Sep 15

These Little Rituals

by Anneliese Mackintosh

We’re not so different, you and I. We like to think we are, but we’re not. You with your Y chromosome, your love of music, of God. And me with my books and my atheism and my cunt.

I’m the one that buys the erotica. The ancient pictures of men upon men, tangled together and screwing, a snarl of flesh and lust.

You’re the one that buys the muesli. The expensive stuff, imported from Dorset, with berries and nuts and spelt.

I’m the one that cradles your head. Tells you you’re clever when you lose faith in yourself. Sucks you off when you’re feeling blue. Shows you the pictures of the men upon men, tells you the history of sodomy in literature, asks you if you’re sure you’re straight, if you’re sure you want me.

And you’re the one that says yes. Yes, I do love you. Yes, I will go and buy some more muesli. Yes, I do think the world is a strange place for people like you and me.

* * *

‘What’s it like to have breasts?’ you ask me one night, while we stand with our backs to the wall, looking into the mirror, watching our breath on the glass.

‘It’s like having a swelling,’ I tell you. ‘When you sprain your leg and your calf fills with fluid, and you just want to sit and massage it until the swelling goes down, until it drains away.’

‘It won’t drain away,’ you say.

‘It’s draining,’ I reply. ‘But just very, very slowly.’

* * *

During the day, you go to the office. You switch on the radio and make sure the levels are right, that the cross-faders are used properly, that the interviews can be heard. It is a job of national importance, you tell me once in a while, and I nod and cradle your head, and ask you when you think the problems in Syria will end.

And during the day I read my books, not just the ones with dirty pictures, but also the classics: Dickens, Eliot, Austen, Scott. I write notes on them, I rearrange their order on my shelf, move them back again.

* * *

‘What’s it like to have a cock?’ I ask you one morning, before you leave for work.

You undo your dressing gown, and I see it there, bobbing, harmless, impossibly small. ‘It’s like having an extra hand,’ you tell me. ‘Except the hand gets pins and needles in it, pins and needles so bad you can’t actually feel the skin any more, just the red-hot tingling sensation, the numb sensitivity of it.’

‘Can I touch?’ I ask, stepping forwards.

‘It doesn’t feel like that right now,’ you say. ‘Now, it feels like nothing.’

* * *

Sometimes, when you’re out, I like to play a game with myself. I like to push my stomach out, as far as it will go, and I like to run my hands over it, imagining there’s a foetus inside, squirming and kicking and sucking its thumb, until the thought of it turns me on, and before long I’m getting off on it, pushing my stomach out, repeating ‘baby, baby, baby, baby’.

When you’re at work you like to collect post-it-notes. You’ve collected over fifty packs, in greens and pinks, yellows and blues. I keep asking you to bring some home for me, some heart-shaped ones maybe, but I’ve never seen a single one, and sometimes that thought makes me afraid.

* * *

‘And what about your cunt?’ you ask at the dinner table. ‘What does that feel like?’

I push the steak around my plate thoughtfully for a while, then say: ‘It feels like a balloon. A balloon that needs blowing up, a balloon that keeps losing air, a balloon with a leak, a balloon on a gate that is pointing out a party.’

‘I like that one,’ you tell me, sipping your wine. ‘Yes, that one is good.’

* * *

We play together like this, you and I, every day and night, pretending we are living separate lives, pretending there is mystery when there’s not. Because the truth is, we’re the same, I and you. Exactly the same, with your cock and my cunt, my balloon and your post-it-notes. We’re lovers who spend all our time with one another, in our minds if not our bodies.

When we do make love, although it’s rare, we are no longer fascinated by one another. I know how your dick feels better than I know my own fingers. You know each crease in my vagina better than you know the aisles of the supermarket.

But when you’ve had a bad day, or when I have, or both, then it works for us, asking these questions. Doing these little rituals. Pretending to be different, pretending that we want to know more. It makes us feel safe, and scared, and alive.

And to be perfectly honest, if you were to ever stop asking me about my breasts, or if you ever actually brought me a post-it-note home from your desk, or told me that you didn’t believe in God any more, that He had deserted you, then that’s when I’d know, there was nothing left between us, there was no hope for either of us any more.