I see myself as a domestic detective, a kind of Sherlock Homes. In the cramped apartment I share with my girlfriend, I have solved The Enigma of the Single Sock (the other was caught behind the dryer), the sinister Kidnapping of the TV Remote (the girlfriend did it), and The Riddle of the Stolen Kiss (I forced a confession from myself). Yet no case was as baffling as The Mystery of the Missing Romance.

My girlfriend first noticed the absence of romance while I was clad in a stained dressing gown, digging wax from my ears while reminiscing fondly about my ex. I deciphered a series of clues to deduce her unhappiness. These included sighing, contemplating the middle distance, and the violent and cacophonous closure of doors. When I questioned her, she revealed the perplexing disappearance of romance. I decided to take the case.

I conducted a search. Our apartment is essentially the dimensions of a monk’s cell, so I thought proceedings would be swiftly concluded. I sought the romance beneath the pile of soiled vests and crumpled underpants I’d stashed in the laundry basket. I fossicked amongst my strewn porn mags. It wasn’t among the dishes I’d left unwashed as a political protest (suds are a disturbing metaphor for ethnic cleansing), nor was it included in the used tissues I’d concealed under a pillow. The case was proving to be formidable and I resolved to delve deeper.

I tried to recall when the romance had last been seen. If I could narrow down the moment of its disappearance, I might be able to unearth further clues. I remembered the evening we had indulged in cosplay. I’d donned the vermillion robes of a handmaid and she’d adopted the strict dress code of a Commander. It had been unsettling and kinky, but the romance had been there, albeit camouflaged (I remember it had disguised itself as lust). Next week I dressed as Veruca Salt while she adopted a Willy Wonka costume. Be still my beating heart.

Then there was the evening, early in our courtship, when I’d bought flowers and prepared dinner. Not only was the romance there then, but it was decidedly corpulent. You couldn’t move without bumping into it. What had caused the romance to waste away, I wondered? I couldn’t help thinking I was neglecting vital clues.

I concocted hypotheticals. Perhaps my girlfriend had accidentally left the romance at work? She was spending extended hours at the office, so perhaps she was conducting her own search for it. Perhaps that colleague she was constantly mentioning—Idris—was helping her? She had already stressed how personable he was. How he was a ubiquitous presence in her work cubicle with his gym-honed body and chiseled features, dispensing his inexhaustible wit. Apparently, his cologne smells like the musk of Thor. Although he is taller than me, with more defined musculature and a huskier voice, I must bring him to mind in some way, as she has several times mistakenly called me Idris. In a kind of dreamy trance.

Or was this a murder investigation? Had somebody killed the romance? I mulled over this possibility while paring my toenails, losing some of the chitinous rinds in the lounge room carpet. Who would have a motive? Perhaps it was carelessness? Manslaughter?

Had the romance been snatched? Was it a kidnapping? In which case, where was the ransom note? I hadn’t received one but perhaps my girlfriend had. I rifled amongst her papers, sifting through bills and statements. I sorted amongst miscellaneous flotsam like old theatre stubs, takeaway menus, and receipts from the corner burger joint. I even discovered an incriminating stash of love letters and poems. I was about to storm off and interrogate her when I realized they’d been written by me during the inchoate budding of our relationship. Yet I could unearth no clues to the whereabouts of romance. I was stymied. Perhaps this was one case I could not crack.

Then, while still clutching receipts and pages of lovingly composed prose and poetry, I deduced what had happened.

I gathered the suspects in a room and secured the door (I lured Idris with false promises of post-work drinkies with my girlfriend). I locked gazes with each in turn.

“Somebody here is guilty of heinous neglect and perhaps unwitting murder. Somebody is guilty of possessing a rare and precious gift, yet letting it slip from their grip. Somebody here is too good looking and needs to not stand next to me.” I shot Idris an askance glance.

I bore my girlfriend’s papers aloft.

“These documents prove that somebody in this very room had the opportunity to nurture something tender and beautiful. It was entrusted to them freely and yet they allowed it to wither. Romance hasn’t been stolen; it has merely been casually discarded. It gathers dust behind overfamiliarity and laziness. A terrible crime has been committed, and I think we all know who the culprit is.”

I lowered my head, sucked in a deep breath. Then pointed my finger squarely at my girlfriend.

“These receipts from the burger joint show that your regular order was once a double cheese and no onions. But in recent months you have neglected to hold the onions, exposing me to your appalling onion breath. You, my dear, have squandered romance! You have taken grievous advantage of my generosity.”

I rocked back upon my heels, beaming smugly, case closed.

But why was Idris also smiling?