He closes the door behind him. Walks into the kitchen and puts his things on the counter: bike keys, house keys, the stencil, the spray cans. He takes off his coat. The battery of his phone is dead but the orange numbers on the microwave show the time. Nearly four thirty and he’s wide awake. He feels an urge to see the sun.
When she’s not there, he feels restless. It’s a pleasant kind of restlessness. ‘You’re always busy,’ she’d said. For someone who’s unemployed, he’d added mentally.
He gives the milk carton he finds in the fridge a shake, then twists off the cap and sniffs. Turns the kettle on and empties a sachet of instant soup in a mug. Throws the milk carton in the bin.
He has left his trace again in the city. He always sprays the same figure: a fat little man with a wide grin.
The light hasn’t got going yet. The kettle turns off with a click.
Even that very first time, he’d let her do the talking. The only talking he did was in the way he looked at her. He studied her carefully, with that same look, once he’d made up his mind to give in.
She knew it, that he’d give in. When he left, she said: ‘I’m coming with you.’
He stirs the soup until it’s smooth. Leaning against the counter, he takes a sip. As it gets lighter outside, the outlines of the few pieces of furniture stand out more clearly against the white walls.
He still doesn’t understand what she wants from him.
She’d followed him. He hadn’t looked around once, but he knew she was there. He took the Metro; she sat down in the seat next to him. He got out, so did she. He went into his building, she rushed forward and grabbed the door before it shut. They stood side-by-side in the lift. She looked at him and he looked at his shoes.
First there’s the pink.
They’d sat on the sofa for a while. He didn’t say a word, neither did she. Then he’d gone to bed. There were no doors in his house apart from the front door and the door to the bathroom. He hadn’t been able to see her, but he’d heard her light a cigarette. Heard the rustle of her clothes, of her exhaling smoke, the sound of her taking off her shoes. Suddenly she was standing next to his bed. ‘That’s enough.’
Then there’s orange.
She talks, he looks. She pays, he refuses. Sometimes. She comes looking for him, he never goes to her place. They stay at home, in his bed. Sometimes he doesn’t turn up when they’ve arranged to meet: he’s his own man, he doesn’t owe her anything. He stares at his shoes and waits for her to stop shouting. He gets used to it, gets used to her. He crawls under the blanket and kisses her all over. She squirms with pleasure.
Then the dawn curls around the horizon.
Nervous, heavily made up, she’s standing in front of his door, her hand gripping the strap of her shoulder bag. She says: ‘I could do with a whisky.’
In the tram she looks out the window instead of at him: there’s something at stake. He can see small white cat hairs on her coat.
They get out and turn left. ‘Here,’ she points. The bouncer outside nods them in. It’s early, the dancefloor is empty.
She orders two whiskies. She drinks quickly, taking small sips. As the ice in her glass melts her smile widens. He listens, she talks. He allows himself to be touched – his thigh, his throat, his face.
His expression tells her he has no money, she should know better.
‘I’ll pay,’ she says. ‘No problem, you know that.’ She says the same thing every round. Each time her voice is a little more slurred, her vowels longer.
He nods: one more.
The beats per minute rise, the base drops. She has to lean in closer and closer to make herself heard.
‘Come home with me.’ She tugs on his sleeve. ‘Comon ho-ome with me-hee.’
He stands by the door while she pays the bill.
She opens the door of a cab. ‘Come on.’ She calls him the way a parent would call their child. Her hand grasps in the air, impatiently. ‘I’ll pay.’
In the taxi she bites her lip, breathes hard in his face. She puts her warm hands on his warm skin.
He waits while she pays the driver. He doesn’t want to wait, he wants to do something. He instinctively scans the street for surfaces to accommodate his grinning little man. Electrical boxes, brick walls, posters that aren’t covered in text. The taxi pulls up and glides out of the street.
He can already hear her cat meowing inside. She turns the key and pushes the door open. Goes on ahead of him, into the living room. She pulls off her boots and sighs with relief.
‘Want a beer?’ she asks. ‘Tea?’
The white cat comes towards him. Allows himself to be scratched under the chin. Butts his head against his leg.
‘That’s Theo,’ she says. ‘I also have vodka.’ The white cat follows her into the kitchen.
One of the walls of the living room is covered with small picture frames. He looks for her face on each picture. Puts his finger on the glass and traces the line of her chin.
He thinks of the look in her eyes when she was standing in front of his door this evening. Her hand holding onto her bag tightly. He thinks about her perfectly painted nails, how determined she was to put everything on the line.
‘Come to bed.’
He goes into the kitchen. Pulls open the fridge and takes out a beer. In the light of the fridge he lifts the can to his mouth and starts drinking.
She asks is something wrong.
She says we have fun together don’t we tonight was fun wasn’t it aren’t you having fun.
He throws the empty can in the sink. Takes out another.
She says come to bed.
He shuts the door to the fridge. Drinks down the second can and starts opening kitchen cupboards.
‘You said you had vodka didn’t you? Where is it then?’
She says why are you being like this why are you punishing me.
He doesn’t see the vase. He pulls open the last kitchen cupboard and doesn’t see the vase standing on the counter. It topples and falls to the floor, shattering into a thousand little blue pieces.
She says goddammit. Roars it out.
‘Goddammit you’ve cost me enough already.’
He rolls off his latex gloves, carefully, to avoid getting paint on his hands. He takes another look, at his familiar little figure, in blue this time. The cans rattle in his backpack as he walks out the street.
He ducks into an alley on the left. Crosses the shopping street with his head down. On the other side he chooses the street with the club where he went with her. He looks at the bouncer as he walks past. Thinks of the blue vase.
The latex has made his hands rough. He takes a pair of knitted gloves out of his pocket and puts them on. The material feels good against his dry skin. It’s cool for a summer evening. The grey of twilight slowly descends over the city.
At the end of the street he turns left. Over the bridge. Then right.
He spots her immediately. He sees her and knows it’s definitely her. He’s not mistaken. Eleonora.
She sees him as well. She detaches herself from the group of friends she’s smoking with outside a bar.
He looks at himself with her eyes. Sees himself the way she sees him, her friends see him. The hood pulled up over his head, the heavy bag on his back. The gloves.
He knew he would see her again.
‘Hi.’ She’s wearing a gold-coloured blouse. Her hair curls down over her shoulders.
‘Hi.’ He sees her friends looking.
She asks: ‘How are things?’
He shrugs. Puts the heavy bag down between his feet. Points to her cigarette: ‘May I?’ He puts it between his lips and smokes it right down in one drag. When they look at each other they know it wasn’t nothing. That it meant something.
He points to her friends. ‘Someone’s birthday?’ he asks.
She shakes her head. Says it’s a leaving do. She’s leaving. Going abroad for a month. Staying with a friend. ‘Or an acquaintance really. Someone I want to get to know. She looked after my cat for a while, that’s how we met.’
He nods as if he understands. He pictures himself, always walking the same circles through the same old town. She was the only one he got to know. She was the only one he had wanted to get to know.
She takes a breath. He knows what she wants to say. He says, ‘You don’t have to say it.’ He says, ‘We don’t need to talk about it.’ He’s already picking up his backpack. He sees her friends watching. Staring.
‘I just wanted to say…’ She’s searching for the right words. ‘I wanted to say that both things are true. It’s true what I said when you broke that vase, that I felt you’d already cost me enough.’
He pictures the blue fragments. Hears her goddammit.
‘But it’s also true that I never minded, all those times I paid for you. It’s both true.’
He nods. He stores it away. Saves what she says in a place where he can get to it later.
‘I have to go,’ he says. She understands. He turns around and then he’s gone.
Three streets further he finds a wall. Doesn’t bother with the stencil. He chooses orange, the colour of her nails, and begins.