Cade moves slowly onto his side. He doesn’t seem anxious. There’s a precious centimetre of air between him and Sarah on the single bed: the mattress lying on the floor.
This is pretty uncomfortable, she says, pushing at his green sheets, stretching her neck, trying to make it crack.
Cade turns his head away, and coughs. It’s only foam, he tells her. You get what you pay for.
Sarah smiles at him, giggling, revealing small yellow teeth.
Your scrotum’s showing, she says.
Cade stares down at the piece of dimpled flesh protruding from under the hitched leg of his boxer shorts. Pink like chicken skin. He pulls his boxers down to cover himself up, shifting his weight, lifting his hips off the bed.
You shouldn’t be ashamed, says Sarah, running her hand up his leg. Cade almost coughs again, but he holds it back. Sarah grabs the loose piece of skin between her thumb and forefinger, and rubs it gently.
Feels like silly putty, she says.
Silly putty. I used to buy it when I went to the museum with school.
She unbuttons his fly. Cade stares at the ceiling, listening to Sarah’s voice getting softer. He likes her, and he runs his fingers through her hair, dry with static. She’s a scientist, Cade remembers, as he takes his shirt off. She uses words like scrotum, and she approaches things in a rational way. Cade moves his hands over her shoulder blades.
The foam bed bends and bruises their twisting bodies, but neither of them seems to notice.
They wake to a late morning: light and heat pressuring the glass shutters, a day trying to hurry
them along. Cade’s room is a cube of uncertainty, as if he hasn’t decided whether to move in yet. Traffic noise mixes into the buzz of morning insects. Sesame Street crackles through a small black and white TV in the corner. Today’s episode is brought to you by the letter Q.
We should go swimming today, says Sarah, lying back on the bed, tapping her toes on the floorboards.
Yeah, replies Cade. We could if you like.
Sarah’s nipples lie at unnatural angles to each other, rolling chaotically on her round breasts like Cookie Monster’s eyes. Cade kisses each one slowly, if only to put them into context.
Sarah laughs, and tells him they should get up.
They watch TV for a few minutes in a light summer sweat, legs twitching under the sheets, skin prickling with heat. Sarah gives in first, struggling to her feet, slipping yesterday’s dress over her head, shaking back an unwelcome morning fringe.
Where’s the bathroom? she asks, a hair band appearing miraculously between her teeth.
Down the hall, on the right.
Thanks. Sarah ties her hair back blindly, and it sticks up behind her in a dirty blond frond. Cade watches her thick ankles as they pass through a gap in his bedroom door. He listens as she hobbles down the hall: the stilted steps of someone used to carpet.
He swallows, feeling the first swollen claws of a sore throat, and as he forces open the dirt-streaked louvres of his bedroom window, the smell of grass clippings hits him with a pungent tang. He stares out at next door’s roof, squinting his eyes up into its bright reflection, remembering yesterday like a movie script. The Open Day. Beer in plastic cups. Sarah in too-big sunglasses. Conversations about coloured chip packets and seven minute pop songs. It’s not every day you find out you’ve failed an 80 per cent prac exam.
Cade tests his knee against the wall below his window. The paint and the plaster creaks uncertainly. He picks up his shirt from the floor and puts it on. He has other shirts, cleaner ones, but it wouldn’t feel right with Sarah in her old dress.
He observes his fingernails, counting the white flecks that spatter across the faded pink.