by Zoe Turner
A friend once asked me, when I was living in a small flat in Kennington, why we liked to leave the spices out on the kitchen side. It’s true that we could’ve made room in the cupboards, and that there might have been some element of laziness involved. But my answer was more concerned with display – it’s so we can see what we have and imagine everything we might do with it.
In my current house share in Levenshulme, South East Manchester, the things we leave out in the kitchen are as follows: a percolator that’s been twisted too tight to reopen and fish out the old coffee grounds, onions and garlic and salt and oil inside a small countertop shelf, a carton of eggs on top of the bread bin, withered and leaking tea bags piled inside a cup. On the wall above the drying rack is a framed print of William Scott’s ‘Cup and Pan Blues’ – a landscape screenprint portraying a couple of unembellished kitchen utensils scattered over a melancholy blue background. It belongs to my housemate Hannah, something she got from the Tate; something that speaks to her and that I’ll often look at when I’m waiting for the kettle we have that lights up electric blue, making a spectacle of the water, to finish its show.
I was a child in a big old cottage that creaks under the weight of its history. My parents have lived there for about thirty years, digging into its past and deducing that the window in my old bedroom will have once been a door to a since burnt down wing of the farmhouse – there’s the outline of a fireplace built into one of the garden borders that faces the window from below. It was the kind of place my friends were scared to sleep over in and the kind of place their parents or older siblings still remember dropping them off at. There was nothing around this house but fields and lanes, and as I grew up in my bedroom with its sloping ceilings, it was inevitable that I’d have to start scratching at the earth to try and find myself.
My dad helped me to knock nails into the low beams so I could string up the spare set of rainbow-coloured fairy lights from one corner of the room to the head of my bed and watch them emit a glow my imagination could fall into. I started getting crushes who made my stomach ache and writing their names on the walls in sharpie pen, copying lines from poems and songs and Tumblr posts that offered some hint of who I was and what I might be when I left here. It was one of the only things I pushed to get away with, this inky sprawling of myself across the room.
I smuggled vodka in from the parties I lied about not going to, hiding the bottles at the back of my wardrobe and pouring it into the glasses of juice I carried unsuspectingly upstairs. I watched myself turn blurry in front of the mirror listening to CDs; I was testing myself, feeling for my limits, for the moment when I stopped and something greater started. When I told my mum I was getting my first tattoo of the cover art for Arctic Monkeys’ AM album, she tried to put me off, said that would be like her getting a tattoo for Led Zeppelin. But she’d already made the mistake of telling me how much that band meant to her – how they dragged things that were inside her out into the open – so I just smiled, took two of my friends to the appointment after sixth form and let them laugh at the faces I pulled.
Hannah and I have friends over to mark the end of summer and make a spread of food. We cut the cheese onto a slate, leave the grapes in neat bunches; we place two tall candles we’ve never lit at either end. When people arrive, they help us to hook a new string of bulbs she’s bought around the back yard, turning the afternoon into a scene. I want to stay sitting on the doorstep, at the cusp of it all, watching the way the dusk settles on their faces. In my parents’ house, during those long hours of solitude, I would stop at the top of the stairs to my attic room before walking down them and look back at the room that was mine – the way the words and photographs I’d scattered everywhere were a kind of unveiling.
This summer my room has been a mess – empty pill packets and clothes thrown across the carpet, piles of things I’m putting off growing at the edges. My weeks have been lived like this too, the long days leaking into each other. I think I used to be a tidier person, but lately I’ve been chasing the plan that might unfold if I drop another one, staying up into the morning and sleeping late, getting my days mixed up and being glad of it. When I want to take what has been rigid and make it soft it seems that I’ll leave draws half open, the bed sheets sweaty and marked.
One of my friends takes a picture of the purposefully laid table and uploads it to his story, threading the narrative of these shared hours for those who follow him. This is another form of lingering between rooms, his bright circle framing the warm evening – our humble objects hang upon the walls of accounts that he will invite in for a moment. It means something to tell people of the places you move between, who you’ve been sat with, that you have eaten stuffed peppers and dropped cake at your feet. In this story you are front and centre, seen, orange-ringed.
On Instagram, I see that a writer whose work I love has been interviewed by a dating app that I use. When prompted to finish the sentence ‘Pure pleasure is for me…’ she says, ‘Walking alone in a good outfit on a warm summer night to meet someone I can’t wait to talk to and touch.’ Reading this plain sentence, something inside me gasps, leans forward, the way it did when I first heard the lyrics to Fluorescent Adolescent and had to scrawl them on my walls, scream them from the floors of hollowed out garage clubs in Hanley. It’s the feeling that somebody’s words have given shape to all your unarticulated wants and weird nostalgia – and so you say them, again and again, until people hear them come out of your own mouth.
I screenshot her answer and post it to my story because summer is ending now and it was my pleasure to walk alone across Manchester to find you, a film of heat sticking to my bare belly, willing your palm to cling there. Standing at the threshold between your living room and your kitchen, I was leant against the doorframe, watching you pour wine while you tried to tell me what your life is like these days in pieces too small for me to grasp. If we’re to stay hovering between each other’s homes without knowing where the glasses are kept, I want your thumb to press into my burning icon and for you to see everything that I am carrying.
One quote I come across but can’t bring myself to share reads ‘I was bleeding with a September kind of longing’; though I do save it, as if I’m taking sharpie to a wall in a bedroom that nobody else will come to. The sun is setting faster, and the dark windows are jumping out at us; coats start to appear slung over the backs of chairs after days at work and our clothes have to dry inside, taking up too much space. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the chill in the mornings or my bad photos of all the places I keep bleeding in. But I will always stop in the doorway, pausing to see how the room holds me while I’m inside it and how it waits for me when I’m not.