“Haven’t you had enough cleansing for one day?”
I find you sitting in the empty bathtub, knees pulled up, arms dangling over the sides. Your tie’s tangled around one of the taps; you’ve unbuttoned the top of your shirt and your jacket’s crumpled in the corner by the toilet where you’ve thrown it. You’re staring up at the ceiling mumbling away in Polish but you turn your head and watch me clutch the doorframe and discard my heels.
I’ve caught you at a good time. This is the most lucid you’ll be all night. At some point someone will slip you something to take the edge off, to numb the pain. You’ll know I know but we’ll both pretend I don’t, instead I’ll serve you drinks and watch as you disappear into the bathroom chasing whatever makes you feel better. Until then, you and your mind are still mine.
I shut the door and drown out the sound of Steve Earle singing about losing his heart to a Galway Girl. The murmur of indistinguishable voices drifting up from the pub below us serves as a reminder that we’re never really alone.
“That Priest had it out for me,” you say as I settle on the floor next to the bath. “He purposely splashed Holy Water on me. Nearly took my head off with the thing with the incense crap in it.”
“He wasn’t enacting some kind of intricate revenge plot against you. He was performing a Requiem Mass.”
You squint at me as you sit up from your slouched position and lean over the side of the bath in a bid to get closer. You rest your chin on cold porcelain and I scoot in, leaning my back against the wall.
“I don’t know what you just said,” you say, reaching out and tangling your fingers in the ends of my hair. “At least he didn’t see what we put in the coffin. That would have definitely put us firmly on the naughty list.”
“Santa has a naughty and nice list. Not the Catholic Church,” I point out, “They have Catholic guilt. Why did you slip a hip flask full of Vodka in there?”
You shrug and walk your fingers down my arm and fiddle with the rosary beads I’ve wrapped around my wrist. You stare at them as if you’ve never seen them before. Earlier you said the beads reminded you of sapphires.
“Thought it might make the afterlife slightly better,” you murmur, your attention fixed on my rosary beads.
“And the tin of cigarettes you rolled last night?” I ask with a tilt of my head and a small smile.
You shrug. “Thought she might need them.”
“She didn’t smoke.”
“They might help her if they don’t let her in right away?”
And there it was. The whole point. The thing we’d been dancing around. It was the fear that sat deep within you.
“Let her in where? Heaven? Why wouldn’t they let her in?” I ask hoping we’ll finally have the conversation we’ve been avoiding.
No matter what you said, you believed in the ideals of Heaven and Hell and the place in between. You feared because of what she’d done she’d linger in purgatory.
“Don’t know. But if they don’t, thought she could pay her way in.” You want her to bribe the one guarding heaven.
“With Vodka and cigarettes?” I’m a little sceptical about this plan. “Do you picture Saint Peter being a smoker?”
You tear your gaze away from the beads and watch me with a furrowed brow. “Who’s Saint Peter?”
“The gatekeeper of Heaven,” I tell you slowly, “Didn’t you go to Catholic schools?”
“We call him something different. Got kicked out of them all.”
“Of course you did.” I roll my eyes but squeeze the hand you’ve intertwined with mine. You give me a smile and it’s almost a real one. Maybe we could stay cocooned in our little bathroom world all night. It’s not meant to be. Someone bangs on the door; you drop my hand and lumber out of the tub. “Fuck off,” you say as you pull it open. “We’re having a moment.”
Our Uzbeck roommate glares at you before his gaze slides past you and lands on me in a silent question. I’ve barely given him a nod before you slam the door. You crouch in front of me and try for a smile but it’s off and the moment is gone. You’re already retreating.
“Want to get out of here?”
I’d love to. I want it to be just the two of us sitting on the train station platform or in the backfield with a bottle of your Polish Vodka. I know when you ask you mean it but we wouldn’t get halfway through the pub before someone would be calling you back.
So instead I shake my head and you tilt yours in that way you do.
“Can’t. I’ve got to work. I’ve got to get the food out.”
It’s your turn to roll your eyes. “Sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches. Great. Why is the food at these things always crap?”
“You made the food. It’s comfort food. Could be worse. Could be asparagus rolls.”
“I like asparagus.” You grab my hand and pull me to my feet, pull me into you. I press a kiss to your jaw. You hold the door open for me and follow me out, your hands on my waist as we walk. Your chin lands on my shoulder.
“I’m also on tea duty,” I say. “You can help. If you’re really good you can be in charge of putting the tea bags into the cups.”
“That’s a big responsibility. You sure I can be trusted?”
I smile at you going along with my humour and turn my head to look at you, my cheek brushing yours as I do; “I think you can handle it.”
“What’s with the tea anyway? It’s like they all think it has some kind of magical healing powers. Are you hot? Here have a cup of tea. Cold? Cup of tea. You’re plotting mass murder? Before you do, have a cup of tea.”
“It’s just tea. Something warm to hold onto, something to do with your hands while you stand and listen as everyone tells you how deeply sorry they are.”
You don’t say anything, just brush your lips against my neck and follow me down the stairs. Your hands drop from my waist, fingers dragging across my skin as they go. The dimly lit kitchen represents a crossroads: I’ll go left to make tea and arrange sausage rolls on a plate while you go right ducking your head under the too-low doorframe that leads into the pub.
I hear someone greet you loudly and ask if you want a drink. Through the slowly closing door I catch a glimpse of that someone not so subtly giving you a small bag that fits in your palm. Your eyes meet mine just before the door shuts.