Alice knocked and waited in the hallway lit by stark fluorescent lights. Along the lower stretches of the white walls there were black scuff marks left by rubber soles and bicycle tires. Over there a streak of ketchup from a little plastic sachet that was now stuck to the ceiling. Cigarette burns and takeaway menus littered the carpet. Alice knocked again. She had seen him cleaning his door with a J-cloth and a bottle of anti-bacterial spray the other day.
The door opened, slightly, and one half of Alan's face appeared. The cool, fresh odour of chemical fragrances escaped from his room; forest pine, summer breeze, winter fresh.
Hi, said Alice.
Hi, said Alan. Alan wore glasses, wire ones with rectangular frames that sat level on his face.
Can I come in? Said Alice. Alice also wore glasses, with swooping bright red plastic frames that tilted asymmetrically no matter how many times she adjusted them.
Alan opened the door fully and Alice went in, passing in front of Alan. Brightly coloured fabrics swished with the rolling of her hips and the hair that brushed Alan's face, wavy and thick like a lion's mane, smelled of something sweet and organic. Sandalwood and clove cigarettes, perhaps.
Alan stood and cleaned his glasses while Alice gathered her bare feet beneath her on the bed.
I love your room, she said, looking around her. Alan had many posters on his walls: Chicago skyscrapers rigid and correct, sports cars from the eighties whose lines resolved themselves into a sharp wedge. A Bridget Riley print, a mosaic of softly coloured trapezoids. The posters were evenly spaced and perfectly aligned, as though composed on a grid.
Alan's desk, arranged so that it was precisely perpendicular to his bed, held his computer monitor, engineering text books, a desk tidy and a pad of A4 lined paper. These elements too, were laid out in exact spatial proportion to one another. A biro lay a perfect inch from the pad of paper, parallel to the spine. The text books were laid on one another in descending size order, forming a neat ziggurat of mathematical principles, material behaviours and logarithmic functions.
The overhead fluorescent light was turned off, the room lit instead by spherical free-standing lamps that rendered everything cool and serene. Electronic music without lyrics was coming from the stereo, soothing and regular.
It's like a little oasis of calm, said Alice. She laughed, one fluid, shaking breast threatening to dislodge itself from her cleavage. Alan looked away as she readjusted her top.
Thanks, he said. I like to keep things a bit tidy, you know.
She watched Alan as he cleaned his glasses, his neat features sharpened by concentration. His shirt was square-cut and well-ironed. She imagined his body beneath it, taught pale skin without creases.
Maybe you could come and sort my room out for me. You know, rearrange it. Give it some Feng Shui, she said.
Alan looked up from polishing his glasses. Alice ran a hand through her unruly hair, pulled it into a certain position only for it to mutiny and spring back. A thigh was protruding from her skirt, a wild and expanding curve back towards her buttocks.
I don't really like touching other people's things, said Alan. Alice shifted position and readjusted her bra strap, a bright flash of mismatched underwear causing Alan to look away abruptly.
Oh no, it's all perfectly hygienic, said Alice. I'm just a bit messy. I just leave my clothes wherever I take them off, you know, she said. She laughed again, the warm flesh in her cleavage rolling like bathwater.
I have a laundry bin, said Alan.
That's good, that's admirable. I need to buy one of those.
Well, said Alan. You can always come in here. You know, to escape the mess.
It feels so tranquil in here you know, she said. It's so messy everywhere else. In the kitchen, the bathroom.
I don't go into the kitchen much.
I don't blame you, it's horrible. There are things growing in there. Alice stretched, her top riding up to expose a broad expanse of her belly, a small jewel glinting in the vortex of her naval. Alan polished his glasses.
Would you like to come to the pub? A few of us our going out, you know, having a few “beverages.” She made quotation mark signs with her fingers on this last word, skin tightening in the hollows of her armpits.
Oh, said Alan. I don't think so. I have a lot of work to get on with. He gestured towards his desk, its contents lying in regimented isolation from each other.
Go on, said Alice.
Next time, said Alan. Definitely next time.
Alice stood up, and readjusted her clothing, pulling down her rustling skirt and setting a bra strap back in place with her thumb. She went to the door, opened it and paused.
Next time? She said.
Definitely, said Alan.
Alice hugged him, his body remaining stiff against the warm chaos of her flesh that smelled of sandalwood and clove cigarettes.
Alan stood by the door, and looked around his room full of right angles. He walked over to his bed and examined the rumpled crater on his duvet where Alice had been sitting. He ran his hand over it, gently and comprehensively, drawing from it all of the heat left by Alice's body.