Breakfast in Bed
In the morning he brings her breakfast in bed: mushrooms on toast, and a mug of steaming tea. She sits up, pulling the sheet primly around her chest, and he laughs. He opens the curtains a crack and the morning sun creeps into the room, peeling back the night like an unwanted blanket. A dull ache unfurls behind her forehead. He sits cross-legged on the bed in his boxers, taking long thirsty swallows of tea, spilling blackened mushroom slivers onto the duvet.
His room is a kip of course; a muddy football rolling around the carpet, tangles of cables snaking across the floor, and a faded towel hanging limp from the back of a chair. She remembers stumbling over the football last night, the chair shunting away on its casters, ramming under the desk. She hadn’t expected someone like him to have much of a place. Not a bad looker though. She’d wait for him to go for a shower, then get dressed and sneak away.
‘Aren’t you hungry?’ He nods at her plate.
She takes a bite. The mushrooms taste of butter and pepper and smoke. They slither from the toast, golden juices joining older stains on the sheet.
While he was downstairs, she’d herded her clothes into a bundle, and clutching them to her chest, she’d gone to the door and looked out across the landing. Three closed doors, two of which must be the housemates’ bedrooms. At the sound of footsteps on the stairs, she’d dashed back to the bed, noticing for the first time a plastic banner draped across the headboard, declaring ‘Police Line, Do Not Cross’.
‘Don’t you like mushrooms?’ he asks through a mouthful, spraying oily crumbs onto the bed.
She shakes her head, suddenly nauseous.
‘We used to go gathering them when I was a young fella.’ He finishes his breakfast in two gulps, takes a final wash of tea, and climbs under the bedclothes.
She tries to edge away but there isn’t far to go. At her side of the bed, a mound of debris fills the trench between bed and wall. Last night, after he’d fallen asleep, the duvet clenched in an armlock, she’d tried to leave. She’d stood on shifting layers of books and shoes and clothes, scrabbling around in the dark for her things, before returning to the bed, defeated.
‘Where? Somewhere out the country?’
‘Nah, there was a GAA pitch alongside us at home. Useless feckers never did any training. We used go out at dawn and search the field.’
She wonders what to do with her plate. The remains of the toast lie slumped in a slick of grease. She doesn’t want the rest of the tea either, but she’d have to reach across him to set the mug on the locker.
He strokes her thigh. She clamps the mug firmly onto the plate.
‘You got up at dawn just to pick mushrooms?’
He sits up, sending the dregs of the tea sluicing over the rim. ‘Have you ever done it?’
‘Done what?’ she says, panicked. He looks younger than he did last night.
‘Gone picking mushrooms.’
She shakes her head. ‘I thought they grew in plastic trays in the supermarket.’
He looks like he doesn’t get it. She thinks about giving a little laugh, but decides against it. He should be trying harder to impress her. No way she could introduce someone like him to her friends. Twenty-seven and still sharing a house.
He sighs, and slides down beside her again.
‘We used go out in all weather, even in the October mist when you could hardly see your feet, not to mind mushrooms. Anywhere the grass was a little rougher, a little longer, was a good spot. You could walk the length of the pitch and back before you’d find one. Then, just when you’d think there was nothing doing, you’d see a tiny white light gleaming in the grass. And when you parted the tuft, sometimes there’d be a cluster of them, little ones sheltering under big ones, looking so perfect you’d be shouting at the others to come and look, to see before you picked them.’
The plate and mug roll into the space between them when she slips down under the covers. She studies his profile while he talks. A good strong jaw, a firm wide mouth. Grey eyes with short, feathered lashes. The dent on the bridge of his nose reminds her that he’d been wearing glasses when she’d met him last night. He hasn’t worn them since.
She smiles, remembering how breathless he’d been, how eager to please her. She gazes at the white moon lampshade hanging from the ceiling. She could save him from all this. It would take time, but she could work on him. They could live in her apartment at first; let him see what it’s like to have something decent, then, when things got more serious, rent it out, buy a house between them.
He turns to look at her. ‘There was something mysterious in it,’ he says. ‘To think of them pushing up silently through the dark and the mist while we were asleep.’
For a moment she doesn’t understand. The she realises he’s talking about some other night.
He raises up on one elbow. ‘I still remember the feel of them,’ he says. ‘Warm and moist, cupped in your hand and still growing. It was a delicate thing, to slide your fingers under the cap and pull the stem free without breaking. Underneath each one you’d find a ripple of pink gills, smooth as velvet.’
‘Weren’t you afraid they might be poisonous?’
His eyes are wide and serious, as though he’s finally getting to the point.
‘I never ate them. I’d no taste for them then. I left them in piles at the side of the pitch.
The lads used whack them into smithereens with their hurleys.’
‘You went to all that trouble for nothing?’
She laughs. She laughs at the curling posters on the walls, at the broken laptop blinking on the desk, at the yellowing paper lampshade, hanging like a wasps’ nest from the cobwebbed ceiling.
‘It didn’t feel like nothing.’ He throws back the duvet, swings his legs to the floor. The muscles in his back pull taut. ‘I’m going for a run,’ he says, hauling on a tracksuit end. He slings a t-shirt over one shoulder and leans against the door frame. ‘Sure I’ll give you a call later.’
He’s gone before she remembers she hasn’t given him her number.
The front door bangs closed. There is silence for an instant, then a burst of music close by, and she remembers the housemates.
She dresses in a cold fury, the advancing daylight throwing up new insults: bald patches on the carpet, a sprawl of unwashed clothes at the foot of the bed. She thinks of her apartment with its oak floors and leather couches, her bed with its crisp, cool sheets. When she reaches for her handbag, she touches something slimy. She jerks her hand away, and finds a crescent of charred mushroom clinging to the back of her arm, like a crack in her smooth, tanned skin.