Morning’s first light streamed through translucent windows, onto Zephy’s sleeping, laughter-lined face. Her jade-green eyes fluttered open, coming into focus on the naked man lying comatose on the other side of her kingsized, hammock bed. Echoes of the previous night reverberated throughout her groggy head, cognisance drowning her foggy irises.
I’m still alive? Fucking hell!
Despite her continued fatigue, she sat herself up stiffly. The only remaining blanket slid to her waist, exposing pert nipples on creased and sunken breasts. Her lawless, silver hair cascaded down her back into chaotic ringlets. Her freckled face and poised neck were imprinted with pillow marks from the deepest of sleeps.
With a crestfallen frown, Zephy glanced dispiritedly around her vast, open-planned apartment, where vibrant duvets, blankets and pillows were scattered across the floor. Discarded clothes trailed towards her, sitting on the circular swing-bed. But her terminal depression eased as she studied the yet older man beside her, a sated smirk tugging at her swollen lips as her body tingled.
Her muscles ached as, with tired reluctance, she scooched off from the levitating mattress and over to the adjacent armchair. She donned the purple, velvet robe that had been draped over it, concealing her firm but fading, five foot frame of golden-caramel skin.
She noticed the empty jar of homemade lubricant on the bedside table, then the woven wastepaper basket beside her battered feet, revealing a laudable number of used condoms and crumpled tissues. She swept both up and, on light feet, floated across the eclectic central space to the bathroom. She emptied the basket and placed the jar in the sink, before relieving her weak bladder and washing her worn hands.
Zephy then glided across the warm, oak floors to the corner kitchen, where pale grey cabinets softened the flamboyant and divergently-patterned tiles. She jabbed the kettle to life as it sat next to the souvenir magnet-covered fridge and pulled herself up the stairs whilst the water heated.
The wall was lined with art, with press clippings and with hundreds of photos, spanning almost a century. Some photographs were old – black and white, and faded – whilst others, more recent, were vivid and glossy. Nevertheless, all were mounted in multi- coloured, clashing frames, arranged in an arbitrary fashion.
Zephy found herself panting slightly, her venerable heart pounding by the time she had reached the top of the stairs, where the mezzanine overlooked her entire flat below. A rack of muddy boots and a bristling door mat were its only occupants. However, a striking, violet front door beamed out into the space.
She clenched the banister for a few, uneasy moments. Once she had caught her breath and calmed her heart, she unlocked the front door. It swung inwards, revealing the door’s unpainted exterior, where the dark, walnut wood remained bare, with the numbers ‘7~250’ carved into its heart.
Whilst open, the door was identical to the countless other doors that were posted, at equal intervals, along both sides of the endless hallway. All were uniform and monotonous, only punctuated by numbered sequence, except for Zephy’s entrance door, at which multiple newspapers were laid out, ready for collection.
Fanned out on her threshold, each and every front page was emblazoned with the same photo of a comet, with similar headlines of astronomical reference. Zephy grabbed the papers, nudged the door shut and hurled herself back down the stairs to the kitchen, where the kettle was now whistling.
Opposite the dazzling kitchen tiles, aged, oak shelves clothed the wall, upon which were stored innumerable and miscellaneous bottles, jars and vials, each with a handwritten label. Some labels, written in plain English, bore common content: essential oils, organic herbs and bath salts, whilst others were tagged with foreign script: bizarre ingredients – plant and otherwise – and homemade brews and balms, tinctures and tonics.
Open, on the counter below, were books of varied size, thickness and condition. All were handwritten, most tattered with yellowed and fraying pages. However, some shared the same leather binding, the same near-perfect condition, the same right-tilted, cursive script, charming doodles and detailed diagrams.
Zephy plucked a hand-sculpted mug from a cabinet, pinched out a few leaves of sage from a jar and brewed her tea. Whilst bronze essence steadily diffused throughout the water, she snatched a packet of chocolate biscuits out from a floor-to-ceiling junk-food cupboard that was crammed with synthetic goodies and every other imaginable indulgence.
After placing her unorthodox breakfast onto the kitchen island and clambering onto the stool, her entire form suddenly dissolved over the counter into a despondent, Dali-esque puddle. A malicious, relentless grief corrupted every feature of her shattered face, which she now squeezed in an insanely-tense grasp. Distraught with pain, she desperately choked down woeful sobs, before clenching her drowning eyes shut and swallowing down a tremulous gasp of breath.
Almost at the flick of a switch, her body then stiffened. Roboti- cally, her wilted spine straightened, her slumped shoulders uncurled and her pallid face unpinched. When her eyes reopened, she was now chiselled with today’s forced, emotionless expression.
As if her collapse had never occurred, she routinely unfolded the newspapers and tore into the biscuits with fidgety fingers. Clawing for distraction, miserable pupils devoured the celestial articles, her salivating mouth demolishing the chocolate cookies.
A shrill phone screeched on Hattie’s bedside table, stopped, then screeched again. Despite the silken restrain of a sleep mask, she growled awake and snatched the touchscreen up to a pointed ear. “Hmpf.”
“Good morning. This is your six-thirty morning wake up ca–” Hattie seethed and cut off the overly-effervescent voice, carelessly slamming the sleek phone back down. With fists clenched in fury at the disturbance, she fell back into an imperious and procrastinating sprawl in the middle of her plush, king-sized bed.
After attempting and failing to fall back asleep, she ripped off her mask and glowered into space. Her alabaster skin was bright but surgically tightened, eliminating all trace of rumple or wrinkle. Although alone in her bedroom and merely slumbering, her black- brown eyes and thin but bow-shaped lips remained stained with immaculate makeup.
Hattie angrily threw back the wheat, tan and blush-coloured bedding, and slithered down the high mattress. Her well-pedicured feet landed onto bitterly-cold marble, yet she remained unperturbed, instead rather invigorated.
She prowled over the ice floor, across her white Neoclassical boudoir. The room was monochromatic, barren of any personal effect, housing only a bed, a bolstered bench and a bedside table. The walls were bare but embellished with blended, baroque carvings. She entered a similarly albino, ensuite bathroom, tinted only with brass accents. The marble surfaces were again devoid of clutter, everything hidden deep within concealed cabinets.
Hattie stared at herself deprecatingly into the expansive mirror. She blanched, she scowled, she huffed, then looked away, her reflection causing her offence. She slapped the counter impetuously and a cabinet opened below, revealing a cavern of creams, gels, balms, sprays, curlers and straighteners, all organised to perfection. Expeditiously, she culled out fistfuls of cosmetics and began her daily, fifty-minute beauty regime, peeling away layers only to replaster once more.
A tin alarm clock squealed on Ernie’s bedside table, then ceased from senescence, but not before he blinked awake from his light slumber and sat up from the striped bedding, slowly easing each grating joint.
The analogue clock still ticking but sufficiently silent, Ernie shifted his petite physique around and gazed mournfully at the uninhabited space in the bed beside him. His eyes slowly lifted to peer up at the framed photo of a grey-haired woman on the bedside-table, glass now protecting the fragile edges from past pining clutches.
Familiar, sharp stabbing pain pierced his heart and he instantly kneaded his knuckles across his ribs. As his powder-blue eyes flooded with tears, he ripped his gaze away from the photo and frantically scrubbed his hands over the length of his face as if to banish not just his tears but also his continuing grief.
Still sniffling and with oversized pyjamas hanging from his shoulders, he hoisted himself up from his lumpy mattress and slogged across the pine floors of the space that resembled a cell, rather than the home of a long-lived retiree. The monastic room was cramped and could only fit a mismatched, self-assembled bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers, its off-white walls clean of decoration and memory.
Ernie plodded into his basic bathroom, preemptively installed with rails and seats for an older inhabitant. Although he lived alone, he routinely closed the door before using the toilet. Stooped over the too-low sink, he then washed his weathered hands under scalding-hot water in a futile attempt to loosen his throbbing, rheumatic joints.
Disconsolate, he lumbered back to the bedroom, over to the wardrobe and drawers. Half-empty, each held a simple collection of clothes, conforming to a cloud of white, light blue and navy. Without considering harmony or trend, he selected a single outfit and carried it into the bathroom, yet again closing the door behind him.
Although the phone’s baritone alarm boomed on the table beside him, Jules was already awake, staring morosely at the ceiling. Without wavering his glum, ash-grey eyes, he expertly jabbed it to silence as he did every morning.
Although reluctant to face the day and its usual troubles, he heaved his burly body out of the plush bed of Egyptian cotton sheets. Sliding into hand-sewn, suede slippers poised waiting for him, he trudged through his bedroom, across the glacial, marble floor, each also ill-suited and void of character.
Jules braved the continuous white of the bathroom, where counters were buried beneath messy colognes, gels, shaving soaps, brushes and chrome razors. The room-length mirror was still splintered in the corner from the same, violent force that had cracked the sink.
After standing over the toilet bowl for too, too long, he hunched exhaustedly over the sink counter and stared into himself at the mirror. His eyes were sunken and sallow from sleepless nights, his hoary hair was coarse and speedily receding from mounting stress.
Tentatively, he raised a plump finger to the raw line of pink- ish-brown skin that encircled his neck, only just hidden by the pyjamas’ collar. However, his hand flinched away just before reaching it as though scared of the psychological pain his touch was likely to induce.
Shoving off from the counter and from reemerging bitterness, he advanced to the charcoal-painted, walk-in closet. It was dimly lit but lined with an impressive collection of exquisite attire. He huffed churlishly whilst glancing around at the racks upon racks of tailored clothing, all suited for appearance but ignorant of his comfort.
Petulantly, Jules flung his fitted, linen pyjamas from his tall and lately-paunchy build to the carpeted floor. His stomach was round and podgy, protruding like that of a pregnancy. His shoulders were slightly hunched, whilst his fleshy pectorals were saggy and blanketed with white fuzz.
Although judicious, he grudgingly began sorting through the endless closet and selected the day’s outfit.
Suppressing all feeling, an emotionally aloof Zephy folded the newspapers and scrambled down from the tall stool. After setting her empty mug into the stainless-steel sink, she returned the half- eaten biscuit packet to the cupboard.
A flicker of vitality flashed over her as amused eyes scanned the various indentations in the wall behind her swinging bed, still populated by the slumbering man. Light-footed and slightly more lighthearted, she wandered into the adjoining closet.
Purple-mottled wardrobes, drawers and shelves were all illu- minated by fairy lights, draped whimsically throughout the room. Whilst a rainbow of clothes threatened to overflow from burgeoning storage, a kaleidoscope of trainers, hats and exotic headdresses fringed the floor and ceiling in a somewhat neater fashion. The vanity table and antique, vaguely-warped mirror that sat in the corner were swathed in entangled, prismatic jewellery.
Zephy hung up her violet robe on the back of the door and, now naked, withdrew the sundry layers that would constitute her day’s ensemble. She didn’t ponder upon her selection for long, since eclectic yet graceful and timeless style was deeply ingrained in her bones. She lay these clothes to the side for later and pulled out a sports attire.
She tugged the sports bra down her sturdy shoulders to her tight tummy, then shimmied the risqué knickers and lycra leggings up her muscular thighs, over her femininely plump, dimpled bottom. She clipped up her thick and unruly, argent curls into a knot, unveiling her tattoo-painted spine, inked with a concentric ripple of arcane dots.
A smaller version of the same symbol marked the inside of her right wrist. However, this tattoo was dissected by a thin but deep, horizontal line, scarring the symmetry of the design. Her face contorted with unreadable, conflicting emotions, Zephy’s pensive stare moved from her right wrist to her left, where an identical slash marred the bare skin.
Raising her thumb to the tattoo at her wrist, she instinctively shoved her thumb down, deep into the wound. Eyebrows scrunched together and teeth bit into lip as she pulsed with both physical and psychological pain. Only once distracted by the disturbing discolouration of her skin, did she cease to self-harm.
Hastily dispelling all thought and ignoring the rush of endor- phins, she released her aching hands, dropping them to her sides. She walked out of the wardrobe to the open space, where indigenous textiles draped the cluster of vibrant, individually-upholstered sofas and armchairs. In their core was a wooden coffee table, holding a vase of indigo tulips, a psychedelic bong and a joint-snuffed ashtray. The double-height wall opposite the bed was shrouded top-to-bottom with a collection of professional cameras – old and modern – and a vast library of books upon books, journals, photo albums, CDs and vinyls, accessed by a fixed but rolling ladder of equal height.
Zephy stepped into an adjoining sunroom, where full-length, translucent windows surrounded a peaceful veranda. A hand- carved rocking chair and woven hammock were settled in the left corner, whilst in the opposite corner was placed a low glass table, bearing miscellaneous crystals and candles.
With tears yet again fracturing her forced impassivity, she stood with bare feet, spread shoulder-width apart, on the oak floors. She frantically mustered strength, before gulping down an overwrought breath, expelling all affliction. Her supple body then fluidly contorted into the starting position of her daily yoga-tai chi-meditation-type routine called ‘Equillessence’.
Ernie was still stood at his bathroom sink, in front of a cabinet full of daunting dental equipment, to which was fixed a small, swivelling mirror. He began his typical, excessive programme of meticulously brushing, flossing and gargling his pristine teeth, gums and tongue.
His sagging jawline, although speckled with blemishes and liver spots, was now clean-shaven of over-night stubble, his soft and wispy, white hair now also combed flat. His tumbling belly had been pressed into a pale azure shirt and a navy, cotton cardigan. Drab and ill-fitted, dark blue, cotton chinos hung from his flat, pancake arse.
Ernie waddled back into his empty room and made his bed, swiftly taming the thin, cotton duvet and fluffing the single pillow. He folded his plaid pyjamas and neatly placed them on the lumpy mattress edge.
Turning, he then ambled on into his pine kitchen, where counters and cabinets were tucked away in the corner, around a central, folding, melamine table. Well-drilled, he began cooking his usual breakfast of tepid and watery porridge, a slice of somewhat-burnt toast and two fried eggs with broken yolks.
Milky skin now smothered with newly-applied foundation and concealer to hide every tiny freckle and age mark, Hattie exited the ensuite bathroom. Her shoulder-length, chocolate-blonde hair was rigidly set and parted just off-centre. Her dark brown eyes were perfectly framed by curled lashes, smoky eyeshadow and penciled brows. She wore a nude lipstick, pink blush and a subtle hint of rich perfume.
Adorned in fresh silk pyjamas, she pootled back into the bedroom and slipped under her Egyptian cotton sheets, where she sat expectantly like an enthroned queen and checked the time on her phone. 7:29. Seconds later, a doorbell echoed throughout the silent void.
Clean-shaven, with receding hair combed and gelled, Jules walked through the narrow hallway to the front door. He wore a light green shirt layered beneath a brown, tartan waistcoat and a tailored, olive suit. Although all buttons were fastened and his tie knotted tight, the attempt to hide his neck scar was inadequate, half of the encircling line peeking out above the collar line.
The walnut door swung open to a young man in uniform, waiting patiently and politely in the hallway. Wordlessly waved inside, he followed Jules down the claustrophobic corridor, pushing a heavily-laden breakfast trolley.
Once Jules had indicated towards Hattie’s bedroom door on the left, the fledgling staff member knocked so steadily that it seemed practised.
“Enter,” Hattie called out crisply.
The young waiter opened the door, lifted a silver tray from the trolley and carried it to Hattie’s bedside, whilst she ogled him hubristically. Without daring to look up, he placed the tray over her lap and removed the metal lid, unveiling a scalding cup of black Americano and a fresh croissant. He promptly scampered out of the room, quickly closing the door behind him.
Hattie snatched up a remote from her bedside table and an immense TV emerged from the upholstered bench at the bottom of her bed. She clicked through countless channels, before stopping at the news, where a panel of scientists was discussing the approach of ‘Asteria’s Comet’. Whilst watching insipidly, she lifted the coffee to her painted mouth and swallowed it down, unaffected by the scorching liquid.
Meanwhile, Jules directed the young man further down the airless corridor, which eventually opened into a colourless, mini- malist main room. The walls were naked, except for elaborate, camouflaged carvings. A ten-seated, white marble table sat on a platform, overlooking the nether parlour.
The waiter placed a newspaper and breakfast tray onto the table, removing its lid to reveal a double espresso, crispy bacon and golden toast. After a curt dismissal from Jules, he bustled out of the apartment, hauling the empty trolley behind him.
Jules sat down at the monstrously-large table, adorned with brass candle sticks and a gaudy, gargantuan chandelier above. He faced the lounge below, where twin cabriole-camelback sofas, devoid of blankets and cushions, were angled towards a mammoth TV poised on a decorative, non-functional fireplace.
Lonesome, he scanned around at the other nine empty seats and sighed despondently. His doleful face twitched with repressed emotion, then tensed tearfully. His deep wrinkles gathered as he sniffled and glared down at the table, wishing away the pain.
However, realising that he was alone, with none to answer his despairing call, he abruptly banished away all feeling and stiffly opened his paper in resignation.
Ernie carried his simple breakfast into the demure living room, which consisted of a two-person denim sofa, a self-assembled coffee table and a small TV. A few framed photos and diplomas hung askew on the unevenly-painted, seashell walls.
He flopped himself down onto the left side of the settee and flicked on the box television. The screen was blurry and sound fuzzy, yet he ate languidly from his lap whilst watching two middle-aged, breakfast show presenters chat about ‘Asteria’s Comet’.
Cosette’s drooling head slipped from a cushion as he snored, jolting himself awake. He flinched away from the streak of jarringly-bright light that glared through the blackout curtains and rolled over, sinking further into the velvet couch to shield his sunken eyes. He squirmed about petulantly, before sitting up, clutching his gaunt skull at the temples in his spindly, trembling hands.
His espresso-brown skin was dry and lacklustre. He had few wrinkles, yet facial flesh fell heavily from bone instead. His grey afro was about fifteen centimetres tall and stuck out comically at every angle, whilst his white eyebrows were long, wiry and waggishly unruly.
Eyes clamped shut, his red, satin robe slipped down scraggy shoulders as he tumbled off the sofa, stumbling across the dark, bog-oak floors, into the bathroom. His lanky, skeletal frame swayed as he urinated, leaning on the walls for support.
Without washing his hands but gradually opening his bloodshot eyes, he shuffled to the ebony kitchen, softened with accents of pink copper. From empty cupboards, Cosette pulled out sparse ingredients – brandy, anise dulce and a raw, organic egg – and made his regular, morning ‘Sol y Sombra’.
He cradled the hi-ball through the narrow hallway, along walls plastered with monochrome photos, together with newspaper and magazine clippings from the last century. He passed the bar and its velvet stools, where comforting shelves were stocked with oodles of bottles of booze.
Aloft of the bar was the grand staircase, which curved down into Cosette’s main room. The walls were blood-red and the ceiling was obscured by circus-like, crimson drapes that spilled out from the central, antique chandelier. Bedecked with flamboyant outfits, headdresses and accessories, a manifold of mannequins populated the space.
Dilapidated props littered the remaining floor space: a copper gramophone with its chest of vinyl records, a colossal clam shell, a neon theatre sign, various framed promotional posters, an immense feather fan, a spotlight, a mighty crescent moon and a trapeze swing. A discordant grand piano sat in the corner, strangled by savage, overgrown and neglected plants.
Cosette flopped onto the magenta, chesterfield couch and set his breakfast-bullet onto the coffee table, amidst the clutter of cigarette butts, empty spirit bottles, vinyl sleeves and a fractured vase of decaying flowers. He flicked on the TV, entombed amidst the entangled relics, to a crime show rerun.
In a frenzy, he gulped the liquor down in one, only then exhaling the strangled breath he’d been holding in since waking. Gradually, his nausea faded as did the hammering headache, quivering hands and excessive perspiration.
Zephy was sitting cross-legged with hands flat on her sturdy thighs, meditating with eyes shut. Behind her, the naked man sat up in the large, levitating bed and scanned the apartment, until his sight landed on Zephy.
He watched her affectionately whilst scratching his shaven scalp, before slinking out of the sheets. His shoulders were rounded but sturdy, his stomach firm and his solid chest spattered with frizzy curls.
He scoured the oak floors for his garbs amongst the jumble of strewn, discarded clothing. He threw them onto his weathered, olive skin, then walked over to Zephy and bent down. Pressing a giddy, lingering kiss onto her freckled cheek, his bushy, chevron moustache tickled her silky neck.
“See you,” he crooned, full of yearning, pausing expectantly for her response, ever hopeful for more.
“Mmm,” she hummed detachedly, too immersed in meditation to perceive his ardour.
Disappointed, the man’s affable face dropped and moustache twitched, but even still, he observed her with only mixed fondness and sadness, no malice nor grudge maligned. Preserving his dignity, he spun around and laboriously scaled the stairs to the mezzanined front door, closing it behind him, fighting temptation to look back one last time.
The coffee cup drained but the croissant left untouched, Hattie removed the breakfast tray from her lap, placing it onto the space of bed beside her. She turned off the TV and slipped out of the sheets, into her vast walk-in closet.
The room was clinically ice-white with blinding lights which scrutinised every nook and cranny. It was precisely organised, yet replete with designer clothes, shoes, sunglasses, hats, jewellery and bags, all confined to a nude or monochrome spectrum.
She stepped up to the enormous mirror and examined her reflection once more, whilst slinking out of her silk pyjamas, which were left to fall onto the carpet. Her five foot nine figure was naturally curvaceous but artificially lifted. Her breasts were heavy yet miraculously buoyant, her hips broad, her bottom plump and her stomach soft.
Although her ever-critical mind remained unsatisfied, Hattie was confident in her enduring shape and shamelessly posed for herself. But once her eyes reached her face, she startled and pivoted away from the reflection to regain composure.
In need of a distraction from the atrocity that was her maturing face, Hattie immersed herself into the vaults of clothing. She began selecting her outfit, removing items from their hangers and position, dropping them slovenly to the rug once rejected.
Flushed, but supremely calm, Zephy stood up from the sunroom’s floor and floated to the bathroom. The shower walls were covered with iridescent, pearl tiles that shimmered playfully in the light into a kaleidoscope of colours.
She stripped the slightly-damp lycra from her clammy skin and glided into cascading, ice-cold water. For a carefree moment, she relished the revitalisation. However, her emotional guard having been lulled by the relaxing meditation, despair burst from her core, shattering her apparent strength once more.
She collapsed abruptly against the chilly wall, powerlessly sliding down to her knees. The tears that had been mounting all morning finally poured out of her eyes in a great flood, down the face that had now crumbled again into anguish.
Although barely able to see anything but a blur, she gaped down at her clenched fists and the scars that mutilated her inner wrists. She turbulently clutched them to her heart, before fevered fingers slipped up to her skull and tugged frantically at the roots of silver hair, now soaked by the same water that drowned the sound of her unhinged sobbing.
Cosette surfed through TV channels torpidly, past multiple programmes reporting an approaching comet. He wasn’t actually watching, but fidgeted with the remote as he drifted in and out of a vegetive state, whilst scratching subconsciously at the insides of his forearms.
Small, purple-grey punctures dotted his anaemic skin, similarly disfigured by swollen veins. His long, grubby nails were not gentle in itching but rather bruising, tearing at raw sores. He didn’t so much as flinch, his arms likely desensitised.
His inner alarm pulsed in his malnourished ribcage and he peeked at the humongous clock on the wall. He startled at the time, knocking over his mug, causing the few remaining drops of brandy to spill onto the messy table.
“Shit,” he wheezed hoarsely.
Not bothering to wipe up, he stumbled to the racks and racks of intricate, vintage clothing that stood behind him. Speedily, he peeled multiple layers of garments off from hangers and lurched back into the bathroom.
Hattie strutted out from the closet, clutching a crocodile skin handbag in her right hand and feline sunglasses in her left. She was dressed in a black, tweed pencil skirt, ending just below her bony knees, an ivory, silk shirt and a matching, tweed blazer. She wore three-inch black, patent leather heels, a lustrous, pearl necklace and a stupendously-conspicuous diamond on her right hand’s ring finger.
Just before exiting the bedroom, she halted abruptly. Her breathing was shallow, her heart racing and palms sweating; she nervously licked her lips and scratched at her throat.
After a few fidgety moments, she straightened her shoulders, inhaled a deep breath and hid her fraught eyes behind shaded lenses. She then paraded out of the doorway, down the confined corridor and into the main room.
His breakfast plate clean, Jules was sat at the gargantuan table, reading a newspaper article about ‘Asteria’s Comet’. Welcoming the music of her click-clacking stilettos, optimism surged into his dreary eyes and a merry smile emanated from his grooved face. He twisted in his chair and goggled up at Hattie adoringly. “Morning. You look stunning.”
She customarily ignored him and continued past him, through to the kitchen.
The daily, but no less excruciating, splintering of Jules’ heart was evident, causing him to helplessly lurch forward as though his core had been sliced in half. His face crumpled inconsolably and heavy tears slipped down his cheeks, onto the newspaper below. Why do I do this to myself?
Ashamed by his explosive outburst of emotion, he snorted and raised a napkin to his bloodshot eyes, dabbing them hysterically. Alone in the kitchen, a tense Hattie pulled a chilled bottle of vodka from the fully-stocked fridge and, trembling, prised a prescription pill bottle out from her bag. She shook out four tablets, hurled them to the back of her throat and washed them down with the smooth liquor. She was instantly pacified and finally breathed.
Zephy eased herself out from the now-steaming shower, sinking into a soft, oversized bath towel. She brushed her slightly crooked, stain-free teeth, shook her wet hair and hung the towel up on the door.
Any and all visible trace of the harrowing attack had now vanished, hidden, locked tightly inside her. She had so scrupulously mastered how to mask her torture, that only remarkable observance could detect her perpetual inner turmoil.
Forcing onto herself a carefree or at the very least mentally-stable expression, she skated naked across the apartment and into the closet, where she swiftly dressed into the outfit previously laid out.
Hattie stomped back into the main room, where, with entrenched etiquette, Jules chivalrously stood up from the table. He contem- plated her ambivalently, his heart, which loved and praised her, clashing with his head, which loathed and slandered her.
Although it was he that had been loitering about for her to be ready, she spat, “Hurry up. You’re going to make me late.”
She trotted off to the front door, where expectantly she waited for Jules to open it for her. They stepped into the hallway and, whilst he locked the door marked ‘12~739’, she strutted off ahead without him, knowing he would follow.
Ernie turned off the TV and ambled into the kitchen, where he washed his breakfast dishes. Once clean, he stored away the crockery and peeked at his innocuous wristwatch. 8:24.
Ambling into the corridor, he struggled to contort his rheumatic joints into his navy blouson jacket, then plucked up his keys and exited the flat, locking the front door numbered ‘9~168’ behind him.
Zephy strolled over to her bedside, wearing a floaty, white blouse with baggy sleeves; it was slightly see-through and the buttons were undone to below her sternum, revealing her vivid, violet bra and the flesh of her cleavage. The shirt was tucked into lavender, corduroy trousers that ended just above well-worn, leather hiking boots.
Her waist-length hair was twirled into a high, messy bun, secured by a silk scarf, coils tumbling down to frame her bare, sun-kissed face. Her fingers were adorned with multiple, offbeat rings as were her wrists, scars hidden beneath a myriad of disparate bracelets.
From her bedside table, Zephy picked up a lustrous, black pock- et-watch and flipped it over. Engraved on the back was the exact same symbol as that of her tattoos, with ‘FENTON-FLINT’ written above. Her thumb caressed the inscription nostalgically, before attaching the chain to her belt loop and slipping it into her hip pocket.
She threw on a grey trenchcoat, stitched with purple thread, that reached knee-height and tapered in at the waist. Grabbing a battered, leather rucksack, harlequin sunglasses and patterned keys, she climbed the tiresome stairs, opened the dazzling door and stepped out into the hallway, locking apartment ‘7~250’ behind her.
Cosette stumbled out of the bathroom as if stepping out of the 1920s. His ashen afro was parted to the side and slicked down, small waves defying the gel. His sunken eye sockets were dusted with smoky, black shadow, making his eyes coyly downturned and toffee irises pop. His lips were stained with oxblood lipstick and narrowed into a permanent pucker of an exaggerated cupid’s bow.
He wore a raspberry, silk dress with a drop waist that fell to mid-calf. It was beaded with a subtle, floral pattern and hung from spaghetti straps, his anorexic chest, collarbone and ribs strikingly visible with the plunging V-neck. His lanky, hairy legs were swathed in opaque tights and black Victorian leather, laced boots with a spool heel.
Cosette then threw on a burgundy, velvet coat that fell just above his hemline and hid his disfigured forearms, the cuffs and collar of maroon faux-fur that also lined the inside.
With a phlegmy cough, he scuttled up the carpeted stairs and out into the hallway, slamming shut the unlocked door numbered ‘9~942’.