I trail the fleshy pads of my fingers over the places where curling paint juts out like the furling leaves of a flower. Except flowers tend to be alive. The wall beneath my palms is stiff, pealing and dead.
Absentmindedly I note Jane's impassioned chatter and sweeping hand gestures somewhere to my left. But there's a buzzing in my ears, and a hollow achy feel in my chest and my stomach that's creeping steadily up my lungs. I wonder if I might be sick. If I might rid my belly of this revolving churn. Hell, I might feel better if I did.
But would it, could it, purge this cloying decay rotting my insides? Could anything fix this? This corrosive bitterness, the aimless hopelessness that sometimes slithers into my throat and leaves me suffocating.
I kneel further up the couch, eyes catching on chips in the paint; fingers dipping over fissures spreading spidery trendils along the paper-like surface.
My index finger meets a place where the paint darkens, like a bright splotch of colour in a black and white painting or red eyes bursting forth from a faded photograph. Like the one that hangs limply, tilted on an angle from one corner, lone in its stability. I almost reach to straighten it, blow dust off of my mother's wedding dress and set it right again.
A sigh releases unbidden, escaping into the quiet air and resonating like a pen dropping in a silent classroom.
Jane's stopped talking. Looks at me with a hint of concern and a furrowed brow.
"Are you okay?" she asks me.
Somewhere outside I hear a car pull into the driveway. Then the door slam, the jingle of keys.
The sound of Mum's weary voice speaking quietly into her phone reaches my ears. She sends us a distracted wave before heading into the kitchen.
Mum sounded tired. It makes me wonder for a moment if Dad'll be home for dinner or if he'll be out late... again.
No, no I am not okay Jane, in what world could I possibly be okay? My eyes sting and my eyelids flutter to push back the building tears. I turn back to the wall to avoid Jane's stare and start picking at one of the peeling places. They're everywhere, down to the ridge where wall meets floor and up, up, up to the ceiling, where dulled white flakes.
Suddenly it's all I can do not to cry. Again.
A hand rests on my shoulder and Jane turns me to look at her, eyes big and face taught with that look she gets when she's about to go get my mother if I don't tell her I'm okay with enough vigour.
Part of me wants her to go away but another wilts a bit.
"Hey," she says too quietly, like I might suddenly squeak and run. "Hey, what's wrong?"
And it almost comes spilling out, all of it. The late night arguments, the stiff goodbyes and the ever growing frown lines. Those words they shouted once when things where particularly bad, hanging, lingering in the air like a noose.
Divorce. I want a divorce.
I shiver, but instead of talking I reach out and dig my finger nail into the crevice I had been tracing, a small glint of paint flaking away as I do.
My best friend is looking at me, expectant and cautious at once. Perhaps it would be easier if I let myself fall apart. Cry until there aren't tears left. Healthier.
But I don't.
All I can will myself to do is lift my gaze to the patchwork ceiling and say, voice breaking: