In the early hours, when he is still asleep, she begins counting the tiny black and white tiles plastered to the ceiling of their flat. Some are chipped, some are covered by a layer of dust, and some are not tiles at all, but cockroaches in disguise. By 143 he has stretched his arms and kissed her neck, by 206 he has tied his shoes and lit a cigarette, and by 262 he's always gone. She knows that the smell of coffee will dissipate by 329 and that if she can bother getting out of bed to call her worried mom for once, or even just go to the damn bathroom, he will be back by 2338.
If she counts slowly.
Sometimes, late at night, when she has named all of the constellations she knows without the familiar sound of his second-hand car pulling into their garage, she likes to sit and ponder, with a bottle of Jack Daniels, where she went wrong. She wonders if by living here with him she’s wasting away the best years of her life, years she could have spent at college in order to get a job and buy a house, a real house without tiled ceilings. This is always as far as she gets in her musings, because she usually begins to cry, or sometimes she simply passes out on the stain-resistant carpeting only to wake up in their bed the next morning.
"When are you going to take up writing again?" he asked her once as she examined the threadbare sheets
, a beer bottle
in her left hand
"When are you going to stop being such an ass
?" she replied stiffly, and the house was silent for 74 tiles. That night she slept facing the wall
, and he never brought it up again.
She is 19 years old
"Every black tile is a reason I love him. Every white tile is a reason we will never end up happily ever after"
She writes this on the back of a napkin with a cheap ballpoint pen and tapes it to the wall where she can see it. Afterwards she watches a documentary on the Milky Way, because contemplating revolving balls of gaseous heat and the infinitesimal reaches of frigid space makes her own problems seem so insignificant.
She wants to escape into the galaxy she is watching on the Discovery Channel. Her own planet’s gravity is pulling at the bags beneath her eyes, and her hands and feet feel heavier than normal, so that every movement is an effort. She is a statue. A marble girl.
She decides she will simply never move again, and the napkin flutters in a non-existent breeze
When he presses her up against the clean white walls and kisses her like he never plans on stopping, she thinks Earth
might sort of be ok.
Taped to the fridge.
2,669 - B
2,668 - W
It is at night when he is running his thumbs over that secret dip in her clavicle that he is most contemplative.
"Do you love me?" he asks, his mouth muffled against the skin of her shoulder
She runs her knuckles against his forearm and wonders about the galaxy that may or may not exist between them.
"There are 5,337 tiles," she finally answers, “and 2,669 of them are black.”
"I know." He rolls them both over so that he is beneath her and she cannot see the tiled ceiling or the stars before pulling her down to whisper in her ear.
"Sometimes I count them."