dysfunction

this one was an assignment for my writing course in college. i got full marks!

She wakes up to an empty bed. The sunlight is streaming in past the fluttering curtains at the window, illuminating the spot that should have been occupied but isn’t.

She doesn’t really mind that. She can’t remember the last time she woke up to a sleeping face, to steady breathing and an arm around her waist, holding her close as if any moment she could get up and run away. That’s slightly ironic. She wouldn’t run away. She’s not the one who wants to.

She gets out of bed and stretches, leaving the sheets rumpled in a corner of the mattress. She can’t be bothered to make it yet – she doesn’t have the energy to, right now. The mirror in the bathroom is dirty, save for one spot in the middle where she can see her face – and one above it where he sees his. The rest is covered in dried drops of water – stains that she keeps reminding herself to get rid of, and a purikura she remembers from when they went to Kyoto.

Blinking the sleep out of her eyes, she smiles at her reflection, one hand reaching up to touch the necklace around her neck. It was a present on her birthday and although it’s nothing special – just a simple silver chain with a heart pendant, most likely from the one dollar gift shop – she never takes it off. It’s proof that he remembered her birthday for the first time in the six years they’ve been together, memory of the morning he kissed her awake in bed and gave her a smile that reached his eyes; evidence that he brought her breakfast in bed and danced her around the room in her nightclothes.

She loves it.

She wears another necklace. This one, she hides behind high collars and sticks of concealer. Her white nightshirt is too thin to hide it, and it screams out from behind the pendant: a ring of black and blue bruises – recollection of the other 364 days where he didn’t treat her like the princess he’d made her believe she was. It shoots through her skin a dull pain when she touches it, so she tries not to.

She washes up and wanders through the empty house into the kitchen, where a used plate and a tray of cigarette ash greet her on the table. There’s a frying pan on the stove and an eggshell on the counter. The sink is full of dirty dishes from God knows when, and it stinks, but she doesn’t really notice it. She fries herself an egg in the same oil that was in the pan, placing the eggshell next to the one already on the counter and seats herself at the table. She smiles at the empty chair opposite and pretends she isn’t alone.

There are days in her memories – days where she would sit across someone, when she would tell stories instead of scribbling them down in a journal. Days when green eyes would meet hers and she’d feel something warm settle in her stomach, when he’d smile at her and she’d forget how to breathe, feeling like a schoolgirl with a crush all over again.

There are also other days. She can’t forget those no matter how hard she tries – they creep back to the front of her head, despite her efforts to push them away. The alcohol doesn’t help and sleeping can only do so much. She shoves them out of her mind and forces herself to think of other things, to forget the feeling of a hand gripped tightly around her wrist, the clink of his belt buckle as it comes undone, the sound of her pants as they hit the floor.

She pretends the purple splotches on her body aren’t there when she showers, tells herself they’re blooming flowers; that they don’t hurt, and that the scars end on her skin and don’t go deeper down.

Her friends call her sometimes. She rarely answers the phone when they do. The messages go to voicemail until it’s full, but she never listens to them either. She knows what they’ll say. She doesn’t want to hear it. She doesn’t want to listen to all the dirty words they have for him, because she can’t stand it.

He’s only ever been nice to her, only ever told her she’s beautiful, that she’s the only one in the world who matters.

That’s a lie, says a voice in the back of her head. It sounds something like her mother, but she smiles at herself in the mirror anyway. She fidgets with the plain gold band around her finger, fixes the necklace around her neck and throws herself across the bed sheets and tells herself she doesn’t need other people’s opinions.

A scary part of her brain tells her they’re not other’s opinions, because she hasn’t talked to them in so long, she couldn’t possibly know what they are. She ignores that.

She doesn’t change out of her nightclothes. It’s still cold, even though it’s past noon, but she likes the chill against her skin. It makes her shiver – like she does when he touches her gently; like she does when he comes home reeking of smoke and alcohol and she cowers in a corner of her bedroom, murmuring silent prayers under her breath.

He won’t be home till late at night, she knows. He’s going to gamble away their money and take out his temper on her when he loses every game. He’s going to spend too much on beer and smoke, and he’ll scream when he opens the door, and she’ll scream, and the neighbours will turn up their music and pretend not to hear.

It’s okay, though. He never comes home smelling of the wrong perfume. He always kisses her bruises when he thinks she’s asleep, tells her he loves her but never that he’s sorry, plays with her fingers and holds them to his heart as he wipes away the tears that she never meant to cry. It’s okay, she tells herself.

It’s not, is the reply. But that, she knows, is also a lie.

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