Contest #244 shortlist ⭐️

10 comments

Sad Contemporary Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

With both fingers I repeatedly zoomed in and out of the photo. Then I zoomed and un-zoomed even faster, until my screen was just a nauseating blur. I wasn’t sure whether I was trying to make myself feel sick, or if I was hoping that when I finally stopped – when the photo eventually came to a standstill – it would rearrange itself completely into something that made sense. But when I did stop, I was just as confused. Once more, I added up the constituent parts: dark hair splayed on the pillow, shiny skin dappled with bruise-like smudges of mascara, lips compressed into a lopsided pout. It was me.  

It was me, but a me I didn’t recognise. Looking at the image, I thought of an apple-corer I’d once seen advertised on late night television – the strange sense of satisfaction I got from watching the circular blade biting into its pink skin, twisting efficiently and then withdrawing with a perfect cylindrical core, leaving a hidden emptiness at the apple's centre. I zoomed once more and caught a vacant glint in my eyes, like apple-pips dug out from the flesh.  

I whipped my phone screen around to face Em. “So weird,” I said “I really don’t remember taking this at all last night”.  

She laughed absently ,“mate you were absolutely gone.”  

I let her laugh soothe me, protectively pulled up the blanket that we shared as we sat on the sofa in her flat. I still held my phone out, and eventually she pulled her gaze up from her own phone at looked more closely at my screen.  

“Where was that anyway? That’s not at yours is it?” 

I made a show of investigating the image, furrowing my eyebrows in concentration. I looked at the unfamiliar pillow beneath my head, the slither of blue wall in the background, swept my gaze quickly over my bared shoulders – before answering, “it must have been at Jake’s” 

“Jake’s?” Em turned to me now with her eyebrow raised salaciously. 

I raised an eyebrow back at her “I went back to his after the club. I drunk called him and he came and picked me up. My knight in shining armour.” 

I remembered the glare of my phone screen, the thrill of his voice down the phoneline when he picked up, the words halting, doubling and rebounding in my head like broken music. I remembered looking at my hand in the taxi and feeling with pressing certainty that it wasn’t my own. Sodium haze of streetlights, the fast synthetic pull of my seatbelt as I unclicked it, faded blue front door widening.  

I did not remember taking this photo.  

Em went back to looking at her phone and I burrowed even deeper into the blanket, so far that I pulled it completely over my head, cocooned. I read once that caterpillars digest their own bodies using enzymes before rebuilding themselves into butterflies. I thought about what it would look like, if the silken shell of the chrysalis was cracked open during this transformation. The soft pulpy mess of a self-destructing body.  

In the darkness, lights danced behind my eyes. I felt vaguely seasick.  

That night, I dreamed that after I had sex with him, he split in two.  

 A dull morning light was starting to seep through the curtains, weakly illuminating a blue-grey wasteland of empty glasses, abandoned clothes, records adrift from their sleeves. We were lying on the bed, a tangle of limbs and sheets. My head was tucked under his chin, and his arm was flung over my waist. We were perfectly still apart from the rise and fall of our breathing. I watched this from a space above our bodies.  

I watched as his head began to blur around the edges. Then a second head pushed itself free, gradually peeling up and apart from the original. It was exactly the same as Jake’s head – the one that lay next to me on the pillow – except translucent. I watched with a rising feeling of fascination and horror as – one by one – his arms, then his torso and finally his legs all did the same. A diaphanous twin of him sat up on the bed and swung his legs over. Then – in a change that made complete sense to me, in the way only dream logic could – he was instantly opaque, flesh and blood.  

Here, then, lying next to me on the bed, was one Jake. The one that – when I first told him my name as we waited at the bar – had stumbled over it and immediately blushed a deep maroon under the cool blue lights; the one that told me he particularly liked the way my hair smelled; the one that laughed warmly – not condescendingly – when I told him that one of my favourite songs was ‘Loft Music’ by the Weeknd and asked me what my favourite lyric was. 

And there – now standing over my still-sleeping body – was the other one. He was motionless, but I could feel hatred seething from him. It was so pure, so concentrated – but with no obvious sign of it in his face or body. It was like a colour I knew was there but couldn’t see. The whole room pulsed with the deep molten red of him.  

Then he crossed the room to the bookshelf by the window and started pulling things off. Slowly and methodically, he would take an item off the shelf – a book, a record, a photo frame – and lay it on the ground next to where he stood. Gradually he got faster and faster, flung the objects in an ever-increasing radius, started grabbing multiple things at once and flinging them wildly across the room. Finally, he turned on his heel – I could see his face now, terrifyingly blank – and started hurling books at the bed with blunt, unrestrained force.  

When I woke up, I wasn’t sure which Jake was the one lying next to me.  

* 

The next weekend we went out again. It was the same series of bars as always – in a slightly different order so it felt novel. I allowed myself to ease into that sense of Friday night anticipation, that vague hum of excitement that accompanies you from one place to the next, baseless except for the liberating blank space of the two following days. Even as I felt it I knew that that itself was the best part of the weekend – the waiting and hoping.  

Upstairs at The Castle there was a gentle ebb and flow of people all evening. People arrived and left again amid the roar of voices and clattering glass. I was sat next to Stevie – head leant back against the wall, half-listening to a conversation about superyachts – when the crowd swelled and shifted with the arrival of a new group of people. Jake emerged, singular and completely unavoidable, like the spray thrown up by an aggressive wave.  

I felt my blood pulsing in the back of my head, against the wood panelling. Can that be right? Is it anatomically correct to feel a pulse there? This is what I was thinking as my body was already moving, springing up out of my seat and wrapping my arms around him. I breathed in his sweet woody smell and recoiled with the immediacy of it. Bare wooden floor, hand on my thighs, textured swirls of paint on the ceiling. I said yes but I wasn’t really sure what I was saying yes to.  

“Jake! Long time no see.” I said with a smile which I hoped was simultaneously coolly aloof and conspiratorial. As his hand left the small of my back I became aware of how desperately I wanted him to want me.  

“Hey Sim.” He smiled warmly before moving away, pulled towards the outstretched arms and hands of the people around us. As he did so I saw the underside of his chin, traced it down to the pool of shadow at the base of his neck, where I had pressed my thumb only a weekend before, as we lay in his bed in the morning. I liked the way it seemed to fit perfectly, and pretended to scan my thumb against his skin, like he was a fingerprint machine. I gave myself to him – the lines and whorls of my identity – and he told me who I was. I flushed red at the childish intimacy of the memory as he moved away, making his circuit around the room greeting people.  

The night wore on, but slower now. It had been shunted off of its tracks by Jake’s arrival and now proceeded along shadowy, unfamiliar terrain. I couldn’t not keep looking over at him where he was sat a few tables across from mine. I imagined that he was hyper-aware of me, crafting every move and gesture and word in case I should happen to glance at him. I realised at the same time, of course, that this was what I was doing.  

Finally, he sat down next to me and put his arm around me, his gaze softened and blurred by drinking. I pretended to be surprised by his appearance, even though I had watched him crossing the room out of the corner of my eye.  

“I was wondering whether all of your biotech needs have been met recently?”  

I felt a bloom of warmth in my chest, gratified that he had remembered our joke, reassured that that night didn’t exist solely within the dulux-blue parameters of his bedroom.  

“You know how it is - competitive market for these things these days” 

Picking my words carefully, like a game.  

“It was fun though, wasn’t it, that night?” 

I caught it – that flash of doubt – like a lightning rod pulling in a lightning strike, sending it shuddering down to earth, setting the soil crackling.  

I paused, caught between a multitude of possible answers. Yes Jake, it was really fun, round two tonight? Or - Hahaha, it’s all a bit of a blur huh? Or - What did you do to me when I was so drunk I could barely stand up?  

All the while, Jake was reading his own answer into my silence, “A little bit unexpected maybe? But it was fun. You seemed to have a lot of fun.”  

Yes. That was the right answer, wasn’t it. I nodded, leaning almost imperceptibly into him. He lowered his voice and said gently into my ear. 

“You want to go and chat outside? It’s so loud in here” 

“Yes!” Managing to find my voice again – it was uncomfortably bright and high. “The smoking area out the back tends to be a little less busier than the front” 

As we walked down the stairs, I stared at his shoulders and allowed myself to dream. Yes. This was what was supposed to happen. We would go outside and he would tell me that he couldn’t stop thinking about me. Yes, it was strange after having been friends so long, yes he’d just got out of a relationship and things weren’t straightforward – but he had to see where it went. Come back to mine tonight Sim, he would say, gently, playfully nudging me as we stood out in the cold – edging closer together. All of that nausea – that churning confused messy feeling that had sat in my stomach for the past week – would be resolved. It would make sense now, because he wanted me.  

“Listen, Sim- this is a bit awkward, but I just wanted to make everything super clear for both of us, make sure we’re on the same page.” 

I thought absently about how everything was much more grey outside than inside. The embers of Jake’s cigarette glowed in the darkness as he fidgeted with it. 

“I’ve been seeing someone recently, and it’s starting to become a bit more serious. Like I said, last week was really fun but- it's not the kind of thing I should be doing again.” He grimaced, making a performance of shame, “and I'd appreciate it if you kept it just between us, you know?” 

I waited – face upturned – for myself to have a reaction. I caught my silhouette, projected against the fence behind Jake, flattened and warped by the angle at which the light was hitting my body.  

“Yeah, I hear you completely. Super super chill vibes, you’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about from me.” Relaxed, amenable, yet slightly aloof. Well done me.  

“Cool cool cool” perhaps taken aback by how accepting I was, Jake ground to a halt, before starting up again “You know we-” 

But I didn’t hear him. I was off, walking, not running. Back through the pub, out the front door and into the street. I turned right, then rapidly left again, moving relentlessly towards the darker, quieter streets of the city. I had absolutely no idea where I was going. I was aware only of a slow, continual sense of unravelling, a glimmering silken thread left in my wake.  

April 06, 2024 01:33

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10 comments

Annie Hewitt
18:05 Apr 12, 2024

Great story. Beautiful, haunting imagery. Relatable and very well done and very well deserved recognition!!

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Sophie Fawley
14:36 Apr 13, 2024

Thank you so much! I really appreciate it x

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Alexis Araneta
16:51 Apr 12, 2024

Yay ! Congrats on the shortlist.

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Sophie Fawley
17:16 Apr 12, 2024

thanks! :)

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Mary Bendickson
16:37 Apr 12, 2024

Congrats on the shortlist and welcome to Reedsy.🥳

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Sophie Fawley
17:16 Apr 12, 2024

thank you !!

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04:11 Apr 12, 2024

This is such a well crafted story! The characters, dialogue, tension and narrative are all handled so well, and it flowed very naturally. I really enjoyed reading it!

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Sophie Fawley
16:15 Apr 12, 2024

thank you so much !

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Unknown User
02:59 Apr 13, 2024

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Unknown User
01:16 Apr 13, 2024

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