the autogeography of a no/body
Oct 7


It was late. They sat in the lounge, watching television, rolling spliffs. On the coffee table: a book (paperback novel, unremarkable), two cups of stale tea, an empty packet (crisps? biscuits? cigarettes? condoms?); and the carpet needed vacuuming, and she was slouched in her pyjamas, eyes on stalks, hair all over the place, smiling, laughing, at him, as he sat shoeless, legs stretched out on the sofa, right hand tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Sunday. It was raining. The cat was curled on their unmade bed.

A knock at the door called their attention, their back door, their kitchen door. No one came through the front door, not ever, because the front door actually opened into a bedroom, a student bedroom, because this was a student house, deep in the depths of student house land, where all the walls were decorated with posters and all the gardens were a mess

She stopped, mid three-skinner. He rose, long legs, big feet, a loping gait, and she watched his skinny backside disappear into the kitchen; she heard the back door rattle against its frame, some mumbling, and then he came back into the lounge, his hand no longer in his waistband, instead it was passing through his hair and she could see his forehead and his frown and …

‘It’s for you,’ he said.

‘Who is it?’

He didn’t look her in the eye.

It was her turn to rise. She was barefoot. Her pyjama bottoms hung around her as if they were too tired to make the effort to cling. In the kitchen, right next to the door, stood a man she recognised but had given up trying to know. He held out a small package, something lumpy contained within a brown, manilla envelope. She took it.

‘What is it?’

He was crying.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,’ was all he could say.

But she had heard it all before. The first time she thought it was an aberration. She didn’t understand. He explained. She still didn’t understand. The second time his father told her off and she felt like it was all her fault. The third time it frightened her, because he was so high, so massively high, and vital, full of adrenaline; he scared her. The fourth, fifth, sixth and sixtieth times, ‘Well, it’s amazing what you can get used to,’ she told her friend over a coffee one day.

She remained impassive, the lumpy brown envelope in her hand.

‘Aren’t you going to open it?’ he asked.

And she realised those weren’t tears on his face. It was still raining outside. ‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘It’s a present.’

‘I don’t think so. I think it’s just something else you want me to have,’ she said.

‘Open it, you’ll understand.’

‘I don’t need to any more.’ She handed the package back to him. ‘I’d like you to leave.’

He left. For a long time afterwards she stared at the round handle on the back door. It was a strange maroon colour, too dark to be red, too light to be nearly black. She went into the lounge. ‘They used to make plastic like that,’ she said, ‘brittle.’

‘Yeah, out of formaldehyde, same stuff they pickle body parts in.’

‘Why would anyone want to keep part of their body in a pickle jar?’ she said.

‘Because it’s difficult to know how to throw some things away.’


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