fiction short story Thrills

A Hot Shower Shared Between Two

What would happen in a world where all feeling, all emotion no longer existed – except for three days in a year? Nadia Henderson paints a dystopia where even the most simple pleasures are a cause for elation.

by Nadia Henderson

We wake to the sound of lovemaking. Primal voices through the wall, hungry; calling out for each other, splitting from the bodies they belong to. My thoughts drift back to passing my neighbour in the hallway the day before: had her hand struggled with the key? Had the fruit, freshly bought from the market, fallen away from her and rolled from the bag? There would have been signs, surely; signs which might have betrayed that, just one day later, she’d howl with desire so intensely it felt as though the whole building was swaying along.

We lie still, mostly unstirred. This is normal, after all, for the first day of Feeling.

Our morning, once we’d prised ourselves from the luxury of just one more moment under the covers, would go differently. We’d make pancakes (using powdered batter, of course; eggs and milk are virtually impossible to procure in the days coming up to Feeling). We’d pull out our favourite vinyl; listen to every bump and scratch of the needle, watch dust float in the strip of sun bleaching the floorboards with its light.

You’d managed to get coffee beans, too. Oh, I’d never loved you more – despite the dulled, Unfeeling emotions – than that night when you’d come back from a mysterious mission, relieved of your watch and jacket but wielding our favourite blend. This morning, the first of the three days of Feeling, we’d shield our ears from the screech of the grinder while the smell of the beans breaking open invaded every last one of our senses.

What had we done last year? That’s right: we’d tried to stay up all night. We’d wanted to witness the gradual lifting of our spirits, the surge when all our emotions were returned to us as the cloud of Unfeeling was cleared for its annual respite. It had been the very first Feeling for far too long, after they’d deemed our very nature too detrimental to productive existence, and come up with a way to control it.

Now, we get our thrills in small doses. During Feeling, we see pleasure and delight in everything – a child’s laugh, a hot shower shared between two, a swirl of whipped cream sprayed into the unsuspecting mouth of another. Encounters which would usually leave us only mildly content now inspire elation so fierce we can taste it. On that sacred first day of Feeling, there are no limits to what we can experience, what raptures we might be led to.

“Encounters which would usually leave us only mildly content now inspire elation so fierce we can taste it.”

As we lie there in bed, the sounds from next door having taken on a chant-like cantation, you place a warm hand on my chest. You know that I’m already filling with sorrow ahead of returning to our everyday lives in three days’ time; you can feel it through your fingertips, the sadness seeping out of me more palpably than ever. Be present, you tell me; don’t mourn the passing of a wish before it is granted.

But in having my ability to deeply feel given back to me, I cannot choose which emotions I feel. I can’t laugh until my cheeks ache and tears spring from my eyes but not feel my stomach lurch and sink with anxiety. I can’t overflow with love and satisfaction but not feel distant and uncertain. Love, joy, clarity and gratitude can’t exist without fear, pain, despair, emptiness. I suppose it always was this way, wasn’t it?

You tap a finger on my forehead. The sensation brings me back into the room, to our bed; the sheets soft and cool underneath me, the morning promising perfection. What else will we do, you and I, while we can feel? Drink tall glasses of ice cold water after sitting outside in the heat. Make love in the afternoon. Get dressed up and walk the streets of our city, marvelling at everything we see as though we’ve just now opened our eyes for the very first time. Spend half our monthly budget on overpriced meals: tapas at that place with the string lights on the square, sourdough pizza with foraged mushrooms and Greek olives you’ll pick off, ice cream floats with chocolate sauce which will drip down our chins. We’ll eat, and we’ll laugh and kiss and speak and feel.

On the last day of Feeling, we’ll fight off sleep to relish every last second until we feel, or don’t feel, the pure truth of who we are start to lilt and drift until eventually there’s nothing but what seems like it might be a memory and a yearning to go back.

Now, though, we’re not going to think about that. We’re going to open our bedroom window, let the warm breeze dance on our faces and bask in the rare wonder of feeling like we’re really, truly, alive.


Nadia Henderson | @notsoquietgrrl | instagram | notsoquietgrrl.com

Nadia is a London-based writer, happily living up to the coffee-sipping, cat-stroking stereotype. She can usually be found on the sofa, or brunching with her fabulous women writers’ collective.

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