L | Breathless

We order Korean fried chicken.

I want beer
but Rowan says


She buys coke.

I have beer in my fridge,
but I don’t tell her that.

I try to look obedient.

In the time
it takes
for the food to arrive,

Rowan straightened out
the books on my bookshelves.

I’m sprawled
on the cold leather couch

in the living room
I’ve never used.

She sits in the seat
farthest from me,

her phone screen
never going to sleep,

999 dialled in.

‘The bedroom’s more comfortable,’
I tease again.

Stubborn head-shaking.

‘The food’s coming soon.’

’40 minutes,’ I point out.

‘Your room’s messy.’

Innocent blink.
‘I think it’s perfect tonight.’

The tips of her ears
turned red.

Her mind
is dirtier

than I thought it’d be.

‘Not good enough,’
is the retort.

‘You clean lorh,
‘so neat already.’

She really gets up
and picks up my scattered laundry.

‘Watch the door,’
she orders me.

‘Woof,’ I reply.

It’s kind of unusual
for me not to stop her.

I was joking

after all.

Who would be comfortable
letting their girlfriend
go through their stuff?

But there’s something
I want Rowan to find.

Also, free maid service.

‘Need an apron?’
I joke.

‘Take off your clothes,
‘they’ll get dirty.’

She ignores me.


The house

is dead quiet

apart from the faint sounds
of objects
moving around the room,

Rowan occasionally asking,
‘Can I put this in here?’

Without context,

lying on the sofa,
eyes closed,

it’s interesting to listen to.

When I went to Japan
as a kid,

I saw karakuri dolls
roaming a traditional house,

carrying tea cups,
rolling into the room
like a toy car.


reminds me

of that doll


Her expressionless face,
intense coal-black eyes.

She pulls out
a box of condoms
from a drawer.

I watch closely.

She stares at it for a moment,
then casually

dumps it into the trash.

How boring.

In the end,
I get a can of beer

from the fridge.

Offer it to her.

She drags a trash bag
out of my room.

‘Look through later,
‘in case

‘I threw away anything important.’

I don’t own
anything important.

Except my condoms.


The doorbell rings.

She opens the door,
takes the food,

unpacks it

onto the





I hate my house.

Looking at it now,
it’s pathetic.

‘Let’s eat in my room.’

I tell her.

Her eyes dig into my soul.
‘But you have
‘a really nice dining table.’

I laugh.


It only looks nice.
There’s nothing


about it.

Only one person can sit
at this


If there’s more than one,
there’ll be shouting,

a fight.


I take the food from her,
stuff it back.

My room looks the same

even though

Rowan’s messed around with it.

Doesn’t look like
anything’s changed.

I’ll check later 
to see if she’d snuck a Bible
among my books.

Toys and figurines

I stuffed under the bed,
now line freshly-wiped shelves.

My sports equipment
is in one box.

She found my DSLR.

It was Brient’s.

We used it
to take funny pictures
of our parents.

I forgot he left it here.

The papers
that used be scattered


are nowhere to be seen.

There’s space on the desk,
the chair’s not drowning in clothes,
the piano doesn’t look


‘It’s neat,’
is the only dumb thing

I can say.

I just stand staring,

How long has it been
since I cleaned up my room?

Rowan takes the bag
from my numb hand,

sets up our meal on the empty desk.

For some reason,

wells up

in my chest.

A photo of my parents and I
with Brient and his parents

is blue-tacked on the wall.

There are other
obscene photos
of me and my friends,

of me and my girlfriends.

My hand
runs over

the smiling faces
of all the girls

I’ve ever dated.

‘You didn’t throw these away.’

Rowan’s eyes are closed,
hands folded,

I wait

until her coal-black eyes
meet mine.

‘Aren’t they precious?
‘You printed them out.’

Her voice is hushed.

A whisper.

I can hear my own



She bites into a piece of chicken.

‘Hey! Don’t eat without me!’

‘I counted seven,
‘seven girlfriends?’

I glance at her

‘Why did you throw the condoms away then?
‘Expensive leh!’

Her eyes narrow.

‘Don’t change the subject.’

I relent.

‘Not all of them.
‘Some were just friends.’

‘Why would friends
‘take this kind of picture
‘with you?’

I grin at her.
‘Are you jealous?’

The tips of her ears
are red

and I notice

she’s also
trying not to look at the photos.

‘No. I put them up
‘because you’ll remember them
‘even if I don’t.’


‘You’re right,’ I say quietly.

Her eyes burn into mine.

‘Those are the ones you’ve slept with?’


‘I don’t take a picture
‘of everyone I sleep with.’

She lifts her chin.

‘Then remember me.
‘The girl who won’t sleep with you.’

I smile.

We’re sitting on the bed,
pieces of chicken
in plastic-gloved hands.

I lean over
and whisper into her ear,


She brandishes a chicken
at me.

‘999, remember?’


Her cheeks are flushed,
a light in her eyes

I’ve never seen before.

I’m proud of myself.
I put that light there.

I grab her hand,
push it out of my way.

Her breath
smells like chicken.

‘can I kiss you?’

I can hear


of us






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