they only had each other so they kissed
He walked upstairs, treading lightly on the bare wooden steps to avoid getting splinters in his feet. He felt his way to the bedroom door. A slant of yellow streetlight groped across the carpet through a small gap in the curtains. He sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb the outstretched legs of his wife who was asleep nearest the window. He felt the familiar ache surge up his calves first, then up through his thighs and into his back. He pulled off his trousers and discarded them on the floor. He thought about hanging them up. He thought about the morning when he would have to scoop them off the floor and iron them again. He thought about folding them as he looped off his tie and began to unbutton his shirt. He let it slip to the floor next to the trousers. He lay down and relaxed his shoulders. The room was too warm to sleep. He stayed on top of the covers and closed his eyes. She stirred next to him and turned onto her back.
‘Andy?’ He could smell stale smoke on the bed sheets and on her nightdress.
‘You’ve been smoking in here again,’ he said.
‘Just half o’ one before bed,’ she said. Andy leaned over her and took the other half of the cigarette from an ashtray and relit it. He took a drag and held it in his chest. He felt the heat grow before exhaling easily.
‘I know I shouldn’t,’ she began. ‘Moira reckons the guy who lives in number twelve lost a wife like that. Said that one night, when he was out working shifts, his wife lit up this one time. She was listening to the radio and just plain fell asleep with the cigarette still in hand. Moira said the place went up like a bonfire.’ He exhaled a stream of grey smoke.
‘You shouldn’t listen to Moira. She’s full of it – you know that. If that place went up like a bonfire, don’t you think we would have noticed?’ The ash on the cigarette grew long, he leaned over her and flicked it into the ashtray and brought it back to his mouth. He pinched the cigarette between his lips and reached down to pull his socks off.
‘And besides, he’s never had a wife. He’s not that way inclined,’ Andy said. She shifted herself up onto her elbows and looked towards him as he took a final drag on the cigarette.
‘Well I never knew that,’ she said.
‘Why should you?’ he asked. Somewhere in the night there were dogs fighting. Andy could hear the gnashing of their teeth. He glanced over at his wife. She looked just the same as when he had first met her. He doubted very much that he did.
‘How do you know?’ she asked.
‘It’s not a secret,’ Andy said plainly.
‘Did I ever tell you about Jennifer Tully? Moira told me the whole story. She knew ‘cause she went to school with her. She said that all the boys adored her – a real looker, you know? Next thing you know she turns up to their prom with a girl just as pretty. You can’t substitute love you know – not the real thing.
‘Moira said that before that she had her first kiss with a boy from Foxboro’. Said they were at a party one night and everybody was making out so these two just did it. They only had each other so they kissed.’ Andy looked at his wife.
‘Not the real thing, I suppose?’ he asked.
‘No. Not the real thing.’ She said. She sighed and there was a desperation about her appearance. She looked as though she would like to reach backwards in time and scrub that experience out for Jennifer Tully. She had judged it as a mistake and wanted it expunged. If there was one thing that Andy knew, it was that people liked what people liked. This was the case whether it be people, commodities or products.
‘Anyways it’s gone two o’clock – you finished? I got an interview in the morning,’ Andy’s wife said.
‘Yeah sure, I got to be up anyway. They put me on commission today. Looking like seven days a week from now on.’ She turned and propped herself up again. He was slumped against the headboard, a speck of ash on his vest.
‘You’re kidding me.’
‘I wouldn’t kid you about that.’ He paused.
‘Kind of thankful really. Word is they laid off a couple of people. Said it’s all online now, even round here in a place like this. Say they’re starting an apprenticeship in May looking for drivers or something. Minimum wage but job security, they reckon. What you think?’
‘We just can’t afford minimum wage, not if I can’t pick up a job sometime soon,’ she said.
‘Yeah, I know but we can’t afford me being unemployed neither.’
‘How are you looking for commission?’
‘Getting by right now, but when the weather changes we’re gonna be up against it, I think. I mean,’ he hesitated, ‘it’s all up in the air right now. We’ll see, won’t we.’
‘Yeah, I guess we’ll see.’ She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
‘Goodnight,’ she said.
He closed his eyes and crossed his ankles and listened to her breathing. He lay there for a while until he knew she was asleep. He checked the clock, it would be four in a little while. He was thinking about work, thinking about his route and his rounds. Thinking about picking up some more commission. He scrolled through the houses in his mind but he couldn’t remember many of the occupants anymore. He could think of a time when he was on first name terms with everyone. He thought that there used to be this thing called a community, people would buy from him even if they didn’t need the goods. There used to be this saying that went love thy neighbour. Now it was more of a drive-through kind of place he figured.
He allowed a few more moments to go by. He checked the clock again. The shadows on the carpet were becoming less defined. He got up and walked down the stairs. He lit a cigarette and waited for the kettle to boil, then made himself a cup of hot coffee and carried it to the back door. The key grated in the lock as he opened it. He stood on the step and took a sip of his coffee and stubbed the cigarette out on the porch wall when he was finished. He felt the cool flagstone against his bare feet, and the cold breeze on his shins and on his ankles.
He thought about Jennifer Tully and her first kiss. He wondered what it felt like, and if she had closed her eyes, and if he had used his tongue. He wondered if any of it really mattered. An ambulance siren echoed a few streets away. He saw through the kitchen window of the house next door. His neighbour was stood in her night gown. He watched her brush her hair in front of a mirror. She was eastern European and would speak to him in broken English when they found themselves in the adjoining gardens. He watched her brush her hair past the waxy tan of her face. He noticed how fulsome her features were, and how her lips pouted. For a second he thought she had seen him in the reflection of the mirror. He could feel the blood in his cheeks.
He went back inside and locked the door. He had left half a cup of coffee on the sill outside. He unplugged the kettle and went back upstairs. He picked his trousers and shirt up off the floor and brushed them off with the back of his hand. He opened the wardrobe and took out two hangers and hung the clothes up. He put them on the handles of the wardrobe and fastened a loose knot in his tie before draping it over the hung garments. He cracked the window open and allowed the breeze onto his face. He closed the curtains and went back to bed without glancing at his wife and the rash of her thighs and her pink skin.
Ashleigh Davies is a graduate of Cardiff Metropolitan University. His poetry and fiction have been anthologised in Cheval 11 and 12 (Parthian) and appeared in Envoi, The New Welsh Reader and Poetry Wales among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ashleighrdavies