My dirty sheets seemed to be the main thing that bothered Maria. I remember her telling me that she didn’t like coming here because I never changed the sheets. “Everything smells like sweat, weed and pizza,” she said. “Don’t you ever clean?” She swiped a finger across the body of my Telecaster, and inspected the thick, soft dust that covered her fingertip. She was smiling though, because at that point she still found me and my mess charming. And at that point, I had been happy to go round to her place to spend the night as often as she’d let me.
It was nice at Maria’s. It was a house full of girls who liked cats and gardening. They were always cooking big pots of curry and having friends over for dinner. We would eat outside underneath the fairy lights they’d hung up across the pergola in the courtyard. The thing was almost falling down, but at night it still looked pretty. But when the summer ended, I stopped feeling like going out so much. And then things with Maria started getting difficult.
She began to act really stiff when she came around here. She said she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t go over to her place anymore. I told her that I needed to focus all my attention on writing songs for my new album. As an artist, I have to put my work first. But I was having trouble concentrating. Outside my room, things felt confusing: too loud, too much. It helped when I stayed in my room and shut the blinds. I’d lie on my bed and just try to think about things quietly. I did a lot of thinking, and at first I did a lot of writing too. But nothing I thought or wrote seemed to amount to very much.
She said it wasn’t healthy to spend so much time alone in my room. She said she didn’t think I was getting much work done anyway. Some nights she dropped around after her shift, emptying the ashtrays and opening the windows. She was always asking me to get out of the house and go to brunch with her friends after their yoga class on Saturday mornings. I went once, just because it seemed so important to her. When she came over to pick me up, she told me to take a shower, and I did it, even though I’d just taken one the day before.
We had to line up for a table at the café that Maria’s friends wanted to try. They’d seen an article about it on some hipster website. It had just opened, and all the girls with their leather handbags and shiny hair and lumberjack boyfriends were occupying tables on the footpath, laughing and talking loudly. Inside, a big group of people was taking up three tables pushed together for some girl’s birthday. She sat at the head of the table, loving the attention. Every time she unwrapped a present she shrieked and flew out of her seat to throw her arms around the gift-giver. I didn’t know how much of this I could take.
All that laughter and shrieking bounced off the poured concrete floors and the exposed brick walls. The plates were clanging. A barista with pink hair and a nose ring was attacking the espresso machine so violently I could hardly think. The waitress asked me if I would like to try the single origin or the house blend in my long black. I told her I couldn’t give a shit. Maria shook her head and rolled her eyes towards the reclaimed timber ceiling. I guess she was pissed at me for being rude in front of everyone, but I couldn’t help it.
Maria and her friends ordered green smoothies and stuff with cacao nibs and almond milk and chia seeds and other things that don’t even sound like food. “How’s your music going Mark?” asked the boyfriend of one of Maria’s friends. “Maria said that you’ve been holed up for awhile, working on some new material?”
“Yeah mate, it’s going well.” My fingers felt inside my pocket for my package of tobacco and I started rolling a smoke to save for later. The guy watched me and nodded with a friendly look on his face. He seemed like a nice enough dude, but I just didn’t feel like talking. Then the food came out, and another friend of Maria’s tried to convince me to eat some of this chia seed pudding she had ordered. “It’s all raw,” she said. “Full of Omega-3s – they’re great for the brain. Make you feel better.” I told her I felt fine.
Maria’s friends kept glancing between Maria and me, looking at each other and raising their eyebrows. Maria wasn’t talking much. Her face was very pink and she was sipping on her smoothie, staring down at the table. I didn’t have anything to say either. I was just trying to concentrate on my pancakes, which were kind of tasteless, but at least chewing on them was giving me something to do.
After we paid the bill, Maria kissed and hugged her girlfriends the way girls do. The friend of Maria’s that wanted me to eat the chia seeds said, “take care Mark,” and she touched me on the arm. Afterwards, Maria drove me home because after all that business with the drink driving charges last year, it just seemed easier not to bother renewing my license.
I don’t care as much as I thought I would, but I do miss Maria. Sometimes when it’s the middle of the night I miss hearing the sound of her even breath as she slept beside me. She would make these small sighing sounds as she stretched out to reach the cool patches at the edges of the bed. In winter, she was always burrowing her freezing feet into the crook behind my knees and waking me up. At the time I found it annoying, but now sometimes when I can’t sleep, I think about that.
I admit that it’s been awhile since I’ve changed my sheets, and if Maria said she was coming over, I would probably go across the road to the laundromat to sort them out. I don’t think they smell, exactly, but they feel very smooth, and there are quite a few greasy stains from the pepperoni.
The night of our last big fight, she told me that she couldn’t “deal” with me anymore. After she left I mumbled that word into my pillow. I don’t think that was fair of her, because I’m not asking her or anyone else to ”deal” with me. In fact, it’s actually a lot easier now that it’s over, because I can concentrate on my music without worrying about her. For example, when I go out on tour, probably early next year, being single will be great. That’s what I told James when he came around to bring me some weed this afternoon. “We wanted different things,” I told him, as I handed him the cash. “The trouble is, she just doesn’t really understand what it’s like to be an artist.”
“Sounds like it mate,” he said kicking away a pile of clothes to get to the door. James couldn’t hang around; he had a gig to get to. When he left, he closed my bedroom door behind him. I climbed back into bed and began to roll another smoke.