Nina listens to his cock banging rhythmically against next door’s wall. The plasterboard seems to pound like a chest. Moving forward, she presses her naked body against the peeling wallpaper. She wants to feel him inside her again.
“Baby,” Nina says, then waits for the echo. It comes back through the wall, “oh baby!” Loud, guttural. Like it’s coming through the woman he’s shagging. The woman that used to be her, but now isn’t.
Nina had imagined them on the floor, the woman lying there like an exotic animal skin. But she couldn’t ignore the creaking, had to revise the image playing in her head. So now they’re in bed: gothic, wrought iron, dark sheets. He rolls off onto his back, eyes turning quietly into lids. It’s over, but for Nina it will last all day. Inside, her stomach is quicksand swallowing itself. She slips on a robe and looks down at her own bed. A mattress on the floor, stained but trying not to be - the marks arranged in a vague pattern. Nina stares at the depression in the mattress. It feels like all there is left of her. She climbs into herself, face pressed to the soiled ticking, and smells the greasy hair of every head that has ever lain on a bare mattress in a squalid bed-sit like this.
Mumbled voices. He never used to talk afterwards. Not with her anyway. Nina presses her hands to her ears, eyes squeezed shut. She doesn’t want to hear him say anything ever again. What cannot speak cannot lie. Nina stares at the cracks in the ceiling. She should probably do something. Get up, go in the other room. Then again she is doing something. She’s waiting for him to leave. She’s waiting for the end of the past, even though she can’t bear it to end. Bed springs. Footsteps. Heavy. His.
She should hate him, of course, but can’t find it in herself. Anger, yes. The violence that was in her fists is still there. Nina would like to hurt him again, more than anything. But she can’t hate him, even after all he’s done. This man, who keeps coming here. This man, her husband, who can’t stop himself doing what he did to her. Perhaps she could pay someone to hate him for her. Perhaps there are people in the world who can provide that kind of service. She really should get up. Or not. Stay here then. Stay here and not listen. Just wait. For him to leave. Get up stay here listen don’t listen wait don’t wait. Nina’s in two hundred minds and none of them know what to do.
Eventually she gets up and goes into the other room, pulling her robe tightly around the cold. The room hasn’t moved since she was last here. It’s a comfort to her, this non-movement. This certainty of things being where she left them: the extractor fan in the middle of coming away on one side; the sofa still wedged against the kitchen cabinet to stop the arm falling off; the Lidl bag taped upside-down over the hole in the window. A defiant mid-day sun shines through it turning the plastic into stained glass. Squares of coloured light – red, yellow, blue – are scattered across the linoleum like children’s building blocks.
She sits down on the sofa’s edge and looks round, not knowing who she is in this place. Her reflection in the kettle she can barely recognise. And where is she? Nina’s not sure. This bed-sit is everywhere and nowhere; one down every backstreet in every town, always available for those desperate enough to need one. Or mad enough, because it’s madness that has brought her here.
Keys, slide-bolt, door hinges. Nina looks at her own door, expecting to see it open, but doesn’t get up. She knows it’s him. They are all him. Her eyes close… He’s still wearing her cut on his cheek. Jagged, red, but less livid. It’s the cut she gave him a month ago when she followed him here. The cut she’d waited in the half-light of the landing to give him when he came out. Nina opens her eyes and stares at the door with the blindness of statues; her seeing, like theirs, internal, inside her head. A seeing that’s fragmented. Glimpses of remembered moments flash through her mind: the surprise on his face; the half-naked body of the blonde woman posed in the doorway; the car keys in Nina’s outstretched fist; the deep track in his skin filling with blood. Fragmented moments like pictures taken by throwing a camera then catching it. Fragmented moments repeating themselves.
“See you later, babe.” Her voice. Girlish. Fake. For him.
His: “Yeah, later. I’ll call you.”
Gone. Nina’s still on the sofa, knees under her chin, hugging herself. He’s twenty minutes gone now, but it’s the kind of gone that will return; casual cruelties always do. She wipes her cheek with her sleeve. Footsteps on the stairs. A knock at the door. Her door. She’s off the sofa before she can stop the thought that it’s him. Before she can stop the hope that he’s found out where she is and has come here for her. How quickly forgetting and remembering become the same thing. She looks through the spy-hole. The vast sweating man in the circle of glass is not her husband. The man steps back, checks his watch, then bangs on the door again with the meat of his fist.
“Other door!” she shouts, gripping the frame. “It’s the other bloody door, how many times!”
The blonde woman appears in the doorway opposite. She’s wearing a sheer baby-doll nightdress with pink fur round the neckline.
“Hey babe, lookin’ for me?” the woman says, flashing a white smile. The man replies - small unintelligible words. She beckons him into the flat with her finger. “Sorry,” she throws absently over her shoulder at Nina, then kicks the door shut with her stiletto.
Melissa Mann writes, reads but is crap at arithmetic. She is the brawn behind Beat the Dust, BTD TV, Beat the Dust Bookshop and Beat the Dust Press. Her new poetry book, baby, i'm ready to go is out now, published by Grievous Jones Press. Her writing has been widely published in various short story anthologies and literary magazines, as well as selected bus shelters and public conveniences