I don’t acknowledge it for weeks and carry on regardless. Ignore the questioning glances and the eyebrows raised in concern. Things are muted, but it’s just insomnia. Same old, same old, but it’ll fade in time. Nothing to do but let it pass. After all, it’s not like I’m alone… until I am.
It starts on the Tube, sitting between one faceless passenger and another. Standing above me with his head cocked, he gives a small grin which I return before coughing into my fist to cover it, a long standing practice.
He’s wearing a red and orange striped suit today, the loud clash of colours unforgiving in my peripheral. I can’t help but wonder where he gets the ideas for these deranged outfits from. It’s not like I’ve ever been a follower of fashion, though he wouldn’t look amiss inside the pages of a magazine. An image of him flickers for a moment, ridiculous pinstripes transformed into something more dark and fitting. He scoffs and I dismiss the notion, blushing a little.
When we were children he would often copy me, his outward appearance a mirror of my own, until my ten year old self pointed out (quite tactlessly, truth be told) that boys shouldn’t wear skirts.
He hadn’t spoken to me for months, but his wardrobe choices had changed for the better, at least.
I’m two stops from home when a woman and her daughter get on, their hands joined and swaying slightly as those disembarking dutifully mind the gap. I watch the girl cast curious blue eyes over the rest of us and struggle not to stick my tongue out at her when her gaze falls on me.
“And how old are you?” He asks with a laugh, leaning against an older gentleman as I sigh and turn away.
The lights flicker as the train rounds a corner into our station and I stand and gather my things. He’s already skipped out and onto the platform when I hear it.
“Mummy, did you see that man? His clothes were so funny!”
I turn to him in disbelief as the doors slide closed behind me and someone bumps my shoulder in their hurry to get in front of us. He shrugs and waves me off, but I stand and watch the train disappear and feel the warm air that lingers behind it. “You’re going to get trampled.” He singsongs eventually.
He’s not wrong, the platform is full to bursting, people charging ahead to get to the escalators and exit far above us. We follow suit, but I can’t help but watch him beside me, and the extra space people seem to be leaving him.
You’re not real!
I am too!
I stop at a newsagents on the corner behind the station and head in, grabbing a bottle of cheap pinot and needlessly flirting with the small man behind the till. He doesn’t comment, but his eyes narrow.
I’ve paid and been handed the receipt when, “Anything for you sir?”
There was no one else in the shop when I came in, but I turn anyway, expecting to see someone tutting behind me. There’s no one there.
“Ah, I thought…” I leave the newsagent to stand and blink at the now empty space, and clutch at the wine tightly as I leave.
We walk the rest of the way home in silence. I can see him look at me, over and over, short glances now and again as we walk in step. He’s just a fraction ahead of me, taller and leaner and fitter. I don’t know what to say, I’m worried what will happen if I do.
It’s dark behind the curtains in my bedroom when he tells me I shouldn’t drink the whole bottle in one go, but I ignore him.
The next day dawns bright and sunny, but the London air is cool. He’s nowhere to be seen as I step into the bathroom to wash away the hangover. I’m almost finished, showered and wrapped in towels when I move to brush my teeth.
At first I think it must just be the mist in the room and that I should open the window, because the condensation on the mirror in front of me is so thick that I can’t see anything. But before I’ve even finished wiping a hand over the surface of it my breath is caught in my throat. I blink, I can feel my self blink and tremble and bite the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out, but I can’t see any of it.
I don’t have a reflection.
What’s it to you anyway, I don’t care!
Then stop following me then!
I get dressed, but I don’t know why. I even blow dry my hair.
He’s waiting for me in the living room.
“If I said I was sorry, would you believe me?” He asks. He’s combed his hair back, put on jeans and a dark green shirt. I reach out to mess him up, make him less respectable looking, but he moves back just enough that I stop short.
“Sort of. I been feeling… stronger, for a while now. A little less like air and a little more like space. It’s hard to explain.”
“What about me?” I think about crying. I want to, but nothing happens.
There’s a knock on the door. Probably our elderly neighbour wanting help with something. Sweet old thing, lost her husband last year. She’s worried they’re going to make her move into a home.
He moves to answer, doesn’t look at me until his fingers grasp the handle. “I think it’s just my turn.”
Mrs Jessop is more than happy to have a handsome young man around the place.