Toothpaste

There’s that weird pink one for smokers that just about blows my tongue off, it’s so strong. And the striped stuff. I never quite got how they make the stripes. Perhaps I’ll slit a tube open with a Stanley knife and find out.

It’s an odd thing, waking with mouth tasting so stale, and the first urge is to get up and brush teeth rather than risk breathing on anyone. And if the window’s been shut, the whole bedroom stuffy with our breath. Shouldn’t it be all sweet and lovely? Or are these toxins, derived from unnatural eating and tainted food?

Mind you, I bet raw-meat-eating cavemen had pretty stinky breath in the morning, too.

The bristles become splayed and curved over time, and I should institute a three-monthly replacement scheme, but somehow I don’t. When I finally get around to it, the new one’s so much stiffer that my gums hurt, and maybe bleed.

Yet, despite all efforts (well – except flossing – always seems pointless and ineffective and cumbersome) the tartar builds up on my incisors, and at the six-monthly check has to be buzzed off with the ultrasound buzzer.

“If you need me to stop, just raise your hand.”

I moan occasionally, and twist on the couch, but as a point of pride, try so hard not to interrupt the torture. I will not confess.

Finally released, I’m directed to the white plastic cup of pink liquid that sits in the swirly sink. I gargle, spit blood, and pat my face clean with a paper tissue.

Lay-by

I’m awake – or am I? My ears are buzzing, vibrating. It’s like some ghost has grabbed my head and delivers a flow of uncanny energy to my skull.

The desert is dark and statuesque through the windscreen and cold-misted panes.

Suddenly, I’m somersaulting into the air, through the gold roof. I’m spinning. The ears buzz, buzz. Then, whoosh, like retracting tape measure, I’m sucked back in, still shaking, back in my sleeping bag on the down-folded rear seats.

God, I must be tired.

I clunk open the door, swivel into my trousers, and pull on shoes. The road is silent. My pee hisses onto the sparse vegetation of the verge, arced stream briefly refracting the light of stars.

What is it – maybe 2am? Breakfast time. Granola – same as dinner. I shake out a big handful and let it filter out between forefinger and thumb into my upturned mouth. Brushing the crumbs off on my thigh, I settle into the driving seat, and turn the ignition. Engine softly wakes, and headlights illuminate the upcoming stretch of highway.

Virus

The shapes on the textbook pages look alien, technological – as if they’re custom-designed docking stations intended to board my human cells. Spiky and staccato. The smell of freshly printed knowledge sheens from the paper, engendering a fog of half-formed understanding.

I can’t feel each individual cell fighting back – instead, a generalised malaise. My head aches in a non-specific way, and the throat begins to feel raw and dry. After a few days, my body spasms painfully with gargling, chesty coughs. The clear phlegm is essentially tasteless as unpleasantly spat out into the toilet bowl.

Now is the time to retreat into mounded duvets and escapist fantasy tales – to accept depression and feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm. Perhaps I can sweat it out in a few days of total rest.

I spend a whole day watching the contorted, popularised fantasies of Once Upon a Time.

Red fox

She’s lying with her head on my knees, saying nothing and yet fully present. The warmth of her neck flows through fabric onto my skin. In this small booth out on the grass lawn, I vaguely expect customers – children seeking sugary treats – but in the dewy morning hours it’s quiet for now.

It’s like one of those moments of being physically trapped by a sleeping beloved. I can’t move without disturbing her, and I wouldn’t wish to – I’ll happily surrender. I tentatively stroke the red fur – half-expecting her to rouse up and realise she’s a wild thing in rare contact with a human – but she’s not going anywhere. Her coat is silky smooth, smelling faintly of wood smoke and animal sweat.

Two children are coming now, and yet she still doesn’t leave. A message from Alice that she’s seen a black rat in the area, and recalling once being bitten. She shrugged it off with a mega dose of antibiotics, unconcerned.