She missed his presence every day. The flat was empty and cold; it stank of Supernoodles and lentil soup because she had never learned to cook. She kept forgetting to buy milk and biscuits and she never remembered to set her alarm. She had tried – but it was useless. The shop was always shut by the time she got there and she was still in the habit of waking up too late, cramming toast into her mouth as she frantically tried to organise herself.
She missed the days of having milky cereal every morning. She missed waking up to the reassuring splatter of the shower; she missed coming home from work and being greeted with enticing aromas and meals that didn’t arrive crunchy in a plastic packet. She felt alone. She was alone – singing to herself as she tackled the clinging stains on the bowls and plates and cutlery that littered her kitchen; commenting aloud on the ludicrous plot twists in her favourite TV shows, receiving no sarcastic criticism of how noisily she chewed her popcorn. It didn’t dispel the loneliness, these feeble attempts. It didn’t make her want to stifle the tears that bubbled up when she noticed the half-filled bookcases, sterile and plain. And the drawers, once so crammed with intermingling socks and underwear. There was a pale gap on the wall where his poster of The Godfather had hung, for four years, and the clutter on her side of their shared desk was no longer restrained, no longer subdued by his perpetual efforts to rein in her messiness.
It was liberating in a way, she supposed. The intensity was gone and now she could live normally and impulsively; unhampered. She let her shoes clog up the hall and she stayed out too late, drinking tequila and pitchers in some student bar, dismissive of her 9am start the next morning. She sobbed unashamedly at tragically romantic films, unimpeded by his disparaging looks, and she blasted rap music when she brushed her hair in the morning. She didn’t have to pretend to appreciate gloomy classical symphonies or violent gangster films where everyone ended up bloody and dead. It was exhilarating – like moving away from your parents for the first time, like being a selfish teenager all over again. She had her friends round, for gin and salacious gossip, and it was miraculous, really, not having to usher them out at precisely eleven or to contend with interminable moaning about how he had had to watch the football on his erratic iPad. Everyone had commented: she looked so happy, she looked like she was having the time of her life, she was so fun again. No more half-joking enquiries about when they were going to hurry up and get engaged (it had been five years, didn’t she know?), no more infuriating jibes about how they were going to be the first to have lots of bouncing babies.
“I’m not sure I want children,” she had said repeatedly; endlessly, it seemed. Invariably greeted with smugness – us mummies know best. They had talked about it, a lot. About marriage too. About changing her name and who would be the primary caretaker of the tiny little thing that had begun to chip away at their relationship. He grew keener as time went on; she became less certain. They went away to Paris for their six years’ anniversary and walked beneath the Eiffel Tower and she had cried on the balcony, late at night, when he was sleeping. She had begun to miss him even then.