You turn your head and there are the mocking electric numerals that glow showing 4:02 am. You waited up for us, in anticipation of our return. You wanted to ensure we were not too drunk and you were ready to provide us with a large glass of water and to ask how our evening went. You weren’t entirely sure where we had gone to or who with because our answers were vague, something muttered about friends and a new bar, but you knew better than to keep asking. You know if we want to tell you the detail we will do so, otherwise it is better to remain quiet. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, at one time we never went out without you. We either preferred to stay in with you, enjoying a pleasant evening of fine food, wine and a film or an early night in bed where we wrapped ourselves around one another, as we explored and delighted. You run a hand across the smooth sheet and it feels cold. There has been no body heat to warm the bed beside you. Once you would be able to turn and see us lying there, content and peaceful, a low snore emanating from our mouths as we lay on our back. Now you have to conjure up the image to see us there as it has been so long since you have seen us there.
You eventually headed to bed as midnight came and in your usual way you were concerned that we had not yet come home but exhibiting that reasonable approach you are known for, you preferred to tell yourself that we are obviously enjoying ourselves and you would be better served heading upstairs and going to sleep. Except you cannot. You close your eyes and all you see in your mind’s eye are pictures of us cavorting with other women. You do not recognise their faces but they are young, smooth-limbed, scantily clad and wrapped around us, a writhing tableaux of flesh with us at the centre. You wish you did not think in this way but this is what always forms in your mind whenever we are late. You wish you did not consider what might be going on but truth be told we have not given you the attention or assurances that we once did. Now you feel that you are being mocked by us as we pour our attention on someone else. You turn and look again at the clock and see barely five minutes have passed. Where are we? You would call but know there is no point. The ‘phone will either be switched off or it will be on silent shoved in a pocket somewhere to ensure there is no interruption. You wish your paranoia was just that but you know there is no good reason for us to be out this late. There never is. The evidence has been steadily mounting as these late night excursions increase in frequency from monthly to weekly. You have smelt the strong perfume on us when we have eventually appeared and slid silently beneath the sheets. You have noticed on other occasions the smell of soap or shower gel as it is clear that we have washed away the recognisable scent of sex from our loins, our fingers and our mouths. Sometimes on hearing us enter the house you have sprung up and switched on the light in the hallway, framing us in a bright light as we stand there. You looked over us and note how we actually look a little too composed, hair smoothed into place, shirt tucked in as if we have prepared how we looked before returning. That half-smirk we always wore as we looked at you never helped.
You used to ask the questions,
“Where have you been?”
“What time do you think this is?”
“What on earth have you been doing?”
But you were always brushed off. No matter what approach you adopted, concern that we might have been in an accident, upset that you have missed us, anger at our lack of consideration by returning so late (or so early dependent on how you regard it) it never engendered the reaction you wanted. We showed no shame, no guilt, no sorrow. In fact, it was quite the opposite, a swaggering arrogance as we stood soaking up your emotional output. That always surprised you. You thought we would slink away or push past you, telling you to shut up, but no, we just stood and let you unload on us. Yet more mockery and always with that strange look in our eyes as if we were regarding prey and that salacious slant of the mouth. What were we really thinking about as you tore a strip off of us or cried at how late it was and begged to know what we had been doing.
Now there is no point. You remain in bed hoping for the release of slumber but it never comes. So many questions reel through your mind.
Where are we?
Who are we with?
Do we kiss her like we used to kiss you?
Do we love her?
It hurts but you cannot let go. You want us to explain ourselves, provide the confirmation to you about our infidelity and admit the numerous transgressions but it does not happen. Eventually we appear, sliding in besides you but always somehow managing to radiate that air of do not question us, we do as we do. Each time it seems to become later and later until now it has entered the realm of preventing you from sleeping but it never being worth rising. The anxiety remains, sweeping over you as you are caught between wanting to confront us and not wanting to do so, because to take such a step will amount to an admission that there really is someone else. For now, you accept the explanations which we offer the next day.
“Ran into some friends I have not seen for a while so it became a late one.”
“Perfume? Yes, there was a lady who I know through work in the bar and she was wearing a lot of perfume.”
“You can smell soap? Well I do wash my hands after I have used the bathroom you know.”
“I lost track of time.”
“I was enjoying myself and wanted to carry on, is that such a crime?”
The comments are always made without looking directly at you, but we shoot you a sideways glance as if to check whether you are swallowing our lies but that is just the step of instinctively checking that you are under control, it is not a recognition that a lie is being told. You recognise the signs now but still you cling to the hope that it is not true, that the lies are truths and that there is nothing to be concerned about. You wish you didn’t feel this way but you still love us and do not want to lose us, you fear the emptiness of a world without us and so you accept this status of being forgotten about as we embrace the night. You are resigned to your position of remaining awake, fretting and worrying, knowing that you are probably furthest from our minds.
You cannot help the way you feel, but sometimes, as you lie in the ice-cold bed, the first rind of dawn breaking beyond the blinds, you wish you didn’t feel at all. Perhaps then this paralysis would vanish, this existence between something and nothing, the continuance of not quite knowing but not being ignorant either. That is what pains you the most. This living in between. This surviving in the spaces, residing in the gaps, occupying the hinterland between things. It is draining. If only you could remove your paralysis and reach one place or the other. As it is, you turn and glance at the clock once again and see that it is now too late to sleep and too soon to rise.
You are in-between yet again.