Inside Joke, by Ruth Ennis
You spend fifteen minutes messing with your hair, getting that undetermined parting just right.
It’s Sunday, so you’re wearing a baggy jumper with pyjama bottoms since nobody will see anything below the waist. You silently obsess over the bags under your eyes and I imagine you braving the endless echoes of criticisms that bounce inside your head.
I want to reach out to you, rub your shoulder and tell you that you look nice. But I know it’ll be shrugged off. I keep my wringing hands to myself.
You grab the tripod, switch on the ring light and plonk down on the couch. You gesture to the seat beside you and I join you. Sitting at the edge, I adjust my blazer and the nice shirt I picked out. I feel like I should do something more with my hair or face but convince myself it’s pointless. Your left arm snakes in behind my back and for a moment I think you’ll place your hand on my waist. Instead, you rest it into the couch seat, making the way you lean into me look far more natural than it is.
You slot your phone onto the tripod, find the perfect angle to hide the grey hair around your right ear, but that also highlights my double chin. It’s a new trend on TikTok, one that I know you’ll cement into the algorithm when you post it. One that I know I’ll see trailing along on Instagram in a few weeks’ time.
A cute couple’s Q&A. Most of the questions are silly and light-hearted. Almost all of them require one or two-word answers. You know what the questions are before they’re asked, but I don’t. I’m caught off guard when it prompts us to share an inside joke.
You turn to face me, the first time you’re looking away from the camera, with a smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. You say a random word that reminds me of nothing, but I know what you’re looking for, so I laugh. It’s too high-pitched. My friends will know it’s fake. Your followers won’t know the difference.
After ten minutes it’s done. I get changed into my pyjamas while you spend the next thirty minutes editing captions and adding little commentaries onto the video. I know they won’t be mean, but they won’t be kind either.
I don’t interrupt you and go to bed alone. You crawl in twenty minutes later. You lie on your back for a few moments. I might be imagining it, but you stay like this for longer than usual. So, I turn to lie on my back, to meet you half way. A few seconds later you toss to face away from me. I consider curling into you for a second. What would you do if I did?
I don’t find out. I turn and face the other way.
Ruth Ennis is a Kildare-based writer who has an M.Phil. in Children’s Literature. She was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary in 2021 and an Agility Award in 2022 for her young adult verse novels. You can find her online @rurooie