You know, don’t you. Have always known. That it won’t be happiness that ends it. You learnt this many years ago. When, in some other loss, some other love, you discovered there’s no seducing sadness.
This is how you will lose him.
A small or sudden sorrow that separates. No crawling on your belly back. The distance, suddenly, too far.
Ruins to most people. But really, ruins are just evidence, aren’t they? That’s what you asked him once. Thinking about bridges, and wild weather, and washing away. But storms are easy. You see that now. You could swim across that suffering.
But this. This quiet, calm. The questioning. The way you can’t be his answer now. This is how you will lose him.
I’ll still know the date you said yes, still see the girl with her hand to her mouth and her back to the wall, surrounded by love and alcohol – these midwives who birthed her grief, and carried her, carefully, back into the world.
I’ll still know those next years by your door and its swinging. The calendar of words and reaching from either side, and the times we didn’t speak at all. How I left a trail of breadcrumbs all over the silence – and how you didn’t follow them home.
And I’ll know the times you did.
I’ll still know the last time I saw you, love. The last, last time, and I’ll count away from this day, as if it is my midnight, the end and the beginning of everything. Wondering still, in the dark of this hour, if the way you couldn’t love me – meant I couldn’t be loved at all.
The feeling is immediate under my toes. A sensation of sinking in, of earthing myself. The sand starts warm and soft underfoot, and closer to the water it becomes damp and hard, leaving my footprints in a trail behind me.
I scratch a crooked heart with my big toe and watch as a wave licks at it, then washes it away. A pang – is that how easily we lose something? I look out, fix on the moment where sky and sea merge, and I feel a kind of horizon ache. A sadness that expands before me.
If you are here right now with me Ben, you are the anchor, the thud that brings me back.
I keep walking, letting the last slide of each wave wash over my feet. We acclimatise to the coldness best in this way, inch by inch of skin, no surprises. I have never understood people who run toward the water, who dive straight in.
(Look deeper, Lucy. Examine where the feeling starts).
Joe, I tilt my glass toward him, is anyone taking care of you?
His laugh in response is brittle, sad. I can see from the look on his face that your avenging angel has never been asked. His expression reveals gratitude for the question, and something else. Something I can’t quite place, as he reaches for me, puts his hand to my cheek.
Life shifts on such things. The piano key fall of his fingers, the rush of heat beneath his hand. I reach up and cover his with my own. I want to hold him there, against my skin.
Don’t move, don’t speak. Let it be just this, Joe, with your hand on my cheek.
I repeat this over and over, silently, as we both close our eyes.
There is so much more to break here.
It is the buzz of Joe’s phone that brings us back. We let go, and shift apart on the sofa as quickly as we came together. Real life. A message from Jane, his wife. Questions about his day, and tonight too. How is the hotel?Quieter than the last? Did you have more than wine for dinner, love?
She does not know he is here with me.
Another secret. I am collecting them now. I watch as he writes a message back, non-committal, not exactly a lie, but certainly not the truth of his evening. Is this how people do it, Ben? Shifting around the facts, because the opposite of truth is not always a lie?
We are side by side, and now Joe is staring straight ahead, he doesn’t turn back to face me.
They say men find it much easier to talk this way, he says into the air as he hits send on his message. Next to each other like this. As opposed to facing each other. Did you know that, Lucy? That men talk better when they don’t have to look you in the eye?
A flash of Adam staring out the window as he squeezed my hand. I’ve never done anything like this before.
I may have read … I start to say, but reach for Joe’s face instead, turn him gently back toward me.
His eyes widen as they lock on mine.
Jesus, Lucy. Is that what he saw?
It’s what they all want to know, Ben. It’s what they are all looking for. They want me to tell them that something calm, something beautiful survived those last, brutal moments. They want me to rescue their memories, the stories they have constructed every night in the dark.
I was the last thing you saw of this world. And now, just like Anna and Maggie, your brother needs to see me, when he closes his eyes.
It was quick, Joe, I offer, and nothing more.
Now I am the one facing forward, avoiding his gaze and his question. Our balance is altered yet again. This night has been stranger than I ever imagined. I will lie in bed after Joe leaves and trace every word, follow every swoop and curve of our conversation, as I try to figure out what it all means. I will go over his touch and his words, time and again.
Look deeper, Lucy. Examine where the feeling starts.
But tonight I am the one lost in the dark.
I first described Lucy as ‘an artist’s sketch, all lines and shading, and the mere suggestion of form’. I still see her this way – there is something otherworldly, magical about her. As for the scene above – I keep trying to push her away from Joe – but in the edits these two characters seem to have minds of their own … and very much, I’m discovering, something to say.
I know you don’t watch me walk away. I know you don’t press your forehead against the double glass to keep me in your sight. There is no straining for that one last look, no time suspended in the final unblinking stare. You don’t stay with me until I am just another city glow fading in to night.
Tonight I have said I don’t want to do this anymore. I have said it in the way a liar can tell a single truth, sudden and surprising. You are asleep, or nearly asleep when I whisper it across the back of your head.
I don’t want to do this anymore. This – laying in your arms in yet another bed of tangled sheets. This staccato relationship, our little parody, where the only authentic act is how you fall asleep straight after we fuck. And I know what comes next. I can feel the separation as keenly as if you have already peeled your body from mine, already slid back in to that second skin, the crisp white shirt and pressed pants, so deftly shucked hours before. I feel you walking out the door even as your breath warms my breast and your hand remains heavy between my legs. And I decide that tonight I will be the one to go.
I have held on to you so long that my hands still clench around you. My fingertips try to press in to you one last time, to roll across your skin in a final and heroic effort to prove my identity. But you barely stir, as one finger then the next has to release its grip.
I move to the edge of the bed and I tell you I am leaving. I say other things too, they tumble from a wine-thick tongue, but in time to come I will only ever remember this. How I say I am leaving and you mumble I’ll see you soon, and how with your eyes still closed you miss the way I shake my head, no.
I know you don’t get up after I close the door behind me. I know you don’t move to the window to watch me tremble into the night. You are not looking down to see me stumble through cracks of concrete in the heels you removed so carefully over dinner, and you don’t watch as I recede to a grey as cobbled as the street below. With no neon flash of text to say goodnight, no vibrating phone to accompany me home, I know you are already sound asleep.
It is my 35th birthday and I will not cry. One wobbly foot in front of the other on this midnight street, I walk away.
Eidyia’s Note: Reposting this today because I need to remember.