Cover design by Alice Aulich
My ex-girlfriend is there when I get home from work. I find her sitting on the couch, wearing nothing but a pair of black lacy knickers and one of my old shirts, rolling a fag in front of the TV.
'Ahhhh!' I yell, nearly jumping out of my skin. 'How did you get in?'
Bonnie shrugs, rolling the cigarette paper across her tongue. 'The door. You gave me a key, remember?'
Right. It was the night we broke up that Bonnie… I must have given it to her before…
I shrug off my jacket, draping it over the hook in the hall and slip off my black work shoes. I chuck my backpack next to the table, blushing at the sight of all the bills, and letters, and other crap.
'Can I get you a drink?' I offer.
'No thanks.' Bonnie flicks her legs up on the couch; she's still wearing her Doc Martens.
'Sorry about the mess.' I start sweeping weed and fag ash off the coffee table, into my hands.
The bong isn't just mine. But I'm definitely the one who spends the most time here, in front of the Xbox. It's too expensive going out at weekends. At least Leon and Mark have each other.
'What do you even do all day?' Bonnie smirks, revealing the gap between her two front teeth. Her lips are chapped and almost blue. She still looks hot considering, eyes smudged with black smoky make-up. Apart from the tell-tale bandage at the side of her head and the jaunty angle of her left elbow.
'You mean, apart from my job?'
I lower myself into the arm chair, loosening my tie. The underarms of my shirt are already ringed with sweat and my palms prickle with nervous heat, although the rest of my body feels cool. Too cold.
'Do you really just sit around in your pants, on a Friday night, eating takeaway pizza and playing Xbox?' Bonnie pouts.
'Firstly,' I say, eyeing the dead house plant in the corner, 'I can't afford takeaway pizza. Secondly…' There is no secondly.
Our break-up broke me.
'Poor baby.' Bonnie gives her ciggie a final twist, chucking it on the coffee table. 'I missed you, you stupid idiot.'
'I- ' The words dry up in my throat. 'I wasn't expecting you to just show up here like this. I mean, I've been going out of my head and… here you are.'
Bonnie holds out her arms as if to say, voila, popping her shoulder back into place.
'You look… good.'
'Well…' She winks. 'I've been getting my beauty sleep.'
My phone pings in my pocket. Leon: just at Tesco express. Nearly home. With Mark. Do we have onions? I should really go and check the fridge. Usually, I rely on Leon and Mark to feed me. But sometimes they have their own things going on.
'Are you… staying for dinner?' I ask.
'You should probably…' I look Bonnie up and down. Her blonde hair, spread out across the sofa, still stained with a few red streaks of blood. The white hospital tag on her wrist. Her cracked, devious smile. 'Christ, Leon's going to think I'm nuts if he sees me talking to you.'
Her face says, why?
'We broke up, Bonnie,' I remind her. 'I said you didn't have enough drive, remember? That you weren't thinking about our future.'
My heart drops like a pendulum to the pit of my chest. A future with Bonnie that I severed. A lifetime that was stolen from her, from both of us, cruelly cut short. Now she's here to… get back at me? Make things right?'
'Quick,' I tell her, standing up and raking a hand through my hair. 'I can hide you in my room for now. But Leon can't see you here. No-one can.'
Bonnie pulls herself up reluctantly, like a puppet on a string. She twirls a strand of blonde hair around her finger. 'You're going to hide me away in your bedroom, like I'm just another sad, pretty girl…'
'Bonnie, please,' I hold out my hands, imploringly. 'I'll make this right, I swear. I just need time to think…'
She stands there, fiddling with the button on my old shirt.
'Why are you wearing my clothes?'
She twirls her ankle, knowing how devilishly sexy she looks, with my borrowed shirt unbuttoned like that, clearly no bra on underneath.
'You mean these panties?'
'Grr,' I say, tugging my hair. 'Come on, Bonnie. I don't have time for this. My flatmates will be back soon. I've just got to hide you for now. I'll give you some attention later, I promise.'
Just like you promised you'd always love me.
'Fine.' Bonnie rolls her large moon-like eyes. She holds out her hand, but it's ice-cold.
I remind myself this is probably a terrible idea, hiding my ex-girlfriend in my bedroom. But where else am I supposed to put her? Bonnie casts her eyes over my pokey, cramped bedroom: double bed (unmade) in one corner, clothes dumped all over the floor, the books she lent me (which I still haven't read) on the cabinet beside my bed.
'Wait here,' I instruct, sitting her down on my bed. 'Can I get you anything else?'
'No,' Bonnie yawns. She picks up her old copy of The Catcher in the Rye and lies down, flicking one leg over the other. I really should have changed the sheets.
'Ahem.' I clear my throat. I can see between her legs, the seductive flash of black lace panties.
'It's fine,' Bonnie says. 'I'm just a figment of your imagination. Don't mind me…'
At dinner, Leon and Mark decide it's time for an intervention.
'We're going out tonight,' Mark announces, topping up his glass of Malbec. The rich tone of his skin is off-set by bright, silvery eyeshadow. 'It's been nearly a year since Bonnie…'
The guys look at each other across the table. I stir my fork through Mark's signature paella, trying to avoid their scrutinous gaze. What am I supposed to say? My ex-girlfriend is hiding in the bedroom? Yeah, good one.
'It's been a long day,' I improvise. 'Work was shit. I'd rather just, you know, have a night in…'
'Oh no.' Mark waves his finger. 'This is sad, and tragic, and I can't…' He sighs theatrically.
Leon holds his hand across the table. 'We were just talking and, you know… You kind of need to get out more.'
I need to get out more? Sorry for not having a wild social life outside of this crummy, overpriced flat. Did I mention there is a beautiful girl on my bed, just waiting for me to get some time alone?
'Mate, you need to… move on.'
Move on? I haven't moved anywhere, apart from my bed, to the fridge, to the couch. I muddle through work every day, but it feels like I'm just sleep-walking; I hardly even know what I do during the day any more. Get up. Go to work. Send emails. Go home. Watch TV. Smoke a bowl. Sleep.
Maybe I'm overtired, that's it. Bonnie's just come round to make me feel better, the way she always did, after a long day.
'As much as I appreciate your concern…' I top up my wine (Mark keeps hogging the bottle). 'I do not need constant reminders of the unfortunate and untimely break-up, between myself and the only girl I have ever loved…'
'Oh, honey.' Mark touches his heart. He wipes an imaginary tear away from his starry eyes. 'This is just too much. We're taking you to some boujie straight bar, where you can meet some boujie straight girl…'
I think of Bonnie, lying on my bed, in just my old shirt and a pair of naughty black panties.
'Wouldn't you rather, you know, go somewhere a bit more… gay?'
Mark sighs like it's such a sacrifice. Leon looks awkward, squashed in on the wobbly chair between the two of us. I'm only living with him and Mark to help out with bills. Leon couldn't afford a room of his own, but Mark needed another housemate to fill the space, and it was too soon for me to move in with Bonnie. Now we're stuck here, the three of us.
With two dead house plants.
And one ex-girlfriend, hiding in my bedroom.
'We don't have to stay out late,' Leon says, trying to compromise. 'It just feels like you never go out with us anymore. Please. You said work was shit and you do need to get out – no offence.'
Bonnie was right. What have I been doing since we broke up? Just sitting around on my broke arse, dragging myself through every day on a soul-sucking graduate scheme I hate, wasting hours on the Xbox, like a lazy, apathetic teenager. When was the last time I… read a book? Worked out? Offered to cook?
'You kind of let me down on my birthday,' Leon adds, lowering his heavily-lidded grey eyes.
Great. Nothing like a bit of good, old-fashioned guilt-tripping.
Fine. I'll just have to tell Bonnie that I'll catch up with her later, when we roll in at God knows what time... Hopefully I don't get so drunk that I make a fool of myself, or ramble on about my dead ex-girlfriend all night. That tends to be what you'll call a Buzzkill.
'I'm Maggie,' she slurs, leaning in close, her breath warm against my cheek. It's so loud in here, she practically has to shout.
'Alex.' Some guy behind bashes into me, causing me to bump into Maggie, making her spill her drink. 'Shit! I'm so sorry. Let me buy you another.'
'I was thinking…' Maggie smiles flirtatiously, peering back at me with wide brown eyes. 'Do you want to, maybe, go somewhere… quieter.'
'Sure.' I swallow. Neck the last of my beer. 'Sure, um, just let me… go to the bathroom. Back in a minute.'
'Ok.' Maggie nods, slurping the remaining dregs of her drink.
I touch her arm gently, before weaving off through the crowd. The club lights are flashing, blinding, faces lit up like ghosts. The heavy bassline sends vibrations through the floor, making me feel like I'm on a space-ship. All around me, people are dancing, grinding up against each other, making out.
I slip out into the corridor, following the signs for the toilets. The place stinks of booze and piss.
It's been ages since I drank this much and I have to take a few deep breaths, just to steady myself.
'Argh!' I clutch my chest. 'What the hell are you doing here?'
'Did you really think I was going to miss out on all the fun?'
'Bonnie.' She's draped against the wall, the hem riding up on her tight, red dress, holding a pair of black killer heels.
'She's cute.' Bonnie smiles, sweetly. There's a fresh gash down her cheek and she still hasn't washed the blood out of her hair.
'You've got a little…'
'Ah, shucks.' She wipes the blood away from her cheek with a long, pointed fingernail, licking her finger like she's dipped it in jam.
'Are you… jealous?'
'Jealous? Moi?' Bonnie lays a hand upon her breast. Body glitter is sprinkled across her bare chest and shoulders, a couple of silver stars beside each eye. But she's still wearing the wound dressing on the side of her head.
'I'm sorry about…'
'Don't mention it.' Bonnie winces. She bends down, leaning against me, to retrieve a shard of broken glass from her foot.
I get a sudden rush of cold. The feeling of supporting someone who's not really there.
'Doesn't that hurt?' I say, letting her go, carefully.
'What?' she says. 'More than a broken heart?'
I'm worried people might see us talking on the stairs. Or, worse, they'll see me talking to no-one. I move in closer, as a couple of girls – giggling, wasted – stumble past on their way to the ladies. Bonnie follows them with her wide, unforgiving eyes.
'Bonnie, can… why am I the only one who can see you?'
'I don't know, Alex,' Bonnie huffs. 'I didn't exactly ask for it to be this way. I guess you could say, we have unfinished business.' She laughs at her own joke.
A sinister, tight feeling grips my chest.
'Oh my god.' I lean back against the wall. 'This is nuts. I'm way drunker than I thought…'
'What about Maggie?' Bonnie inspects the dried blood beneath her fingernails. 'Are you taking her home?'
'I never told you her name.'
'I'm all in your head, remember?'
'Bonnie, this is… gah!' I grip the sides my hair and squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block it all out.
When I open them, my ex-girlfriend has vanished.
I take Maggie home. We get a cab back to mine, making out in the back of the taxi. I throw some cash at the driver, then lead her upstairs, stumbling, to the front door of our flat.
'Here we are,' I say, fumbling with my key inside the lock. 'Home sweet home.'
I shrug off my jacket, as Maggie kicks off her heels. I take her coat and chuck it over one of the chairs in the kitchen. She looks around, awkwardly, hugging her arms over her chest, eyes resting on the dead spider plant on the windowsill.
'My housemates probably won't be back for a while,' I say reassuringly. Leon and Mark like to par-tay. 'Can I get you a drink?'
'Sure,' Maggie says, politely. 'Thanks.'
'What do you want? We've got beer, wine…' I rummage through cupboards, as Maggie takes a seat on the couch, slipping her hands daintily between her knees.
'Have you got any spirits?'
'Um, sure! I think I have a bottle of Jack in my room. Wait here, I'll be right back.'
I check my breath on my way to the bedroom. Heart racing, I push open the door and feel around for the light switch –
'Yarghhh!' I grip my chest in panic, shutting the door closed behind me. 'How the hell did you get here before me?'
'Magic.' Bonnie is reclined on my bed, flaunting a seductive set of Ann Summers lingerie: corset, cheeky little thong, suspenders. She rolls onto her front, kicking her legs up behind her.
'You have to stop showing up here like this.'
'You. Gave. Me. A. Key.'
'That doesn't mean you're allowed to waltz in whenever you feel like it.' I run a hand through my troubled hair. 'I have company.'
'That cute little brunette girl from the club? What was her name again? Molly? Mandy?'
'Maggie,' I say, exasperated. 'Look, Bonnie, you have to just… hide, ok? I haven't been with anyone since we…'
Bonnie looks up at me expectantly, with wide, luminous eyes.
'Come on,' I beg. 'I am not going to let you screw this up for me. I might actually get some action tonight…'
'You mean, you don't like what I'm wearing…?' Bonnie admires her own perfect breasts. If it wasn't for the bandage on her head, or the slash across her cheek, that keeps growing wider as we speak…
'Yes!' I groan. 'You are incredibly hot, and gorgeous, and sexy, but you are literally just an object of my fantasy.'
Bonnie looks offended. 'Don't objectify me!'
'Honey, you're dead.' I place one hand on my hip. 'Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to prefer my women with a pulse.'
Bonnie yawns. 'Night then.' She crawls under the covers, pulling them right up over her head.
When I pull them away again, she's changed into a baggy old stained T-shirt, no make-up, hair sticking up and crusted with bits of blood. Distractedly, she fiddles with a wonky bloody tooth.
'Bonnie,' I sigh. 'Come on, you're making a spectacle of yourself.' I drag her up out of the bed. 'Are you… even wearing knickers under there?'
'Wouldn't you like to know?'
I moan, badgering, trying to keep my voice low, leading her across my room, to the wardrobe.
'Look, Bonnie, I'm sorry, ok?' I yank her forwards and she howls in pain. 'What's the matter?'
Bonnie stops to click her broken arm back in place. She coughs into the corner of her night shirt, wiping blood away from her mouth.
'Bonnie, I… I offered to walk you home, but you were too stubborn.'
'You offered, Alex? You should have insisted. Now look at me.' She glances down at her tatty old T-shirt, bruises and scars up and down her legs.
'You think I don't feel bad about this every day?'
'Oh, you feel bad?' The wound on her cheek starts to ooze.
'You've got a little…something,' I point out, but she rolls her eyes, like she's used to it, mopping the discharge away with her thumb.
'We'll talk about this later,' I say, holding open the wardrobe door. 'Can you just… hide in here for now?'
'Oh sure,' Bonnie says, sarcastically. 'I really regret you breaking up with me. What a catch you are: Boyfriend of the Year!'
'Just… get in there.' I shove Bonnie inside my wardrobe and slam it shut, just as Maggie comes knocking on my bedroom door.
'Alex?' Maggie calls out. 'Who are you speaking to?'
'Er, no-one,' I answer. 'You can come in!' I lean against the wardrobe, with my arms folded.
Maggie enters, suspiciously, treading on the carpet in bare feet, tugging down the hem of her dress. Bonnie's right: she's cute. Brown, shoulder-length hair. Baby face. A sweet, innocent smile.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a normal, docile girlfriend: one who doesn't crawl back from the grave just to spite me?
'Here,' I say, getting up and standing on the bed to take down a bottle of Bourbon from the shelf. 'Or, we could just… sit?'
Maggie joins me on the bed. I put my hand on her knee and she giggles, awkwardly, leaning in towards me. We start kissing, and she smells of menthol cigarettes, and fruity shampoo, and booze.
'You're so hot,' I murmur, stroking my finger through her hair, as she runs a hand over the top of my jeans…
'What was that…?' Maggie sits up, blinking.
The wardrobe door creaks open…
'Nothing,' I say, turning her head back to face mine. 'Nothing, just… ignore it.'
We continue with our make-out session, but the wardrobe door swings open slowly and Maggie's back straightens, bolt upright. Muscles tense. Eyes wide. Mouth hanging open in alarm.
'Alex, how… did that open on its own?'
'Oh, it's just an old piece of crap,' I say, standing up and marching across the bedroom. 'Doors need re-hinging, that's all.'
I peer behind the open door and Bonnie is crouched there, at the bottom of my wardrobe, hiding between a pile of clothes. 'BOO.' This time, she's changed into a circus clown costume, with full face paint and a black tear at the corner of one eye, pulling a sad, tragic frown.
'Bonnie, please,' I hiss. 'Why do you have to ruin this for me?'
'Just like you ruined me?' I don't say anything and Bonnie slashes a finger along her neck like a knife, pulling a "dead" expression with her face, tongue lolling, eyes closed, head drooping to one side.
'Ok, fine,' I whisper. 'I miss you, I'm sorry, happy now?'
Bonnie sits up, rolls her eyes. She hugs her knees up to her chest, as I force the wardrobe door closed a second time.
I tear off my shirt, before joining Maggie on the bed, conscious of not wasting any more time. She's wearing a short, blue dress and it's easy enough to find the thin cotton of her panties…
'Stop,' Maggie puts her hand on mine. 'What's that?' Scratching coming from inside the wardrobe. 'Never mind,' Maggie says, standing up, pulling down her dress. 'This was a bad idea.'
'No, please!' I leap up, after her. 'I promise, it's just… termites! They keep getting in my wardrobe and eating all my stuff.'
'I'm just going to call an Uber…' Maggie tucks her hair behind one eye, showing herself out into the kitchen-cum-living area.
'Maggie, wait!' I rush after her, doing up my flies. 'Ya-aaah!' I nearly catch my finger in the zipper.
Bonnie is there, in the kitchen, wearing one of my old hoodies, helping herself to a glass of wine. 'Oops!' she mouths, ducking behind the counter.
'Um, is there… someone else here?' Maggie looks around suspiciously for her handbag, wrinkled her nose.
'No, no,' I say quickly, 'course not.' Just my crazy "ex" girlfriend, back from the dead.
'I'm just gonna… use the loo.' Maggie scampers into the bathroom, clutching her handbag in front of her like a weapon.
'Ah, Jesus Christ…' I turn to flop down on the sofa, but – 'Holy fuck!'
Bonnie is standing there, by the window, tearing leaves off the dead house plant. She's dressed like in an angel, in a white tube dress, with white Perspex boots and a pair of wobbly silver wings. 'What's the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost.'
'Bonnie,' I cry, imploringly. 'Please, you know how much I loved you, and cared about you, but it wasn't working out…'
'You're really going to let her leave?'
'You keep scaring her off!' I drop down on my knees. 'Bonnie, I'm sorry. I never meant for things to end the way they did. Or for you to walk home by yourself that late at night.'
'Quit the sob story.' Bonnie nudges my shoulder with her boot. She hovers there, above me, tapping my shoulder with a toy fairy wand.
'Alex, what are you doing?' Maggie turns up her nose, to find me prostrate on the floor of my own apartment, talking to a spider plant.
'Nothing!' I stand up, brushing my knees. 'I was just… I'm a bit of a green thumb… and I saw this video that if you talk to your plants, it can make them come back to life.'
'Yeah, I'm getting out of here,' Maggie says, taking out her phone.
'Maggie, please,' I rush towards her. I reach out to touch her – but something holds me back. Maybe it's the expression on her face. The fact she clearly doesn't want me to come near her.
The fact I can still smell Bonnie's perfume – musky, potent – lingering behind me like a ghost.
'I'm not crazy, I swear,' I insist. 'I just had a really bad break-up with my ex… Well, not recently, like a year ago. But it's been nearly a year and I can't seem to move on… or let go.'
'No offence,' Maggie says, pulling up the Uber app on her phone. 'But I'm not really looking for baggage right now.'
Will I ever be able to get over Bonnie? Is she always going to be there, like a bad, ugly memory? A manifestation of my guilt?
'Maggie, please,' I beg, nearly tripping over the coffee table. 'I haven't felt this way about anyone, since…'
The front door opens. Mark and Leon stumble into the flat, arms draped around each other, holding one another up.
'Ooh,' Mark slurs, looking Maggie up and down. 'One cute, boujie straight girl: tick!'
'I was just leaving,' Maggie says, eyes scanning around for where she left her shoes.
'Maggie, wait!' I ramble, pathetically. 'Can I at least have your number?'
'Um, I don't think so.'
'What's going on here?' Leon asks, as Bonnie grabs her coat off the hook. There's an empty wine glass on the side. The dead spider plant droops on the windowsill, leaves curled like crusted old tongues.
'He's still hung-up on his ex,' Maggie says, wiggling on her heels. 'It's embarrassing.'
'It's not me, it's Bonnie,' I plead. 'None of this is to do with me. She keeps messing with my head, still. One minute she's here, the next she's not…'
'We were just going to go next door,' Mark says, unapologetically, steering Leon away and leading him towards their bedroom.
'Alex?' Leon says, stopping to survey the mess. 'Are you ok?
'I just can't let her go.' I sink down onto my knees, sweeping dead leaves into the palm of my hand. 'She was right here… She was right here…'