In February a housesitting opportunity comes to us and Phoenix and I pack our bags to stay down the road for ten days.
It’s a grandmother’s house, with pictures of children and their art scattered throughout the high-ceilinged rooms. I usually love house sitting, but something feels off here. There is an outdoor cat that we let in for thick and aggressive strokes. He’s handsome and male and cautious, turning toward every noise with flexed legs, crouching close toward the floor.
Phoenix and I are still not used to one another, or to spending so much time with another person in our personal space. Perhaps the “offness” is our own inability to reconcile these facts. Relationship forces me to confront elements of myself.
I want both more space and more closeness. I want him to absently reach for me when we walk past one another, the separate aspects of our days intermingling through a random intersection of the house. I want to know in every moment that he cares for me, that he read my subtle features and pledges to offer me comfort or hope or a wink or anything. My insecurity and neediness confound me.
I tell him Valentine’s Day is his responsibility this year and to come up with something for us. Our inspiration is the bottle of prosecco and blanket I brought to the beach two years ago, delineating our regular afternoon routine of a water bottle and a park bench from something special and out of the ordinary.
The 14th falls on the first day of our housesit. He follows precedent and packs a light picnic before we head to the beach. Only, we can’t decide which beach to go to and end up going to our regular one, where all our friends are.
Suddenly I feel silly for having changed into a cotton dress and put on a hint of mascara for this regular event in our lives that we are turning into something special.
A version of panic hits and is followed by shame. Shame that I ask that a random Thursday mark this day just because society told me to. Shame that my friends see the darkened colour along my eyelashes and judge the simplicity of our romantic gesture. Shame that we act with a hesitation, a second-guessing of sitting, as usual, with them, or taking our picnic basket, already commented on, and stroll further. Stroll to the lava rocks closer to the water for the privacy a roaring ocean gives us in a public place.
We take the bag and walk. The panic recedes, though still manages to confuse me. I am tense in the way that this bottle of prosecco cannot fix. Water fills the crevices of eroded rock, dramatic shelves that fill and empty at regular intervals like the bubbles in my glass.
Days later, we have a dinner party at the house. A vision of the preparation for the evening unfolds in my head: a set table, a nourishing menu, relaxation. I make a cake during a break from work in order to fill the external world with these images I see. I go back to my computer to work and am swept into distraction. I open another browser window for some “online shopping”, placing holds on more library books written by women of colour. I reserve too many. More than I can read, yet I know I’ll somehow end up reading them all.
I finish my work and go to the kitchen to continue putting form to the previously formless plans for the evening. I make a salad, place the bowl in the fridge, and gently wash the dishes.
I am a caricature of myself, absently grabbing the towel to dry my hands as I turn to survey the counter top with a furrowed brow, thinking of what need be done next.
As I glance sidelong out the window at the betel palm tree.
As I anticipate the arrival of friends and question aloud if there’s time to gather flowers for a centrepiece.
As I live in this house in this body doing things that people with houses and bodies do.