I knew she was there when I could smell her. It was her cologne, an all-American, small-town, apple-pie type of smell. Nothing like you’d get at cheapperfume.com or in Supersavers. Nothing by Britney or by a Beckham. It reminded me of nights in a rented room that I’d never visited. I couldn’t smell her all the time, just in certain places like my grandmother’s house and in the public bar of the Feathers spit-and-sawdust pub. Her scent was stronger than mine and I’m sure that everyone else could smell her instead of me.
Sometimes she would put her hand out and touch my cheek with her fingers. Perhaps I’d be dropping off to sleep when I’d feel the lightest of stroking on my skin like butterfly kisses. She would be gone when I came fully awake, usually very quickly, but my face would still tingle like tiny electric prickings. Or I might be reaching out for something, anything at all, and she would brush my hand with hers, knocking it against a wall or door or table. I think she liked hurting me.
And when she hurt me, I would hear a small sound like pixie giggles, as if she was enjoying seeing me in pain. It was sometimes a short, stifled laugh and sometimes uncontrollable mirth that sounded more suited to belly-singing opera star. She spoke to me too. The pitch could be light and tinkling or deep and crashing but the pitch didn’t always match the mood and the words. If she told me she loved me, she spoke like Winston Churchill, yet when she chided me and told me how useless I was, her voice sparkled like a fizzer.
It’s hard to say what I mean by I tasted her. She was there when I ate and drank, not always but mostly. She tasted warm and sharp, like suntanned flesh. Or she tasted icy and salty, like roadside slush as the temperature approaches zero. Once she tasted like a baby’s breath. And she tasted me too. I felt her lick my arm and my chest and my neck, tasting the skin and my sweat, testing whether I tasted the same all over.
I almost never saw her. When I wasn’t looking I might catch sight of her out of the corner of my eye, stood just a little way off. She never came near enough for me to see what she looked like, not properly. And today, as I looked in the mirror in my bathroom, I saw her clearly for the first time.
But I didn’t see me.