The apartment they moved into was the perfect size for one person, a bachelor’s pad some would call it. They had viewed other apartments across the city, larger, more rooms, modern, and in some cases even cheaper. They settled on a studio annex, elderly and misshapen. He told himself it was because he wanted a place with character, which he found in the studio’s scratched wood flooring and angled roof. She told herself she wanted somewhere small and cosy, provided here by the many cubby holes, the circular window and warm cream walls. Whether they knew it or not, the main reason that they chose the annex was because ‘he’ and ‘she’ wanted to become ‘them’. To fit in here, two would have to become one. They would have to breathe each other’s sleepy morning air, share each other’s shower steam, and arrange their belongings into one drawer, one cupboard, and one space. As they glanced up from tenancy agreements, in search of hesitation from each other, they felt ready to surrender themselves to this united shape of being.
He built the furniture, she deep cleaned, and after a few days of hard work, they crashed down on the couch, limbs criss-crossing and hair tangled. During the assembly period they had laughed and argued. One day she gave back-seat directions to him as he assembled the television stand. He waved her away and snapped at her. She sulked, briefly, and gave him silence. For all of one hour this lasted. Then the television stand was complete, and he emphasised his dexterity, his manliness and skill in finishing the task. She scoffed and scowled, but couldn’t help eventually smiling. It went like this for some months. He was foolish and forgetful. Dishes went unwashed, crumbs fell between the floorboards, and hair outlined the plughole. She persevered. She worked hard and secretly resented his apathy toward their home. This was until flowers appeared on the table, or a cup of tea appeared before her in bed, or a new rug rested against the boards. Each grievance and challenge was swept away with a decoration or an act of kindness, and soon their home was not bare but cluttered and warm. They spent their nights playing board games, sinking into the grooves on the couch, swapping beers and accidentally falling asleep too early.
The slump came halfway through the year. His constant apathy was taking its toll. Her constant worrying heightened the stress. Soon, silent hours became screaming matches. Frowns and playful scowls gave way to frightful stares and resentful comments. By now he had found work. Each day he returned tired and aggravated, part of himself was left on the doorstep before he entered the house. One particular Sunday marked the third day of awkward conversations and tip toes around the apartment. He spread himself on the couch whilst she sat upright at the table, sipping tea stoically. He was good at getting out of trouble, but the last three days were difficult, until an idea entered his head. He jumped up and grabbed his Polaroid camera from the shelf, then aimed it at his partner. She warned him. She reminded him of how much each picture cost. She moaned and huffed. But ultimately, when she heard the plastic click, she smiled. He knew she was unwilling to take a bad picture. Once the flash had subsided, she frowned. So he pointed the camera straight back at her and clicked. She smiled. He kept doing this, taking nearly ten photographs until she launched out of the chair, arms outstretched, hands tearing towards him. Fits of laughter erupted and echoed through the apartment as they chased, prodded, leaped and wrestled. Screeching and giggling could be heard down the alleyway. Then calm. Nothing but the sound of breath in his ear, of cheeks brushing, of lips touching. She hated, and loved him for this moment. The photos dominated the kitchen pin-board for the next couple of months, a constant reminder of the ‘now’ and the ‘us’ that should take place over the ‘past’ and the ‘him’ or ‘her’. They stayed that way until months later, when drunken tear blotted fingers would tear them down.
The second half of the year was intense and exhausting. Extremities of love and loathing came and went, and not much in between lasted a day. Love on the brink of implosion. She began to see that his apathy had gone, and in its stead came passionate thinking, passionate sex, and passionate bitterness toward his lover and enemy. Each fight brought with it the addicting build of adrenaline before a release of relief. Relief when each side had fired its last shot, and instead struck up peace. The physical liberation of having his arms wrapped around her waist, of having her head resting in the crook of his neck, frizzy hair tickling his nostrils. They fought often, but always knew that it was worth fighting for, and never felt lonely. Each time they fought they felt closer to the end. Each time they made up they felt closer to each other.
Their tenancy was up in a couple of months, and work nor luck could keep paying the landlord for them. They had exhausted their stay, their funds and each other, and as the sad reality loomed over them and closed in like a noose, their togetherness began to strain and fail. Arguments persisted as they had before, still painful and addicting. Peace making had changed however. It came with sensible agreements, rather than wild moments, and was constantly soured by the reality of moving out of the apartment, and away from each other. Then, one Sunday, the relief didn’t come. The tension which had kept the cogs of their affection turning had rusted and cracked. The argument was trivial but fatal, and the next day, the apartment was hers. Her clothes took up half the wardrobe, the other half empty. Her books rested on the shelf, which now looked sparse. Her belongings littered the spare drawer, his trinkets had vanished. She had another month to spend here. It was the perfect amount of space for one person, but that one person resented her isolation. That night she attempted one last decoration: empty bottles and sodden tissues. As she stood over the sink wiping her eyes, wine headed, swaying and trembling, her drunken gaze rested on the photographs. That beautiful, awful moment. She looked around, the Polaroid had gone too. It was silent and dark, no clicking or flashing. No chasing or taunting. No next-day scratches or bruises. Her head clouded and swarmed until violently she clawed at the pin-board, scratching, tearing and ripping like a life-threatened cougar. In shreds on the floor lay several pictures of her, forcefully smiling back at the lens. Sat amongst the ruins of herself she wept. Down came the last evidence of him being here. Down came the last evidence of them being here.