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The Chemist

by Charlotte Derrick

“Why are you so afraid of change?” Georgia asks, trying to catch Joshua’s eye. He’s more interested in the River Rock bottle clamped between Georgia’s legs. Georgia flicks ash from the end of her cigarette into the neck of the bottle until it burns right down to the filter, and then throws it in and swirls the dying butt around to ensure that it’s snuffed out.     

“I like who I am,” Joshua says. He’s been avoiding Georgia’s questions all night. Although he doesn’t believe she would throw a bottle at his head, he can see in her face that she’s considered it more than once.

It’s easy for Georgia. She makes twice as much a month as he is for putting a pen to paper. He writes just as much as her, but people want to be entertained. They don’t want to read academic papers about cyclic adsorption separation processes.

He takes his frustration out on Georgia when they have sex. He bites her neck and feels a quiet satisfaction when her skin bruises pink-purple. He doesn’t want to hear another word about her online mindfulness classes or the herbal medications she’s been taking or her bi-weekly private therapy sessions. Seventy-five pounds per session, she told him proudly, because she can afford it now.

Georgia sets the bottle down and moves closer to Joshua, placing a hand on either side of his face, so he has to look at her.

“What if you could be better than you are now?” she asks.

He leans in and kisses Georgia softly on the mouth. A small part of him wants to change, but he’s afraid. What if there’s nothing to change? What if he can’t? People like Joshua for a while. They think he’s funny, charming. And then they scratch the surface. Who are you really? He pushes them away before they can find out. He calls himself a narcissist. Georgia says he’s more of a Cluster C personality type. ‘Avoidant,’ she nods. He takes a mental note to look it up when she’s asleep.

“This coming from the girl who can’t even cry in front of people,” Joshua laughs because if he doesn’t laugh, he knows he’ll cry. It’s easier to hurt Georgia than to be honest with himself.

Georgia shakes her head at him and rolls over, pulling the duvet over her body.

Throughout the night, Joshua tries to inch closer to her. He wants to tell her, ‘I’m sorry, Georgia. I’m sorry I’m like this,’ but he can’t bring himself to do it.

Georgia shifts right to the edge of the bed and lays there, rigid, until it’s light outside. She leaves without saying a word.

Joshua’s alarm goes off at 8am. He gets up, gets dressed, and goes to work.

Nothing changes.

Charlotte Derrick is an emerging prose writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She was the winner of Spread the Word's Life Writing Prize 2019, and her work has been featured in The Honest Ulsterman, Wards Lit, The Open Ear and Coming Out.


February 2020

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