The Essence of Senescence Milo Twyla
～ Chapter 1 ～
Morning’s first light streamed through translucent windows, onto Zephy’s sleeping, laughter-lined face. Her jade-green eyes fluttered open, coming into focus on the naked man lying comatose on the other side of her kingsized, hammock bed. Echoes of the previous night reverberated throughout her groggy head, cognisance drowning her foggy irises.
I’m still alive? Fucking hell!
Despite her continued fatigue, she sat herself up stiffly. The only remaining blanket slid to her waist, exposing pert nipples on creased and sunken breasts. Her lawless, silver hair cascaded down her back into chaotic ringlets. Her freckled face and poised neck were imprinted with pillow marks from the deepest of sleeps.
With a crestfallen frown, Zephy glanced dispiritedly around her vast, open-planned apartment, where vibrant duvets, blankets and pillows were scattered across the floor. Discarded clothes trailed towards her, sitting on the circular swing-bed. But her terminal depression eased as she studied the yet older man beside her, a sated smirk tugging at her swollen lips as her body tingled.
Her muscles ached as, with tired reluctance, she scooched off from the levitating mattress and over to the adjacent armchair. She donned the purple, velvet robe that had been draped over it, concealing her firm but fading, five foot frame of golden-caramel skin.
She noticed the empty jar of homemade lubricant on the bedside table, then the woven wastepaper basket beside her battered feet, revealing a laudable number of used condoms and crumpled tissues. She swept both up and, on light feet, floated across the eclectic central space to the bathroom. She emptied the basket and placed the jar in the sink, before relieving her weak bladder and washing her worn hands.
Zephy then glided across the warm, oak floors to the corner kitchen, where pale grey cabinets softened the flamboyant and divergently-patterned tiles. She jabbed the kettle to life as it sat next to the souvenir magnet-covered fridge and pulled herself up the stairs whilst the water heated.
The wall was lined with art, with press clippings and with hundreds of photos, spanning almost a century. Some photographs were old – black and white, and faded – whilst others, more recent, were vivid and glossy. Nevertheless, all were mounted in multi- coloured, clashing frames, arranged in an arbitrary fashion.
Zephy found herself panting slightly, her venerable heart pounding by the time she had reached the top of the stairs, where the mezzanine overlooked her entire flat below. A rack of muddy boots and a bristling door mat were its only occupants. However, a striking, violet front door beamed out into the space.
She clenched the banister for a few, uneasy moments. Once she had caught her breath and calmed her heart, she unlocked the front door. It swung inwards, revealing the door’s unpainted exterior, where the dark, walnut wood remained bare, with the numbers ‘7~250’ carved into its heart.
Whilst open, the door was identical to the countless other doors that were posted, at equal intervals, along both sides of the endless hallway. All were uniform and monotonous, only punctuated by numbered sequence, except for Zephy’s entrance door, at which multiple newspapers were laid out, ready for collection.
Fanned out on her threshold, each and every front page was emblazoned with the same photo of a comet, with similar headlines of astronomical reference. Zephy grabbed the papers, nudged the door shut and hurled herself back down the stairs to the kitchen, where the kettle was now whistling.
Opposite the dazzling kitchen tiles, aged, oak shelves clothed the wall, upon which were stored innumerable and miscellaneous bottles, jars and vials, each with a handwritten label. Some labels, written in plain English, bore common content: essential oils, organic herbs and bath salts, whilst others were tagged with foreign script: bizarre ingredients – plant and otherwise – and homemade brews and balms, tinctures and tonics.
Open, on the counter below, were books of varied size, thickness and condition. All were handwritten, most tattered with yellowed and fraying pages. However, some shared the same leather binding, the same near-perfect condition, the same right-tilted, cursive script, charming doodles and detailed diagrams.
Zephy plucked a hand-sculpted mug from a cabinet, pinched out a few leaves of sage from a jar and brewed her tea. Whilst bronze essence steadily diffused throughout the water, she snatched a packet of chocolate biscuits out from a floor-to-ceiling junk-food cupboard that was crammed with synthetic goodies and every other imaginable indulgence.
After placing her unorthodox breakfast onto the kitchen island and clambering onto the stool, her entire form suddenly dissolved over the counter into a despondent, Dali-esque puddle. A malicious, relentless grief corrupted every feature of her shattered face, which she now squeezed in an insanely-tense grasp. Distraught with pain, she desperately choked down woeful sobs, before clenching her drowning eyes shut and swallowing down a tremulous gasp of breath.
Almost at the flick of a switch, her body then stiffened. Robotically, her wilted spine straightened, her slumped shoulders uncurled and her pallid face unpinched. When her eyes reopened, she was now chiselled with today’s forced, emotionless expression.
As if her collapse had never occurred, she routinely unfolded the newspapers and tore into the biscuits with fidgety fingers. Clawing for distraction, miserable pupils devoured the celestial articles, her salivating mouth demolishing the chocolate cookies.
A shrill phone screeched on Hattie’s bedside table, stopped, then screeched again. Despite the silken restrain of a sleep mask, she growled awake and snatched the touchscreen up to a pointed ear. “Hmpf.”
“Good morning. This is your six-thirty morning wake up ca–” Hattie seethed and cut off the overly-effervescent voice, carelessly slamming the sleek phone back down. With fists clenched in fury at the disturbance, she fell back into an imperious and procrastinating sprawl in the middle of her plush, king-sized bed.
After attempting and failing to fall back asleep, she ripped off her mask and glowered into space. Her alabaster skin was bright but surgically tightened, eliminating all trace of rumple or wrinkle. Although alone in her bedroom and merely slumbering, her black- brown eyes and thin but bow-shaped lips remained stained with immaculate makeup.
Hattie angrily threw back the wheat, tan and blush-coloured bedding, and slithered down the high mattress. Her well-pedicured feet landed onto bitterly-cold marble, yet she remained unperturbed, instead rather invigorated.
She prowled over the ice floor, across her white Neoclassical boudoir. The room was monochromatic, barren of any personal effect, housing only a bed, a bolstered bench and a bedside table. The walls were bare but embellished with blended, baroque carvings.
She entered a similarly albino, ensuite bathroom, tinted only with brass accents. The marble surfaces were again devoid of clutter, everything hidden deep within concealed cabinets.
Hattie stared at herself deprecatingly into the expansive mirror. She blanched, she scowled, she huffed, then looked away, her reflection causing her offence. She slapped the counter impetuously and a cabinet opened below, revealing a cavern of creams, gels, balms, sprays, curlers and straighteners, all organised to perfection. Expeditiously, she culled out fistfuls of cosmetics and began her daily, fifty-minute beauty regime, peeling away layers only to replaster once more.
A tin alarm clock squealed on Ernie’s bedside table, then ceased from senescence, but not before he blinked awake from his light slumber and sat up from the striped bedding, slowly easing each grating joint.
The analogue clock still ticking but sufficiently silent, Ernie shifted his petite physique around and gazed mournfully at the uninhabited space in the bed beside him. His eyes slowly lifted to peer up at the framed photo of a grey-haired woman on the bedside-table, glass now protecting the fragile edges from past pining clutches.
Familiar, sharp stabbing pain pierced his heart and he instantly kneaded his knuckles across his ribs. As his powder-blue eyes flooded with tears, he ripped his gaze away from the photo and frantically scrubbed his hands over the length of his face as if to banish not just his tears but also his continuing grief.
Still sniffling and with oversized pyjamas hanging from his shoulders, he hoisted himself up from his lumpy mattress and slogged across the pine floors of the space that resembled a cell, rather than the home of a long-lived retiree. The monastic room was cramped and could only fit a mismatched, self-assembled bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers, its off-white walls clean of decoration and memory.
Ernie plodded into his basic bathroom, preemptively installed with rails and seats for an older inhabitant. Although he lived alone, he routinely closed the door before using the toilet. Stooped over the too-low sink, he then washed his weathered hands under scalding-hot water in a futile attempt to loosen his throbbing, rheumatic joints.
Disconsolate, he lumbered back to the bedroom, over to the wardrobe and drawers. Half-empty, each held a simple collection of clothes, conforming to a cloud of white, light blue and navy. Without considering harmony or trend, he selected a single outfit and carried it into the bathroom, yet again closing the door behind him.