Self Insulation

You’d think there were worse things than sitting on the couch all day next to your man of twelve years, working side-by-side on your laptops. Like the hour twenty commute to the office in the bland industrial park where you sit in an open plan office with eight incompetent time wasters. Somehow the company keeps turning a profit. Until now.

Everyone else in the country was keeping six feet from each other and here she was getting her elbow bumped for the hundredth time.

Hannah jerked her arm in, turned it into a stretch, reaching for the ceiling, for empty space.

“Espresso?” said Brandon.

“Three? Before lunch?”

Brandon put his laptop on the coffee table and stood, rolling his shoulders, scratching his beard.

“I need another. Last night’s wine is still dragging me down and I’ve got like eighty more pages to edit.”

“That sémillon was our last bottle.”

“I really needed it. Soz.”

He walked around the partition into the kitchen and began the clatter of coffee making.

This is what you get for wanting to live in this town. No space. You’d think such a small place would be warm. She slid her laptop into the dent Brandon had left in the couch and walked the four steps to the bedroom to wrestle on a merino pull-over. Her phone chimed as she was pulling a pair of black leggings over her yellow tights. It was a message from Jacob. A selfie from the beach. That bare chest.

“What are you DOING?” she replied.

“social distancing. its cool. needs a ham”

She had been Hannah the Hammer about three months ago, just after Jacob joined the team. The new kid with his nicknames. Then, post- team-building weekend, it was Hammer. It’s been Ham since they untangled from each other as the Uber pulled up outside her and Brandon’s place and she had to fix her hair and get her skirt back down onto her hips. Work drinks, she told Brandon.

“i need a jack and coke”

Jack was short for Jacob, and jackhammer, the motion rather than the tool. Coke was short for cocaine. He found some, surprisingly high quality, in a bar next to the conference centre. That was just before the pandemic got serious. It was going to be a long time until the next conference.

She kept one eye on the doorway. There was no door. The only doors were on the half-finished utility closet and the bathroom, but she’d have to walk through the kitchen, past Brandon, to get to either. She wished for a big thick door on the bedroom. And on the other side of the door the long hallway of a different house on the other side of the city.

“and more selfies”

They flirted. It was the opposite of sitting on the couch next to Brandon, the opposite of work, the opposite of being socially isolated in the middle of a pandemic.

Jacob got dirtier. She was shivering and it was only partly from the cold. She pulled on a fleece jacket and a pair of track pants.

“You know, don’t you,” said Brandon from the couch, “that your messages display on your laptop screen.”

Hannah stopped breathing, stopped moving. Jacob’s messages kept coming in. She put the phone down on the bed. The screen scrolled with eggplants and peaches. She pulled on last year’s ski pants and a puffy jacket. Jacob sent a dick pic with his beach towel as the backdrop. She took the woollen coat off its carved oak hanger and stuffed her clothing-swollen arms down the sleeves. She could barely button it. There were four beanies in the top drawer, under the socks, including a balaclava. That went on first, pulled all the way down. The other three on top, the one with the red, white and blue pom-pom on last.

Dressed like this she walked out of the bedroom. Brandon stood up. The look on his face was hurt and anger. His head was vibrating back and forth from caffeine and adrenalin.

“Well?” he said to her as she waddled past him, masked, bulging, towards the kitchen. “Well?” he said to her fat woollen back.

She opened the bathroom door. The towels were thin. There was hardly any toilet paper. She opened the utility closet. Around the water heater the pink insulation bulged between the timbers of the unplastered walls. Grabbing an edge, she pulled it around her and turned, turned, wrapping more of it around her. She kept turning, like she was a cardboard tube and it was cotton candy. She turned until all she could see through the eyeholes of the balaclava was pink and dizziness made her stumble and fall, painlessly, face down onto the kitchen floor.

“Well?” said Brandon from somewhere up above her.

“Well…,” she said.

Jacob was on a beach.


She was on the narrow strip of vinyl flooring between the sink and the stove, all wrapped up. She didn’t have to look at Brandon.

“It’s like this.”

She couldn’t if she wanted to.

“I don’t really love-love you anymore.”