now in first-person, as originally written

Lying in the water, semi-dozing. I've just finished the book he sent me. At the end, I cried down the sides of my face.

Feeling the water swirl against my skin when I move. My knees and my breasts and my face above the water. Underwater. I can hear my pulse in my ears, like the rhythmic thrum of a generator.

I can feel my skin is waterlogged. Maybe if I lie here long enough, I will dissolve into the bath. Maybe if I lie here long enough, my skin will soak clean off my body. Suddenly I long to slough the soft shell of skin off, shed it like a snake. To emerge raw, and tender, and new.
So i stand in the bath and I scrub myself from head to foot. I can see swirls of soap bubbles on my side as I work my way up one arm, across my shoulder-blades and down to my other wrist.
Then lean back in the water, feel the too-hot sting and smart. I imagine hundreds of tiny abrasions on my skin. Thousands of nerve endings pricking, firing.

I have lain here so long I can't feel the difference between the water and the misty air. I lower my heel, trynig to guess when it hits the surface. I mis-judge, and open my eyes only after my toes are submerged. Then I watch ripples appear with the rise and fall of my stomach.

I cried a little into the water, my heart is still pounding in my throat.


She looked around, checking the street was empty. Then with a practiced flick of the thumb, she popped the latch. Then ducked inside and closed the door behind her in one swift movement.

It never failed to amaze her how she managed to fit inside the street-light. It didn't make sense, she shouldn't be able to fit. But every night since the first time she heard his voice, she'd felt that wierd sensation of the doorway ballooning around her as she swung into the circular room.
The first time had been terrifying. A tinny, muffled voice called her name as she walked home from work one night. Possibilities scrolled through her head; had somebody followed he, was somebody behind her? When she realised it was coming from the street-light she had to stop, check herself. When she was much younger, she'd entertained the thought that each and every street-light was powered by a tiny person on an exercise-bike, living in the wide base of the post. And hearing that voice brought the childhood fantasy back to her abruptly. She steadied herself, and placed a cautious hand on the lamp door. She'd half expected it to smoothly swing open, but the hinges were rusty, and the fastening stuck.
"Turn it left"
Came the voice from the lamp. She jiggled the catch, but it refused to budge.
"Left, fahking left. Christ, it's not that difficult."
After a few noisy minutes, and the application of her door-keys for leverage, she'd managed to open the door a crack. Inside was, exactly as she'd imagined, a man on a bicycle, in a tiny circular bedsit.

And now here she sat, drinking strong, sweet tea from a mug she knew to be smaller than an eggcup, but filled her hands like one at home. The man looked up at her. He'd been stirring a pan on the stove. Was he even a man? She hesitated to call him an elf, a pixie, a faerie, a gnome, because he seemed so very real. And he swore like a bouncer.
"Fahkin 'ell. Can't believe I went an ran outa eggs the night you come rahnd. Yew must fink I'm a proper batchelor, innit? Can't take care of meself or naffink."
She'd taken to doing his washing up when she was there. It did tend to build up, and she felt better if her hands were busy. Conversation could get awkward when he was puffing away on the bike, and she curled up comfortably on the sofa.

the untucked shirt

It was too big for him, the big white shirt. And it was a cold day. He liked being warm on cold, frosty days like that. So he wore the big white shirt and tucked it securely into his jeans. The comfortable overlap between his underwear and the shirt would keep his back warm even when he sat down.

Once upon a time, two lovers stood on a station platform. They were saying goodbye.
They kissed slowly, their breath clouding white under the strip-lights. She put her arm under his coat and slid it under his sweater, hoping to steal some heat from his back. Her hand was stopped by the big white shirt, and she looked at him. He smiled apologetically as she pulled a handful of the shirt out of his jeans, and felt a shiver along his spine with the cold air.

When her train had gone, and her on it, he climbed the stairs to his platform. Then he boarded his own train home, wandering down the aisle to a suitably empty square of seats. As he sat down he felt cold rise up his back, and immediately felt her phantom lips on his once more. Then he leaned forward to tuck his shirt in.

chapter one

It began childishly, as so many of these things do. A record of the day-to-day angst. The blames, pointed fingers and whispered conversations of girls. Later, when she looked back on those few years, she would not remember the intensity of feeling. The awful indecision. She would only be embarassed at her inaccurate use of extravagant words. She kept none of the hardback notebooks she wrote in. They reminded her of the crippling self-consciousness of being 15.
As she grew older (and, as promised, it did get better as the years clicked by) she continued to write. But not in noteboks, on scraps of paper. The back of an old birthday card. Bus tickets, ragged handfuls of lined A4. She threw these away immediately. She had no desire to be reminded of yesterday's feelings.

The week after her 25th birthday she stopped writing. It was not a conscious decision. The words were pushed out of her head.

His relationship with words was uneasy at best. He spoke intelligently, but not eloquently. Secretly, he would like to be thought of as eloquent. But he could never bring himself to say the words aloud distinct, insufferable, unparalleled... the risk was what silenced him. He didn't want to stand out. He didn't want to be laughed at. He had a horrible feeling that the words lined up in his head would come out of his mouth somehow distorted distended, macabre, grotesque...

When they first met (casually, through a friend of his brother's) neither of them would have guessed these things of each other. He thought her cold and reserved. She thought him over-familiar and drunk. Neither suspected the depths they would glimpse over the subsequent months of courtship.

He, though sexually adventurous, was less experienced. He had slept with two women since he drunkenly lost his virginity at a stranger's new years party. One was his first proper girlfriend. Mentally, he salutes every time he thinks of her. They fucked infrequently and clumsily, and she left him the day after their final exams.
The second was a stunning and manipulative actress. The relationship lasted for two years, but should have ended before six months. It was unhealthy, and sex rose more from a cloying need for closeness than from physical desire.
He enjoyed being single, primarily because it meant he didn't have to shower daily.

She had been promiscuous as a teenager, but had never had a 'lover' in the idealised sense. She had never had the opportunity to enjoy sex. She didn't know it, but it occasionally kept her up at night.

So their relationship began tentatively, with as much reassurance as flirting. When eventually they did share a bed she wept afterwards, once he was asleep, because she thought she loved him.

He woke early, before she did, and crept into the kitchen to make coffee. In the dark he collided with a bin in the hallway, scattering paper, used tissues and food packaging over the floor. Then fumbling for a lightswitch, cramming handfuls of rubbish into the plastic bin, trying not to wake any of the irritable flatmates.
Sitting in the kitchen ten minutes later, coffee brewing, he realises he still has a scrap of handwritten notepaper in his hand. The fact that he reads it could reveal one of several things about him. It could show that he loves the thrill of invading secrecy. It could show that he deeply wants to know more about her, and anything in her handwriting draws him like a magnet. It could show that the coffee is still in the pot, and he's too tired to think before he reads it.
Still clutching the piece of paper, he walked into her bedroom and shut the door behind him. She stirred at the noise, and opened her eyes. As he kissed her, she put her arms around his neck and pulled him onto the bed. He dropped the paper to the floor, and they made love again by the thin light shining through the curtains.

Every day after that, he wrote page after page of his thoughts. She wrote none at all.


He shifted on the bed, the better to rest his cheek on her bare shoulder. She raised her hand and started tracing her fingertips along his jaw-line. Then he kissed her arm lightly, and broke the soft silence

"You were singing in your sleep last night."
"Was I? I thought I'd stopped doing that years ago."
"It was nice. Peaceful."

There was a pause.
He breathed, felt her skin warm on his face. Listened to her faintly audible heartbeat. She sighed once, a long, sleepy exhalation.

"What was I singing?"
"Talking Heads"

She gave a short bark of laughter

"Which album?"
"I don't have a fucking clue. You know I don't like Talking Heads."

She craned her neck around to kiss his forehead, and then sank back into the pillows.