The doorbell will surely buzz any minute. It’s a one-tone, rapid-fire “brriiiiiiiing” that ruptures the silence and always seems to cut right through any mid-sentence thought. I can feel it hovering in the air over me.

It’s been a year.

I look around, imagining the room through foreign eyes, and the swelling anxiety in my stomach spurs me into action. Scrambling to my feet, I hastily smoothen the couch cushions behind me. They’re old and worn, sagging down miserably in the middle, and I swipe haphazardly at the stained fabric. It’s pointless. It’s lipstick, but I feign a smile. I can almost hear the fibres sigh as I beat them into shape.

A glint of silver catches my eye. Running my hand between the cushions, my forefinger lands on something stiff: it’s an old bag of Smiths’ chips. I groan inwardly at myself.

My house used to be comfortably crowded, like a thickly patched quilt. Once, there were stacks of books that formed precarious piles on every surface; paintings hung up on each wall and pots simmering on the stove. The smell of coffee, warm and rich, would trail out of the kitchen each morning and greet me as I lazily unfurled from sleep. Each room was packed, full of people and music and motion.

Somehow, the pleasant clutter turned into disarray.

The benches are sticky; cobwebs cling to the window frames. As I stack the books that have been carelessly strewn around, the dust sticks to my palms, worming its way into the creases. The back of my neck tingles. The whole room seems to crawl. I shudder.

Washing the grime from my hands, I paint grey watercolours in the sink and imagine I’m a doctor preparing for surgery. My fingers are spread out like a patient anaesthetised on an operating table, ready to be stripped and sterilised. I scrub my hands feverishly, watching them turn fleshy-pink-clean.

A loud ring snatches me out of my reverie.

She’s here.

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