They met in a coffee shop. She had not meant to go in, but hurrying past on her way to work, she suddenly had an urge as she passed by to stop and step inside. She remembered seeing him straight away – his hair dark and copious, his eyes with a haunted, hungered look and a touch of the waif. She had a soft spot for down and outs. She had once taken in a cat off the streets because it looked at her so plaintively; and though it was cruel, all claws, a mangey thing, a colossal force of destruction, still she would not turn it out. Her friends, seeing the wreckage of her apartment, called her mad. She did not mind. The cat ran away, once it had had its fill of her fridge and her furniture: and she was left alone again.
He was thin. He looked underfed. He had the hangdog look, and an air of tragic desolation – a musician perhaps, or an artist. She took him home with her.
They talked. They laughed. They slept like children locked in each other’s arms. Love sprung up like an inevitability; like a virus it seized her body. Her whole day became consumed by memories of his touch, and excitement at the thought of the next. She rode through her life in somnambulant bliss, waiting for him to animate her once again.
He didn’t work; she didn’t mind. He seemed to entertain himself quite well in the day, and for her the joy of finding him there again each night was enough. She would find him waiting and watching, and he would greet her, and hold her, and envelop her entirely.
She did note, however, that providing for two people seemed much harder than just taking care of herself. He did not seem to eat much, but the food in the fridge dwindled faster than before, until there was barely anything – 3, 4, sometimes even 5 times a week she would have to restock; until at last, she was doing a daily run to the shops to replenish a gutted void. He was still thin – but somehow he did seem sleeker, stronger than before. His eyes were no longer doleful – but the hunger still burned in them, watching her patiently as she bustled through the kitchen making dinner. It seemed to her sometimes that he was waiting for something bigger than her to occur.
She could not recall when the first piece of furniture went missing. It was a lamp beside the sofa – it was there one day and gone the next. She remembered it, but she could not remember how long he had been there by then, or if she had simply thrown it out before and was imagining its loss. She asked if he had seen it. He shook his head. They ate together, and went to bed as they always did.
A few days after this it was a table. This was more alarming. She asked him again – he knew nothing of it. She went to work – and thinking back through it at her desk, she reasoned that perhaps he had simply sold it, which seemed fair, since he had no money and did not work. He had sold it and was too embarrassed to tell her. She resolved to give him some money that night.
She stepped through the door to find her apartment totally bare. The lights were off. She flicked the switch – but the gloom remained. In the shadows, stripped clean of carpets and sideboards and tables and chairs, the room seemed enormous and grotesque. She saw him by the light of the window. Was it her eyes, or did he seem larger? His shoulders seemed to have gained breadth, and the light from the streetlamp pooling in through the glass illumined a cheek that was fuller, stronger, and more powerfully set than before. She took a timid step forward.
“Where is all my stuff?” she asked.
“I ate it.”
“You ate it?”
“Yes. I was hungry.”
She took a moment to digest this. Her head felt fuzzy as if it had been drilled through by the drone of a dim and distant bass, thrumming relentlessly in her ears. Why could she not focus?
It seemed that he was padding softly towards her, and she was shrinking; and with every step he seemed to loom larger and larger until he was there, giant before her, like a dream she was locked into.
“You ate my furniture?
“Yes.” He smiled. “I get very hungry. I thought you already knew that.”
She blinked. It was becoming very hard to focus. Her vision slid and smudged, and she felt herself sinking.
“Well,” – she was swaying, she was going to topple – “Are you…are you at least finished now? All the furniture…you must….you must be full?”
She fell. Her body pounded. She saw his tall form swoop down and cradle her into its embrace – and through the darkness she saw the gaze of those deep eyes come at her hungrier, hungrier than ever before.
“Yes,” he said softly – “Almost full.”