I was naked, dozing, my limbs tangled up in the limbs of this guy I’d been fucking on and off since October. I was sleepy and relaxed — open and vulnerable. My pupils were still dilated from a recent orgasm and my eyes were half-closed; my face turned against the morning sunlight that fell in luminous streaks through a gap in the curtains. It was very quiet. A bird sang softly on the branches of a tree outside. I could hear the ticking second hand of the watch I keep in a wooden jewellery box on my dressing table (I haven’t worn a watch in years, although I always mean to), and the sound of my heartbeat throbbing gently at my ribcage. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, for once. I was as close to peaceful as it’s possible to get when there’s someone who’s not quite a stranger alive and right beside you with no clothes on, his mind obviously stirring.
He unpicked himself from our embrace and pulled his t-shirt on. (Just his t-shirt, which was odd, in hindsight, because it meant we had the rest of the conversation with him naked on the bottom half only. Like that joke about if you could have half a mermaid which half would you choose.)
‘Are you ok?’ I said, rolling over so I could see his face, which was a mistake. Men are not good at hiding their feelings — which is why women find it so easy to love them, despite the overwhelming drawbacks.
‘Look.’ His top lip twitched. (‘Oh God,’ I thought.) I pulled the covers up around me and reached across for the dressing gown hanging off the back of my bedroom door. (‘For fuck’s sake,’ I thought. ‘You’re going to do this now?’)
‘The thing is, right, I really like you and like having sex with you and everything.’ He paused, propping himself up on his elbow. ‘But. I just don’t seeing it going anywhere else.’
‘Right.’ I nodded. I squinted my eyes into tiny slits so that the room was compressed to just his face, broken up by the lines of my eyelashes. The light sweat on my body crystallised into a translucent shield. I felt loose and nauseous.
‘I just don’t think I could fall in love with you. You know?’
In the corner of my bedroom ceiling there’s a fine silvery cobweb, covered in dust. It’s been there for months (I am not a thorough cleaner — and anyway I don’t mind spiders all that much). I stared at the cobweb as he spoke, running my tongue over my lips. My mouth was very dry and pins and needles had started to fizz in the tips of my toes. I felt very calm, but there was another emotion rising underneath the calmness and I wanted to keep it at bay. I sucked some air in through my nose and hoped very hard that the universe was paying attention. I tried to cultivate empathy. He was right. We were not going to fall in love.
‘What a cunt,’ a few friends said later when I told them the story. ‘It’s like he did it deliberately. Who says that right after they’ve just had sex with someone? How come you always find men who are just absolute callous dickheads?’
‘I know right,’ I said. ‘I’ve gotta sort it out. It’s like they get off on cruelty. And this one has even got daughters. I just think: what kind of emotional world do you want your children to live in?’
When he left, I hoovered the flat and ordered a pad thai from the takeaway. I ate it in my dressing gown. I dropped a noodle into my lap and it left a stain — faint and slimy, like the trail from a slug.
‘You know what?’ I thought to myself. ‘You really need a dog.’
‘But what are you gonna do,’ people keep asking me, ‘If you have a bloke over?’
‘You mean for, like, sex?’
I wake up with Edna curled into me, she sleeps better when we’re touching. She lies on her side with her paws limp and her ears sticking up like antenna. A canine lobster. When I scratch her underside — on the mottled, exposed skin just above her belly — she closes her eyes with the bliss of it.
She falls asleep in her basket, but during the dark, witching hours she’ll make her way into my bed, sinking into the covers like a deadweight. She smells of old lady talc, powdery and pungent; her white fur is coarse and pillowy soft, like downy pubic hair. She snores gently and grunts in her sleep, my little baby piglet. Sometimes she farts and it fills the room with a day-old vegetable smell — the bubble and squeak my nan used to make, with cabbage and leftover roast potatoes — which is odd considering that her diet is almost exclusively raw meat.
In the mornings, she peers into my face with an alarming intensity, like I might be magical. She breathes her offal breath at me. I feel as if I’m the most fascinating thing that has ever existed.
She is nervous and hyper-alert. When neighbours venture into the communal hallway she jumps up, looking towards me with escalating panic before charging at the front door, barking. I like to think she’s protecting me. ‘Thank you. Thank you, pickle.’ I tell her. ‘It’s all under control.’
I have slept badly my whole life. Jagged, frightening sleeps. I would wake in the night and struggle to breathe, my throat felt as if it was closing in on itself. It was hard to swallow. But now I fall into bed before midnight and wake at 7 am — the dog darts across the room, tail wagging, delighted at the prospect of spending another day with me. We walk to the river and watch the swans. When we get home I make breakfast (she has beef or chicken livers and grated carrots; I have tea and toast with marmite). Sometimes we nap mid-morning, after I’ve read a book in the bath. I take her to work and she sleeps in a chair by the desk while I write.
When I leave her for an hour or so — to see friends or run errands — she cries at the door as I exit. I come home and she follows me from room to room, licks my face all over. I see myself reflected in her glassy dark seal’s eyes; she is full of concern and wonder. She puts her head in my lap and inhales, luxuriating in the delicious scent of me.
‘Yeah,’ I tell them. ‘I’m not really that bothered about blokes right now.’