Something must have happened between then and now, here and there, because Imogen has been ignoring my smiles. It becomes clear I’ve done something wrong when she pulls my hand from the small of her back like a plug from a sink. I washed your hair earlier, I think; washed it clean of the gel and wax you use that leaves a damp film on my pillows and there are only so many times I can turn them over.
She plays with the snags of skin around her nails while we wait for our table. I drink Campari to pass the time and bang my knees on the glass front of the bar when I try to cross my legs. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll prove this with dark, blue bruises.
I ask her to delete the film she has of me on her phone, “it’s unflattering,” I say with a smirk, hoping to prick the tension, “I don’t like where it centres.”
Imogen runs a hand through her hair, pulling away loose threads. She stretches strands over the flame of a candle till they fizzle like a fuse and snap.
Victorian lamps and the film of cloud that lies over the city keeps me warm but in the shadow of the arches of the viaduct I notice the goosebumps on the parts of my skin that are exposed, hairs raised in anxiety since she walked out during dessert. Maybe by the time I get home, by the time I boil the kettle and fill the teapot, by the time she has decided to come home, I will know how to soak this all up, ring it all out.
There was a time when she gnawed my fingers, chewing an ache like growing pains into my bones. She liked to bite her way into the centre of attention, to carve an impression with her teeth. At parties she’d reach across conversations to leave little purple punctuations in my skin.
CrownGate shopping centre is full of the hulks of black and empty buses. She slept in one once, broke in and made a bed across a row of seats because coming home hard and angry wasn’t enough, she wanted me haunted. So I stand on tip toes, peer through the curved glass that makes a mockery of my face, looking for signs of her.
Imogen doesn’t have periods; she’s got an implant which stops them. It makes my pallor all the more noticeable when I get my own, when it feels as if my skin is being stretched. But my time of the month has become exhausting because of the weight of her. A pale film of desire and frustration settles over her round face. She is rampant; and crosses her fingers when they’re inside me.
As I cross the Severn Bridge I think I can see Imogen coming out of the hedged entrance of Cripplegate Park, but it’s not her. This woman isn’t walking slowly, holding her weight on each hip for long enough to think she might pause, for long enough to think she might sit down there and then like a child having a tantrum. The possibility of her, the rumour of her, is like the sweat that runs down a cold bottle of something, of beer, of water, of wine. And when she’s not here there’s not much else to say except that hopefully she’ll be back soon.
The street lamps cause a shimmer on the cling-film that covers my wrist and hand and I think again about how I’m going to get money out of my bag, sign my name if I need to, or go to the bathroom. My arm stays bent upwards, poised in the air, while the rest of me slides across the back seats of the black cab as it moves through the centre of town. Warmth comes in waves like cross words from the puckered skin. I should tell Imogen, tell her what happened. How the lid of the kettle, if you pour it like that, at the wrong angle, will fall open. How a blister can appear in an instant, needs no friction sometimes, but boils up from underneath. I take my phone out of my pocket but only check the time.
I’ll call her eventually. She won’t speak but I know she’ll cross herself. Not for me, but for the benefit of whoever is around. Two fingers touching the skin of her forehead, her chest, the left shoulder, and then the right. She’ll hang up and say, “needs her Imogen,” to whoever she’s with, but there’ll be time to finish her drink first. It will play out like a film; a chase down a hospital corridor, a reunion, a kiss. Her at the centre of it all.