'Marina’s Latest Lover Prepares To Leave' by Helen Victoria Anderson

Marina’s lover delivers a mug of milky tea before his shift starts. She snakes her arm out from under the bedspread and grabs his wrist. He is ready for her: he clenches his fist around the sturdy clay handle and sets the mug down on a ring-marked, unopened paperback.

“Don’t go today.” She says that every day.

“I have to.” Always the same.

The top sheet is stretched across Marina’s lower face like a surgical mask. Her lover kisses the bridge of her nose. She holds her morning breath. He will leave. They all do, when days like this become weeks and months. God knows, she’d leave her miserable self, too, if she could.

“I’ll see you tonight.” They say stuff like that, when they’re just about to vanish. He smiles like a patient GP. Marina’s bowels twist.

Marina’s lover leaves the bedroom door ajar. She calls him her lover because he reckons he loves her to the moon and back. Plus, she’s too old for a boyfriend.  He has created an unsettling draught. A vicious stripe of light interrupts the womb-red walls. The day niggles under Marina’s eyelids like grit. The darkness will never descend when you want it to

Marina hates her lover, right now. He knows she cannot reach the tea from the bed, without spilling it. She hauls herself up into a chin-on-chest, sort-of-sitting position. Her legs stretch out in front of her as though she’s clamped in stocks. She tests the push-and-pull of the mattress foam under her finger-nails. Just keratin. Dead as soon as it sprouts from the nailbed. But hers feel everything. Sometimes, they hurt, for no real reason.

The buttons in the velour headboard press into the skin and bones of her back, like pebbles under a threadbare towel. Not entirely unpleasant. She hums. Marina is on a beach. Waves crumbling to powder. The sun beats on her naked face. She’s not burning.

She is thirsty, though. She reaches sideways for the mug. It is her favourite. Solid. Heavy. Too heavy, in fact. She is going to drop it. She is going to fall. Marina throws her foot down on the carpet to save herself and the mug and… nothing happens. No sharks snapping at her ankles. No apocalypse. She eases herself back into bed, not sploshing a drop. She turns the covers back and lets the air slip in around her.

Marina sips. She swills the soothing liquid around her gums. She holds it against the roof of her mouth with her plumped-up tongue. She has not heard the front door click yet.

“Thank you.”  The words form casually in her mind and flow, unhindered, from the tip of her tongue. “I love you.”

Her voice surprises her with its strength, but these walls have learned to absorb so much. Maybe something will drift through that tiny crack he has left open. Marina hopes her lover has caught at least a whisper. She waits to see if anyone is still there.

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