Moulting

By: Madeeha Hashmi

The grass always wrapped around my ankles in your backyard. My skin was printed with phantom anklets whenever I was outside hanging the clothes to dry. They were little circle arguments persuading me to stay and never leave. I let my feet be convinced deep into the soil, without thinking about how I would weed myself out of your life.

Madeeha Hashmi is a professional daydreamer whose two favourite things in the world are words and chocolate. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications and was most recently featured in A Literation. You can find more of her writing at her blog, Paper Bags & Napkins.

The house smelled sugary when I woke up in your bed for the first time. You were frying sliced bananas in honey, turning the kitchen into a fly trap. The insects would leave with the warm weather, but my heels would stay glued to your kitchen tiles much longer. It was too late to decide whether I was staying for breakfast by the time I walked out of your bedroom and found you leaning against the stove.  You had spread the bananas onto toast and set a plate at the table for me.

When I finished eating you said, “Try it with milk tomorrow,” and extended our sleepover to the next day. I only remember agreeing not to be thirsty at breakfast the next morning, but I would be with you much longer than that. Soon I would become a permanent fixture in your living room without ever having made the decision to live together.

Life began to consist of lying on the couch and watching whatever channel had a movie on. Sometimes I would reach for the remote control lying across your stomach and hit the mute button so we could play fill in the blanks with the dialogue. We must have written thousands of nonsense scripts like that, making up scenarios that we weren’t living. I never looked down at your face resting in my lap and asked who paid for cable or for anything else. Neither of us had jobs, yet I hadn’t needed to look for the wallet I misplaced when I first came to stay with you.  Your mother or father’s money was probably sustaining our indulgences as we realized that you could buy almost anything online. It allowed us to stay in most nights like we wanted to – and eventually let us have groceries delivered to the house once a month when we stopped wanting to go outside at all.

Even when we ordered just about everything else from online catalogues, we never considered buying a bigger bed. We started waking up with our hair knotted together, but the single mattress and frame stayed in your room. I used to separate the strands whenever I could, but there were days on which we would walk around like conjoined twins from room to room before pulling apart the tangles. Two women with their heads pressed together, thinking up a solution to a problem they didn’t know they had. And our hair kept growing longer like black and gold ivy trickling down the sheets. It would have made rings around our toes by now if I had stayed.

The impossibility of leaving never occurred to me at first. I didn’t want to go anywhere that was more than an arm’s length distance from you. I was growing used to the hum of your body at rest, feeling its vibrations resonate inside my own bones. Your pulse moved through the wooden floors and drummed a gentle beat underneath the soles of my feet. I didn’t want to step where I couldn’t feel the comfort of that rhythm. There wasn’t any need for more space than whatever was left between us when we soaked at either end of the bathtub. I liked knowing how every room in the house felt when you were in it with me.

The only time I spent apart from you was when I had to go outside to do something unavoidable like take the garbage out. Once we had more to throw out than any other week because too many packages had arrived in the mail all at once. I remember emptying everything into one of our usual large, black garbage bags and finding it difficult to tie the top because it was so full. I carried it halfway to the curb before it burst open and something leaked onto my foot. I shuddered as the night air cooled the wetness on my skin and tried to wipe it off on the grass in the front yard. I couldn’t call to you to bring me another garbage bag, so for a moment I stood there and looked at everyone’s mailboxes and rain gutters and driveways. I was shocked by the fear I felt at the sight. The whole world going up the street and down the street seemed like a threat that I never wanted to venture into again. I dropped the ripped bag at the curb and rushed back inside. I was relieved to sit next to you again in the space that your outline seemed to carve out for me. I had grown to need you too much to question whether it was the right shape.

I knew that I couldn’t go anywhere else after that. I wanted it all too much – the smell of your unwashed hair, the smeared honey at the corners of your mouth, the patterns your fingertips left on foggy glasses piled up in the sink. It was difficult to imagine doing anything without you sitting only a few feet away, chewing your hair and typing all of your questions onto your laptop keyboard. You were always looking for a way to minimize our life even further by asking your browser search bar things like how to mail a letter without having to go to the post office. And when you weren’t doing that, you always had some absurd piece of news to show me. For a while you were obsessed with stories about men and women who had been found with their skin growing into beds or armchairs they hadn’t left in years – sometimes alive, sometimes dead weeks before anyone noticed. You asked me what you thought would happen when we died. I could only picture someone finding our corpses still sitting on the couch, with your skin having grown into my skin in all the places we touched.

At some point, you started complaining about what a restless sleeper I had become. You told me that I would turn over and over in bed, sometimes violently enough to jab you with an elbow, or kick you off the bed completely. In those days, I almost always woke up to you find you sleeping on the floor with our blanket half covering my body on the bed, and half keeping you barely warm enough on the floor. It made a tent, covering the expanse between us – a little shelter from the ways in which I was growing apart from you. I started to have trouble falling asleep at all, trying to keep myself from shoving you when I wasn’t awake. I learned to measure time based on the rate of your breathing until counting the seconds grew unbearable. The night throbbed itself away inside my ears while you slept soundly, and I envied your well-rested eyes in the morning. The dark under my eyes deepened until it looked as though I had two black eyes and no puncher to pin the blame on.

So I gave up on sleep entirely. I began by pacing the hallways at nighttime, and when I managed to do that without you, I was able to do everything else. I cooked eggs at three in the morning and had them at the table without eating them off your fork. I turned your computer on and ordered books I wanted to read without asking for your opinion. I watched movies early into the morning without running my fingers through your hair. And on one of those nights I finally fell asleep on the couch while some talk show host entertained herself on the television. I had to crawl back into your bed in the morning before you woke up. I was surprised when you opened your eyes and couldn’t tell that I had been gone.

When I decided to leave, I was draping bed sheets over the clothesline in the backyard. The whole time I had lived with you, we had washed the same cream bed sheets over and over again. I looked at them then and wondered what kind of picture would emerge if you played connect the dots with the stains. The marks were in various stages of fading, but I could tie a story to each of them. That time you had spilled coffee because you were too cold to drink it without wearing your blanket, or the time my afternoon nap was interrupted by a nose bleed. Whichever one of us tossed them into the washing machine would always comment on how we needed to buy new ones, but neither of us would do it. I watched the sheets sway back and forth in the breeze and took off the clothes-pegs keeping them from floating away.

I wanted to be lifted out of there too, but couldn’t remove what was fastening me to you as easily. I was worried about what would happen to you if I disappeared. There would be nobody to trim the split-ends out of your hair or clip the fingernails on your left hand. I felt as though you would have no life to slip back into because I didn’t have one either. And a little part of me didn’t want to think about what you would build without me.

On the day that I left, we did all of the same things that we used to do. You made something sweet for breakfast – French toast or pancakes, I can’t remember which. We ate off the same plate and left the dishes in the sink to wash later. I found us a good movie to watch, and we spent our afternoon sprawled on the sofa as always, mouthing the lines we already knew from having seen the film too many times. I watched for changes in your expression during your favourite scenes, and wish that I had found a way to commit your face to memory. We never felt the need to take any pictures together because photos are for people who plan to be apart and need something to look back on. Now I have only a hazy recollection of your features stored underneath my eyelids.

Later, you came across a list of riddles on some website and quizzed me until we were both dizzy enough to fall asleep on the rug in the living room. We slept until the sun was low in the sky, painting the wooden floor red-gold. I rose from the last time I would sleep next to you to find my arms and legs woven into yours. I let myself be jumbled up with you for a moment longer. Then I unwound myself from you and walked away.

I travelled down the hallway, out of your door, and up to the curb. I didn’t pause or turn to look back. I kept walking up the street, as the distance between us grew with every crack in the pavement that passed under my feet. I thought of you still lying on the living room floor like an indent I had left there. I felt the gap between us continue to widen as I walked further, and thought it may finally be big enough to contain everything I had ever felt for you.

 

THE END

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