The war between Maurice and Joyce was starting to take on worrying proportions. Confined to her small flat for almost a month now, they divided the space into a strict allocation of his and hers: the bedroom and living room could only be occupied by one person at a time. They would alternate sleeping on the sofa and bed. Kitchen and hallways were Switzerland, and the small terrace could only be shared on exceptionally sunny days.
Of course, this wasn’t the plan four weeks ago. After their sixth date, they were faced with the decision of not seeing each other for months, as Maurice would have to go live with his hippie cousin in Bristol while his campus was on lockdown. Or... they could take the leap and move in together temporarily. It was risky, but the promise of good sex was better than loneliness or René’s erratic rants against capitalism. Plus, who doesn’t believe they’re invincible after five pints of pale ale on a Friday night?
Everything was fine for a week. Then the novelty steadily wore off, and they each became too much to handle on top of the toilet paper and eggs crisis in Whitechapel. Now the schedule printed on the fridge made their separation official, although their break-up, or even togetherness were never voiced in the first place.
Had they met back in Bordeaux, Maurice would’ve initiated the conversation on their fifth date, over the warm croissants he would’ve sneaked out to buy before she woke up. There would’ve been cheese, room-temperature butter, his mum’s exquisite homemade apricot jam, and a fresh pot of coffee. Tulips, maybe, if the queue for Jacques’s flower shop wasn’t too crazy. Unfortunately, they met in London. And their fifth date found them in Joyce’s basement flat in East London, hungover, eating cold slices of Papa John’s from the previous night. Two years in this city had taught Maurice that his usual displays of sympathy were better kept to family or old friends from home. He also learned that while people here seemed to be in a hurry all the time, they didn’t like to rush into anything. Everyone was bouncing off everyone else at the speed of balls inside a pinball machine with infinite turns.
Joyce, who grew up in London and whose parents were now divorcing the people they thought they’d love more than each other years ago, was not a fan of labels. She wanted to be able to disentangle without making a fuss. She said it was progressive - no, even a human right. Love was universal, so committing to offer it to just one person was an act of cosmic selfishness, how could he not see that? We were here to love as many people as possible, and we had to earn a living on top of that and shower and clip our nails, so there was no time to waste on conversations about what we mean to or expect from each other. If it’s all love, why does it matter if she gave it to Maurice or to someone else anyway?
Since she rises first, she can get the living room until 10am to do her lame online workouts and eat her pretentious quinoa breakfast by the large sash windows overlooking the park. Then, they trade rooms. She takes over the bedroom to write her pathetic blog that no one reads, not even her mum, so he can do his workout to that embarrassing music everyone stopped listening to years ago. They congregate in the kitchen at lunch, where they divide the tasks equally - a merely functional arrangement about the best use of resources, they both agree. Maurice cooks while she tidies up, and they eat together at the table. Their conversations are limited to the progress of the pandemic, meal planning and the weather, which suddenly makes a decent topic.
They meet again for dinner, which is usually quiet and accompanied by some Netflix show. At night, she drinks with her pompous art school friends on Zoom, while he attempts to look so smart by watching BBC documentaries, when in fact he’s just scrolling through Instagram, probably looking for the next girl to hook up with. They brush their teeth separately, wish each other good night and fall asleep quietly sobbing into their pillows.
Oddly enough, it starts working.
They haven’t fought in almost a week, and a few days ago they even giggled together at the news of Boris getting the virus, only to feel terribly guilty when they found out he was intubated in intense care. The following night, Joyce opened a bottle of wine and left a glass out for him. The next day, Maurice picked up a chocolate bar on his daily walk outside and left half by her laptop in the kitchen. Later, she showed him the project she’d been working on, and it was actually pretty good. Over dinner, he told her about a documentary he’d like to shoot when this was all over, and she asked so many great questions it gave him an even better perspective on how to direct it. At night, they both skipped their usual schedule to keep talking on the terrace over a joint, rejoicing in their shared love for human consciousness in the early hours of the morning.
When they woke up in the same bed, it felt like the worst was behind them. He borrowed her bike to grab some croissants from Sainsbury’s while she tore up the schedules and set the table on the terrace. It was the first exceptionally sunny day of spring, and love was about to commit to cosmic selfishness, at least for a while.