Lying in a tangle of sheets, I watch a spider cross the ceiling while Jacob struggles unsuccessfully to open the window. ‘I’m afraid I’ve broken off some of the paintwork,’ He holds up the thin white slivers, and lets them fall from his hands onto the wide windowsill of the triangular alcove.
‘Leave that. Come back here now.’
‘How can you bear it here?’ Jacob is sulking again, body half turned away from the bed, cross armed, cross-legged and no doubt cross-faced as well. The bedside lamp throws an oval shadow that intersects his bare chest, cutting off a clear look at his expression. I see his head move from side to side, surveying then dismissing the vacant walls and the low ceiling.
‘Put the kettle on?’ I ask and Jacob splays himself theatrically in response, then gathers himself out of inertia. I watch him leave the room, enjoying the loose way his limbs swing without clothes or embarrassment. When I am safely alone, I get up to inspect the paintwork, pulling a dark blue cotton dressing gown over myself and averting my eyes away from the full-length mirror propped by the window. The paint is peeling off the wood, but the tell-tale streak of damp along the yellow lined wallpaper of the wall around it isn’t visible from my bed. I pull a small piece of chipped gloss away, let it drop onto the brown linoleum floor, then go to join Jacob in the kitchen.
I put out cups with matching saucers and press my lips together rather than remind Jacob to warm the pot first. We sit down on wooden chairs and I think about splinters and tweezers. The heating is on full blast and I have no doubt that it is worth every penny if it meant that Jacob will lounge around like this, like a Greek statue stepped off the plinth and yielding to my touch. I pull the robe a little tighter around myself and think about mashed potatoes.
The rain starts up again, softening the traffic noises from outside, and making a battering patter on the roof. Jacob swirled the liquid in his cup and bites his lip. I wonder if spiders dislike the rain and if the one on my ceiling will drop down into the bed and hide in the sheets while we are out the room. ‘I thought lower rent meant you’d have a nicer place.’ Jacob’s tone suggests he is trying to make a joke.
‘I thought people would be delighted to buy expensive art by people they’d never heard of in a recession.’
‘We could stay at mine.’
‘After last time? I’m not a fan of being chased by landladies wielding brooms’
‘She loved the flowers. They looked expensive.’
‘You hated my last place too.’
‘I hate all of Hoxton. It had nothing to do with the flat.’
‘You hate everywhere apart from Camden.’
‘I like Chelsea.’ I put my cup down hard on the wooden, kitchen table, knocking the saucer with my sleeve and sending it spinning through the air and into a kitchen cabinet. Jacob begins to cry in small – almost soundless – sobs. His hands cover his face and I can’t see if there are really tears there or not. I don’t know if that matters to me, but brush the doubt aside. Under the cabinet is a great deal of dust and other detritus. My shoulder twinges as I lean in awkwardly to retrieve the saucer. ‘Shit. It’s chipped.’
‘Elliott, why won’t you talk about this?’
‘Come back to bed.’ Jacob allows me to lead him back into the bedroom and I make a mental note to be kinder. The spider is in the same place on the ceiling; I turn the light out.
*first published online in the spring 2011 issue of Compound