A Horror of Female Convergence
Kay Sexton

The 4 a.m. shivers roll me out of bed. You don’t move. You are a Moomin lump; a gray mass against the pre-dawn light.

I sit on the edge of the bath, feeling the white enamel strike cold grues through my thighs. I tilt the magnifying mirror to reflect my face and experiment with words.

“We can’t go on like this,” I say. But that’s not right. You can go on like this. It suits you perfectly. I flip the mirror to the magnifying side. Each pore of my face glistens in the semidark.

“I can’t go on like this.” But no, that sounds Bovary dramatic, as though I’m about to rummage through the medicine cabinet for poison pills.

I should be able to tell you. Love should mean we can tell painful truths as well as painful lies. I am still in love with you, but I want to sleep in a small, cool bed that smells of me alone. I want to turn the light on at 4 a.m. and read, and fall asleep again in the comfort of its glow.

I picture you, mounded under our quilt. You’re not a Moomin—you’re the snake that swallows Moomins. You’ve wrapped your coils around me, and each time I breathe out you hug me closer.

“I feel smothered,” I say to the mirror.”You’re too close to me.” I tell you, “You’re a Moomin eater.” The silliness of it makes me giggle and the echoes bounce around the surfaces of the bath, ringing a sour note from the tumbler that holds our toothbrushes.

Guilt creeps from the cork tiles, seeping up my legs by capillary action until it saturates me. I used to relish being close to you—it was like taking a journey whose ending was always home. I celebrated when our periods synchronised, and when you bought clothes for me that turned out to fit perfectly.

But now the intimacy offends me. I don’t like the way you bulk-buy our underwear. I hate it when the carton of choc-chip ice cream appears in the freezer every month: comfort food for my PMS. I despise myself for eating it. Nothing I do is unexpected to you, even if it surprises me. You might be expecting this very moment. You’ve probably got a calendar on which “Carol wakes up at 4 a.m. feeling stifled” is marked for today.

I stare through the pebble-glass window at the ever paling sky. For a while I’m happy, not thinking, watching the daylight slide down the window like frost melting. Then I know you’re awake. Did I hear something subliminally: the creak of the bed, your soft footsteps?

I swivel so that I can see the door. In the arctic silence of white tiling and chrome fixtures I watch with frozen attention as the silver handle descends one millimetre, two, three. I imagine your hand on the other side of the door, cool and capable, resting gently on the mechanism. I start to shake.

“Are you all right?” Your voice is calm, you know I’m all right. You know everything.

I swallow. My throat is dry and narrow.“I’m fine,” I manage to say.

“Good.” there is a pause in which I wait, without volition, to see what happens next. The handle rises one, two, three millimetres. You’re gone.

I watch morning light flood the window. Then I come back to bed. I stretch out beside you, careful not to touch. I listen to the dawn chorus as you sleep.


“How much can I say about this without giving myself away? At a very young age I had a relationship like this and I have never forgotten the claustrophobia of it.”

 

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