[photo inspiration partly from the great Dylan Thomas]
The bed is already made when you step through the door and the sheets are crumpled, but there’s no familiar body under the thick covers. It’s 2 am in the morning and the loud emptiness of the room scares you. A swooshing followed by a clang redirects your attention to the bathroom. You unfold your scarf and let it hang loosely in your hand while you walk toward the sound. Opening the door, you wish you’d left it on. The window by the bath is wide open, cold gusts of air violently raging through because of the draft you’ve created. She’s standing stark naked in front of the cold and the falling snow, shivering as it hits her wet goose skin. Even her hair is wet.
Maybe she hears you’ve come in, maybe not. You tear your coat off in a rush, almost throwing it against her shuddering back. Her head turns, red eyes twice their usual size, looking at you as if you were the second coming. Unable to reach her from where you’re standing, you turn off the running water and climb into the bath – shoes and all. Her eyes don’t leave your face for a minute.
– What the fuck are you doing? How long have you been standing here?
– I don’t know.
– Come the fuck away, you’re insane. Are you trying to kill yourself, or what?
– I don’t know.
Her voice is so thin, airy, you’re not sure it was her talking and not the wail of the winter wind. One hand closing the window shut, you pull your arm around her and try to warm her against your body. Putting both her hands on your chest, she rests the side of her face on your sweater and starts to sob.
– What the fuck… oh God, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
No idea what you’re sorry for, but feeling it anyway, you admit to all your imagined transgressions and lift her up into your arms, careful not to hit her feet on the narrow door frame. Setting her down on the bed and discarding your clothes, you pull the blankets over your two naked bodies and wrap yourself around every inch of her you can reach. The only trouble is, you can’t reach inside.
Unbidden, your body reacts. This shouldn’t be happening, not now. By the confused batter of her lashes, you can tell she senses it, too. It’s downright embarrassing.
– Ignore it.
Her head shakes only slightly, a barely visible dismissal. It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright. You know better, though. You know nothing is alright, not anymore, not with her, not with you. You’ve both been chipped away by different hurts, poisoned from the inside, broken, forgotten only to be hammered down again. She’s been waiting here for you to tell her the final verdict and instead of making it a swift death blow, you’re going for the kill in another way. Killing with kindness. Is it, though?
With no idea how you’ve managed to push out the one syllable when every cell is screaming do, and yes, and it doesn’t matter – you take hold of her hand and bring it to your lips. Closing your eyes to chase the want away, you don’t see it coming as her palm falls squarely on your face. Pushing her a bit harder than you intended to, out of shock or fright, you jump from the bed to the other side as she falls face-first on the floor. Both of you naked, standing on opposite sides of the bed. Insurmountable differences. Is that what they cite in as the most common reason for divorce? If someone had taken a photograph in that instance, they could’ve put it in the fucking legal dictionary next to the phrase.
– Fuck you. Fuck you, you asshole.
– I didn’t mean to push you so hard, I’m sorry. But what the Hell was the slap for?
– I’m not even going to try to answer that.
– You’ve gone mental. You have. Look at you. A minute ago you were crying, freezing yourself to death. Then you want to have sex. Then you hit me. What the Hell is happening here?
– What? You what?
She pulls her arms and hands over her head, fisting her wet hair as if she’s going to try and rip it out of her scalp at any second. Sighing, you climb over the bed and reach her within a second. Try to embrace, but she steps away. Her eyes still haven’t returned to normal and she’s looking at you with that blank, frightening stare again, as if she can’t really see you. As if you’re a figment of her imagination, a ghost, or maybe a monster children see in the dark, made up of contours of cupboards and hangers with coats on them. Nothing more than a character in one of her nightmares.
– I don’t want to sleep here tonight. I don’t want you to sleep here tonight. Please, leave.
The incredulity on your face is apparent since she shakes her head and raises her hand toward you, stopping all questions.
– Please. Leave. Please.
– I’m sorry.
The repetition would be funny if not for the shivers that threaten to break your resolve. With no idea what you’ve done and no way to know how to make it right again, you fish a pair of trousers and a clean shirt from the dresser and make your way to the sitting room. There, you turn on the TV but put it on mute so as to hear if anything happens. Sometime during a re-run of The Wire, you fall asleep.
It’s already day when you wake up, but it’s a depressing light, saturated with the gray of a city winter. Your eyes sting immediately and you feel as if you’ve woken to a pub, a fog of cigarette smoke clouding your view. Sure enough, she’s up and sitting on the armchair opposite, staring intently at your face.
– There’s eggs and ham in the kitchen.
– Smoked ham, by the looks of it.
Rewarded with a chuckle, you dare to hope. Perhaps last night’s outburst was a one-off, you tell yourself. Everything looks different in the morning. Fetching a fork and a glass of water, you return to the couch and pull your legs up to improvise a table. Neither of you speaks a word, though you can feel her stare the entire time you’re eating. Plate clean, you carefully put it on the coffee table and look up to meet her gaze.
– I thought I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Yesterday, when you’d gone. I didn’t feel anything.
– And why’s that?
– I don’t know. You were gone.
– Well, I’m gone a lot. You didn’t know me before, and you felt things. That’s not it, surely?
– No. Part of it, though.
– What’s really going on?
– I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be this crazy person now, would I?
– You’re not a crazy person. Hey, look at me.
Her eyes fixed on the carpet, she scoffs.
– I never should’ve come. I need to go home.
– What’re you talking about? You are home.
– No, I’m not.
It’s what you’d always feared would happen. It’s come, unfolding in front of your very eyes, and you can only watch. There’s nothing left to say, not really. A year of roaming around the city looking for a job, playing waitress in a dodgy cafe in an even dodgier neighborhood, never quite fitting in. No friends to call for a fag and a beer, no one to talk to. Was it foolish to think you could ever be enough?
– I’ll come with you.
– You don’t have to.
– I want to.
Finally, the carpet loses its appeal and she looks back up. A shy smile is dancing on her lips, but it’s of the defeated, hopeless sort. Tears threaten to spill over but she takes a deep breath and nods her head. No regrets, she used to say.
– There was a while.. – A pause. Blink them back. Blink. Blink. Swallow it down. Don’t let the voice crack. – There was a time, a while ago, when I thought I could do it. You know? I thought I could.
– But you can’t.
You finish her sentence because there’s no need to demean her further. Admitting defeat does not come easily to her. This is the biggest mistake she’s ever made, and she made it for you so it’s only fair you shoulder some of the guilt.
– Could you?
The question is left hanging in the smoky air. Could you? Of course not. You would never even attempt it. Far too comfortable in your own skin, your own life, to try and be someone else. Somewhere else. Yet, she did it for you and now you wonder – should you have allowed it, or – in deed, encouraged it? Knowing all the while you would never do the same for her?