I’m awake. The room is cloaked in darkness but it will be some time until I’m ready to pull the shutter up. I don’t need to see the suitcase on the floor, overloaded with unwashed clothes; I can smell it already. I check my phone and the brightness of the screen hurts my eyes. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. Like yesterday and the day before, I haven’t quite managed to make it into work today. No-one will bother me. The first time it happened a few frantic phone calls were made. When I saw Alba the next day, she expressed how scared she was that something might have happened. She didn’t specify what that something might have been, but she didn’t have to. Now Alba and all the other teachers handle me with extreme caution. Like they’re scared that if they ask me too many questions, that I’ll shatter into pieces in front of them and they won’t know what to do with the shards. Perhaps they just don’t care anymore. It’s kind of sad because Alba was a really good friend to me for the first sixth months of my time in Manresa. But at this point I don’t blame her. I’m surprised they’re still paying me to be honest.
Moving carefully through the darkness, I feel for the door handle and step out into the narrow corridor that leads to four other rooms. It’s dark here too. Sami’s bedroom is the furthest to my right. She’ll be at work and won’t be home until at least six. I wonder whether she tried to wake me this morning or just didn’t bother. The days all blur into one. The door to my immediate right leads to Cuca’s bedroom. Cuca is the eleven-week-old kitten that Sami entrusts me to look after whilst she’s at work. She must have heard me because now she is crying from behind the closed door, begging me to let her out. She’s been alone for hours but I’m not ready to deal with her just yet either. I go into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.
As I sit on the toilet I try to remember the last time I had a bowel movement that wasn’t diarrhoea. I can’t. I’m pretty sure I have piles. I’m pretty sure they hurt, but these days it’s difficult to distinguish which pain is coming from which body part. After using a ridiculous amount of toilet roll, I wash my hands and catch sight of myself in the toothpaste splattered mirror. My hair hasn’t been cut in over two months. The dark brown dye has faded. My greasy, auburn roots have been left to grow for far too long. In a way I use them as a reference point. A measurement of how much time has passed since it finally dawned on me that he was never going to love me. The point where the auburn darkens marks the exact place in time of when I accepted it. Or at least tried to begin to. You can’t escape from your roots. They’re always there, beneath the surface of your scalp, just waiting for the time to pass so that they can reveal themselves. So that they can reveal the truth. I want to shave it all off but that would only draw too much attention to my face. My gaunt face and my spot infested chin. I’m not sure they are technically spots anymore, they’re more like scabs. Wounds. I know I need to leave them alone. If I don’t stop picking at them then they’re never going to heal. But I can’t resist. I’m picking at them right now. Pick. Pick. Pick. I don’t stop until I draw blood and the scabs lay discarded in the sink. If Sami was here I would stick pieces of tissues to my face to absorb the blood. But she isn’t so I let the blood trickle down. A reminder that surely if I can bleed then I am still technically alive.
It’s boiling inside the bathroom. I’m only wearing shorts but I’m sweating. I clasp my hands around my minute waist. I’ve always been skinny but I’d never considered it a problem until now. When I lay down at night I can feel my ribs almost protruding from my body. If I was to inhale too strongly I wouldn’t be shocked to hear something crack. When I returned home for a week in March, my skeletal figure shocked my parents and for the first time in a long time they showed genuine concern about me. When I tried to pick up my two-year-old niece I felt excruciating pains in my arms, shoulders and neck. I’d never felt anything like it before. I had to put her back down, terrified that I was going to drop her. The one family member I care about more than anyone else.
It was freezing back in Liverpool. The cold has always bothered me but this was unbearable. In a moment of desperation, I dragged the living room couch away from the radiator and sat with my back pressed up against it. The bars burnt against my spine but still the rest of my body shivered. When my mother walked into the room she just stood and stared, I don’t think she knew what to say. Before I returned to Manresa, she made me promise that I’d bring my five months of vegetarianism to an end. My dad asked if I was sure I was ready to go back. This was extremely out of character. I felt like I didn’t have a choice, and though I did, I was incapable of making it. I find myself calling them most nights. I don’t know what I’m hoping to achieve. Most of the phone calls consist of silence until my mother reinforces my earlier belief, “I just don’t know what to say.” Then she hangs up. I can’t help but resent them.
The stench of sweat clings to my body. I should shower but I like to space things out to minimalize the amount of time I have to just think. I’ll do it before Sami gets home. I run the tap to flush my scabby remains down the plughole. Ignoring Cuca’s cries I return to my bedroom. It’s just as hot in here so I’m finally ready to pull up the shutter and open the window. The light is harsh. I think I prefer the dark; it makes me feel less guilty. With the room illuminated, my eyes are drawn to my few possessions scattered across the storage cabinets to my left. Textbooks that have been left untouched for days. A framed drawing of Edie Sedgwick that a friend gave me as a gift for my birthday; the glass shattered in the move over here. A makeup bag containing various beauty products including several bareMinerals application brushes that I purchased after the Christmas break. Back when I was inspired to make a lot of effort with my appearance. Some days for me, most days for him. None of these items will be necessary today. On the days that I do manage to make it into work I either use my fingertips to frantically rub foundation over my scabby face or wear none at all.
Reaching into the bag, I search for what I’m looking for. I pull out a small tub of unopened anti-depressants. A doctor prescribed them last month when Alba accompanied me to a hospital to find a cure for my persistent diarrhoea and recent body aches. They only cost forty-five cents. I don’t trust them. They aren’t what I’m looking for. I try again and retrieve the herbal anxiety tablets that Alba recommended. I take two and wash them down with water from a half empty bottle that has been lingering in my room for a while. They taste like Weetabix. So I guess they count as a reasonable breakfast substitute.
Unable to supress the guilt any longer, I decide to set Cuca free. She darts out and paws at my bare feet, whining for attention. Her room smells as bad as I do. She hasn’t quite mastered how to use her litter box yet. Like the children at work, she could do with a better teacher. There are two solid, kitten-sized faeces next to the box. I should probably clean them up and open a window. I should probably do a lot of things.
Cuca follows me through the fourth and final door of the corridor. The living room is filled with light due to the glass doors that occupy an entire wall. They slide open to allow access to a balcony. There isn’t a lot of furniture, other than a second-hand couch that I purchased for ninety euros on the Spanish equivalent of Gumtree. In front of the couch stands a chair with my old, battered laptop open on top of it. The laptop only works when it’s plugged in and it’s barely holding itself together. The screen has detached from the base in the left corner and any day now it’s going to completely fall apart. On the floor there is a large jar, it was filled with olives but now only the brine remains. My current diet consists solely of olives, ice pops and Aldi pizzas that cost one euro and ninety-nine cents for three. The pizzas have a texture like tomato purée covered cardboard but I can’t stomach much else.
Cuca is gnawing at the lead of the laptop charger. I pick her up more roughly than I should and drop her on the couch. Sami brought her home when she was only five weeks old, it seemed too soon for her to be separated from her mother. She’s a beautiful little creature. Her fur is striped like a tiger and her blue eyes have a look of pure innocence. She deserves so much love and care but I’m just not able to provide it. Sometimes I just want to pick her up and shake her. To scream at her. To ask her what she wants from me. To explain to her that I can’t possibly look after her when I can’t even look after myself.
The need to smoke overwhelms me. I step out onto the balcony and light a cigarette, instinctively sliding the door shut behind me. The flat is on the fourth floor and Sami would murder me if Cuca ever got out. Little does Sami know, that every time I’m out here I peer over the edge and acknowledge that the drop is as a danger, not to Cuca but to myself. So far the thought of Sami coming home to discover my blood splattered across the courtyard keeps me safe. I don’t want her to have to deal with that trauma. I don’t want her to have to spend the rest of her time in this small town known as the girl whose friend jumped from her balcony. I don’t want my parents to have to pay for what remains of my body to be shipped back home. I dread the day when these consequences no longer hold me back. Every day that I wake up here is a risk. My selfish desire for nothingness is growing too strong to subdue. I honestly believe that I’m going to die here. One jump and it could all disappear if I wanted. The uncontrollable thoughts. The never-ending misery. The insufferable pain. Him. He’s killing me anyway. This would just be quicker. But not today.
I finish my cigarette and slide open the balcony door. At first I don’t notice Cuca waiting for me on the other side. She does this often. She waits with her face pressed up against the glass, her eyes fixated on me, ready to dart out the moment the door is opened. My paranoia tells me that she’s doing this on purpose, to test me. To see if I really am capable of keeping her safe. Something else tells me that she just doesn’t want to be left alone inside this flat. She longs to go outside, but it’s just too dangerous. Just as her tiny paw is about to touch the balcony tiles, I spot her. I scoop her up gently and step back inside, sliding the balcony door shut behind me.