My parents tell me they’ve stopped fighting in the car because it upsets their dog, Nancy. Once, when my sister and I were nine and seven, my father tried to drive the car into a motorway barrier because my mother asked him to slow down. We all screamed and then he took us to McDonalds to make up for it. Nancy is sensitive because she belonged to my grandmother, who is dead now, and who let her have her own electric blanket because the house was often drafty and cold. “Nancy is my reason for being,” she would say and pat her under the blanket.
I found someone who I thought was my reason for being, but it turns out I was wrong. He was my boyfriend for a long time and then he was not. I thought he would be again, but I was wrong about that too. The last time I saw him we had a fight that made my Korean neighbour cry. “So much yelling,” she wrote to me in a note afterwards. “Scary for me.”
We did yell a lot and we broke things too. I smashed a bowl, then a vase. I shattered my happiness on him. There was a time when we made the bed together each morning and slept interlaced each night. It was an unusual bed, a large frame with twin mattresses and two sets of pillows, sheets and duvets. We laughed because my side was always neater than his. “I want to be the bed you make,” he’d say.
“How many times did you fuck her?” I asked, as if that mattered. We had been fighting for a long time then, calming then growing wild again like the sea. He told me and I watched the skin under his eye turn red from where my hand had been.
“That’s one-tenth of how I feel,” I said, as if pain could be divided and delivered like that.
He had a very beautiful face, even when it was crying. Like a samovar, I always thought. He knelt on the floor and I knelt too and we cried together like children. He took my head in his hands and cupped my ears. I thought, it might all be okay. I thought, we might be able to get back from this.
“I wanted to be good enough,” he said. That was not what I needed. I can be good enough, couldn’t he say that? I asked him, perhaps I pleaded with him, but he had already given us up.
Afterwards, I took out the dustpan and brush and ran my hands under cold water. I replaced the books on the shelf and began to sweep the glass. I picked the flowers I’d bought that morning off the floor. The morning’s hope weighed like a stillborn in my arms.
Maybe, I thought, maybe if I’d got a dog. Then we wouldn’t have fought like that. Then we would have had something to protect.