Karl loves Eve and William loves Eve and Eve doesn’t care. When she is with Karl, they sit close together, on the same side of a booth even when they’re alone. She is an oak and he vines around her. He leans close when they talk, drapes a casual arm across her chair. Karl carries a leather laptop bag with his initials embossed on the side and Eve calls him a wanker, but she says it with a smile.
When she is with William, she is the one telling jokes. William is tall, oft unshaven. He’s probably the cleverest person she’ll ever meet, but he keeps it to himself. William’s dad is a lecturer, so all the other law lecturers know William. They pick him to answer questions in class when no one volunteers. He answers exasperatedly; correctly. He wears jerseys a size too small making his hands dangle like accessories.
Every time I have a shower I knock my flatmate’s razor onto the floor. The head splits off, but it’s detachable, so I reattach it and put it back on the shelf just so, so no one can tell I knocked it down. I would hate anyone to think I’d been interfering with their stuff.
One of my latest habits is running my fingers over my throat. This was something else Joe and I argued about, before we broke up. I was adamant women didn’t have an Adam’s apple.
“You do, they’re just underdeveloped,” he said.
“If I had one,” I retorted, “wouldn’t it be called Eve’s apple?”
This was, of course, before I knew the real Eve.
“Eve ate her apple.” He countered, then ran his long fingers up my throat and pressed gently on the small knob at the top.
“See?” he said, then his fingers encircled my throat. He paused for a moment, then moved his hands to my shoulders and kissed me.
I get a summer job filing along with a friend, Lily. She knows Karl. One of her friends has just started flatting with him. She tells me all about him one day while we are packing boxes.
“And his room, you know, it’s so intense. Like he has all this stuff, but it’s so well organised.”
I nod, I do know.
“He’s got, like, a ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster and mugs from Country Road and his towels are monogrammed, can you believe it?”
I shake my head in disbelief, but I can, in fact, believe it; I’ve been in his room.
Karl is a perfectionist, Eve his opposite. Her black hair falls down to her waist but it is scraggly and her roots show a mousy brown. She wears heavy eyeliner and doesn’t appear to wash it off overnight. The darkness around her eyes accumulates exponentially until occasionally she shows up at uni with no make-up on at all. On those days she looks tired. Naked.
On those days she walks around alone.
Sometimes she carries a black A3 folder: an art folio. I imagine it contains angsty sketches or gothic inkings or soft watercolours or pastel still lifes. She wears oversized shirts and unlaced combat boots. The only clues to her skinniness are her beanpole legs clad in ripped tights. She has at least six holes in each ear and her fingers are adorned with skulls and crosses.
Karl wears shirts and black skinny jeans. William wears knit jerseys and beige chinos.
Eve laughs more with Karl. With William – Willie – there is a light in her otherwise dull grey eyes.
William is a lively conversationalist. His hands take on a life of their own as he speaks. Each sentence is punctuated by gestures and on one occasion, beer splashed liberally down his shirt after a particularly flamboyant emphasis.
Except when he is talking to Eve. When talking to Eve, his gestures stop. His hands hang limply by his sides. He still talks eloquently, but with less confidence. She makes him laugh, but he is too afraid to make her laugh. I know he can.
Karl is short, almost shorter than Eve. Both boys have British accents; William’s is stronger.
When the three of them are together, Eve sits in the middle. She loves being flanked by her British boys. They mainly talk across her. She sits amidst their verbal tennis match, silent, daydreaming. When she occasionally deigns to speak, they drop the ball and hang on her every word.
She is the only one allowed to call William ‘Willie’.
Lily keeps telling me the story, filling in all the pieces I’ve been collecting for myself.
“Anyway we’re at this party and everyone’s absolutely trashed, you know the sort, and he’s there drinking red wine out of a wine glass can you believe it, while the rest of us have cans or mugs. I mean, he must’ve brought his own wine glass because I’m pretty sure the hosts didn’t own any.”
I laugh appropriately.
“Hand me that box will you? Cheers. Yeah, like I said, we’re at this party and he starts telling us this story, real tragic, about how he had this girlfriend from his first year hall. He starts going out with her around the same time as he makes friends with this other guy, and they’re all super tight. Three musketeers. You get the picture.”
“Yeah!” I say, a little too eager, a little too awkwardly, but she doesn’t notice.
Going into Karl’s room was a stroke of luck. After Joe left I was looking for a new flat; I didn’t even realise it was Karl’s flat until I got there. The room I was looking at wasn’t his but I asked to use the toilet as an excuse to investigate. It was weird, standing in the room of stranger who is a fully developed character in your mind. The to-do list on the whiteboard didn’t surprise me; the messiness of his handwriting did. An illegible scrawl with a probably harmless list: assignments, readings, jobs to apply for. Or perhaps not; “public law” could just as easily say “pubic wax”. I wouldn’t put it past him.
The flat was out of my price range anyway.
By chance, I followed William’s friend Ella into a café by uni one day. It was the day after a pregnancy scare, and everyone else’s problems now seemed more interesting.
She ordered a long black, I ordered a hot chocolate. I sat with my back to her, not thinking about her at first, but I can see her table in the several oddly shaped mirrors positioned on the wall in front of me. She was waiting for someone, and so I did too.
Our coffees went cold as we waited for him. Finally:
William enters stage left. The mirror reflects his unhappiness.
ELLA: What’s up with you?
WILLIAM: I think I have a thing for Eve. I’m at the end of my tether. I don’t know what to do, what to say, but I’m pretty sure I love her.
William briefly makes eye contact with a strange girl in the mirrors. She hurriedly slurps her no-longer-hot chocolate.
ELLA: Well done, you’ve finally realised what everyone else has known for months.
WILLIAM: Do you think she knows? Do you think Karl knows?
[I want to yell “EVERYONE KNOWS,” but it’s none of my business. With a great exertion of willpower:]
The strange girl exits stage left.
The pregnancy test wasn’t a stick to pee on like in the movies. It involved peeing into what looked like a shot glass and letting the stick stand in it for two minutes.
I was stupid enough to let it stand on the kitchen bench.
Joe came in earlier than expected; but he was drunk, as expected. The two minutes were almost up; 10 seconds left as he opened the door.
9 seconds as he came down the hall. The lines hadn’t appeared yet.
7 seconds and I heard him kicking off his shoes.
I glanced at my watch then back to the stick. 5 seconds. No change. 4 seconds. No change. 3 seconds and he was at the kitchen door.
2 seconds and the handle turned.
I only just had time to snatch the stick out of the pee. I hoped he wouldn’t see it standing there.
“You doing tequila shots on your own?”
Logic wasn’t his friend at this point.
“Uh – well –“ I stuttered, caught off guard.
“You shouldn’t do tequila on your own,” he said.
It felt like slow motion as his gorilla hand descended on the ‘shot glass’. Slow motion became fast forward and –
Down his gullet.
“Tastes different without salt and lemon,” he said, “you should keep it in the freezer next time. It was a bit warm for my liking.”
Lily comes to the crux of the matter.
“But then suddenly Karl’s girlfriend dumps him, out of nowhere, he says, completely out of left field. Anyway it all comes out later that she slept with this other dude, Karl’s best friend. Now Karl’s being the decent person and he tells his friend he is willing to forgive him – totally understandable, right?”
“But then his bestie turns around and is just like ‘No way man, I love this girl, screw friendship, I just wanna be with her,’ sad, right?”
“Oh yeah, really sad,” I say.
“So then it turns out this best friend of his is someone I know from high school – William Graves. Do you know William?”
“Yeah so I was like ‘da fuq!?’ cos William is like, a total square.”
I feel like defending him, but I just nod.
“But the clincher is, William didn’t even get the girl! They’re not even together. So Karl lost his girlfriend and his best friend all for nothing. There’s no happy ending.”
I study Lily closely for the rest of the day. She’s not unattractive; she has a nice face. She’s tall and skinny, all wrists and ankles. Her collarbones form a perfect line pointing down to the slightest swell of breast. No boobs and no bum. Guys don’t dig that.
I want to tell Joe about this, but I can’t. We don’t talk anymore.
At some point, seeing Eve around uni had become like a celebrity sighting.
There’s always a queue in the toilets after class. Once I was second from the front when Eve exited a cubicle.
The close proximity froze my logic for a moment and I dashed into the cubicle she had just vacated. The girl at the front of the line huffed angrily, but she didn’t do anything. Not that she could have, for I was locked away safely.
I took a moment just standing there. Yes, fine, I was inspecting the cubicle for clues. There was a tampon wrapper on the floor, but that could be anyone’s. The real evidence was in the toilet: a fresh brown smear in the drain. A faint smell that accompanied it, mixed with strong perfume.
Is Eve really the type to shit in public, spray perfume and then act as if everything is normal?
I was so shocked, I couldn’t even use the toilet.
Alone in my empty bed, I can’t sleep. I toss and turn all night, my thoughts churning, my tongue feeling too thick for my mouth.
The one question, the crucial question, revolves constantly around my mind.
When did William sleep with Eve?
Before or after?
Before or after I spoke to him?
Suddenly my interaction with William is no longer harmless. Right from the start I’d promised myself I would not get involved. Right from the start I was rooting for William but what if I’d ruined everything.
Could one person’s actions, one sentence, one silly drunken moment have any impact? If William knew what I was talking about, and he acted on it, then I could have changed his, hers and Karl’s entire fates.
Nevermind that he said “She knows”. I know he was lying, that he hadn’t told her. I know it, I know it, I know it.
And even though I’m definitely, absolutely not thinking about Joe anymore, his parting words echo in my mind.
“They’re not characters in one of your books you know. They’re real people. And you don’t even know them.”
Before or after?
You are standing there by the wall. Your friend has just made her way to the bathroom, and for the first time that evening you’re alone. You consider visiting the bathroom yourself, but you can’t bear to face the smell of piss and awkward urinals.
You see a girl begin to approach you. She’s obviously drunk: she drops her empty glass on the floor and smiles like a child as it shatters.
She claps you on the shoulder and you cringe away.
“Willie!” she exclaims
“William” you correct her, more than a little concerned she knows your name.
“Whatever. Look. You’ve got to tell her.” She grins and nods
“Who are you?” but you begin to recognise her, but you don’t know why.
“Doesn’t matter. Just tell her. Tell her.”
Perhaps she’s in one of your tutorials. Perhaps she’s one of those people you cross paths with every day without ever meeting. Either way, she’s drunk and you just want rid of her.
“She knows” you say, and the girl staggers away happily. Your friend returns, but you do not consider the drunk girl’s advice valid.
Not for one moment.
I had tried to explain to Joe well before we broke up.
“Karl loves Eve and William loves Eve and –“
“And if you were a dude, you’d love Eve.” Joe interrupted me.
“Maybe I do love Eve.” I stuck my tongue out.
“I think you do,” he stuck his tongue out too.
“Maybe I’m a lesbian.”
He scowled. “You’re not a lesbian.”
“Are you sure?” I giggled as he tickled me, “are you sure??”
We had sex just to make sure.
Once, when I went to have a shower, I saw that someone else had knocked the razor down. Only they hadn’t bothered to pick it back up. They just left it lying there, decapitated, on the shower floor.