It started with him taking forever in the bathroom—thirty-minute showers, an hour in the tub, a shower in the morning and every evening. On weekends, he started having a bath at midday as well. I assumed the obvious thing, in terms of what he was probably up to. But then I added it up one Saturday night, and he’d spent two and a half hours in the bathroom that day—so that’s when I finally say something. I talk about damp and black mould. I say about the water bill, I ask him if he’s going to make up the difference when we get stung for it this quarter. But Stu’s not bothered. He just sits there on the other side of the kitchen table and sort of shrugs with that stupid grin on his face. He says it isn’t an issue, then goes to the back door to smoke a spliff. When he lights up, the breeze blows the smoke back into the kitchen. It gives me a headache.
Sitting at the table, watching him, I say, “I’m not cool with you wanking in the shower, if that’s what you’re doing. Or in the bath.”
And Stu, he laughs and says, “Relax, Lisa. I’m not doing that.”
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m just . . . ” but he trails off.
For a moment I look at him, there in the doorway with his back to me, the purple evening sky beyond him. I look and I wonder how we ended up just being housemates, how nothing ever happened between us after that one drunken kiss at uni, how five years later we’re locked in friendship instead, perpetual housemates.
“I just like a long soak,” Stu says finally.
He goes out with his mates a few nights later, and at 3am I wake up to noises downstairs. Banging around, cupboards opening, closing, the kettle coming to the boil. I lie in bed, listening in the dark, deliberating whether to go down there. One time, he put cereal in the oven and nearly burned the house down.
I get up, grope around in the gloom for my dressing gown, and go downstairs.
I find Stu in the kitchen. He’s standing in front of the kettle, staring intently as it rumbles towards boiling.
“Watching won’t make it go any faster,” I tell him.
Slowly, he turns his head towards me. Slowly, his mouth stretches into a grin.
“Good night?” I ask, smiling, unable to help myself.
He nods in a way that demonstrates his current lack of fine motor skills. “Yeah,” he says.
“You’re very drunk.”
“I’m not too bad,” he replies, returning his attention to the kettle just as it comes to the boil.
He reaches for it, moving like he’s underwater. He grasps the handle of the kettle and pulls it up from the countertop. Then he shuffles his feet, rotating on the spot until he’s looking at me again. He stares, glassy-eyed, grinning lopsidedly. He’s on something. Not just alcohol, not just weed. Pills, maybe.
He stands in the middle of the kitchen, holding the kettle, staring at me.
“You okay?” I ask.
A slow nod.
“Maybe put the kettle down,” I say. “You just boiled it.”
Giggling, going hurr-hurr-hurr, he raises it up instead, dangles it over his head. His grip is loose, and the kettle sloshes and bows and dips in the air.
“Stop it,” I say. “You’re going to scald yourself.”
Stu pauses, and for a moment it’s like he’s going to tip the kettle and pour the boiling water over himself. The moment lingers, and I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking about—it’s in his eyes, this awful idea, and it’s like he knows I’m imagining it, too. That’s how it feels, anyway. But then, huffing dramatically, like a kid who’s been told he can’t do something, he lowers the kettle. As he places it on the worktop, the tension in my stomach dissipates.
“Go to bed,” I tell him. “I’ll bring up some water.”
He blinks at me.
“Stu,” I say, more firmly. “Go to bed. I’ll bring you some water.”
That broad smile again. Then he lurches towards me. I make as if to catch him, but he stumbles past and down the hallway towards the stairs.
The sound of him going