As soon as I sit down on the bed she starts unbuttoning my shirt. At first I'm into it and I kiss her neck as soft as I can, but then I stop and push her away.
"I thought that's why we came here," she says.
"I know, it's just...not right now."
She sits next to me at the edge of the bed, her heels making little indentations in the carpet. We crack open two beers and drink silently. Out of the window there's the occasional oohs and ahhs of passers by. In the background the siren of an ambulance screams and fireworks shoot off in the night sky...
I go back to the shop and ask the old man who's always wearing the hat if it's come in yet. He says no. He always says no. He always gives me this funny look, squints his eyes at me as if in doing so he'll see the real me. Only he doesn't get it, I am the real me. Why doesn't he get it?
I ask him, "When will you have it in?"
He says, "Maybe someone will drop something like that off today, maybe tomorrow. I don't know."
I look around at the tattered books, the scarred leather jackets, the wilting dresses. What I'm looking for, it isn't here. Not today. I wring my hands together, my palm feels dry, there's a red mark across my fingers.
The boxes in the hallway are the only decoration these days, there're a couple of photographs still on the walls, but the rest of the house is covered in those lighter patches where things once were. The boxes in the hallway have 'clothes' and 'videos' daubed in thick black marker. I don't know where she got the marker from. There's alcohol in those things, can't have them around. Can't keep them in this place. All sorts of things you can't have in this house. Sharp knives, bleach, lighters.
The box marked 'toiletries' is missing, along with a few others. She's been back here today. She always tries to come pick stuff up when she knows I won't be here. Either that or she sneaks in when I'm fast asleep, treading softly on the floor and leaving, the only sign of her appearance being a few less boxes in the morning.
I don't feel much like eating, so I go to bed at eight. It's still light outside.
We all sit in a circle. It feels like school. Everyone sits in the same seat each week and stares across at the same person. Opposite me is a woman named Linda, her husband died in the terrorist bomb a few years ago, he was on the tube going to work. The night before she threatened to divorce him after an argument. It was the last thing she ever said to him. That story made me cry when she told it the first time. The guy who runs our little group, Tim, has a moustache that makes him look like a plumber in a porn film. He says things like "People like us need people like us," and "safety in numbers." I imagine it's the way Jesus probably talked back in the day. Kind of bullshit caring.
He takes a swig of his milk, leaving a white mark over the top of his reddish moustache. He opens with "Tonight I want to try something new," which he opens with every week. "We'll go around the group starting with Victor, and we'll talk about a time in the past where we've felt pain, and recovered from it, and what I want, what I think people should be looking for, is how we've dealt with pain and grief in the past...how we could use that experience to help us now. Victor? Go ahead."
Victor is a shabby Ukrainian who always wears the same coat, he speaks in mumbled and often incomprehensible English about a father he came to the country with. He gets interrupted by the creak of the heavy door.
"Hello? Sorry, I hope this is the right place. Helping Hands right?"
...lighting the room up briefly orange, then green, then purple. A few cheers sound from the streets below.
"Are you sure you want me to be here?"
I'm not. What I'm sure of is that I'm a little drunk, and that she has the sweetest smelling perfume on and that try as I might I couldn't say no until just a moment ago. Maybe I do want this, subconsciously. Tim always says to let a good heart lead the way. I think about that as she kisses me again, and takes off my shirt. She strokes my chest and stops to feel my pulse. My heart is beating like crazy.
Every second. She kisses my chest. I think about what Tim said, and I think about his moustache and plumbers in porn films and I think about the charity shop and I think about the man with the hat and I think about the tabby and...