He suggested it to her first when they were hanging out the washing on their new clothesline, on their new balcony, in their new flat.
Why don’t we use it in the bedroom?
Eight words. Eight words that struck her first as confusing, then as strange, and then as quite worrying. Whether it was intentional or not, at that moment she was holding a pair of his underpants, the green ones she had seen every week, but now—for some reason—seemed new and repulsive, like a baby crocodile.
She looked up at him, and he was calmly pinning a towel to the line, as if what he had just said was the most normal thing in the world.
In the bedroom? She repeated.
Yeah, he said. I thought it might make things a little . . . different.
Different, she thought. Different? Did things really need to be different?
Just a thought, he said, his mouth pushing up in that way she used to find endearing, but now wasn’t so sure about. Just a thought.
They went back inside, and he started cutting up carrots for dinner. She sat on the couch—their new brown suede couch—pretending to read a magazine. Something about his calmness worried her. The way he could suggest something so unusual (not quite shocking but close to it) and then carry on like nothing had happened. She stared at their new carpet, shapes like circles appearing in it as she unfocused her eyes. Why would he want to use that in the bedroom? Why would he even say it?
He came and put his arms around her, holding two glasses of red wine. She had the nasty sensation that her arms had become his, and she shuddered. It was like looking out through his eyes, seeing the world from where he did, with his strange, twisted arms: hairs like hooks on the backs of his hands. He nuzzled his cheek against her neck, and she felt every bump and imperfection of his face. Their two faces touching, rough on smooth, was nothing but an endless series of little accidents. She saw that now. She saw the concertinaed maps of complication. She now shared a life with the owner of this chaotic face. This face said: why don’t we use it in the bedroom?
She slept with him that night, made love to him, as they did every night in their new flat, with their new lives, with their reaffirmed union. His body, which she had once considered a perfect form, was obvious now only by its faults. She saw overhangs and dints and long, ugly cracks. A run-down temple. Rust and old plaster came off in her hands when she touched him. He left the feeling of long streaks of dirt down her body. She knew all he was thinking about was what he wanted to use in the bedroom. That thing he wanted to bring in here.
She held back her breath until he slumped into spasm and rolled off her, spreading—asleep—like a stain on the bed beside her. She turned her head away, on their new feather pillow, and tried to expel him in one long breath, choking out the stale air he had pushed into her. When she turned back, the moonlight had exposed him, his fat white star body: a pink, gnarled gargoyle scowling at her from between his legs. She ran to the bathroom and—without turning on the lights—coughed out a rope of burning vomit. It dribbled over her lips and down to the shell-pearl tiles. She braced her hands against the sink and stared at herself in the mirror, reflectionless eyes between tired threads of her hair.
She turned on the bathroom light, pulled off two handfuls of toilet paper, and started to mop up the floor. As she knelt down, the hem of her nightie wedged itself under her knees and it pulled the fabric drum-taut against the back of her neck, forcing her head downwards, as if in prayer.