His retching forms an interesting soundtrack for my afternoon. The sound of gagging followed by the plops of half-digested chunks of fish and potato into toilet water. I don’t mind the sounds too much – but the smells; he smells as though he’s rotting from the inside. I need a cigarette. I need a cigarette quite a lot.
‘Hon?’ An echoed voice.
‘Could you, uh, get me a glass of water?’
I click my tongue and return the phone to my pocket. ‘Sure, darling.’
I grab a glass and fill it up at the sink. When I return the door has been creaked open just enough to accommodate the item he requested. I slip it through and a hand a greedily snatches it up. The contents are guzzled, the glass returned. The door shuts without a thank you. Plenty of retching. How rude.
I was supposed to be in there with him; that’s where he wanted me, you know? To give him a little pat on the back, to give him a little kiss on the cheek – to tell him everything’s going to be OK. I don’t see why I should. He brought this upon himself, he should be the one to deal with the consequences.
My back leans against the door as I let out a lion’s yawn. He’s been awfully quiet. The retching has been so consistent that its absence seems almost suspicious. I check my watch; plenty of time left. I pick up the shoebox to my right. The shoebox, I might add, that once contained the first present he ever bought for me; a pair of bright purple heels. They made me wince when he first revealed them – they seemed to contradict everything about me. Strike one. I told him this, I told him they weren’t really ‘me’ – I’ve never been a shoe person – and he nodded his head and said he’d try harder next time. Harder being another, very similar, pair of shoes. Strike two. I cradle the garishly coloured shoebox in my arms, no longer filled with shoes but something very different. Inside is strike three.
Photo after photo after photo after photo. A shoebox full of photos may seem like a cliché – because it most definitely is – but that’s one of the reasons why I possess one. Clichés are comforting. Another series of retches come from the bathroom. It’s the sound of somebody emptying a bucket of water; there’s no food left to throw up.
‘You’re doing great, darling,’ I say, shifting off the shoebox’s lid. ‘Just great.’ I reach up and click the lock on the bathroom door, hoping Jeremy’s a little too preoccupied to notice. It’d be the first time he really noticed anything I did in a while.
I fish through the shoebox, picking out photos at random. A rollercoaster ride. The two of them sat there – arms raised up high – as the camera immortalises their smiles. I wonder which of them thought it’d be sweet to pick it up at the gift-shop and whether they decided to get a key-ring as well. It must’ve been Jeremy’s idea; the man who thought it’d be smart to hide the photo in his sock drawer. It would’ve been a fine hiding place if he ever actually did the laundry.
The next photo is my own handiwork, the two of them sat in a café side-by-side, one arm around each other. I’m no stalker; I only followed them once, out of curiosity. I’m still a shining example of a human being compared to them.
Next is a scenic view of Bruges, Belgium. A postcard. She sent it to him, to our address – being careful to dance around the fact that she’s fucking him. That they thought they could flaunt their relationship in my face like that is admirable. He told me she’s just his cousin, that they were close when they were kids. Cousin – that’s not even trying. I’d be bloody concerned if my cousin sent me that many kisses. It reminds me of when he and I used to send postcards to each other. That time is nothing more than a half-remembered dream now.
‘Hon?’ he says.
‘I think we should, uh… Could you call an ambulance?’
I check my watch. About five minutes left. ‘Why, darling?’
‘This is… This food poisoning is really bad. I feel like I’m…’ A retch interrupts. ‘This feels really bloody awful.’
‘Just wait it out,’ I say. ‘Trust me.’
‘Hon, could you get me my phone? I really think…’ He tries to open the door, rattling the handle up and down with little success. ‘Is the door locked?’
‘Just wait it out. Trust me.’
‘Sophie, open the door.’
‘Jeremy, I can’t.’
‘Sophie, open the fucking door. This really isn’t…’ More vomiting. ‘It’s not fucking funny, I think I need to get to a hospital or something.’ I slip his phone out of my pocket. I turn it on, unlock it and locate the number I want almost immediately. ‘Sophie, open the fucking door.’
‘Hold on darling, I’m just on the phone.’ It’s ringing.
‘Sure, why not.’
‘Jesus Christ, can you just…’
‘Shh. She’s picking up.’ He goes quiet. It’s hard to tell whether he’s caught on or is just being polite.
‘Hello,’ answers a voice, ‘Jeremy?’ It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak. Her voice is soft and irritating.
Deep breath, Sophie. ‘Fuck you.’ I hang up the phone and toss it across the room. The screen doesn’t smash like I’d hoped, but you can’t expect everything to play out as you imagined.
‘Sophie, what was that?’ I head into the kitchen. ‘Sophie, I don’t think I can… I need you to…’ I get myself a beer from the fridge. ‘I need… I need you to…’ I crack off the top and fill my mouth with the bitter taste. A few indistinct sounds arise from the bathroom, succeeded by a dull thump. I check my watch; right on time.
[And yes, the title is a pun!]