn’s place next week. Mya said nothing for a minute, which felt like a while. It was one of her typical pauses, the ones he chronically misunderstood when they first met. To him, they were a poetic proof of their profound connection, her way of showing him she felt it too. Eventually, he realised that these annoying interruptions of conventional communication, weren’t her timid way of suggesting her love for him, just the time she needed to silence her thoughts, so they wouldn’t be heard.
Denying herself the chance to comment on anything remotely important, she was also pointing out that she was doing it. She was in fact silencing her thoughts — shoving joy, disappointments, grudges, in her antique treasure chest — stepping aside from the scene and leaving him drained, wondering why he couldn’t just leave her behind, like anything else.
That’s great, she said.
It is. I’m happy.
I can be there at noon, is that okay?
Sure, thank you.
Do you have some brown tape I can borrow?
I’ll take a look, she said, and hung up.
Joshua stared at the dark smoked chevron parquet, perplexed — baffled by the sound of her voice. She was the only person he knew who could torture him by simply being in this world. He was still looking for a justifiable reason why some sort of universal randomness wanted them to meet, seven years ago. When they had any contact, whole pieces of her stuck to him like clay, reshaping his conscience into something he couldn’t recognise, let alone accept. She left him ruminating for days about nothing — nothing at all — every time she hung up the phone, she left the room, she wasn’t there anymore. He got used to it over time, learning to at least tolerate it; but the damage was greater than he liked to acknowledge.
It was already 1 a.m. when he went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He glanced at the ivory walls, the cuckoo clock, Bacon’s paintings, before reaching the high window at the centre of his kitchen and breathing the air soaked by the spring storm. It had just rained. Then he took a shower before going to bed, while someone was playing the piano upstairs. It was one of Chopin’s Nocturnes. Next to him, there was the traffic light lamp Mya bought him in Berlin, daring him to place it next to his toilet. It switched from green to yellow to red until one turned it off, dizzy from the experience. During the whole trip, the only one they took together, she insisted on trying on ridiculous outfits in each store they went to, calling him out to the fitting room to see how they fitted her. Then she changed, right in front of him, with a nonchalance that he couldn’t understand. He
would have done anything to put his arms around her, take her there in the fitting room — but the thought of being rejected was unbearable. So he looked away, flustered. She would have never let herself go, even if she did her best to push him to the limit, he knew that, or at least he presumed he did. The intensity of his desire for her startled him, he sensed that he could break her with his mere touch. Over time, she became this untouchable woman, with her perfectly blended lot of neuroses — feminine, and yet so masculine, warm yet cruel, frank, yet secretive, strong and incredibly fragile. It wasn’t just sex — but it could have been, if she wanted to. It could have been anything really, but
it remained what it was — nothing at all. He sent her an email when they came back from the trip, urging her to stop calling him. So she did, no questions asked. That’s when he met Quinn. Shortly after waking up the next morning, he started packing. At noon, he made himself a sandwich and drank an espresso. Mya arrived late, as usual. She rang the buzzer three times.
Hey, are you dressed? she said. Come on up, we have a lot of work to do.
Opening the Irish cream door, Mya smiled sarcastically and handed him a fresh bottle of sparkling water. It was a gag between them, when they thought the other one had drank a little too much the night before, they bought a bottle of sparkling water to downplay the hangover. Mya rarely drank, so it was often her turn. With her lemon dungaree and an electric blue t-shirt underneath, her hair tied up with colourful hairbands, she looked like a model from a decor
We aren’t repainting, you know? he said.
She rolled her eyes.
Let me in.
As she entered his apartment, she turned quiet, checking to see if they were alone or someone else was inside. She scanned the hall and the living room for traces of other people, pretending to search for the right spot to leave her rucksack.
I’m the only one willing to help you, aren’t I?
You’re the only one I asked.
Technically you didn’t. You said today was “perfect”.
Joshua smiled, softly.
You owe me one, he said.
That’s not why I came.
She spotted the pile of pots and pans on the kitchen table.
Why did you then? he said.
Food! I’m starving. Have you cooked today?
There are some leftovers from yesterday, I made stuffed courgettes with bacon and ricotta.
Ah, you and your Italian cooking! she said, putting her arm around his shoulder.
Suit yourself, he said, looking the other way. I’ll start packing my books. I’ll be in the studio, okay?
Her whole face lighted up, like a spectacle of candles in the sea at night.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could rent me the place when you move out?
Joshua gave her a startled look and said: are you kidding?
I’ll be the best tenant you could ever have.
When he opened his mouth to say something, nothing came out, so he shut it again, took a breath, and said: I don’t think it’s a good idea.
Why not? You wouldn’t even be here.
Is that why you came?
Mya took a bite of stuffed courgette, then a sip of Coke.
Will you at least let me keep something of yours? The jukebox maybe?
Definitely not the jukebox.
She laughed. He leaned his head to the right, watching her closely. Then he sighed and headed to the door.
Did Quinn ask you to move in with her?
As he was on the doorstep, he said: does it sound so absurd to you?
But do you want to?
He shook his head.
Why would I be packing?
Because it’s convenient.
The fact that just the thought of sharing a life with someone appalls you, doesn’t mean it’s the same for all of us.
You and Quinn?
Me and the rest of the world.
Uncrossing her legs and resting her head on the palm of her right hand, she paused. It was utterly strange, the way they manage to hurt each other without ever meaning to.
I’m not appalled. I don’t think committing to someone solves any issues.
Oh, I meant in general.
He gave her a sarcastic look.
So, are we ready to start? I’m done eating. It was very good, thanks.
No problem. Can you pass me the brown tape?
She grabbed the brown tape from her silver rucksack and handed it to him. Then she took her shoes off.
I’ve been moving stuff around, it’s dirty, he said.
Oh it’s fine, I don’t care.
He began to arrange his books in the brown boxes, systematically — by weight, size and genre. His Taschen collection went first, then his plays, hardcover novels, short stories collections, essays, biographies, design, philosophy, and comics. Mya cleaned the cover of each book with a paper towel and handed it to him.
Do you have any thriller I can borrow? she said, staring at his library.
I don’t read those. You know that.
You must have a few. I bet you got one as a gift!
From someone who doesn’t know me at all?
Does Quinn snub thrillers too?
No. She actually loves Stephen King.
And yet you love her.
He laughed. He could sense she was puzzled, perhaps even bothered by him moving out, but she would have never admitted it, her logic pushed her the other way around.
Are you taking these lamps to Quinn’s place?
I don’t think so.
Are you selling them?
I’m keeping them either way, but I don’t know if I can bring them to hers.
Are you afraid someone will break them?
Oh, I’d be positive someone would, but my trust issues are bullet proof, you told me once. He smiled at her, with a hint of bitterness and warmth, a wicked combination he was constantly drawn to, when dealing with her. He had written that in the email he sent her after their trip to Berlin. The goodbye email he used to call it. It was supposed to be a deal breaker, an email that made her so angry she wouldn’t want to see or hear from him again. Then they ran into each other at a circus performance they had both loved — and met again a week later for coffee. She called him first. He would have never.
That’s when he thought there was nothing he could ever say to get her to ruin what they had. People fight and stop talking to each other all the time, but it only happens when they reach a certain point. With them, that point seemed unreachable — like a sort of Wonderland. He had lost too much sleep pondering on what it meant.
They finished packing the books and the rest of the notebooks, along with some kitchen tools by dinner time. She was helping him put his entire wardrobe in a few duffle bags, throwing clothes on his bed and teasing him on which occasion he would have worn them for.
One for each shirt, it’s ridiculous! Do you know how much space you could save if you used them wisely? she said, with a bunch of hangers in her hands.
I don’t need to save space.
Because you have too much. Quinn is never going to leave you this much space at hers.
Actually I need to ask her about that.
He took his phone from his pocket and sent her a text. He wrote: Hey, how’s the workshop? I was wondering… is there enough space for all my clothes at
yours? Should I only bring a few? He looked up from his phone to glance at Mya before typing: Can’t wait for tomorrow night.
Then he took his trousers, shirts, and jumpers off the hangers and arranged them by season. A few minutes later, Mya came back from the bathroom wearing the Pennywise IT costume he had bought for a Halloween party with his colleagues. When she turned around for him, he saw the note on the back of the yellow jumpsuit that said: “I saw IT when I was four”, attached with red tape. Gina, his mother, used to be obsessed with thrillers and horror movies, it was all that she watched. She was so into crime that IT was the first horror movie Joshua saw, when he couldn’t even read or write. Sitting right next to her on the couch — they only had one TV — he saw it from beginning to
end, without saying a word, captivated and shocked.
Take it off Mya, he said.
With a scarlet wig and enormous clown shoes, she was still very sexy. He stared at her.
If we finish at around 9, I can get us some takeout, and we can eat here if you want, he told her.
She went to the bathroom to put her clothes back on, and returned with his costume in a green plastic bag. Then she pointed at his bags and said: in which season are you going to wear this?
Just leave it in the wardrobe, he said, trying to repress a smile.
Are you sure? This could do fine in a role-play!
Speaking from experience?
Mya laughed and left the plastic bag on the bed.
Could you put it back, please?
You do it.
Look, I’m almost done, you don’t have to stay if you’re ready to go.
Sure, I can take you home.
He left a bag on the floor and took his phone from the French bedside table.
Were you hoping she’d ask you? she said. To move in with her?
I’m just glad she did.
Then he sighed and said: one doesn’t need to be asked for something to start wanting it.
And one doesn’t always ask for something one wants, she said.
He raised his eyebrows. If it had anything to do with them, he didn’t know. She stopped making sense to him a few days after he met her. Maybe that’s why he fell so hard for her.
I’m gonna go now.
I can take you home.
He followed her to the kitchen, where she picked up her rucksack from the floor, and put it on her shoulders.
Thanks for today, really. Are you sure you don’t need a ride?
Sure, I’m not going home. I’ll stop by the Academy for a Sunday work-out.
You don’t need it.
He kissed her goodbye. Then he said: wait.
He went to the kitchen and picked up a book he had put aside while he was packing. He handed it to her and said: this is the only thriller I’ve ever read.
She hugged the book to her chest.
A Cry in the Dark. I’m intrigued! Take care Jo.
You too, he said. And he closed the door.
The next morning he woke up a few minutes before the alarm, oddly alert. Quinn hadn’t replied to his text. He wanted to know how her workshop had gone, but he should have just called her. It was his fault. Every morning, waking up, in that nebulous state between wake and sleep, he had the worst thoughts about himself — everything that bothered him from his past and present surfaced as a reprehensible blunder he could have avoided, and with that in mind, he began a new day. Grabbing his phone after washing his face, he saw a text from Quinn.
Sorry about last night, I was exhausted. Which clothes are you referring to? We can talk about it tonight. 8 p.m. works? Love you.
He texted back: Sure, love you too.
He put on a pair of black cords and a navy blue shirt, then he went out to his car and drove to the theatre. The coffee shop down the street was quieter than usual, it didn’t even feel like a Monday. He took an espresso and exchanged a few words with the owner. For a long time he believed he didn’t need that sort of human contact before work — he preferred starting the day without the interference of other people’s lives, problems, remarks and complaints. But lately, he had realised that talking with almost strangers early in the morning was the best way to prompt his creativity. Once at the theatre, he turned on his laptop and searched for British furniture from the ’70s — not that he was unfamiliar with it, he simply had the habit of triple checking every intuition, insight, or prior knowledge, with a lot of research, images, and facts. He was something in between a born researcher and a hopeless perfectionist. The idea of suggesting a scenery that hadn’t been meticulously planned in his mind and outlined on a piece of paper, never even crossed his mind. Maybe that’s why he was so good at his job. Or, maybe, he could have been a completely different artist if he’d loosen up a little. That’s the thing about creativity, it owns a power that not everyone is ready to take in. At least not in the same way.
The light of the sun slipped under the dusty window and warmed up the cluttered studio upstairs, it was a graceful day in March. Quinn’s birthday was coming up, he had to soon come up with a gift. Taking out his drawings from his briefcase, he thought about the play. Betrayal had been produced so many times — but this was his first. When he was a student at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin, he read it in his first year, it took him less than an hour to finish.
There was a line that stuck to him, he remembered it while reading it again the week before: “Nothing has ever happened. Nothing. This is the only thing that ever happened. Your eyes kill me. I’m lost.” He was trying to capture the essence of that line in his sketch of the last scene — the one where Emma and Jerry are in the bedroom together at Robert and Emma’s house, and Robert walks in on them. When he was deep in thought, his pencil in his mouth, someone knocked on the door. It was Liam, the theatre director. He looked like he had just left the gym, or his bed.
Good morning! How are you? Liam said.
Not bad, just researching some elements for the show. You?
I’m off today, I only came by to look at your drawings, see where we’re at.
Joshua showed him his drawings on the desk, next to his laptop.
They’re only sketches of course.
I like them.
He handed them back to him.
But the last scene needs to be more intimate, darkened. We need to play with the lights and make it as powerful as we can. Then we can work with the door, I’d like it to be different than the rest of the room, it has to catch the audience’s attention. I was thinking about a sort of arc-door, I’ll figure something out.
Oh, I thought this could work, Joshua said, pointing at the sliding door, which was supposed to be in obscure glass.
Well, like I was saying, we can work something out.
Joshua didn’t say anything, he stared at him, then at his sketches.
It was only the second project he was working on with him, but Liam liked what he had done so far. He had spent every weekend drawing, since he had been hired, hoping to create something decent. That’s why he expected a pat on the shoulder, or at least some enthusiasm, thinking that his sketch was a fresh take on Pinter’s play. He felt disappointed in himself, which made him appear overconfident and childish.
Is that okay with you? Liam said.
You don’t like criticism, do you?
Liam laughed and said: Look, it’s not bad, it needs more lightning contrast to emphasise the intimacy, but we can meet here tomorrow and discuss it with Laura and Neal. I’ll come up with a few ideas myself.
Of course, sounds good. See you tomorrow then.
Liam headed to the door.
Thanks for passing by.
Then he smiled and left the room. The same morning, Quinn woke up late, taking her time before getting back to her novel. She had been teaching all weekend, and thought it was fair to take at least a few hours off to clear her mind. After a nice shower, she let her hair dry on its own. She made tea and opened her journal, noticing she hadn’t written on it since the beginning of the week. Once her words filled the page, she realised that she was only writing about her novel, as if nothing else mattered. She spent an hour noting down how it felt to delve into her characters, how difficult it was to forget herself to make space for other lives, other motives, other regrets — other lies. It was still the hardest part, even though she had been dancing with language for eight years now. After inhaling the scent of fresh mint emanating from her tea, she took a sip, hoping it could reach her nervous system, reviving her conscience — like a drop of green liquor into a Czech beer.
By six o’clock she had already written five new scenes, finding herself shockingly satisfied with them. Then she headed to the window and aired the living room, taking a look outside. It was rush hour, but the noise wasn’t too loud. There was a woman running for the bus with three children who didn’t look more than five or six years old, but they weren’t going to make it. She was beautiful.
The kids, probably hers, weren’t slowing her down, she was running much slower than them. Quinn stared at them for a while, as they waited for the next bus. When she heard the buzzer, she pushed the button to open the door without asking who it was. Joshua buzzed again and Quinn said: is there a problem with the door?
No, it’s open. Can you come down and help me with some of the boxes?
Boxes? Okay, give me a second.
Yeah. It’ll be a lot quicker if you help me.
She went downstairs, and saw him next to his dark green car, packed with duffle bags and brown paper boxes, a few hangers on the sides.
Hey you! he said, kissing her softly. I hope it’s not too much stuff.
Oh, she said, looking at the car. You’re moving in with me?
He looked at her puzzled.
Didn’t you ask me to?
She looked the other away, nervous.
Can we talk upstairs?
I can’t leave all my stuff in the car.
She stared at the car.
Are you tired? I can bring it upstairs myself. We can relax afterwards. I brought a bottle of Syrah, your favourite. Leave the door open, I’ll be quick. Then we can watch the series we started last week, what’s it called?
She took a deep breath, then lowered her gaze. Jo, I never asked you to move in with me. I said it’d be cool if you spent more time at mine, because we always stay at yours. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. But can we talk about this?
He scratched his neck like an army of bees had just stung him. Then he turned around and said: I need to go.
Let’s talk, please.
He took off his jacket, got in the car and started the engine. After driving around for almost an hour, he stopped at a parking lot near Mya’s apartment. Then he took his phone and dialled her number, with an anger that slew any doubt. She didn’t pick up. He called her again. When she replied, he asked her if he could come by her house.
I’m not home, she said.
Where are you?
I’m at the gym.
Can I wait for you?
At my house? Did something happen?
I need to talk to you.
OK. Can you come to the Long Hall at around 10? I’m meeting a few friends there.
I meant alone.
I can’t cancel now.
Can’t you, though?
No, I can’t. Maybe we should talk tomorrow.
I need to talk to you right now.
I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? she said.
He remained silent.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Then she hung up.
Sara grew up in Italy, and received her MA in Literature from the University of Essex. She teaches English, writes, and breaks free on the trapeze. Her literary articles have been published in the Durham University Postgraduate English Journal, and Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Research Journal.
Not long ago she decided to write her heart out.
She has written two literary articles that have been published in the Durham University Postgraduate English Journal (http://community.dur.ac.uk/postgraduate.english/ojs/index.php/pgenglish/article/view/202), and Exchanges: The Interdisciplinary Research Journal (https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/index.php/exchanges/article/view/234),
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.