Wednesday, May 17, 2023


When the doorbell rings I buzz the entrance to the multi apartment complex. I’m living on the ground floor, so when I open the door to my apartment he’s already standing in front of me, pulling his trunk close.

“Hi,” I say, somewhat reluctantly but I remember my good manners. I even extend my left arm, the right one being occupied with the cane.

He hesitates for only a split second, his gaze traveling to my fingers curling around the cane’s head before coming to rest on my face again. His eyes are hazel brown and I can’t fail but notice they aren’t bad to look at.

Eventually he smiles and his left hand releases the handle of his trunk before we shake hands.

After a second of staring at each other I remember I’m supposed to let him inside. I take a step back, cane following with a thump, making space to let him pass. He’s smaller than me but not by much. His dark hair is longer, it curls slightly in his neck. Despite the dim corridor I notice he’s in need of a shave.

“Well, the bathroom is through here, I’m sleeping in this room, over there is my office, the kitchen is to the left, the living room to the right,” I say, lazily indicating several doors leading away from the corridor. He takes it as a cue and proceeds towards the living room. I follow much slower, leaning on the cane.

He stands in the middle of the room, between couch and dinner table, and sill says nothing. I’m starting to feel the itch of irritation as I cross the threshold. I’m not that scary. I don’t bite. I even took a shower and put on proper clothes, although I was working from home today, didn’t set a foot outside and didn’t plan to meet anyone in person.

Today and yesterday and the day before that. All week, to be honest.

“Feel at home. The couch is all yours.”

As I walk in unsteadily he tries not to stare. He pulls the trunk to the side of the couch and lets his backpack fall on top of it. Carefully, I let myself down on the armchair angled toward the couch. To be socially acceptable this conversation should take longer than my legs can support me, I guess.

“So”, I say once I’m somewhat settled comfortably. “You are Matthias, aren’t you? A friend of Judith’s.”

Judith called me earlier this evening, breathless but clearly thrilled to have something to occupy her time with. An acquaintance of her—or of someone she knew—had stranded on his way back from a business trip. Something about the train conductors being on strike. Or a technical failure. Along those lines. Anyway, Judith was calling because this guy needed a place to stay. Apparently the only hotel in my region was already fully booked due to some festival of sorts and she remembered I lived somewhere nearby, so she asked me to take him in for the night. Begged me, in fact. Because I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about having someone over.

“Please, pretty please, Eric?” Judith said when I scrambled to come up with excuses. “Do it for your best friend.”

A best friend I haven’t seen for ages since she’s moved away and started a family. While we were on the phone, I could hear a baby cooing in the distance, and I couldn’t even remember its name.

“Matthias won’t be a bother and I know you aren’t busy anyway. He’ll be good for you, actually. Company.”

“I have company enough, thank you very much,” I had mumbled, though which company exactly remained unknown and because I wanted to avoid further probing into that topic I had finally caved in.

“You are the best!” Her cheerful reaction had in fact made me smile, if only shortly. She asked me to be nice to Matthias, and I said yes, of course, because I may be grumpy sometimes but I’m not a total caveman. She repeated herself, using other words to the same effect, until I got a little cross with her, not exactly demonstrating superior social skills but at least succeeding in shutting her up.

Still, after we’d rang off I looked down at myself, at faded pajama pants and a woolen pullover with holes at the elbows and not entirely clean, and decided I needed to do some improvements before her friend arrived.

That was an hour ago. My hair is still damp and I’m starting to regret I went to all that trouble for an entirely ungrateful Matthias who merely nods in answer to my question, sitting down on the couch with some distance to me. Absentmindedly, I knead my left thigh. Geez, I definitely shouldn’t have let Judith talk me into this. I knew it would ruin my perfectly enjoyable evening, but this is even worse than I’d imagined.

“Nice of Judith to organize a place for you to stay,” I say and stare at Matthias long enough until he gets the hint.

“Um…” he says and swallows. “Y-yes, thanks.” His eyes dart away from mine and he clarifies: “Th-thank you for h-having me.” At least he has the decency to look apologetic.

Hm. Maybe not ungrateful, just shy. I recall Judith’s litany and promise myself to do better. Don’t come up with anything good, so go for the obvious. “So did you come here by cab...?”

I am a little rusty at this, I have to admit. It may have been a few weeks since I spoke to anyone other than the postmen. Not counting work-related meetings.

Matthias shakes his head, glancing at me sideways, then seems to kick himself and sets out for a proper explanation. “N-n-no, I… I-I w-w-walked from the mmm…… mmmmm…..” With some effort he stops himself, opens and closes his mouth as if to start again without achieving much. He takes a few controlled breaths, then finishes in a flat voice: “Mm-main station.”

So that. Not just shy. Matthias blocked hard enough on the 'm’ that it seemed like his lips were glued together and his eyes closed, as if they wanted him to disappear from where he was.

“Ah that’s…” I decide it doesn’t even make sense to act like I didn’t notice his stutter. I’m not that good of an actor. Also, he knows it’s obvious, based on his reaction. I hate when people pretend they don’t notice my troubles. Also the cane. God knows who they think they’re fooling. “That’s quite some distance. Tomorrow you could take the bus.”

I think the bus isn’t operating on hours as late as this, or at least I assume Matthias tried to take the bus, to no avail. I haven’t been out and about during nights for quite a while and my not be entirely firm on the bus schedule anymore.

Matthias nods, smile flickering on and dying again. Then he grabs his backpack and pulls out a paper bag containing a bottle of gin, apparently from the 24-hours store at the main station.

“I h-have ss… ss...something for you,” he says, offering up the bottle. “Sorry, they d-d-didn’t have w-w-w-wine.” He licks his lips and looks away from me again.

“Oh, wow!” I put the bottle down on the small table between us. Remember what I’m supposed to say. “That's really not necessary, thanks.” I most certainly will not touch it, not with the meds I’m currently on.

He nods again. I can see he’s still nervous, from the way how he’s sitting, too far forward, close to the edge.

I feel like there’s an expectation I’m not meeting. I doubt Matthias actually wants anything more than a bed to sleep in but still I feel like I sorely lack some basic abilities to make a proper host. I should be more entertaining, perhaps. Thing is, I really don’t know how. I got so rusty at things that I’ve absolutely forgotten how to behave like a normal person.

We try talking about our jobs, and it doesn’t go too bad I think. We both seem to feel comfortable with that topic and we cling to it for like fifteen minutes. Mostly it’s me talking. From the few scraps that Matthias offers, in carefully curated words that betray he’s used to talking about this while avoiding the hardest blocks, I gather that he’s an artist. He just returned from a vernissage in Zurich, where, if I understood correctly, some of his pieces were shown.

As I talk, I catch Matthias’ eyes wandering around the room. Mostly empty shelves and blank surfaces, although I’ve lived here for several years already. His brows draw together in slight astonishment as he perceives the wheelchair folded down and leaning against the wall in one corner.

He doesn’t comment on it though.

“H-have you eaten a-a-a… already?” Matthias asks and pulls oven cheese and an entire baguette out of his backpack.

Food. I realize I should have offered some already. A late dinner. Something.

Have I eaten? Maybe breakfast, if I’m lucky. Thing is, I’m not really hungry. I never are, these days. “Great idea,” I say.

“I-I c-c-can coo-coo-coo… cook.” Matthias huffs and gestures with the baguette toward the door leading to the corridor.

It takes me a second to realize he waits for me to lead the way. “I show you around the kitchen,” I say, my voice getting strained as I struggle to stand up from the softness of the armchair.

Matthias moves forward and slightly extends an arm as if he wants to help but then his hand just falls back to his side. I glower at him when I finally stand in front of him, swaying slightly, clutching the cane until the vertigo passes and he’s probably glad he didn’t venture to help after all. I motion for him to go in front of me and he seems to try to walk slower this time, resulting in steps that look like ridiculous slow motion. Somehow this manages to lighten my mood.

The kitchen is part of a spacious widening of the hallway, and leads out to the terrace. It’s a beauty in chrome and dark wood and would be my entire pride if I took pride in things like that. And if I cooked, I guess.

Didn’t have the time to do it before, don’t really eat now, I guess.

I show Matthias the oven and a bread knife. He finds himself a cutting board. I inspect the fridge and am surprised to find some leftover lettuce that doesn’t look like it’s very much alive but also isn’t totally gross. I offer to prepare it and get a nod from Matthias. Manage the sorting and washing okay, open the cap of the oil bottle without problems, but then my hands stop cooperating when I try unscrewing the bottle of vinegar. I’m still debating if my teeth may be of any use here when a pair of hands stretches into my field of vision. With a quick flick of his wrist, Matthias does what I failed at and nimbly stirs the contents together in a glass, not glancing at me.

Grabbing the kitchen counter for support, I walk over to retrieve a salad bowl from a lower drawer. I remember getting it as a house-warming present from an old colleague. The ceramic bowl isn’t entirely round, its color quite undecided somewhere between light gray and darker blue, and wasn’t used in god knows how long, maybe never. Still, I’ve kept it, and I feel this would be a good opportunity to break it in.

Although I hope not to actually break it, since the damn thing is much heavier than I expected. It almost slips from my unreliable hands before I manage to heave it up and on the counter with a bang, making Matthias jump.

“Sorry,” I apologize meekly and retrieve the cane that leans next to the fridge, effectively signing out of kitchen duty. My legs are getting weak and as I try to shift more weight on the cane I ask myself why I don’t have an opportunity to sit and rest in the kitchen.

I guess I should buy a bar stool or something.

Matthias turns to me. “Do you h-have mm… mmm…..” Matthias’ eyes screw shut again as he blocks, his throat visibly tightening up. He swallows compulsively on nothing and huffs, rubbing his forehead. “Geez.”

A chuckle escapes my chest, surprising me. Matthias’ eyebrows lift in question and I shake my head but then elaborate. “You know, I’m not sure Judith knows just how hopeless we are, otherwise she’d never had brought us together. Between the two of us, we can’t even make a decent salad.”

Matthias stares at me then erupts into laughter, somewhat hysterically but behind that is genuine mirth. He looks like he enjoys laughing, and like he’s actually practiced well in doing so. I suddenly notice just how much a fish out of water he is, here, with me. He’d probably had a much more fun evening if his train had operated the way it was supposed to. If he hadn’t stranded and ended up with me. An evening with friends. A partner, maybe. Normal people.

I’m hopelessly incapable of laughter like that. A fish so long without water it forgot how to swim.

Still, despite it all, I notice Matthias relaxes some, his shoulders drop and he bounces a little on his feet. From time to time he glances at me with a small smile still sitting in the corners of his lips while he oversees the status of the cheese in the oven.

We don’t get to enjoy our new kinship much, though. There’s a dim pulsing pain and growing stiffness in my calf muscles that calls for a seating position urgently.

“The mustard is in the fridge door, upper storage compartment,” I say, turning to go on reluctant legs. “I’ll um… set the table.”

I probably won’t.

Matthias nods a little and gives me a thumbs up. I understand it means he’ll get on fine in my kitchen without me. And also that he forgives me for interpreting what he wanted to say.

Because the thing is, I hate salad sauce with mayonnaise. So that didn’t really leave any other option.

Dinner is pleasurable enough. I eat most of the salad which is surprisingly good despite our hiccups. I wonder what Matthias put into the salad sauce to make it taste much better than anything I’ve ever concocted when I tried. I only pick at the cheese because I can’t bring myself to eat much of it and that’s a good thing because Matthias seems to be starving. He eats with both hands, rips big chunks from the baguette that he warmed in the oven and dips them in the thick creaminess of the cheese.

I’d never imagined watching someone eat could be so satisfying. It would be wrong to say that Matthias’ delicate fingers and lips, only minimally stained with shiny fat from the cheese, aren’t adding to the pleasure.

When I express some interest in Matthias’ latest art project, he wipes his fingers on the napkins that I’ve found in a drawer, and shows me pictures on his phone. Tall metal sculptures, pointy bits and sharp edges. Rusty, glittery, oily. Some pictures seem to have been taken during the vernissage in Zurich. The sculptures look wrong inside the pristine art gallery, with its hard-white surfaces and rectangular angles. And they look wrong next to Matthias, fluffy hair, those quiet eyes and long, tender fingers. When I catch a closer look at his hands as he angles the screen toward me, I notice the signs of rough work, though. Calluses, healed cuts. Painfully short fingernails, if perfectly manicured and clean now.

At one point during dinner my phone vibrates in my pocket from a new text message Judith sent, asking if everything went alright with Matthias. I answer with a thumbs up and on second thought write a short text telling her we are currently enjoying dinner, thinking it will make her happy to hear we are getting along. As I look up from my phone again I notice Matthias has taken the opportunity to answer messages on his phone as well.

“M… my sister,” he says, shrugging, and slips his phone back on the table. “They are all w-worrying too m… much.”

I nod. “I know. Judith is making sure I didn’t rip your head off yet and buried your body in the garden.”

His lips twitch. “Is that w-what you do with your g-guests? U-u.. usually?”

“Nope. Usually I keep them chained-up in the cellar and drink their blood.”

He nods. “G-good call p-putting some g-garlic in the s-salad sauce then,” he says as if to himself, smiling.

Well that explains the good taste. I make sure to remember that.

I chuckle and change position in the chair, my thigh muscle acting up again. “How do you know Judith?” I ask, genuinely interested. If Judith told me any details, which she may well have done, I forgot.

“Um… I d-don't, a-a-actually,” he says, admitting he didn't correct me earlier. “I t-texted m… my sister a-after it turned out…” He gets a bit agitated and I understand it must have been stressful for him, his journey unexpectedly ending at a foreign place with no free hotel rooms. “A-anyway, she t-told her f… friends from baby g-group I n-needed a place to c-crash. Judith g-got back to her saying she h-had a friend living here.“

Was I Judith's first choice for a place to let her friend's brother stay a night? Somehow that seems unlikely to me. I don’t think I'm in people's mind as a particularly flexible and welcoming host, and I know for a fact that I'm not the only person Judith knows from around here. She has a whole crowd of old friends. It seems equally unlikely that they are all unavailable today, though. I also notice her calling me her friend for the second time, even though I didn’t think we were any such thing anymore.

“So y-yeah…” Matthias looks a bit sheepish. “Th-thanks a-again for l-letting me hi-j-jack your e-evening and y-your couch.”

“It's no problem,” I say, and this time I mean it. “Your sister sounds nice.” I also notice with a little flutter in the region of my stomach that if Matthias called his sister for help, there most probably isn't a partner in the picture. “You should tell your sister I don't use the cellar much anymore. It may ease her mind.”

Matthias laughs and nods, his eyes shortly flicking to the cane's head that is leaning next to me against the table. “She is. N-nice. She t-told me to go to b-bed e-early and not to…” He stops himself, blushing a little.

“What?!” I prompt, but Matthias shakes his head, his cheeks growing a little redder. What did he tell his sister? Did they text about me? I suddenly feel a little morose again. What had he made me out to be, his hideous hunchback host? I decide not to force it and we both fall silent again.

Once we’ve finished dinner, or rather Matthias has finished because I’ve long stopped eating at that point, Matthias indicates he’ll take a shower. Since he was in Zurich already a few days before the vernissage to help set everything up, he has a change of clothes and toiletries with him in his trunk. I make sure I've thought of everything, explain where he’ll find a blanket, pillow, and bedding for sleeping on the couch later, and a towel for now, and retreat to my bedroom. Open the drawer of the cupboard next to my bed, retrieve a non-descriptive box. I took my night medication earlier, shortly before dinner, but some days I need more than that.

Some days. Most days.

Many years of occasionally constructing joints as a teenager have made me rather deft at the job, while the last couple of years reduced me to a beginner—although I got more training than I could ever wish for. Today I forgo the filter because I can’t bear the thought of handling an object even tinier and more flimsy than the thin rolling paper. I manage to sprinkle about the right amount of flower in the correct places, and roll the joint rather carelessly with numb thumbs. There’s a pencil in the box, and I use it as a makeshift packing tool to push the herbs further in. Close one end, more-or-less artfully twist the other, and lie back on my unmade bed, overcome with a bout of exhaustion so sudden I don't even manage to pull off my shoes, unlit joint between my lips.

There’s a faint knock on the door and I realized I’ve dozed off.

“For fuck’s sake…” I mumble and pick the joint up from where it has fallen on my pillow. Then I struggle to sit up and bellow: “Come in.”

Matthias is freshly showered and shaved. Darker, towel-dry locks fall into his slightly rosy face. He changed into a crumpled T-shirt and sweatpants, and he rocks the sorry-I-just-woke-up-looking-this-sexy look.

Even though I'm the one who just woke up. On that account, I'm sure as hell looking like shit.

“Um…” Distracted, his eyes wander around the room unknown to him. I don’t blame him because while the rest of my apartment is tidy—if empty—my bedroom is the opposite. Discarded clothes and shoes mingle with books and a couple of empty food containers on the floor and every other even surface.

“C… c…” Matthias Adam's apple bobs, he stops and breathes for a few seconds. “W-w-w-would you share the W-W-Wi-Fi p-password with me?” he asks finally. He lifts his hand, vaguely waving his mobile phone at me, to underline his request.

“Um, the Wi-Fi password?”

I'm not delighted to have been woken up but I decide to give Matthias a pass on the account of him looking incredibly hot. With some effort I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and rub my fists over my eyes, trying to rid myself of exhaustion and getting my brain to jump-start.

No chance.

We try creating a QR-code on my phone to share the password, which I didn’t even know was possible. Matthias sits next to me on the bed, smelling even better than he looks, and his fingers swish over the screen of my phone with immense speed. He has no success, though.

“It must be somewhere. I think I know where,” I mumble, tuck the joint behind my ear and heave myself off the bed.

For a moment I’m a bit disoriented because I forgot where I left the cane. I’m still not entirely used to needing it inside, I must admit. Also my memory has been shot thoroughly.

“Here.” Matthias picks up the cane from somewhere on the floor, half buried under a soggy pizza carton, and hands it to me. I’d challenge him but there’s no judgment in his eyes, so I take the cane wordlessly.

We make for the corridor and I rummage around in a drawer where I hide things that I don’t have the energy to find proper storage for. It’s bursting full, and leaning over it, searching with one hand, drains my batteries to blinking red lights.

“Ugh,” I make, and leave Matthias to it, with the instruction to find a piece of cardboard about the size of a credit card with the cable company’s logo on it. I never changed the original password.

Meanwhile, I grab a random coat, shuffle through the kitchen and wrestle open the door that leads out to the terrace and the garden. Sit, light up with some difficulty and smoke in the unusually mild autumn night, listening to the dim hum of cars rushing down the highway in the distance.

The terrace door opens with a low pop and the old leaves crunch under Matthias’ irritatingly even footfall. I’m being an ass and don’t turn around until he clears his throat.

“Um…” Matthias says. He carries a flat metallic casket in his palm, opens it and retrieves a joint. Several more stay put in their lovely home, all evenly rolled, same-sized. “M… May I join you?”

I nod, and then we both realize that there’s no chair left. To be more specific, there never was any chair present to begin with. I’m sitting on a down-turned apple crate that I found in the garden the first day I moved in, and use the window sill as a makeshift table.

I gesture to the shed at one side of the terrace, barely visible in the dim light falling through the windows and terrace door behind us, and Matthias goes to rummage around in it. He comes back with a sturdy looking plastic bucket, turns it upside down next to me and sits. I’m impressed by how little he seems to mind the provisional aspect of it all and toss him the lighter. He lights up and we smoke in silence for a while.

“D-does it help?” Matthias asks, not looking at me. When he stretches his legs out in front of himself I notice he’s still barefoot.

I watch the dark shape of the gnarly tree that’s threatening to overgrow most of the terrace. Someone should probably shorten it.

I nod, then shrug.

Did it ever help? Not really, I guess. Not properly. Not against the physical pain, or the dizziness, or the fatigue. But it helps to take the sting off of everything else. Puts a comforting veil over the fact that it's usually only me, sitting on this terrace. That there's no chance anyone will ever cut the tree. That I'm not sure if I'll be able to hold down my job, even with the adjustments that have already been made to accommodate me. That I have no idea how much longer the cane, as much as I resent it, will be of any practical use to me, other than knocking cereal packages down from the higher shelves in the supermarket.

“It does h-help for me,” Matthias says after a while.

Even in this short sentence the words seem to come more easily for him. When I think about it, that’s not the first time. During dinner I remember Matthias’ stutter getting better. By the time he showed me the photos of his sculptures he was still far from fluent, but his stutter had become more… regular. Fewer blocks, less endless repetitions that ended nowhere. That only flared up again when he entered my bedroom. I tell him as such and he nods.

“Yes. It’s got to run its c-course,” he says cryptically, glancing at me sideways. I know what he means.

“This is a b-beautiful spot,” Matthias says after a while.

I snort and don't even consider answering. The garden is small, just the terrace and a few trees between us and a busy street. It wouldn’t take much to maintain it. Still, the grass between the trees is at least knee high and weeds with branches as thick as my underarm have almost entirely swallowed the small fence that surrounds the garden. The upstairs neighbor once offered to mow the grass for me, glancing at my cane with something in his eyes that almost caused me to hurl up. He hasn't attempted to speak to me since then.

“No, r-really.” Matthias jumps up from his bucket, joint in one hand, all energy now. He walks over to the edge of the terrace, apparently not feeling the cold in his naked feet. “This w-will give you e-e-excellent shade in summer.” He indicates the gnarly tree that blocks out half the night sky already. “Here you'll put the b-barbecue.” His hand holding the joint traces a large shape in the left corner of the terrace. He adds something about the wind, and the corner of the house, and the position of the neighboring house, which will all work together so that the smoke can escape into the air.

When he turns to look at me, beaming, I shrug.

Matthias shoves some of the dead leaves aside with one foot and bends down to study the stones underneath in the low light, long fingers feeling the edges. “Good. N-nothing needs to be d-done here.”

I squint at the terrace stones between my feet. Remember that I thought they were nice when I moved in. It's no wonder I forgot, with them now all covered in leaves and other unidentifiable organic material that's been deposited here by the wind.

Matthias comes sauntering back to me and flops down on the bucket, causing it to creak in protest. He takes out his phone and swishes through websites and photos of garden furniture, showing me different options that would go together. A large metallic table, so it wouldn't need to be moved somewhere during winter. Light chairs that could be stacked under the overhanging roof in the corner. No deck chairs or swings, nothing that I would never be able to get out of alone if I ever should make the mistake of sitting down in them in the first place.

He grins as I stare at him and shrugs. “Sculpturing d-doesn't really p-pay the bill,”he confesses. Turns out, he works half-time in a garden center. “The s-smell is good and p-people usually are ch-chill w-when they c-come shopping to us.”

He looks at me with those big hazel eyes wide open. Belatedly I notice he waits for a reaction from me.

“Oh yeah…”

I mean it’s perfect. Chairs in normal height, sturdy table to grab onto. He’s doing a great job, I hope someone acknowledges that where he works. I’m just not kidding anyone. Even if I ordered the furniture, who will carry it inside, who will assemble it?

Matthias seems to read my thoughts. “It c-comes with an installation s… service. Already included.”

Well okay. Still. Sure there was a time when I looked at the garden and thought of inviting people over, for barbecue, games. Even work. Back when I had just moved in and thought that they would come over to me now that I couldn’t visit them as regularly as I wanted. And some have been over, praised the kitchen, stood around in the living room, offered beer. Talked about meaningless shit, too scared to ask the real questions. Invitations to go out still arrived then, birthday parties at bars, football games at the stadium, going out for dinner. When I showed up less and less because I spent more and more time at doctor’s offices and hospitals, or hanging over toilet seats to puke my guts out from the meds I was forced to take, that tapered out as well. The last brave attempts to contact me have been successfully shot down by me trying to bite anyone’s head off who asked how I had been. Pain doesn't necessarily turn out your nice side.

Yeah, I think I could have done better. Been more patient with people, cut them some slack for not knowing what it feels like when your nerves are attacked by your own body. Tried to accommodate them more. But the truth is, I didn't want anyone around me when I felt low, I preferred being alone, at the beginning. Now I'm feeling low almost all the time and I have no idea who I’d invite at a table as large as Matthias suggests.

Matthias still watches me, eagerly, and I find anger kindling in my stomach. What does he think, that there’s a group of friends stacking up outside to storm my apartment? That may be true for him, he's a lovely lad and who wouldn't like him, but it isn’t the same for me. Truth be told, this evening showed just how useless I'd be when trying to socialize more.

I bite back the rude remark that lies on my tongue and instead say with some forced cheerfulness: “It’s just missing one of your sculptures then.”

Matthias turns around on his bucket, looking out in the dark garden behind him. I can’t see his face and am afraid I may have insulted him. God knows how much one of his sculptures sells for, I could probably never afford one. And sure as hell they aren't supposed to be put into a garden, aren’t they?

“Uh huh,” he makes, turning back to me. He’s grinning. “I c-can think of one th-that’ll be just p-perfect.”

I shrug, a little embarrassed because I'm not sure if he's joking. Matthias draws up his naked feet, trying to keep warm, teetering on the bucket like he himself is a sculpture on a pedestal. When we've finished ours, he offers me one of his joints, lighting up for the both of us. I hold the small thing with fingers that feel like I'm wearing thick gloves.

Nothing to do with being high though.

We sit and smoke in a silence that doesn't feel awkward. Once I've finished my joint to the dregs, thanks to the filter without burning my fingers that still feel funny, I notice I'm up much later than I usually am. Than I should be. I don't have a sister to remind me my allotted awake-time is over. I have parents, very loving parents who try very hard. They talked me into getting a new apartment, on the ground floor, or at least with an elevator, when I thought all I needed was everyone to back off. It's not the same as a sister or a brother, who could take the full truth of a life being shredded to pieces. We still talk to each other, my parents and I, regularly, and I make an effort to sound like I'm keeping them updated when indeed I'm not. It wouldn’t do anyone good if they knew more than they must.

Turns out, apple crates aren’t suitable sitting arrangements for people with mobility issues, who would have thought. I'm not usually this tired, and my legs deciding to be assholes the moment I make to get up isn’t helping, but I always knew my lack of proper garden furniture would bite me in the ass one time. Literally. I abort the second trial getting my feet under me and heaving me up using the windowsill when my left leg goes into painful spasms, the heel of my left food thumping on the beautiful terrace tiles.

“Fuck,” I mutter, digging my fingers into the treacherous thigh muscle, sucking in air as the pain intensifies.

“C-can I help?” Matthias has come down his bucket-slash-pedestal and crouches at my side, his eyes wide open and very bright in the dark.

Shaking my head I wave him off. It's not that bad. I know I simply overdid it today, too much standing, no stretching, and far too long sitting in an improper position. Plus I can feel exhaustion literally dragging onto me like I'm covered in an extraordinarily heavy blanket.

“Jstneedamin,” I mumble, realizing from Matthias' frown that I must be pretty incoherent. That's me, over and out on talking properly. At least Matthias knows how that's a bitch.

My left leg gets a grip and stops spasming. Carefully I ease it to straighten and bend it again. Shake it a little to make sure it won’t turn on me again. Matthias' gaze meets mine. He's offering his hand, eyebrows raised.

Ah well. I guess there's another time to be dignified.

I clasp his hand, grab my cane with the other and let Matthias haul me up. It's a bit abrupt, dizziness taking a hold of me once I'm upright, and it must have shown because Matthias' hand stays, his other steadying me on my back.


Carefully, not to make the world toss around even more, I nod. I will, once I've slept for a night and a day, preferably.

There’s a moment in which I realize I don't mind being held by Matthias too terribly. His hand is warm and steady. There's strength in this arm, strength required to work metal, I guess. It's confusing, so I shake him off with a grunt, and enter the apartment leaning on my cane, alone.

It's still in the middle of the night when I wake up. In fact, I can't have slept long, not with the pillows in disarray around me, lacking the support they usually provide. After smoking with Matthias on the terrace and staying up far past the point of exhaustion, I barely made it to my bedroom. Didn't change my clothes, only discarded my shoes and passed out in a random position, face-down. Now, what can only be one or two hours later, my leg muscles are so tight they feel like made of cement and my lower back seems to consist of crudely put together metal plates that got stuck at a bad angle. I dimly wonder if I screamed from the pain during sleep. Blindly I rummage around in the drawer next to the bed but only manage to retrieve empty pill bottles or discarded pain killers with a dosage much too low to provide relief anymore. For an agonizing minute I debate if it's worth the trek to the bathroom. Eventually I decide there's no alternative. The pain comes in slow waves, minor cramps intensifying to an excruciatingly hot sensation that makes it impossible to breathe until it has passed.

There’s no sign of my cane anywhere near the bed, nor the floor, but thanks to furniture and helpful walls I somehow manage to get to the bathroom without falling flat on my face. My face is gray and sweaty in the bathroom mirror, the bags under my eyes purple, and I quickly pull the cupboard open, to not have to look at my reflection. The pill bottles rattle as I push an unsteady hand through, finding what I'm searching for with dead precision nevertheless. I pop two different pills right away and swallow them dry, slip another one in my pocket for later. It feels like safety and I keep my hand wrapped around it, trying to recall the proper dosage and timing. It seems irrelevant to me now. While I wait for the muscle relaxant and the morphine to kick in, I lean against the shower compartment, breathing through my nose. The stiffness in my legs turned out to work in my favor on the way here. As I’m thinking that thought, I can almost instantly feel my legs start shaking. I'm still in dire need of sleep and rest. The floor seems endlessly far away and I wonder would I manage to get up again if I crawled back to my bedroom.

There's movement at the open door to the bathroom and a disheveled Matthias appears, in nothing but boxer shorts, his hair standing up adorably, his eyes bleary. Until that moment I had forgotten I wasn’t alone in my apartment today. He stares at me. I’m still glued to the shower stall, unable to stand up straight and breathing flatly, pill bottles lying to my feet. I want to tell him to fuck off to bed but the sound escaping my throat sounds closer to a sob. He's there with two unfairly quick strides, catching me around the chest the moment my knees give out, causing me to topple forward.

“Easy,” he rasps in my ear and there's no hint of a stutter.

Breathing, the heavenly scent of Matthias' wavy hair in my nose, and drawing from the heat of his almost-naked body fresh out of bed, I let him hold me, until I feel the sharp edges of the metal plates in my lower back retreating, a welcoming numbness overtaking my chest, my limbs. Every fiber still sings with pain, but it's like there's a milk glass between me and the world. I'm not really there anymore, just watching it happen through blurry pictures.

Belatedly, I realize Matthias tries to say something. His chest jerks against mine and his head nods repeatedly. He's blocking again, big time. He gives up with a sigh that I can feel falling through my stomach like lead. He inches away from me, carefully, until I can see his face. “Back to bed?” his eyebrows seem to say and “Can you walk?” his eyes.

I’m still unsure as to the status of my legs and let out a startled yelp as Matthias moves away from me, causing me to start sliding down the glass pane of the shower stall again the second his support is gone. That's a hard no on walking. Alone, that is. Matthias ducks under my right arm, and we make it together, somehow, him staggering under my weight, me sending prayers to my knees not to give out again, while I try to remember coordinating the leg movements that don't seem to come naturally to me anymore. It's only a short walk but we are both done for once we arrive at the length of my bed. Matthias carefully lets me slide down on the mattress. I mumble something about the pillows and remember him trying to prop them up according to my increasingly slurred instructions. In the end, it's better than it was before and I thank him. I don't hear Matthias' answer, or if he attempts to speak again at all, I only notice him turning off the light and closing the door before I lose consciousness within mere seconds.

I wake up two more times this night, disoriented in my nest of pillows, the pain still there and at the same time not, unsure what woke me up and fearing I may have screamed again while still asleep. The third time I wake with a gasp and struggle upright I notice I'm not alone in my bed anymore. Matthias lies curled up to my left, his blanket only partly covering his naked legs. From the looks of it, he's fast asleep. I don't know what to make of it and quietly lie back again, his warm presence next to me. Did I wake him up, previously, like that first time tonight? Did he come check on me again, in case I should go wandering again? But why didn't he return to the couch in the living room, afterwards? Why did he set up camp in my bed? Tentatively, I reach with my hand towards his, feel his calloused fingers twitch and then close loosely around mine. With my heart beating more steadily, I close my eyes and drift off to a—this time—peaceful and uninterrupted sleep.

The light filters bright through my persistently drawn curtains when I wake up the other morning, at a much later time than I'm used to. I check immediately and find the bed otherwise empty, the space to my left unoccupied. There's no hint Matthias slept there, and I wonder dimly if I dreamed his presence last night. My cane is propped up against the cupboard next to my bed, the one where I store the marijuana. I find the morphine pill still lodged in the pocket of my pants and put it on the cupboard, deciding against it for now. There’s some tightness lingering in my legs, the muscle relaxant having waned off, and the pain is still considerable, but I find it's always easier to battle during the day, with my mind distracted. The small, white pill glows orange in the light from the windows, a reminder and caution.

As I stiffly make my way to the living room, the cane echoing heavily on the floor on every second step, I half expect to meet Matthias. But a single look inside the living room tells me he already left. The sleeping couch is back to its normal position, stripped blanket and towels neatly folded and stacked on the armrest. It’s only then that I dimly remember him informing me yesterday at dinner that he'll take an early bus to make the first train home in time for work at the garden center. The bathroom floor is empty again, the pill bottles back where they belong. No trace of Matthias in the empty shower cubicle, not even a single, slightly curly hair. In a surreal moment I ask myself if Matthias was ever really here, or if my troubled mind invented him entirely. When I step out on the terrace, barefoot because I forgot to put on shoes, I only notice the change by the lack of sound of leaves crunching under my hesitant steps. One look down confirms that someone must have taken a broom and wiped away the leaves and other dirt, leaving the light gray stone plates uncovered. They are warm against the soles of my feet, heated up from the morning sun. Solid, calm.

I sit on my apple crate, which is still in place, and find a joint on the window sill next to my lighter. A neatly built, perfect one. Grinning, I light up, and slide through several pages on my phone while I smoke. Buy a big metallic garden table after Matthias' suggestion. Buy plastic garden chairs like he showed me on his screen. Buy a barbecue grill and stuff that's apparently needed to have a barbecue like different iron tongs and a huge iron wok, wood chips to smoke salmon and a grill cleaning brush, all because it pops up after the first purchases I made. Buy an umbrella, a chain of silly light bulbs and, on second thought, a Hollywood swing, because I like imagining there's a brief span of time I'll still be able to use it on my own. And a hidden, buried hope I may have someone to use it with, who'd help me get out of it again, if I can't manage on my own anymore.

Because there's no reason I should stay on this terrace alone.

While I savor the joint, smoking as gently as possible, I type invitations for an autumn barbecue party and send it to people. To Judith and her family. To Matthias. To the upstairs neighbor who once offered to mow my lawn for me. To the old colleague who gifted me with the heavy salad bowl. Once I've finished the joint, my feet starting to go from hurting to numb from the cold, I get up without major problems, and the phone in my pocket vibrates with a string of incoming text messages as I slowly go back inside, to make breakfast.


  1. Thank you for sharing!
    I‘m not crying…

    1. Oh no! It wasn't my intention to make you cry! *hands over a box of tissues* There, there. Um... I promise to write something funnier next time?

  2. Thank you so much Lovis, what a great surprise!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! That's so lovely.

  3. Awww this story has been so sweet! I love it! Thank you, Lovis. Your stories are great <3

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you like it. Makes my day <3

  4. This is incredible, Lovis! I loved it so much, so sweet and deep at the same time. I loved the character, and everything else! I hope you keep posting <3

    1. Thank you Catarina! Where did my comment go? Well anyway, it’s always great to be posting here, I’ll do my best!

    2. Posted as me, Lovis, not logged in because who the heck knows how computers actually work.

  5. Thank you so much for the story!

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment! It's the fuel of all stories here on the blog.

  6. Lovely! Thank u!

  7. It's so cool to see a character with MS here, I really love your approach! Thank you!

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment! I’m really glad you liked the story. I enjoyed writing it immensely. Would totally love to see more characters with MS here. There are a couple more MS stories on the archive. I totally recommend Disorderly, though be warned it’s just one chapter and will leave you craving for more. (If the author of Disorderly reads this, please continue writing!!)