HLR — burnt teaspoons

“Oi. What colour are my eyes?”

Until that moment, I had deliberately avoided looking into his eyes.

Eye contact is all about connection, and I did not want to be connected to him in any way. He repulsed (and slightly scared) me. I was glad to have somebody to buy me drinks and distract me from my otherwise all-consuming misery and self-loathing, but I didn’t want to look at him.

My intentions were good but applied far too late: I didn’t want to lead him on because I wasn’t attracted to him at all and, like I said, he kind of makes me sick. But I probably should’ve made that clear before I slept with him.

His eyes weren’t nice. They weren’t bright or captivating, they held no sparkle, no promise. They were the eyes that belonged to so many men in this town: a dull and disinterested mix of grey and brown, plain and passive, reflecting weekdays of half-assed manual labour and weekends spent in a cloak of marijuana smoke in some loser’s bedsit. Eyes that belonged to a soul with all the depth of an egg cup.

His eyes weren’t curious or animated like the wild orange marbles that lived in my sockets. His eyes sat in a self-induced coma, made dull by a lack of education, an absence of ambition and a resignation to the type of mundane life that I could not bear to experience even for a day, let alone a lifetime.

It was dark in our corner of the bar and my own eyes were vodka-glazed. And I didn’t want to look at him. But a quick glance confirmed my suspicion that his eyes were the same dead eyes that I’ve seen sleeping in the skulls of one hundred tired men before him, and will see in one hundred tired men after him, too.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if they were grey or brown, and I have an irrational fear of getting things wrong. Which is terribly ironic considering the huge mistake I had made with him a week prior.

“Burnt,” I told him.

“You what?”

“Burnt. Your eyes are a burnt colour.”

“What the fuck does that mean? Burnt what?”

His eyes were the colour of cooked skag. They were the colour of scorched silverware, the colour of that bubbling class-A treacle on a teaspoon, the colour of the dried blood in the crook of my best friend’s elbow. But I didn’t want to gift him this comparison, didn’t want to open that line of communication, didn’t want to fall down that rabbit hole with anyone, especially not him. No, he didn’t deserve my poetry. So instead I said, “Sticky toffee pudding.”

He laughed and said, “Oh, right! You could’ve just said brown, you fucking weirdo!”

“I know.”

Everything about him annoyed me. I struck a silent deal between my strangled heart and tortured brain to stop befriending and humouring total morons. I drained the dregs of my drink and disappeared outside for a cigarette in the dark, where nobody would be able to see that my eyes were on their way to looking just as dead as theirs were.

HLR (she/her) is a prize-winning poet, working-class writer, and professional editor from north London. Her work has been widely published since 2012, most recently by Hobart. HLR is the author of History of Present Complaint (Close to the Bone) and Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess (Ghost City Press). Twitter: @HLRwriter