You lift your keys, tell me not to wait up, and walk out. Anyone else would shout, rip their coat off its hook and slam the door. Anyone else would floor the accelerator as they drive away. But not you. Never you, the master of the stone-cold promise and the heavy silence, the elegant conductor of the hammering in my head. Everything I do is wrapped in you and soaked in you, lips worn pale from drinking our poison, a taste of us both on a sliver of ice. And all I can think is I am so out of focus. I am so out of focus.
I pace and I wander and wonder and wear myself out. I shouldn't have asked again. I shouldn't have asked again, but I did and I always do. In a half-awake world of in-between dreams, I shoot myself. In the head, in the heart, in the mirror. A slow motion bullet ricochets from bone to muscle to glass until it's swallowed up by silence, flash-frozen by the echo of your measured steps that puncture my lung. Your absence holds me with prison guard keys and spits its demands in my face. Stop. Fall. Kneel. Lie still. Lies, still. The reality of you is dead calm. The lack of you is a tornado.
I imagine a place where I can walk down the street wearing no shoes. The sound of your car pulling up, the crunch of your steps on the path, the turn of your key in the door. The tread of your shoes on the stairs, the drift of fabric against skin as you undress and lay your clothes neatly across the back of the chair. The chill as you lift the covers, replaced by the warmth of you. Your breath on my neck, your fingers sliding around my wrist and gripping just a little too tightly. But you're not really here. I think, "I'm sorry," and I don't know if I said it out loud. I can never be sure anymore. Whatever this is, I'm lost in it, in layers upon layers of you. Your secrets burn my bones hollow.
I sleep with one eye open and I wake to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I'm wearing the clothes you last saw me in and I couldn't care less, but I know you'll notice. You'll know how much a night without you hurt me. I know your lips will tilt in quiet satisfaction as you pour coffee for both of us without asking if I want any, because I always do and you never ask. You'll count this as a victory because we are nothing if not a war. We are each other's strategic targets and collateral damage. Neither of us really wants to win. Neither of us ever will.
I walk into the kitchen and you turn, with precisely the half-smile I predicted, and hand me a shot of espresso. When you push your hair back from your face, my heart swells like the bruise around your eye and my knuckles throb, remembering the impact. I tilt my head to crack the bones in my neck, a habit absorbed from you, and your pupils dilate as you look at the marks from your fingers, darkened on my skin.
You are the rock I break myself against, the cliff I dive from, the earth that catches me. We are tangled, tied, entwined, not a disaster waiting to happen, but a disaster that happens a thousand times a day. We are the calm and the storm, the whisper in the moment before the tidal wave crashes.
I live in the hours between the seconds, the gulps of water disguised as gasps of air. And for all the times I pretend to reach for the surface, the truth is I walked into this drowning with no intention of ever trying to hold my breath.
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...