I really hate taking a bath. The walls groan as they strain to break free from their confinement and plunge their thirsty tubers into my soapy water. I sooth my damp palms across parched flaky grain, uncomfortably mesmerised. It’s almost watering time.
We were among the first to move into Hambledown. An entire estate crafted from genetically engineered timber. The unique output of a ground-breaking programme that grafted stem cells to saplings in an attempt to reduce the cost of wood production by tripling the rate of tree growth. When scientists observed infinitesimal signs of sentience, the whole forest was swiftly razed to the ground. What better way to hide that costly calamity than in plain sight?
It was only over time that the residents here began to realise our mistake. But by then we were tethered. We assume that the research team were unaware that their modifications had enhanced the telekinetic ability of the trees. Or that incredible regenerative powers meant that even varnished timber could re-root successfully.
I spend my days tending to the many needs of my home. My nights are filled with autumn leaves scudding on the breeze, dank velveteen soil and the caress of worms as they wrap seductively around my limbs. Occasionally I squint through the grooves on my decking to watch the roots beneath playfully squirming and stretching. In a few years the whole suburb will be ready to move on.
I can pinpoint the moment things changed between me and Linus. Judy joined the firm right after old Mr Schneider vacated my apartment block in the back of an ambulance. As I watched them roll the trolley down the too narrow stairwell, I recoiled, nauseated at the sight of his swollen blue face. He had lain, unmissed, in his bath for days before Mary Jackson called the paramedics when he missed their regular Thursday luncheon. I regaled Judy with precise details of his wrinkled skin and protruding tongue in an over-keen attempt to get her to join me for dinner. We were engaged six months later in a whirlwind of scarcely disguised astonishment that I had managed to both hook and land such a beauty.
Linus was the only one that seemed uncomfortable. He’d been with me since, well forever. Some kids have a comforter. I had Linus Ryder. Mum and Dad used to roll their eyes as I would recount the latest instalments of our night-time adventures. I didn’t dare tell them that I never outgrew my invisible partner in crime. After all, that’s years of therapy couch fodder. Right? When he realised that Judy was more than just a regular date, a sarcastic tone crept into our cheerful banter and then he began to disappear, sometimes for nights on end. When I asked him what he was up to, he threw me a shifty glare and lowered his horn-rimmed eyes so that I was left gazing down on the dimple of his sun-bleached Stetson.
After I broke the news about the upcoming nuptials, our friendship slid even further. I woke most nights drenched, insomniac and aching. I don’t know if I’m more jittery from my constant state of terror or the steady stream of espresso that I’ve been knocking back to keep me awake. When Judy didn’t turn up at Carlucci’s earlier tonight and wouldn’t answer her mobile, I knew instantly that it must have something to do with my favourite cowboy.
So now I’m lying on her bed, tied up next to my darling and I desperately wish I’d told her about him. About how jealous he’s been. That he’s not only the cutest gunslinger in town, he’s mighty fine with a needle and thread too. His Daddy was a boot maker and his Granddaddy before him. He likes to keep the tradition alive. He’s leant over her squirming body as he uses those skills to sew her eyelids shut when he realises that I’ve joined them in this dreamscape.
“Hey dude. I’ve been getting to know your girlfriend these last few months. Glad you could join us, I figured it would only be a matter of time. She sure is one hell of a honey. Which is why I’ve come up with a way that we can all be together instead of me feeling like the third spoke of the wheel. You hang on in there, partner, it’ll be your turn next.”