by Kayte Ferris
We are making tea in the kitchen, her leaning against the counter whilst I hot potato the teabag. She’s asking me about what I want to do with my life. ‘But you’re a writer, right?’ she asks, and I say ‘No, not really, only for work.’ She raises her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. ‘Come on, own this. It is right there, in you.’ Her palm is against my chest and our faces are almost touching. We hold there, her eyes steady until she smiles and lets me go. ‘Do it, I’ll be your accountability partner. It would be my honour.’
And so she’s moved in and I’m writing. She mostly floats around, reminding me when it’s time to eat. Any time she notices my fingers stop typing she’ll look at me, doe-eyed and say ‘What about that story about the nightclub, would that work here?’ and she’s so pleased with herself when I tell her it’s perfect. I no longer know how much is me and how much is her but it doesn’t matter because we’re on this roll together that’s enthralling to both of us. We lay awake at night exploring ourselves, talking ideas and jotting things down on my phone, saying over and over that we should really get some sleep but not getting round to it.
After a week she sits in the big armchair she loves and reads my pages, studious and serious. I wash up, finally, in the kitchen. ‘I know I know all these stories but seeing them like this is just –’ she puts both her hands to her heart. She unfolds out of the chair. ‘And that metaphor? Inspired!’ She kisses my forehead. ‘We’d better get you outside before you stiffen up, hey.’
We go to the woods and at the signpost with arrows pointing in opposite directions she spins around with hands clasped to face me. ‘Oh! Can we take the path less travelled by?!’ I laugh and say of course and she dances ahead, stroking the long grasses and pointing out every single piece of lichen (‘just look at the texture!’). We come to a gate and while I’m worried about the fading light she looks at me with a dare and says ‘Come on, let’s see what’s just through here.’ We climb up the side of the hill and I’m panting and my knees burn but I’m smiling too because she’s so happy and that means I’m so happy. ‘Don’t forget to look at the view!’ she says, and we stand there together. ‘Document this moment,’ she breathes, ‘look at everything you’ve done.’
A few nights later she is pacing, unsettled, and I am brushing my teeth trying to pretend that she isn’t. She comes and stands in the doorway, leaning her shoulder blades against the door frame. She is watching me. ‘You don’t really think that idea is any good, do you?’ My organs start to tumble out of the bottom of me. ‘Oh! No! No, of course not,’ I say through the froth of toothpaste. She says nothing, pushes herself off the doorframe and skulks down the hall. She is facing away from me when I get into bed.
The next morning she is in the kitchen when I come in to make tea. As I stir in my spoonful of sugar she says in my ear ‘Don’t you think you might as well be dead?’ She follows me like a shadow to my desk. ‘I mean, is this really it for the rest of your life? Making a cup of tea and going to work, every fucking day?’ I don’t know quite what to say but I open up my Google Doc because that was what she wanted me to do. Maybe this is a test. She laughs at me with dead eyes: ‘You might as well be dead. Write about that in your little book.’ And so, I do. She sits in the window and smokes because she knows I hate it while I try to not let her see me cry.
It carries on like this for days until eventually I can’t write anymore because all she tells me to write about is how no one loves me. I take us to the woods again in the hope that the wonder of nature will bring the old her back, or at least distract her long enough to give me a break from the onslaught. I point out a pattern of lichens on a tree and she looks at me like I’m disgusting. I give in and we start off across a field for home. I hear the call of a buzzard and see two of them circling above; I remember that Plath line: ‘bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky’. It’s one of my favourites, and remembering it brings an involuntary smile to my face. I quickly check to see if she saw it but she is still striding across the field with her back to me. I feel my body loosen and I stand there still, looking up at the two birds endlessly twirling around each other. ‘Hey!’ Her voice short and cutting. I turn to see her by the gate with her arms folded. ‘Have you forgotten that nobody has ever and will ever love you?’ I take a deep breath and walk towards her, hoisting her onto my back and the whole way home she lists the reasons why I’ll never find someone to love me.
She is at once dying and being born. We count this day, the day she starts to die, as the first day of her new self.
And then, in the morning, blood. I close my eyes and inhale deeply through my nose, breathing out a wordless ‘finally’ like a sleep-deprived mother backing away from the cot. She is still sleeping so I tiptoe around my morning, filling a pre-emptive hot water bottle and waiting for the roar. After a few hours I feel her start to stir and quickly take two ibuprofen. And then it starts. ‘I’m dying!’ she howls, contorting herself over and over in tight anguished folds inside me. ‘You’re not dying,’ I murmur, because of course she’s not, but of course she is. She is both. She is at once dying and being born. We count this day, the day she starts to die, as the first day of her new self. It hurts, this business of at once ending and beginning, tumbling through time. It hurts me too, by extension, but I am too relieved that her viciousness has stopped to really care. While she feels she is dying this pain reminds me that I am alive, that I am not what she said and that I get to start again.
For the first time since I’ve known her, it is she who needs me. I am the only comfort she has. In just a few hours she loses her voice altogether, consumed by the pain and the concentration it takes to simultaneously die and be born. She arches her back against my abdomen, and I place my hands against our tender flesh, softly stroking though it seems she doesn’t even feel it. I know that in two days she will be mostly all gone, and the last thing we will do together is sit in this, my hand on her back as she wordlessly screws herself tighter and tighter, smaller and smaller.
To distract us both, I take us once more on our walk through the woods. I always feel blissed out this first day, partly I’m sure because for once the only voice in my head is my own. I am in control and I have a compulsion to be grounded in the earth so I’m going to sit by a stream and dip my feet in it. She might not be talking but she grabs the inside of my abdomen with her nails and tugs it hard, making me double over in the middle of the path. I am woozy with the pain and keep slipping in the mud but I am also high on the freedom and the ability to make my own decisions and I’m saying we’re sitting by the stream. And we do. I lean back to give her more room and she seems to be dozing as I listen to the world around me and silently look forward to the her being born while she dies.