Undertow

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said.

A sort of crushed-glass desperation echoed around the words as they hung in the air. I nodded, not sure what exactly it was that she meant. Sensing my confusion, she gave a halfhearted gesture at the room around us, her cigarette trailing smoke behind her fingers.

Maybe it was the near-empty bookcases, or the walls that we had never quite gotten around to painting that did it. The carpet was wearing thin in a few places and the couch sagged in the middle. Looking around the room, I was starting to see her point.

“Can’t do what anymore?” I asked, knowing the answer but still needing to hear her say it out loud.

Her hand trembled slightly when she pulled the cigarette back to her mouth to take a drag. She glared at me, her eyebrows knitting together, and the smoke drifted lazily back towards me.

“You know damn well what I’m talking about,” she said. “All of this. The house, the relationship, everything. I can’t do it. I’m suffocating.”

She sat down on the sagging couch before springing up again like a goddamn jack in the box. I leaned against the wall, watching her pace over the carpet, and doing my best to remain calm. A few seconds ticked by on the clock that hung above the kitchen door, before I could find the right words.

“Okay,” I said. “If that’s what you want.”

She shot me a look, a fleeting glance of hope mingled with relief flashed across her features, and for a moment, I felt like a prick. “If it’s the money,” I said, scrambling for a way to get her to stay, “I’m sure we can figure out something.”

“Forget about the fucking money!” she spat. “I just can’t stay cooped up here any more. It was fun while it lasted, but we both know it’s time to move on.”

She wasn’t wrong about that. Things hadn’t felt right in months, we were both too scared to admit it. We tried to paper over it with “date nights” or having people over for dinner. It was all just noise. A sad attempt to cover the fact that we both ran out of things to say a long time ago.

“You’ll find someone else,” she said, her voice softening a little. “You always do.”

“If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s moving on,” I said. “Wasn’t that how I found you?”

“Fuck you,” she said as she walked into the kitchen. There wasn’t any anger left. She just sounded tired.

She came back into the room with a beer in each hand. I took one of them, and she flinched before moving back a few steps back from me and taking a drink. Like she didn’t trust me with a bottle in my hand. Old scars from well before my time. I don’t think she knew she was doing it, but it still felt like a knife in the gut.

Her eyes skimmed the room again, passing over the game of Scrabble that sat unfinished on the coffee table. She put her cigarette out on the carpet, and I winced.

She raised an eyebrow, “That bothers you? All of the broken things in this shitty little house, and that causes you pain?”

I wanted to tell her how it’s symbolic of our whole relationship, that carpet. Covered with stains from food dropped and drinks spilled. How we made love on the one spot near the TV, and there’s still a slight scar from the rug burn on my right shoulder. How it started out a light brown, but that it’s become a sort of grayish color that neither of us expected.

Instead I didn’t say anything. I took a drink of beer and kept my mouth shut like an idiot.

She nodded, polishing off half of her beer in one long swallow that felt like an eternity but was probably only a couple of seconds. The beads of sweat on the outside of the bottle matched my own. It was now or never, really.

“Don’t go,” I croaked, the words barely audible.

For a second, I didn’t think she heard me. She kept staring at that damn Scrabble game, a sad little smile on her face. Watching me out of the corner of her eye, she walked forward, and placed a few tiles on the board. She finished the rest of her beer, and delicately set the bottle down next to the board, as though it might break.

She stepped close to me and I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the pity. There was a brief touch of her hand against the side of my face, and then nothing. I opened my eyes, and it was as if she’d never been there, save for the lingering smell of her soap and a few wisps of smoke still floating in the air.

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

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