My life had suddenly gained a sense of mystery, which is usually what happens when I don’t see the sun for several days in a row. I was looking out the kitchen window and it was still raining. Nothing but grey and the water pouring from it, obscuring whatever was out there. I used to love Vancouver, the people who navigated the streets and appeared content, and for a long time, I thought I was one of them, too.
“Listen to them,” Perry said.
“What?” I said, snapping back to it.
“The neighbours. Listen to them. Don’t they ever stop? They’re always having people over and laughing and loving their lives. If I wanted to listen to a laugh track, I’d watch some shitty sitcom.”
“Yeah,” I said, and then realized this was all I had to say about this.
We sat facing each other at the kitchen table. Water was boiling in the kettle for tea.
“Is there something I should know?” I was feeling uneasy, my feet rapidly tapping the laminate floor.
Nothing ever happened at the kitchen table. Nothing ever happened when Perry and I were together, regardless of how bad I wanted to do something, anything.
“I have a bad feeling,” I was compelled to tell him.
“I don’t know.” We sat silently, facing each other. “Should we go out?”
It was Friday and we had two full days to recover before going back to work, should something get out of hand.
“I don’t feel like doing coke tonight,” he told me.
“Who said you have to do coke? Don’t do it if you don’t want to do it.”
“I just need something to stimulate me if we go out.” He glared out the large kitchen window that looked out onto the neon lights of the old East Side. “You know I don’t get along with your friends. If I do some blow, I might actually have something to talk about.”
I ignored him, or pretended not to pay attention. What does he mean, he doesn’t get along with my friends? Are my friends not his friends, too? My feet were tapping faster now. The sound was the only sound in the kitchen. Usually, there was music on, whatever came up on the “Chill Party” station on Spotify, or the TV in the background. Rain began pounding against the steel railing on the balcony.
I got up to check the kettle. Looking at it, I could see that it was hot. The water was boiling. But I still touched it, for whatever reason, putting the tip of my index finger on the glass, leaving a small oily fingerprint.
“Shit,” I muttered, and ran some cold water over my finger in the sink.
“What was that about?”
I didn’t respond. I was thinking how pleasing it felt, the burning. I felt a tingle run up my spine. My front teeth grasped my lower lip.
I turned the tap off and lifted my finger to eye level. The skin was shiny and red.
Perry didn’t say anything. He was staring into a knot of wood, the same knot he stared into whenever we sat at the kitchen table. He glared deeply into it day after day, as if it contained a secret he couldn’t live without. When I met Perry, I thought his aloofness was attractive, as if he had better things to worry about than the world in which he lived. Then I spent more time with him, and realized his aloofness was a front. Now I wonder what else is a front.
For weeks, I had been trying to get Perry to choke me a little during sex, like my old boyfriend used to. But Perry was reluctant and a little mean when I kept asking, night after night. He made me feel like there was something wrong with me for even bringing it up. I wanted to ask him why he wouldn’t pull my hair and fuck me like the secret in the knot was the same secret contained deep inside me. Perry was always quick to brush off what I wanted, no matter how passionate the moment was.
The silence in the room was abolished when we heard our neighbours open the sliding glass door to their balcony. Laughter followed immediately after. Our neighbours were drinking. Our neighbours were dancing in the rain and we were cooped up in the kitchen, just the two of us.
Click, the kettle turning off. I bit my lip harder, feeling my canines indent the soft pink skin.
I turned toward the kettle and reluctantly switched it back on.
“What are you doing, Claire?”
“Nothing,” I said, paralyzed.
“Why did you turn the kettle back on?”
I wasn’t paying attention. My focus was concentrated on the water boiling into small bubbles, bursting, releasing steam. My body temperature was rising, my skin exuding warmth.
Perry glared at me like I’d become the knot. He searched my face for hints, lifting his eyebrows in wonderment. His hair was sandy and greasy, slicked back like a movie star. I looked back at him and felt nothing. He shifted in his chair, sighing as he did so. I thought he was going to walk away, but felt relieved when he stayed put.
I turned back to the kettle, my eyes unable to focus, infatuated by the heat. I lifted my next finger, the middle one, and touched the tip to the burning hot glass.
Someone on the neighbour’s balcony burst into laughter. They always sounded like they were having more fun than we were.
“Perry,” I said. “Come here.”
Perry shifted his glare from the knot to the disorienting lights outside. He got up with a grunt and walked towards me, stopping a few inches from my face. His breath was sour and I wanted to slap him.
Without saying a word, I grabbed Perry’s hand and placed it on my right breast. He squeezed, gently, like a reflex, and I pressed my hand over his, making him squeeze harder. “I’m not an ancient relic,” I said, annoyed. He didn’t notice.
With the kettle almost at its peak, I saw an opportunity. Using my other hand, I placed my whole palm around the glass and left it there.
I took a deep breath and held it in my lungs. My face contorted into a feeling of pure ecstasy. I let out a little noise, one steeped in pleasure.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
I wanted to say, stating the obvious isn’t attractive. But I didn’t. Instead I waited to hear what he would say.
“Claire, you know I’m not into this. You’re being irrational. You’ll burn your skin off.”
Perry could never make me feel this good in three years.
The kettle clicked off, again.
My hand still touching the glass, Perry’s hand still on my breast, neither of us looking at each other, both of us engulfed in a moment of perennial silence. Outside, more noise, a glass smashed, a girl screaming, more laughter.
“I need you to do this for me,” I said.
He removed his hand and looked at me apathetically. In that moment, I could tell he was afraid. He was afraid of me, or pain, or the unknown. His reality was in a different matrix than mine.
“No,” he answered, and walked away.
I stood there a second while the pit in my stomach sank.