The morning is overcast and dull, makes it easy for me to sleep through my alarm. I wake up to insomniac Ophelia’s cold breath on my cheek. “You’ll be late,” she says. Mike hates it when I’m late. Not that he ever says anything. He just sits there, looking betrayed.
I shuffle to the kitchen in my socks. Pregnant Ophelia is standing over the sink, contemplating. She hands me a cup of tea and points at the tap.
“It’s dripping again,” she says. “You need to call a plumber.”
I nod vaguely and dash to the living room collecting my things, tea still in hand. Suicidal Ophelia is leafing through my art history books. She’s been obsessed with paintings of herself lately. Ophelia with a bouquet of violets (all withered when father died). Ophelia on a yellow field. Ophelia in the river. She holds up a cubist one and shows it to me. “Have you seen this one?” she asks.
I look away. Of course I’ve seen it. I’ve seen all of them too many times.
I finish getting dressed. My tea gets cold. Revolutionary Ophelia is standing by the front door, not speaking to me. She doesn’t approve of my taste in men. Sad sacks and losers, the lot of them. She stares at me in protest as I fumble with my backpack, daring me to engage, but I’m not going to make it easy for her. I put on my headphones and go.
I pass the river every day on my way to the bus stop. All the Ophelias think we should move, but I can’t be bothered to look for another flat. Sometimes, while crossing the footbridge, I pause for a moment and breathe the river in—musty and old and too much like home.
I’m late of course. Mike is already in the café, slouching over his cup of tea, his face pale and forlorn. I walk over to him and plant a kiss on his head. “Your hair smells like rosemary,” I say. For remembrance, I almost add.
“Hey,” he says and smiles. He looks tired.
“Did you sleep at all last night?”
He shrugs. “You know.”
That means no. It also means ask me more and try to get me to see a doctor, but I do neither. I talk about uni, and this great new deli near my flat, and getting a plumber instead.
Before we part, he grabs my waist and holds on to me tight. I close my eyes and for a moment it’s perfect, and my mind slips and I think it’s him. It’s him. I’ve found him.
Then he moves away and the moment’s gone.
“Would you like to go to the theatre tomorrow?” he asks.
I laugh before I can stop myself. The light in his eyes goes out at once, as if I’ve extinguished him. This has happened once before, with another boy. I told him all about the Ophelias and he asked, Which one are you? Oh darling, I said. Oh darling, the cruel one.
Back home, Ophelia-in-the-bathtub is playing with a naked razor while I wash my face. I can’t shake the memory of Mike’s embrace—the weight of it on my shoulders, on my chest, in the spaces between my ribs.
“This one’s going to off himself too,” she says. “I’m calling it.”
“Shut up,” I tell her.
“It’s like you pick them,” she continues. “It’s like you’re still looking for him. You-know-whom.”
“Will you stop?”
She stands up in the bathtub, her hair like water snakes all the way down to her waist.
“Are you going to visit his grave any time soon? You-know-whose?” she asks.
“He doesn’t have one.”
“Are you going to bring him flowers?” she continues. She tilts her head and touches the back of her hand to her forehead in theatrical agony. “Pray you, love, remember,” she singsongs, mocking.
“I fucking hate you,” I whisper through gritted teeth, tears welling up in my eyes. She always gets to me, that one.
She laughs. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you didn’t care,” she says. “What, are you going to cry for him this time? Are you going to say his name this time? Are you? Are you?”
“Shut up!” I scream. “Shut up shut up shut up!”
I flee to the kitchen. Pregnant Ophelia is still standing over the sink. I put my arm around her shoulders and lean my head against hers. The drip from the faucet is now a steady trickle.
She turns and looks at me sadly. “It won’t stop,” she says.
“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”
I open the tap and let the water flow. The smell floods the kitchen, musty and old, like the river.
- All the Ophelias in My Flat - 11th June 2021
The language in this story complements and enriches the conflict between sisters/friend’s/roommates. Creates a roiling atmosphere for their relationship..