The screen is too bright, even though the brightness is on the lowest setting. I squint and then press the phone to my chest. He’s asleep next to me; the blaring light hasn’t woken him up. I stare at the back of his head, the individual hairs mussed by the pillow. His shoulders, his back disappearing beneath the covers. He’s always looked so innocent when his face is hidden. His packed bag is a dark lump in the corner, a reminder of my fictional matching one. I think of a suitcase earnestly stuffed with socks, shampoo, pyjamas that he thinks exists and I ache. I haven’t packed for tomorrow.
I reach over to touch his neck, fingertips tracing from where the hair ends and t shirt begins. The skin isn’t as soft as I remember.
It’s hot. I throw back the covers and launch myself into the draughty bathroom. I flick the light on and it’s blinding, a thousand phone screens. The fan starts and I shut the door too loudly, sitting on the closed toilet seat. I bring my legs up, resting my chins on my knees and wrapping my arms around my shins. My phone is still in my left hand.
I take a step out of the bathroom, strategically turning off the light and closing the door in the darkness. The once pitch black room becomes a murky space of dark tones as my eyes adjust. His light blue t shirt and sleeping face makes me wince. People always look so pure when they’re asleep; it’s because they’re so vulnerable. I think of smashing the table top lamp over his unconscious head, how he wouldn’t be able to defend himself, how unfair that would be. I look at his bag again and gasp quietly.
“Oh fuck.” I whisper to myself, breathlessly.
I walk up to it and stare into its contents. Everything’s rolled, neatly sectioned so it’ll all fit. Tears form and I sniff as quietly as I can. His sincerity is screaming at me. The book sits at the top of the bag, the bookmark smushed against the canvas interior. Fucking hell, a bookmark. What am I doing? He’s a boy who rolls when I tell him to, he wears children’s colours, he uses fucking bookmarks. He’s a little boy trying his best. I lift it out; it’s lighter than I remember it being. I guess I was only 11.
His bookmark is so deep into the book, easily 85% devoured. I hate it. I hate that he likes this book at all, and I hate that he has read it more than once. I think about tearing the bookmark out, him eventually reaching for his favourite book, excited to read more only to discover he’s lost his place. Lost his place. I drop to the ground and clamp my hand across my mouth to prevent the sound I want to make from coming out. I might be sick. I’m terrible with vomit, he’s always the one who clears it up. Would I wake him to clear up the product of me thinking about removing his bookmark? I can’t throw up here.
I’m back in the bathroom, swishing water around my mouth and resting my forehead against the cold enamel of the sink. His book is on the floor, and eventually so am I, my back against the wall, legs straight out. I need to calm down. I crawl over to the door, open it and stretch out for my headphones on the bedside table a foot away. My fingers just clasp them, I drag them off and retreat back inside, clicking the door shut.
I scroll frantically. Something calm, something sweet. I suddenly stop on something. I look up from my phone, and see the box of BV gel sat on the toilet cistern. I stand up, my eyes not leaving the sickly turquoise cardboard. The instructions are splayed out, open and stiff. One single tube is left inside. ‘Once the final applicator has been administered to the vagina, the infection will be cured.’ I pluck the tube out of the box and pull down my underwear.
I slip myself back under the covers. He hasn’t moved positions since I left. The fan in the bathroom suddenly stops, stripping back the epidermis of sound and exposing the raw quiet. I slam my headphones over my ears and select what made me pause before.
“Raindrops keep fallin on my head…”
My fists unclench and I feel my chest fill with cleansing air. My space in the bed is warm, as if he has been lying in it the entire time, waiting for me to return.
I wish it was cold.