I’m sorry. It was the last thing he said.
Paul always believed his wounding words could be mended with any small kindness. The break-up was no different. Ramona had spent the last five years dusting up the broken fragments of certainty after every apology, gathering the delicate pieces back inside herself until the weight of doubt made it too heavy to bear. But when it did all eventually fall apart, after more late-night, glass-smashing, screaming fights, Ramona didn’t welcome the lightness. If anything, she felt more burdened by the aching quiet. By her freedom.
Take Tinder, for example. Ramona had spent over a week speaking with Julian, the twenty-eight-year-old lawyer from South Sydney, only to meet the quiet, clean-shaven young man and find he wasn’t interested in talking about anything other than work. It probably wasn’t his fault. As Julian sat there, in his suit and tie, drinking the martini she had felt embarrassed to hear him order, Ramona saw herself as she would have a month ago. When, from across the room, she would have pointed at the awkward couple and whispered to Paul, ‘Look, it’s a first date.’
How awkward—insisting on paying the bill. Why not just let him have it? Julian’s upper lip was already speckled with the sweat of summer, made worse by his reassurance that no, he wasn’t too hot and no, he didn’t want to take off his jacket. His face turned an even more disturbing hue as Ramona stood to leave. And for what? After two bitter wines, she was alone in bed again. Scrolling through old photos of Paul in the dark, his digital blue ghost reflected back against the pillow he once slept on.
Ramona contemplated her home screen. The Tinder icon looked particularly juvenile. Something about that shade of red. That white flame. For fuck’s sake—she was almost thirty years old. She pressed her finger against the cold screen, hit delete and that was it.
Or so she thought. Two atrociously loud dinging sounds echoed across her bedroom. It was a Facebook friend request—from Julian. And a message.
So that’s it? Nothing more?
Before Ramona could type her reply, another message rang out.
I knew you’d be shallow. I’ve met girls like you before.
Julian’s words glowed in Ramona’s hand, floating eerily in the darkness. When a flash of light suddenly burst through her blinds, tearing the small room into gold, diagonal ribbons, she sat bolt upright. But the light was gone as fast as it came. Ramona heard the deep growl of thunder pierce the quiet night, followed by the white noise of crashing rain, and lay back down. The night’s yawning emptiness felt fuller now. Comforting. At the very least, the sound of the storm had deadened the anxious thudding within her chest—now, maybe, it might break the cruel December heat.
Ramona looked back at the screen. Just a quick, careful response, then bed.
I had a nice time tonight, but the truth is I just finished a long-term relationship and not ready to get involved romantically. I promise it’s nothing more.
His response came less than thirty seconds later.
Do you need to come over and chat? I’ll pay for your cab?
Nothing weird, I know the score x
What a joke. Ramona went to fill a glass of water from the tap in the bathtub, stepping lightly on the timber floorboards. The old terrace house vibrated in the weather. She walked past Eva’s door, wishing she hadn’t stayed at her new boyfriend’s house. Before she went back to bed, Ramona double-checked the front and back door locks. She turned her phone off without replying.
Rain rapped against Ramona’s window as she slept, drumming a steady rhythm upon the glass. She was falling deep into that fog of dreams where you’re not sure if you’re awake or asleep when an irregular tapping began beating against the wet. Jolted from her dream state, Ramona kept her eyes closed. She reasoned the loud and accelerating tapping was the death of large raindrops dripping from the rusted gutter above her window.
Ramona lay still, ignoring the sound, begging sleep to let her back in. But the tapping was joined by a sharp, shrill ringing, reverberating in the night’s damp air. The high-pitched sound echoed against the bass of her beating heart, pushing blood through her veins at alarming speed. Ramona sat upright in bed again. Her bare, clammy feet felt heavy on the pale shag rug as she took a sip of water. She looked at the clock on her bedside table. 12.01 am. The doorbell hadn’t stopped ringing, now punctuated by a deep rapping throughout the old terrace. Her room was at the back of the house, second floor. She could call the police—but what if it was Eva, locked out? Or Paul?
Ramona allowed her mind to run away with the thought of Paul. His large, safe hands beating against the door. Drunk, maybe. Eyes red from tears. She would invite him in, pretending to still be mad as he pleaded to come home. Ramona would allow him to hold her, to kiss her on her forehead. She could feel his warm breath whispering softly on her earlobes.
Only you. Forevermore.
Ramona stood up and walked towards her bedroom door. She was wearing Paul’s old Beatles T-shirt as a nightdress, and she wriggled on a heavy duffle coat, the wool clinging uncomfortably to her sweaty arms. She noticed the metal edges of craft scissors glittering in the fractured darkness and put them in her pocket. Just in case.
As she tiptoed down the stairs, the tapping became louder. The ringing more cruel. On the last step, she rested her body on the balustrade. With her fingers pressed against the white, peeling paint, she peeked around to view the front door. She could see a large, distorted shadow through the crimson stained-glass panel. It wasn’t Eva.
Ramona sat down on the cold timber step, turned her phone back on and waited for it to come back to life. Hands shaking. Toes twitching. The doorbell stopped ringing, but the pounding on the door quickened, as did her breathing. Suddenly, her phone came back on, and countless messages started popping up on the screen. The sound bounced off the walls, each horrific tone splintering into the next. Suddenly, a man’s voice yelled out, barely audible over the crashing rain and relentless rapping.
It wasn’t Paul.
Ramona quickly turned her phone to silent, finding it hard to swallow. She was ready to dial emergency when the most recent message flashed upon the screen. It was Julian.
Come downstairs. I’m at the door.
She stared at the screen, teeth clenched. Hot waves of anger rolled over her, burning her cheeks. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? Ramona stood up, shoved her phone in her coat pocket and walked to the door. She opened it just wide enough for half of her face to be visible and saw Julian standing there with a bottle of wine. He was in the same suit from earlier, but his once-neat hair was now wet and plastered against his forehead. He looked genuinely surprised that Ramona had opened the door. His tired, drunken eyes lit up as he smiled and began to say:
‘Hey, sorry for—’
‘You have to leave right now.’
Ramona’s voice sounded clear and confident in spite of her trembling hands. He didn’t say anything.
‘Julian, I’m asking you to please get away from my door.’
He raised his eyebrows, took a step back and put his hands up, palms facing her.
‘Yeah, alright, I heard you before—’
As he stepped back, the bottle of wine fell. It landed safely on the soft doormat, but the sudden movement made Ramona jump. It lay there, gently rolling between them. Julian’s mouth opened wide to form an overexaggerated expression of shock.
‘Whoops,’ he said, giggling.
‘Please, Julian. I’m really tired.’
‘I come in peace.’ He said it in that E.T. voice, doing the hand symbol.
‘I’m closing the door.’
‘You don’t want the wine? But it’s your favourite!’
‘Shhh, keep it down.’
‘It’s a present.’
‘To make you feel better.’
Ramona looked down at the bottle, which now lay still on the dark blue mat. Raven Shiraz. Eighty dollars a bottle. She had mentioned it to him casually on Tinder a few days ago.
‘I appreciate it, Julian, I really do. But this is uncalled for.’
‘I went to three different stores.’
Ramona let out an exhausted sigh, and rubbed her eyebrows with her index finger and thumb. She’d allowed him to get her an Uber after she paid the bill. She’d typed her address into his phone. Should’ve known better.
Ramona opened the door, picked up the bottle of wine and handed it back to Julian. Their hands touched for a brief moment, and Julian’s lips tightened into a sheepish smile. He looked very boyish, standing there. Quiet and shivering. His suit absolutely soaked.
‘You’re freezing,’ she said.
‘Wait a sec,’ she sighed again. ‘I’ll get you a towel.’
‘Are you sure?’
She shut the door and hurried to the laundry where Eva had left some towels in the dryer. Ramona was rustling through them, looking for an old, tattered one that wouldn’t be missed, when she heard the unmistakable sound of glass clinking. She spun around and saw Julian standing in the doorway, holding two empty glasses.
‘Shall we have just one glass or—’
‘I told you.’
Ramona’s voice had risen to a high pitch. She was standing barefoot on the cold, pink-terrazzo tiling. Julian looked confused.
‘I told you to wait.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean—’ Ramona took a deep breath ‘—why the fuck did you come inside?’
‘To get the towel. What’s wrong?’
‘What’s wrong?’ Ramona threw a pale yellow towel at him. It landed limp at his feet. She put her hands in her pockets, fingers gripping the cool, sharp edge of the scissors.
‘What’s wrong is that you’ve turned up to my house in the dead of night and scared the shit out of me.’ She was crying now.
‘Babe, you’re overreacting. We’ve talked non-stop for weeks. I’m not some stranger.’ Julian laughed. ‘You said were sad and heartbroken, so I wanted to bring you a present—a token of friendship.’
Without breaking eye contact with Ramona, Julian put the glasses down next to the laundry sink. Ramona was just standing there, looking at him. Her face was red and tears were rolling down her cheeks.
‘I don’t understand why you’re crying. I’m going, okay? The wine is in the kitchen. A present for when you decide you want it.’
‘I don’t want it,’ said Ramona.
‘Well, chuck it out then. I don’t care.’
‘Please, just go.’
Julian nodded, rolling his eyes. He turned around and walked confidently towards the front of the house. Ramona followed behind him, still holding the hidden scissors. When he was finally outside, he turned around and said, ‘Give me a call when you’re over your ex.’
Ramona went to close the door, but as she pulled her hand out of her pocket the scissors fell out. For such a lightweight object, the clanging noise was surprisingly loud. Julian picked them up before she could.
‘What the fuck?’
He held the tiny pink thing between two fingers like a dirty pair of underwear. He seemed very sober all of a sudden.
‘They’re craft scissors, Julian.’
‘Yeah—what do you need them for?’ His voice was loud now. Accusatory.
‘To stab you to death, obviously.’
Ramona extended her palm towards him. But Julian didn’t move or speak. He just stood there, with a disgusted look on his face.
‘You’re actually being serious. You think I’m gonna hurt you with those?’
‘How can I be sure?’
‘Okay. Keep them.’
Ramona slammed the door shut. Julian was yelling as she deadbolted the lock.
‘You’re lucky I won’t call the police, you dumb whore!’
She sat down on the floor with her back against the timber. Her heavy breathing was interrupted by the pathetic clattering of scissors being thrown at the door. When she was certain he’d left, she went to retrieve them, but they were gone. Such petty revenge. The rain had finally stopped, with only whistling wind and rustling trees to fill the uneasy quiet.
Back to her old routine. Double-check the locks, turn off the lights. Ramona noticed the bottle of Raven still sitting on the counter. She paused for a moment, looking at the black bird on the golden label. She walked into the laundry to retrieve the two glasses Julian had left in there earlier. She placed them next to the bottle and took a few pictures, testing a variety of angles.
Ramona lay still in bed, once again, her face illuminated by the ghostly blue light. She opened Facebook, blocked Julian, and deleted every message. Then she drafted her own.
I’m sorry for everything I said before. I don’t really want you to go, and I wish you would come home. Eva’s out for the night—and I’ve bought you your favourite wine. Come over?
Ramona clicked through to Paul’s face on Messenger. When she looked at his profile picture in that stupid little circle, all the memories came back. The pictures she found on his computer. The texts. She looked at the last thing they had written to each other, just over two weeks ago. Paul had been begging to come home. He missed her. He was sorry. Ramona hadn’t even bothered to reply.
She looked around the dark room. The light from her phone was projecting sharp-angled shadows across the walls. Sinister, like leering eyes. But, she reasoned, things could be worse.
Ramona looked at the drafted message again. Yes, it was late, but Paul was a night owl. And she knew he was at the pub earlier, thanks to the Instagram story of a mutual friend. She copied the message into their conversation, attached the photo, and held her thumb hesitantly over the send button. She could already picture Eva’s face in the morning, furious. I don’t know why you even ask for my advice, she would say, throwing her overnight bag down on the couch. You never listen.
Ramona was about to delete the text when, suddenly, Paul’s status changed to Active. Was he was thinking of her too? Or was he messaging someone else? Shit, could he see her typing? Ramona sat up, taking a sip of water from the glass on her bedside table. Panic washed over her body, sweating cold under the covers. This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. They had been together for five years. She looked over at his clean, undisturbed pillow, and pressed send.
Ramona stared at the message, rereading every word. Eventually, she put the phone on her bedside table, and lay back down. Paul was still online, and the room was dark once again as she waited for his reply.