Having lived away from home for some time Joe did not miss it. He had learned the basics of bachelorhood. He could keep the washing pile low by turning his underwear inside out. He could iron his shirts. There were more creases when he was finished but they were flat creases which was enough, he thought. He could fry an egg, turn it onto toast and call it dinner.
He looked around his small apartment. It was clean. He had a nice Polish lady called Eva who came once a week. He enjoyed it, the day she came, the apartment had the smell of cut lemons.
He began to unpack the shopping. First was the bunch of tulips a deep orange that slowly lost its colour bleeding yellow at the tips. He took a jam jar from the recycling and washed it before propping the tulips in it.
He put the cheese in the fridge along with two bottles of wine, because—who knew how the evening would go? The crackers he arranged on a plate.
It was quiet, so he put on some music, soft jazz rose in the air and it got all mixed up with the tulips and pulled at something in his chest. Joe checked his watch, he had about half an hour. He placed the crackers and the jar of tulips on the coffee table. He straightened a cushion.
After he had showered he stood in front of the mirror wiping the steam away with his hand. He examined his face. He closed his eyes and tried to picture himself—square jaw, eyes the indistinct colour of standing water, thick caterpillary eyebrows that moved like they were alive. He opened his eyes quickly but the picture he had of himself escaped into the steam and it was a stranger he saw looking back at him.
He wiped the mirror with the edge of his hand and sighed. It was nearly time. He shaved, cutting the edge of his chin. He stuck a small piece of toilet paper to it to stem the blood. It bloomed red in the shape of a tiny heart.
He pulled on a shirt and clean underwear. As he buttoned his jeans he heard a knock at the door. He went through the living room, stopping for a moment to prop up a tulip. He fetched the wine from the fridge and stood it on the bench in salute.
Yes, he thought to himself, this will pass. He opened the door and was swept up by the scent of her, roses and talcum powder. He breathed it in, it smelled like home.
“Hello, Mother,” he said.
“Joe dear,” she said as she leaned towards him, “you have something on your chin.” She pulled the piece of paper from his skin. It tore a little, a short needle of pain and a tiny dot of blood began to bead.
She patted his cheek. “That’s better.”
They stood there for a moment. The tiny cut on his face throbbed. Joe felt all his blood slow. It was cold in the apartment he noticed now.
“Joe,” she said, smiling, “aren’t you going to invite me in?”