Now we are ten days into this thing I know it is a mistake. When I look at him, across the table, in what is already our favourite restaurant, I can see that he is just another monster.

"Tell me something about yourself," he says, "something you don't usually tell people."

Clumsy, I think, this attempt at intimacy. Yes, I'll tell you something.

"When I was a little girl me and my sister would cut the pictures of people out of magazines and play with them. We'd give them names and invent stories about them."

He smiles. He is as easily charmed as he appears charming.

Like most of them he doesn't know he is a monster. It is hard to decide if he knows anything at all. Over long years of observation I have worked out that their interior life is a side effect of their actions, the masquerade of their existence creating the illusion that they have intentions and desires. It is easy to make the mistake of attributing all sorts of qualities to them. I have to remind myself he is a monster.


Now we are tentatively exchanging glances across the table again. I take the opportunity to see his edges, see where his cut out shape stops and the background that is the world begins. He stares into my eyes and I look into his. Where his eyes should be is a space, an eye-shaped slit exactly like when you cut the eyes out of people in magazines.


Now we are tendering the bill. He does this skilfully, calling the waiter over with authority while at the same time looking at me, that eye-contact thing that the experts say is so important. Except that through the holes where his eyes should be I can see behind him, glimpsing a fragment of the red wall of the restaurant and an ink painting of ancient China. When he moves his head towards me the view through is eyes is changed; now through them I can see other diners in the restaurant, other cut-out monsters.


Now we are tense in the back of a mini-cab. We are going to his flat. It is the first time we will be together alone and I expect that he will want to sleep with me. It is the sort of thing that the monsters want to do to you.

When he touches me I can feel myself stiffen.

"Are you okay?" he says.


He doesn't pounce on me the way some of the others have; rather he runs his fingers lightly over the top of my hand where it rests on the seat beside the slot where the seat-belt clips in.

"We're here," he says as we pull up beside the dark silhouette of a building, a great oblong with a group of windows for each of the flats inside. It is set back from the street and fronted by a sloping grass forecourt. It is all a fake, so obviously a two-dimensional backcloth attempting to create the impression of depth that I want to laugh.

How can I be expected to believe in any of this?


Now we are tenderly kissing in the stairwell. I almost surrender to the illusion that all this is real. I feel his hand on the small of my back as he presses his lips to mine once more. I don't want to look at his cut-out eyes but that's okay, you're supposed to not look when you are kissing; it says that in magazines.

Eventually he pulls away and leads me up the stairs. We go up storey after storey and I count each one so as not to get lost in this paper labyrinth.


Now we are tensile on the bed, bending and stretching in that sordid puppetry the monsters enact. Once I used to be scared of what might happen if I let one of them know me so intimately, entering my body. I was scared that I might become a monster too.

But I am grown up now.

As he does his thing, his regular motions are like a strip of paper caught in the bars of an electric fan. I look at him. Naked he is even more obviously artificial, his skin blanched in places with water stains, the little pores of his surface full of the jumbled letters from the pages of Sunday supplements. At least his eyes are shut so I don't have to look through them.

I often ask myself why I go through with this but I don't know what else I can do. I used to believe I might find another real human being, but perhaps I was always kidding myself. Really I just wake up and go through the motions, moving among the monsters because what else could I do?


Now we are tented as he looms over me once more, his back pushing the sheet up. It is the small hours, a quiet time I usually like, its stillness like a black velvet cover obliterating the façade of the day. But he is doing it again showing that he has some skill as well as enthusiasm. So he looms over me like a roadside billboard, touching my breasts, then moving his head to between my legs.

He has looked at me a couple of times. I can feel it even in the half-light, those ripped eyes that he has cast upon me.

I respond to his actions. It is like it always is. I observe myself the way I observe the monsters: I am a thing that moves, that flops around. It is an effort to keep hold of the fact that unlike all of them there is a consciousness within me.

I want to reach out and tear at the monster and screw him up into a paper ball in my fist. I could throw him away then just as I did with all the paper puppets of my childhood when it was time to grow up.

Now we are tentiginous, which-he informs me-means excessively lustful. It is at once a little joke as he initiates sex again and a showing off of his intellect: he has charmed me over dinner, shown me his physical prowess in bed and now he is knowledgeable.

If I wasn't so experienced with all of this I might mistake him for a fully rounded human.


Now we are tenable as a couple. I can tell by the way he has behaved since the morning has come. He got up before me and made coffee which he bought to me in bed. Then he came back a little later with scrambled eggs and toast on a tray.  We eat our breakfast together propped up in bed and from his living room music floats in, jazz I think. But I know very little about music.

"I've always liked Saturday mornings," he says, "lazing about, not having to hurry anywhere. Even when I was a kid I would love it, sitting around in my pyjamas reading comics…."

It's suddenly very sad this desperate imitation of real life. I am filled with pity that I have to suppress, otherwise it could get to me, make me think he is not a monster.

"I like comics," I say, "there's a truth in them."

He laughs. "What do you mean?"

"Well," I say, "no-one would think a comic was real, would they?"

"Well, no. I suppose not. I…"

He must listen now. He did ask, after all.

So I will tell him about how there was once two children who let the pictures in the comics and the faces in the magazines all dance out of their frames, freeing them with scissor minds to spin in paper chains around them. The world was a game that no-one else could understand but then one day we were told that now we are ten it was time to grow up, to put those things away and to look look look over there at what was going on. So we did and we saw the monsters.

But what I am saying to him is: "My sister always liked comics. She died when we were ten."

And the monsters told me she wasn't real.


Now we are ten frames into our story and ten flights up. We are out on his balcony as the morning shows a view across the city. He puts his arm around me, trying to absorb me into his existence as he points out places of interest.

"See the Gherkin? See the Shard?"

What I see is an endless flat backdrop.

For a moment I want to surrender, to let him take me into his world. Then I would step off the edge of the balcony and dance and spin like floating paper, before looking down I fall, aching to come to rest.