The return


short story written by me

Liar. Couldn’t stick with it, it being something you said you would want forever, forever being from the early lusty days until one us died. You (being a liar) gave me three years and gave up when it got complicated, which is to say boring instead of exciting. You proved yourself to be a fair weather lover, which is to say? Coward.

Max dropped bread in the toaster without looking. He read the jagged little letter again from the beginning. It arrived at some point last night, shoved through the letterbox with no envelope, a loose sheaf of note paper ripped from a spiral spine. It had been two days since the final blow up.

Beginning again at “liar”, he wandered into the bedroom and dug his phone of the sheets with his spare hand. Putting the charger into its corresponding place at the bottom of the device was at first slight resistance and then a satisfactory give. It made him think of putting a grape back on the vine. It woke up from its death sleep, but no messages came. His lock screen was a photo of the beach front at St. Ives. On his way to open the curtains he tripped over the tatty Reebok Classics strewn across the floor. The letter thumped to the floor with unnatural weight. He spent a few moments collecting shoes and carefully putting them into the shoe rack in the hallway until he noticed the smell of irretrievably burnt toast. A split second later: the alarm.

His rooms were a forsaken cranny of imperfect subdivisions that somehow belonged to a Victorian terrace in East London. He didn’t have a doorbell, but the front door didn’t lock and he often forgot to lock his own door. Visitors and delivery drivers came and went without alerting him. If the space seemed hostile, he must have made it that way, he thought. He knew how perfectly shambolic and warm it had felt during a high water mark of their relationship. It surely could not be, but it seemed as though they’d spent their days and nights moving from room to room, fucking. Now the disorder accused him because he knew it to be his own. Trying to recall the way he’d felt here before felt like reading somebody else’s diary entry; it had nothing to do with him.

He heard the letterbox rattle and his stomach sank. It was only the newspaper. He gladly took it from the doormat and tromped up the stairs. It was perhaps an affectation to get the newspaper in this day and age, perhaps less so in this slice of impossible geometry inside a Victorian corpse.

My darling. You are still my darling despite it all: the fighting, the running away, the sharp words. You make me so cruel. I cried and fell asleep after I got back from slipping that last letter (which I suppose must have been quite vile, sorry darling) through your letterbox. I wish I could have slipped myself through your letterbox. Into your bed. Do you remember when you slipped me into your bed after I had night classes in the city? I didn’t see any light from your window. Were you sleeping? I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m sure that should explain any sharp edges I left in that last letter. Anyway, I’ve had a good sleep (after a good cry (and a good wank)) now and I feel much more myself. We can’t be over of course. What a terrible waste that would be, like we’ve always said. To lose the idea of us over something so trivial as some broken crockery and some little mistakes and indiscretions. We have the rest of our lives to be getting on with, don’t we my darling? We both need to change I suppose, both need to get better.

“Saw a kestrel hovering over the big Sainsbury’s car park, incidentally. Floating on thermals from the tops of the cars.”

Elliott Hodgkins stood in the rising chaos of Max’s rooms. He picked up the stack of newspapers on the dining room table and leafed through them while he circled the room. He tucked most under his arm to be dropped in the recycling on his way out. Today’s paper he dropped back on the table with a slap. He scratched the back of his neck.

“They’ve appointed some chump to Transport. It is said that he leaks like a sieve. Is she still posting you anthrax?”

Max rubbed his frown and waggled an unlit cigarette at the desk from his armchair in the corner. El looked at the letters on the desk, just loose lined paper slipped through the door with no envelope, pages full of spiders. He heard the snick of the lighter behind him and rubbed his chin. He presumed that Max had not been to the office today, that he wouldn’t be going in the immediate future.

“Mad as the proverbial box of, like I always said.”

Max blew a plume of smoke through his fingers.

“As a hatter.”

“As you like it.”

“As I liked it.”

“All done then? Don’t mean to belabour the point but there have been…”

“I suppose.”

“Recommended option, Minister. Sign just there and that’ll be the box.”

El scraped up a few bowls and spoons and dropped them in the kitchen sink. He saw Max’s cigarette burning between his lips, the evening darkening in the window behind him. Max felt the thump of the front door closing under his chair, then the clap of the recycling bin as it swallowed the week’s newspapers. He watched his friend pull a paperback out of his satchel as he crossed the street below.

Max was struggling to banish the ghost that had come into the flat at the same time as that second letter. She sat on his lap while he watched the evening unfurl from the armchair. She held his face in her hands and nibbled playfully on the tip of his nose. She wrapped her arms around him while he boiled a packet of instant ramen on the stove. She hated it when he got drunk and started smoking again, so he fished the half-crushed, half-empty pack out from between the sofa cushions. He alternated spiteful pulls from a Marlboro Gold with slurps of ramen twirled around a fork. He saw her sitting across from him at the table and, distracted, tried to slurp his cigarette. He coughed violently and the cigarette dropped into the violently orange ramen broth, which speckled his t-shirt. He decided to call it a day and rose for bed.

“I think you’re not occupying yourself enough. If you’re not careful you’ll be back with her just for something to do. Can I tempt you to the latest in blockbuster cinema?”

Kerry sat on the floor between Max’s legs and absent-mindedly slapped his calves. She was small and light and was often most comfortable sitting on the floor. Adela was also sitting on the floor, but found it far less comfortable than her sprier partner did, so she leaned her back against the sofa and faced away from Max. When she spoke he looked at the swirls of scalp between her meticulously braided hair.

“No that’s alright.”

“You used to go on about the sex. Is that the problem?”

Adela tilted her head back over her shoulder to raise her eyebrows at him.

A letter in reply was out of the question. Whenever he was tempted he reminded himself: he kept her love letters in their envelopes, in a shoebox under the bed. When his letters arrived, she would read them then drive them straight down onto a spike on her desk like a frustrated editor, like a line cook.