There is a photograph of a man. The man is wearing a purple Lycra suit. It has gold fringing on the underside of the arms. It is an all-in-one. On his feet are white ankle boots. No, not boots – ice skates. The man in the photograph is wearing ice skates. He is possibly the happiest man ever, in this photograph. He is loving every minute of his existence.
Her new housemate is out of the house. He has a real job, not a job in a bar. He operates in a different time zone: he gets up in the morning. This has nothing to do with him being from Canada. This is to do with night jobs and proper jobs, and of them happening to be employed at the polar opposites of that scale.
There is no lock on his door. His door is open. This photograph is framed on the wall. It is not hidden away. She thinks how he must look at that photograph, that photograph of himself, sheathed in purple, and really think: wow. She pictures him smiling back at his younger self. She pictures him in just his pants, doing this. He has his shirt off and is unconsciously stroking his nipples. And then she imagines him realising the time, and clambering into his work clothes, fastening his tie, then rushing out to get caught up in the day's traffic.
When her friend comes over, she takes him up to the room and shows him the photograph. They laugh their guts up. There is nothing half-hearted in her treachery. She thinks this photograph is the funniest thing she has ever seen. Whenever she begins to feel sad about anything, she makes that image flash into her brain, and it is an instant pep rally. She thinks back to the days before she became aware of this photograph's existence. They are all grey.
The more time she spends with the photograph, the less able she is to see him as a real person. Sometimes, she will stare at it so long that it winks at her. Or its smile widens. She can almost sense the gentle sway of the tassels, and the cool of the ice below. Everything smells clean. It is too cold on the ice for actual aroma. But in her nostrils, a freshness definitely rises.
When he is not at work, he dresses like he still is. She wonders if he has the purple Lycra suit here with him. She wonders if he puts it on each night before bed and dances like a swan. His room is tiny. She is sure, if he does do this, that he must really have to limit his movements. She thinks she should go out, let him have the house to himself. Then he could spread out his choreography across the whole of downstairs. She would only pretend to go out, though. She would hide in the alley until he was sure he was alone, and then she would creep to the window, press her face smack against it, and watch him.
She wonders does he really come alive when she is out working in the bar. She wonders if he is like Superman, and wears his Lycra suit under his normal clothes. In her head, he rips his shirt open the second she slams the door, pumping his fist to heaven then leaping from the couch across to the chair by the window. He has practised this move to perfection. The first few times, the first twenty or so times, actually, he narrowly escaped death-by-window and death-by-missing-your-footing-and-landing-in-the-splits. But now he flies through the air like one of those squirrels with the skin under their arms, the ones that soar from tree to tree above the forest canopy. And when he's like this, leaping from couch to chair and back again, he feels so free. He feels released from the shackles of his day to day drudgery. Sometimes, he pulls his tie up around his forehead like a bandanna. Sometimes, he throws his tie on the carpet and stamps on it, as if it were a snake that had been trying to strangle him, and he had only just thought to overpower it.
She wishes she could catch him at this. Just once.
Emma J Lannie