Newton’s third law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But this can, of course, result in stillness. A book on a shelf, a menu resting on a table. Downward weight, upward push. Like neither action nor reaction is happening at all.
When I told Will, my boyfriend, about this, he said that underneath the façade of stillness was movement. It was still happening, still mattered. I told him I believed him even though I didn’t. If the outside and the inside don’t match and we can only see the outside, then it doesn’t matter. How could it?
I am sitting at a table in a quiet restaurant, alone. Here is the menu, still on the table, though Will would have you believe there is a whole undercurrent of movement at play. And beyond the menu are shiny aubergines in a blue bowl—part of the vaguely rustic décor—on a little sideboard. They remind me of car grease and my hands clutching plums, grapes, and beetroot from the Saturday market I went to as a child. Slick, wet, purple. Purple is my favourite colour a lot of the time.
On the way to the restaurant, the air rushed past me. I saw the bus, a red swell, and ran towards it. The bus driver’s eyes were larger than dinner plates, and he gaped at me through the windscreen. Although he did not wait for me, I knew, somehow, that he was a kind man. My hat fell away, and my dress was flailing, but he pretended not to see me and drove off into the world without me. I stood on the pavement and watched myself, forlorn, standing behind the bus with my polka-dot dress billowing in the October wind and saw how it looked.
Will went to visit his father in Scotland because his grandfather had died. He did not say when he would be back. I do not care; it is only that I don’t like eating at restaurants alone. Things might be easier if I had learnt how to cook, but I have been inexplicably afraid of toasters for some time. Whenever I am in a kitchen, I am afraid there are toasters in every cupboard, waiting to hurt me.
There is something about Newton and an apple. When I learnt about that something in a high school physics class, I thought, even then, how stupid this is. How stupid all of this is, how silly that we should care.
There was a time when I thought it would be fun to have a boyfriend who loved me. It is not fun after a while because it is like everything else—it becomes a constant. Like when you eat toast for breakfast every day but then your mother says there is no more bread. You start eating porridge, and in the beginning, it is strange, but only because it is different. And then, after some time, it isn’t strange or different. It is just breakfast.
I do not know what Will means when he asks me to marry him. Every time he asks, I tell him I don’t know what he means, and he laughs and says, Maybe next time. He will never leave, so I will never say yes. He has fallen in love with me. I am not the sort of person he should have fallen in love with, but I am also not the sort of person that will tell him to leave.
The lettuce in my salad is so limp I cannot eat it. I wonder if the chef did it on purpose because I am bad at tipping. I come here often because it isn’t far from my house, but I have never had the salad before. I made a mistake this time, but I am not that interested in eating, so none of this matters.
It was December when Will and I first had sex. It was in the back of his car, the rain unforgiving and unrepentant against the body of the Volvo. It was something that started happening, and I did not care either way if it happened or not, so it simply did. There is no more to it than that—the rain was unrelenting and heavy, the heater loud and on full blast. Afterwards, I fell asleep and woke up in bed next to him, his sheets so soft and white and warm that I threw up all of the rain that had collected in my stomach.
When we ran out of bread, my mother told me it was my fault. I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t know how not to believe her. I was so young. There were many nights of purple back then: skies mauve and moonless, hands turned violet with all the things needed to fix a car, lavender eye shadow, dark bruises, chipped nail polish, pen ink. Purple is family to me.
I took a pregnancy test this morning, and it was positive. I care little. It was not always this way, but one day the idea that things mattered simply floated away, the pieces of that argument fell off me like breadcrumbs. I became a diluted iteration of myself for no reason at all, and now I am a hologram. That is all I know.
It is funny and strange how much the human race cares about recording things for the sake of posterity, when, if the world ends, all our records will end with it. Even our children, too, will perish. The thought of that does not make me sad. It only feels inevitable.
The waiter is angry that I do not finish the salad. He says nothing, but I can tell. He asks me if I want dessert, and I say, I will see the menu, please. I do not want dessert, but I will order it anyway because I should try and eat more. I haven’t been eating much lately, and somewhere in the recesses of my brain, lodged in a crevice, is concern for myself. I sigh. It is so very tiring to eat alone.
Homeostasis is the control and regulation of an internal environment. It creates stagnancy—a little bit like Newton’s balanced forces—and I am very good at that. I look at myself, behind a bus that is driving away or curled up in bed or just at my hand, on its own, pouring water, and I feel nothing, the inside of me utterly untouched. There is nothing when I bump into a table or look at Will or remember my mother’s contorted face when she got angry. Nothing when I think about the thing that is apparently inside my stomach or the crushed grapes on the kitchen floor that were an unfortunate casualty of a fight my mother had with my father. Grape innards bled out on light-grey floor tiles as I sat under the dining table drawing a house and a happy family.
If you’re not moving forward, you’re just staying still. Whoever said that was correct.
I pick at the skin around my thumbnail, and it peels off easily like PVA glue. The school I worked at had narrow corridors and also smelled of PVA glue. I did not mind the smell, but I did not like the children. They had so many needs, and I don’t know why they thought anyone cared. They were hungry, tired, bored, sleepy. Once, I told one of them this was life, and then her mother came into the school and spoke with me, at length, about having a more positive attitude. I told her that, considering the acne on her face, she was lucky to have a daughter at all. The headmaster told me not everyone shared my sense of humour. I told him I hadn’t been joking.
My thumb starts to bleed, and I watch it. It is like rain, just a thing that is happening, sometimes against the body of the car. It has absolutely nothing to do with me, not really.
The dessert menu has three options, and I order all of them: chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, and sesame cookies. I eat none of them but look at them on the table for a long time, and they acquiesce, as everything does, to my need to see them as unreal, as transient things from another world.
Are you happy? Will likes to ask me. I never know what to say, so I always ask him instead of answering. He says yes every time, even when I know he isn’t and the fact that he can’t admit to being just as tired as I am makes me sad for him.
A muscle in my calf twitches, and my knee hits the table. I look down. The knee does not look like mine. The forks look at me, but I don’t stop looking at the desserts. They are shiny and make me want to vomit. I cannot help but think of toasters—the fear gathers in my stomach, tiny marbles clinking together.
I wonder if ants can smell humans. I have this thought suddenly, and it seizes me. I have to know immediately. I close my eyes and imagine myself as an ant and think: Yes, I can definitely smell humans. They smell like wet soil and sugar and also rust.
I am not here anymore; I haven’t been for a long time. I know this. Will likes to think he can make me better—thinks he can comb out my limbs as if they are tangled marionette strings. Perhaps it is that feeling that he likes, rather than me. That would make more sense.
Sanity is a construction that drives us all insane as we try so hard, so blindly, to achieve it. It is sort of funny, the concept of sanity and the commitment with which we pursue it.
I first saw Will at a party. He was smoking a cigarette, and the dimmed light seeped into his dimples, filling them completely. I walked towards him slowly and wished I could eat the smoke plumes, wished they would curl around my tongue. He is a good man; it is a shame about me.
I ask for the bill. The waiter takes the untouched desserts away silently. I tell him the ice cream was sublime, smile at him with my teeth. I am joking, I realise and hope he appreciates it. He nods and brings me the bill.
I call a taxi and wait outside the restaurant. My scarf is heavy on my neck, my dress too light. The sky is the colour of grapes, grapes so bulbous they offend me. Grapes that do not yield when pressed. Suddenly I know my stomach will be that way. I do not want to buy bigger clothes—there is perhaps one thing to be said for chastity.
There is a lot of phlegm in the back of my throat, nestled into soft pink flesh like a gelatinous fish; the mucus in my gullet peaks and troughs like a sea. I wonder blithely if I will be sick. I have lived this life for so long, have breathed the air for so long, and it is unchanging, leaves me unmoved and unhurt. It is quite exhausting, this constant living.
Newton’s third law of motion is the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang in another form, I said to Will right before he left for the funeral. He disagreed and told me yin and yang relates to complementary forces rather than opposing ones. No, I replied. Complementary is a type of opposing. It means the forces go against each other in a good way. He said it was okay to disagree. Well, anyway, I said, I don’t think complementary opposition is any good. It forces balance, makes life too long, too easy… nothing spills over.
I wait. People walk by me, chattering inanely. In the Volvo, in December, my neck cracked, and Will did not notice. The car soaked up the sound, and the heater and the rain ate anything that was left. It was like it didn’t happen.
My dress floats in the wind, and the night darkens. I know how this looks, and it is true. I am bereft and unknown, even to myself. At least I can admit it. At least there is that.
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