Illustration by Matt Weismantel
The Last Time | Mandy Bartlett
It’s been a year. An entire year. Three hundred and sixty-five days. But still feels like yesterday. I guess time has a way of skipping along without anyone realising what’s happening. At least that’s how it seems to me. One big blur. The whole thing feels like it happened to someone else. Not to me. Not to us. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror I stare at the person in front of me. I don’t recognise the dark circles under her eyes. Or those hollow cheekbones. Or her hair. It’s all stringy and dry from peroxide. Nothing like my strawberry blonde curls. She mimics my movement as I turn my head to the side. Twin scars on our left temple, just below the hairline. The only thing we have in common. I run my fingers across the bumpy surface. She does the same. My eyes lock on her pinpoint pupils. Tears spill over her heavy black lashes. I feel the wet warmth on my own cheek. I think about the last time I spoke to Nate.
This is it Lou, no more after this, I swear, he promises. We’re sitting in the back seat of his Toyota. The Woolies car park is empty except for the dark grey hatchback. Hiding between shadows and a decaying eucalypt. Just Nate and me. The windows glow orange around us. Nate holds a shaky flame beneath the spoon. It’s from my kitchen. The spoon is part of the set Mum gave me when I moved out. Probably not what Mum had in mind. I put my hand around his wrist, steadying the flame. The same way he steadies me when we’re together. We sit in silence. Nate is mesmerised by the tiny crystals collapsing into a puddle of euphoria in the cradle of stainless steel. I’m mesmerised too. By Nate. By the way he’s looking at the spoon. The way I need him to look at me. I hate being here. In the dark. In the nothingness of this in-between life. Nate hates flying solo so I came along for the ride, and for the way he wants me after lift-off.
I face the empty carpark as Nate pierces a vein in my neck, sending me on my way. I don’t want to but I can’t say no to this. There’s just something about him penetrating my body that way. It makes me shake deep inside. More intimate than sex. A few minutes pass and I feel like shit. The mix must be cut with something else. Nate drops out. Leaving me in the shadows of the car park. I sit on the gutter beside a pile of my vomit and wait for him to come around. I watch the shallow rise and fall of his chest. I think about the last time we fucked.
He drops out pretty quickly. I’ll make it up to you tomorrow Lou, he says. Another promise. But tomorrow never comes; neither do I. When he’s done, he rolls onto his back and lights a joint. White smoke slithers from his lips. You know I hate the smell of that shit, I say. You promised you wouldn’t do it around me anymore. Nate takes another long drag. I watch the thin orange line disintegrate the paper. My place, my rules, he says, blowing the lungful of smoke into my face.
Arsehole. I wrap the doona around my body and storm out to the lounge. I should drive home. Tell him to fuck off. Find somewhere else to shoot up. But I don’t want to and he knows I can’t. I curl up on the couch and listen to Nate light up again in the bedroom. The sound of his deep, rhythmic inhalations reverberate through my body. We’re connected. I breathe in time with him. I think about the last time we were friends.
This is the best night ever! Nate raves. We cram our group into a maxi-taxi outside Wet Willy’s nightclub. We’ve just finished Uni and are celebrating our fancy new degrees. The pieces of paper that will change our lives. In the taxi I’m jammed between Nate and the door. I feel his body push against mine every time we turn a corner. I fucken want you, Lou, he breathes into my ear at a tight bend. I want him too, and he knows it.
Back at Nate’s place someone brings out a kit and offers us all a taste. It’ll be fun, Nate says, we can blow off some steam. He picks up a needle. I watch him press it against his arm. Nate watches me as he injects. His eyes are focused only on me. Nothing else exists right now. He sees me the way I see him. Finally. He picks up a clean syringe. I don’t want to but I can’t say no. I hold out my arm to him.
I wake up on the floor in Nate’s lounge. I’m tangled between his body and a heavy doona. The taste of his skin on my lips. My throat is dry, my body aches and my head is spinning. I need water. I need to throw up. I peel myself away from Nate and bolt to the toilet. Bloodshot eyes. Pale skin. The taste of bile. I can’t let him see me like this. I wash heavy smudges of mascara off my eyes. I find most of my clothes before he wakes up. His crystal blue gaze locks on me. I can’t breathe. My cheeks burn as I flash back to his deep, rhythmic movements inside me last night. I remember too, he says. He pulls back the doona. I slide in beside him. I let him undress me. We should do that again next weekend Lou, he says. His lips trace the curve of my chin. Maybe, I say. But I don’t want to. It was incredible, he says. I’ve never felt so alive! His voice trails off as his head disappears beneath the doona. Yes, I say. Next weekend.
And then time skips.
The hospital room isn’t cold, but I can’t stop trembling. Are you ready? the doctor asks. I’m not, but they pull back the sheet anyway. The doctor waits then says, Is that him? At first, I’m not sure. His skin is grey. Heavy circles have settled around his eyes. Greasy dark hair is matted against his forehead. Deep cracks have eroded his lips. Nate doesn’t look like this. They pull the sheet down further. I see the hexagon tattoo on his chest. The one he got on his birthday last year. My legs wobble. Yes, I say, that’s him. I stare into the hollow opening of Nate’s mouth. I only saw him two days ago. He promised it was the last time. This isn’t happening, I say. The doctor tells me it’s time to go. I don’t want to. The nurse pulls the sheet over Nate again. I reach out to uncover him. I can’t walk away. I touch his arm. His skin is cold, dry, dead.
I wake up hidden beneath my own white sheet. I try to sit up, but the room won’t stop spinning. I need water. I need to throw up. There’s a bandage on my head. You cracked it on the table on the way down, the nurse tells me. She checks my dressing. We’ve called your Mum, she says, you’ll be able to go home soon. I don’t want to. I think about Nate’s body on the table. I need to stay here with him, I say, he doesn’t like to be alone. I pull back the sheet. The nurse hushes me and strokes my hand. She presses a needle into my arm, sending me on my way.
They told me time would heal. It’s been a year. I’m still waiting. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror I stare at the person in front of me. Her reflection shows every surface Nate’s hands touched. Every place his lips kissed. And every moment of weakness he marked on her skin. Another thing we have in common. She mimics my movement as I close my eyes. I can’t let go, I say, no matter how hard I try. I think of Nate. We’ll do it together, he’d say. I don’t want to, but he knows I can’t walk away. I pick up the needle and press it into my arm. Tears spill over my heavy black lashes. Nothing exists right now, not even me. I drop out quickly. I think about the next time I’ll be with Nate.
Mandy Bartlett is a Southern Cross University student undertaking her final units in the Associate Degree in Creative Writing. Mandy has had pieces published in Northerly and Coastlines.