New Skin

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Welcome to the young professional’s stamp of freedom; magnolia walls, slate-grey fittings, and hostile furniture. 

He wanted the en suite room, so he got it.

Because who wouldn’t give him what he wants?

You, apparently. 

 

You’re still composing yourself when the door swings open, bringing with it the smell of stale pizza. He beckons you in wearing the same flannel shirt he always wears. It’s alright for men; only got one shirt? No problem! Wear it to weddings, funerals, births, jobs, dates, skip-diving.

You immediately feel like a fucking idiot in your bad make-up and new dress, you must really enjoy punishing yourself.

“Brew?” he asks politely, like you’re his auntie who’s popped by on her way home from knit and natter.

You nod, even though no amount of tea could make you feel any less empty than the gesture. You look around at all the things in the room which should feel like home, but don’t. So this is the life he’s been so desperate to live?

The TV’s quietly playing video game menu music, if it’s not Sonic then you don’t have a clue. The table’s scattered with cans, takeaway leaflets, and a full ashtray.

Is the smoking new?

Do you care?

Should you care?

 

You step onto the tiny balcony which juts out over a Shell garage. No matter where you tilt your head, every view is of another tiny balcony jutting out of another magnolia room. 

Maybe everyone in those flats is in the same predicament as you, maybe it’s all one big infinity mirror. Your brain starts pounding against your skull, you take a deep petrol breath and step back inside. You’ve never felt claustrophobic in your life, but there’s a first for everything. 

 

He hands you the tea in the novelty mug you bought him in Spain. It was a stifling day, and you queued for hours to get into the theme park. On your way out through the gift shop you spotted his favourite characters splashed across t-shirts, stickers and mugs. It took a lifetime of deliberating on which one he’d like most, which you could afford, and which was least likely to break on the plane. 

He looks at you nervously, begging for you to go first, but not daring to meet your gaze. Typical - to everyone else he holds court like a seasoned cabaret performer, and when it’s just you and him he has stage fright. Seems like the whole world and his dog get a ticket to the show, and you get to sweep up after.

The steam melts your mascara, as you take a sip of tea to soothe the rock forming in your throat.

It’s weak. You’re weak, but you can’t let it show. These last few months he’s done anything he can to avoid you, wriggling away like you’re a skin he's been dying to shed. 

The arcade music finally stops as the game goes into standby. 

“I don’t love you anymore,” he whispers towards the TV.

You force down another boiling hot gulp, and it stings like hell.