Startlingly, Back At The Start

— Sionnain Buckley

Fourteen years after leaving the house I grew up in, I bring my partner home with me. No one is there, and we step through the back door into the kitchen quietly, as if we are breaking in, as if we have no right. I’ve promised them a tour, but instead I turn left into the half-bathroom, and that is as far as we get. When they follow me in and close the door behind us, the tongue slips into its hole with a click that makes me seven again. They are five for a moment, all blonde and tiptoes, a child I cannot recognize. Then they turn to face me in the small room and, like that, we are ourselves again. The mirror is a circle and the sink is a circle and the metal loop that holds the toilet paper is a circle. I point to the corner, where the worn tile meets the walls, gathers dust. An imaginary friend lived there, I say. A tiny mouse who kept me company while I peed, told me extravagant stories of his rodent life behind the walls. I envied him, I whisper. My partner makes to climb up on the closed lid of the toilet, and I raise my hand to brace theirs. They wobble then become still, and even once they’ve found their balance, they don’t let go. Surrounding us on four close walls are sponge-painted birds. Blue and green against a white sky. I did these with my dad, I tell them. I stood on the toilet just like you are now, and dad had a stepladder, and we pressed all these birds into the walls. I did the green ones. We face the mirror together, and they place their chin on the top of my head, so we are two stacked heads smiling. I tell them to be careful. I tell them I have never seen them so tall.

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