by Tina Tsironis

Flirting that functions as foreplay is my downfall.

I can’t get enough of the shoving, the ribbing, the close lean into one another, just enough that I inhale their momentarily pacifying lavender perfume.

What really gets me, though, is the verbal back and forth. When flirting becomes a dialogue-driven duel of words designed to reward everyone, whether they desire a physically tangible outcome or an unspoken mental image folded carefully under the bedsheets, staying away becomes a colossal struggle.

When Hannah and I first met, we set the flirting-as-foreplay bar unrealistically high for ourselves.

We met at this pink-themed bar. It was one of those Instagram-friendly places with sub-par food and watered-down drinks, but with enough pretty walls for influencers to pose in front of and spruik to their clueless followers. One too many watered-down fairy-floss cocktails later and the usual clump of anxiety shrouding my brain in social situations had all but dissipated. There was just Hannah, with her cute smiley-face charm bracelet and pastel pink hair and crazy-addictive lavender perfume. And me, with my slurred speech and confident sense of self that was most definitely fuelled by alcohol.

Our conversation started innocently enough, with the ever important ’what do you do?’ question.

Hannah: a music promoter slogging through a comms degree she isn’t enjoying. She works multiple jobs, many of them with long hours and not nearly enough pay, but all of them worth it because they will lead her feet to the doors of legitimate musicians who can actually pay her what she’s worth. I nodded along while Hannah ranted about the ills of capitalism for workers in the Arts but found myself distracted seconds later by her soft pink hair.

Me: in marketing, working for a business that installs air-conditioners for multi-million-dollar high-rise developments. High rises are kinda cool if you discount their shitty environmental impact, but marketing an air-conditioning business is not, especially when newer, fresher competition takes over. Now I’m stuck managing a website that looks two years too old thanks to its outdated backend that I’m not allowed to update, because according to my boss Tony ‘where there’s a will there’s a way, Vivian, and we’re not paying you 50k a year to complain about a backend we don’t have the money to change. Work within the framework you’re given, and things will improve.’

Wrong, Tony. So wrong. One day I’ll leave, I promised Hannah, but I don’t think she was listening. She was staring at my hair.

All that job stuff was inconsequential, anyway. So next we moved onto the topic of this local mayor who had just been fired for pissing, I kid you not, in his communal office kettle. Somehow that was not the crazy part of our conversation, though – Hannah was incredibly hung up on the way I pronounced ‘mayor’.

‘Why do pronounce it like may-uh, and not like mare?’ she laughed, twirling a pastel strand of hair around her index finger.

I shoved her lightly, or at least my drunken brain told me it was lightly. Hands on hips, Hannah waited for my justification.

‘How do you expect me to pronounce it? Like a white girl who owns a mare she rides on weekends at her parent’s country club? Do we even have country clubs in Australia?’

Hannah fixed me with a look that in all other contexts, would freak me out and make me think I’d said the wrong thing.

When she took a few seconds to respond, I did start to freak out. Am I being too forward? Is she even gay?  Had I actually shoved her too hard and not realised? Is Hannah actually a horse girl who wears blazers on weekends while she rides her parents’ thoroughbred mares?

But then she leaned in close.

‘For what it’s worth,’ she said, ‘Your pronunciation is probably correct. But you know what I think about mares?’


She shoved me back.

‘There’s far better things out there to ride.’

After that night, Hannah and I became familiar, fast. We spent the next week in bed tangled in each other’s limbs, the following month waking up together, and two months in, before you can scream ‘a commitment phobe’s nightmare!’, we signed a joint lease for a one-bedroom flat.

The flat…well, it wasn’t great. The leaf-blower would come out in full force every week, disturbing our sleep with all the gusto of a chain-wielding maniac. Our living room ceiling was incredibly low and significantly cracked along its middle, to the point that I’d sometimes imagine myself as a small bug caught under a half-broken cup, death by squish imminent.

Hannah’s jobs usually finished late in the evening, so I was tasked with doing most of the housework. This was more than fine, by the way. She cooked a mean steak for lunch on weekends, and I washed and folded our stinky laundry on weekdays. When you move in with your partner you realise maintaining the house is about compromise. That’s what those lifestyle blogs say, anyway. If I’m honest, though, sometimes I couldn’t be bothered doing the laundry. Sometimes my mind was elsewhere, like on the possibility of leaving my job and finding somewhere else that would take me on, or on the fact that I hadn’t smelt Hannah’s lavender perfume in a while. Sometimes it was on the ceiling, on double-checking that I had inspected it thoroughly enough for any new cracks, just in case there was a fatal split I had missed that would cause the roof to cave into itself and render me a crushed bug, unable to be identified.

To the ceiling’s credit, that never happened. Thankfully.

Eventually the ceiling took a back seat, as a new folly entered my world: the jam donut gathering dust on our stairwell. I kid you not, for four entire months this single uneaten donut lay stationery, its owner part enigma and part asshole for never bothering to dispose of it. I’d plod down the stairs on my way to work and find it there, looking limper and more pathetic by the day. I’d leap back up the stairs in the evening and it would still be there, taunting me with its stale presence. I couldn’t really talk about it to Hannah because my obsession was embarrassing and it grossed me out, but I couldn’t help but think about it. It infiltrated my thoughts, creeping into my brain late at night right when I was on the verge of sleep, a mouldy parade of 7-Eleven donuts crash-landing into my psyche and reminding me of the vomit-inducing intruder outside our door.

Hannah would often sense something was up.

‘You okay, babe?’ she would mumble, jamming her elbow into my mouth mid-sleep.

‘It’s the donut. It’s making me feel sick. It wasn’t yours, was it?’

But she was already floating away, leaving me alone with the feeling that I had to do something.

So, one day I did.

At the time, my throat was tingling with the promise of a flu. Hannah was away for an interstate gig and far too busy to return my messages, and we’d just lost out on a major tender at work. The donut greeted me on my exhausting climb back up the stairs and all I wanted to do was stomp all over it until it was nothing but crusty crumbs. But I couldn’t have my boots make direct contact with a mouldy donut that was probably riddled with bacteria and god knows what else. So, I unlocked my door, grabbed a bunch of paper towel from the kitchen, and returned to the stairwell to stare down my four-month enemy. It eyed me right back, locking us into a duel. Who would win? Sick and tired Vivian, or flattened, grotesque donut?

One hand grasping the paper towel, the other keeping down the vomit threatening to spring out of me, I reached forward and clasped that stupid donut with my makeshift safety armour. I sprinted to the communal garbage bins and dumped it in, my throat stinging with bile.

Donut: gone. Vomit: also gone – it just happened to ‘go’ out of my mouth and into the toilet. But I won.

When I relayed the news to Hannah, she was amused by what she called my ‘gutsy ordeal’.

‘Trust you to go to the effort,’ she laughed over the phone.

‘Trust me to right the wrongs of this stupid apartment block, more like,’ I said, rubbing my throat.

‘You’re brave and strong and I love you,’ she said. ‘We’ll be leaving that shithole eventually and life will be 100 times better, and completely donut free.’

‘I miss you,’ I said.

‘I miss you too.’

‘Lie with me while I curl up into a ball of nothing?’ I asked.

‘In three days, beautiful.’

Before I knew it, we did get out of that shithole. We signed a lease on a marginally larger place that was closer to our respective workplaces, and as far as I knew, there were no mutant donuts lurking around the corner.

The house was beautiful. It was a ground floor apartment, white weatherboard exterior, one of few bordered by blooming azalea shrubs. I briefly wondered if Instagram influencers knew our house existed and if so, whether they regularly used our veranda for strategic photo-ops. But that thought was ripped out of my brain quickly, when Hannah pulled me onto our sticky leather couch and started stroking my hair.

Her stomach a headrest, the familiar smell of lavender perfume within my immediate vicinity, I exhaled loudly.

‘What’s up?’ Hannah asked.

‘We haven’t been this close in a while,’ I said.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘There’s no need to be.’

Hannah rested her chin on my head.

‘Viv, I’m gonna start cutting down the amount of jobs I take on. I think it’s time.’

‘Is that really what you want?’ I leaned over and stared at her. “I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to, and maybe you could cut down on something, but I don’t want you to miss out on…’

Hannah placed a finger on my lip.

‘We’re gonna work this out. We live in an amazing place now, we’re so much more primed to sort our shit out and make things better.’

My stomach turned as I considered what my shit involved. Was it the fact that I hadn’t left my job yet, or my anxiety issues which had actually improved since we moved out of the other place? Don’t get me wrong, there was this weird smell coming from my side of the bed that I was determined to get of rid, but surely I wasn’t obsessing over it that much. Right?

‘Viv?’ Hannah was talking to me.

‘Sorry, what?’

Hannah ran her fingers down my arm.

‘I was just saying that I missed touching your soft skin.’

Those words usually inspired a visceral reaction in me, one that would reciprocate instantly and lead me blindfolded straight towards Hannah’s body. But I was still thinking about that smell.  I couldn’t quite place it. It resided somewhere near my chocolate brown chest of drawers. I had checked and tripled checked the draws, the top of the drawer, behind it, underneath it, and I just couldn’t pin it down. Maybe it was mould from the windowsill? It did seem to dissipate when I opened the window, mind you, so-

‘What the fuck, Vivian?’

Hannah was talking to me again.

‘I’m really sorry Han. I’m distracted.’

‘You’re always distracted lately.’

‘And what is that supposed to mean?’

Hannah sprung off the couch, leaving me pillow-less. She sighed.

‘You’re not yourself, and I think it’s because your job is just too much for you.’

‘I’m sorry I can’t handle working a million underpaid jobs like you only to barely make ends meet,’ I said.

‘Now that’s kind of unfair.’

I sat up, crossing my arms and making eye-contact with everything but Hannah.

‘Yeah, well so is acting like I can’t handle being an adult.’

Hannah grabbed my chin and pointed it so I was looking at her.

That’s not what I meant, Viv. I meant the fact that you’re overworked and treated like crap and expected to do work that is so beneath you, and for what? 50k a year?’

‘I want to leave.’

‘Do you really? Because I feel like you would have left by now if the need was so urgent to you.’

‘Now that’s kind of unfair,’ I said.

‘Okay well, stay stuck then.’

I flung Hannah’s hand away from my chin, crossing my arms so she couldn’t touch me.

She smirked.

‘Yeah, shrink away now, as per usual.’

I bit down the tears threatening to spill out, knowing that I’d just look pathetic if I let myself cry.

Instead, I let myself snap a little.

‘Maybe if you were actually present in between working all your shitty jobs here there and everywhere, I wouldn’t feel the need to shrink away and you’d actually be able to help me.’

‘Oh, so you have a problem with me making something of myself?’ Hannah asked. ‘Way to be a supportive partner, Viv.’

‘Yeah, and what the fuck are you doing?’ I asked, stomping to the bedroom door.

‘You’re never here for me, and you’re delusional to think that you can just drop one of your jobs and spend more time with me and be happy.

I wanted Hannah to tell me I was wrong, that she could be less hard on herself and make more time for me and actually be content. But then she narrowed her eyes at me.

‘One of my stupid jobs, don’t you mean?’

‘I said shitty, not stupid.’

‘Same shit.’

‘Yeah well, I’m over it,’ I said. ‘We’re no good for each other anymore.’

I slammed the door so hard it elicited a ‘fuck’ from Hannah and I concurrently.

I wanted to laugh, to tell her I was sorry and that our fight was stupid and that capitalism is a big fat blight on the world and that I didn’t mean what I said, but I buried my face in my pillow, and it’s only when Hannah enters the room that I realise the stupid smell is back. But I don’t care, I can’t care, because Hannah was right, I was so stuck in my own head that I couldn’t better myself, so I tell Hannah I’m sorry.

‘We’re a team,’ Hannah replied, climbing into bed. “I’ll cut down on work and help you find a job and a psych, or some sort of solution to your anxiety. I will.’

I wanted to believe her, but I know it won’t be that simple. Who was I to dictate her career, anyway, and who was Hannah to feel like she had to step up and change my life for me? It’s not like we’re married.

The truth was, our relationship was flattening and moulding at the edges and part of me didn’t care anymore, but the other part scared me so much. I couldn’t imagine my life without my duelling partner. What would that even look like? I don’t want to imagine.

I shift my body towards hers, ignoring the gnaw in my gut.





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