A New Stepladder
My job had been made clear. I was to form a cradle with my hands, stand straight, and 'not fucking move'. She, in turn, was to step into the cradle, dig her knees into my collarbone, lever her weight against my back, and finish painting the top of her... our, freshly created feature wall.
I manoeuvred my head, trying to find a comfortable position while its natural space was occupied by her thigh. Across the room I saw the graveyard of stuff we’d dragged from the cupboard which had rested against this wall: the turntable on which we’d spun our musical worlds together in my old attic flat; the headless plastic baby the dog used to play with when we first moved in here; and the stepladder, which had until recently fulfilled my current role, one of its legs now bent at a painful angle.
‘Stop bloody fidgeting!’
The irritated command spurred me to stiffen, causing a jolt to my passenger and pushing an under-the-breath insult from her mouth.
It was then it started, the inevitable tingling on the bridge of my nose. I held fast with the resolution I could ignore it, mind-over-matter, for the best part of five seconds before I started scrunching up the skin on my nose. An action which, if anything, only made it worse. I stuck out my tongue and tried to curl it up to the affected zone - not even close. It was apparent I was going to have to take more drastic action.
At a glacial pace, like some sort of yoga master, I subtly shifted my balance and position to begin releasing the burden on my right arm.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ she massively overreacted.
Wordlessly, I resumed my original stance, refusing to look up and see the withering expression I knew would be on her face. Instead, I focussed on the cooling mug of tea which had been abandoned when my orders came in, sacrificed at the altar of love, service, and DIY.
Desperate for salvation, I noticed the stitching around the zip of her jeans, less than half an inch above my nose. It was subtle, machine-stitching, but surely enough texture to issue a decisive scratch? I moved my face slowly towards it, doing all I could to keep my action undetected. Having made contact, I paused, allowing her to get used to my closeness. The tension was overwhelming, if she rejected me at this point all was lost. Holding my breath, I angled my nose and quickly rubbed it twice along the ridges of her stitching. The relief was immediate.
‘Did...’ everything in me clamped as she began to speak. ‘Did you just sniff my crotch?’
‘No…’ my eyes darted side-to-side like a caught-out cartoon.
‘Put me down, you fucking weirdo.’
And that’s how I ended up at B&Q, buying a new step-ladder, in the middle of the England game.
‘That’s er… great, sir. Do you need help getting this to your car?’