2013 STORGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION SHORTLIST
Whilst wildly incapable of putting my own thoughts into comprehensible words, or actions, I opted to exhale a combination of things I’d wanted to say for a considerable amount of time. I imagine it went something like
Something like that. I clutched for your hand and upon finding it outlined every detail of your fingertips, palms, knuckles, nails, wrists until I heard the drop in your breathing: an indication that consciousness was no longer a priority for you. It occurred to me that you were too far into the falling-asleep process to have even heard a word that I’d said, but I knew better than to fool myself with that thinking. Honesty was a key premise of ours, yet the possibility that you’d chosen to ignore wasn’t entirely unfeasible.
Needless to say, the conversation I’d imagined several times before the real one had gone far better.
And although somewhat cheesy, it was perfect. Of course it was! My imagination had the proficiency to plan a wedding, the names of our children and even what I’d cook you for tea every Wednesday evening on your return to our seaside household. The cruel, sadistic portion of my Thoughts And Feelings told me that – should I possess enough stupidity (which clearly, I did) to actually speak said Thoughts And Feelings aloud – the response would be an earth-shatteringly clichéd, faux-sincerity-laced speech that you’d probably been practising since the first time you kissed me. As if you knew I’d fall into that crazy kind of love, but couldn’t stop yourself from enjoying the physical pleasure of my existence.
All the while, the reality was that you’d started to snore and a little dribble was coming out of the corner of your mouth. I had to make a choice. This is one of those moments I look back on and wonder what if I’d followed a different path, how would things be now?
1) I could slap you. Hopefully the sting would get you deep down.
2) I could fall asleep beside you, blissfully ignorant of what your words – or lack thereof – were symbolising; waking up a few hours later and reconvening the art of our sexual appetites.
3) I could get up, get out, get over it.
There were more than these three possibilities, but at the time I was so busy trying to think that the thoughts didn’t come. I chose to fall asleep. This reminded me how scary loving somebody could be: risking your own happiness to, ironically, get a chance at being happy. Did you ever consider leaving me? Or slapping me? Or was falling asleep beside me always your option too? But that begs the question, did you do it because you loved me, or because I was a shot at being happy? We both knew how much you wanted to be happy.
Closing my eyes, I shuffled towards your body until I could feel the rise and fall of your chest. And although you were absent in sleep, you draped your arm around me and kissed the top of my head: actions that could wipe a slate clean. It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice in forgiving you, because even when you disappointed me I found some part of you to adore. I fell asleep adoring your lips, still fixed in the slight pout that you’d kissed me with.
We woke up at 3:34am and for a little while we spoke about things that could only be discussed in the middle of the night.
“What is the one thing in the universe that makes you happiest?” You were silent for a minute, maybe two.
“Sex.” You concluded with a cheeky grin. I laughed, having expected the answer.
“Ok, now what is it really?” You were silent for another minute, maybe more than two.
“I don’t know. There are things in the world that make me happy, like sleeping after being tired for ages or seeing your face after weeks without it, but there’s never a constant Happy Thing. That’s too expectant. And too human.” You never did like being a human being, either.
“So, I don’t always make you happy?”
“No,” the answer came back almost immediately and for a moment my heart felt as though it had dropped out of my body entirely. “Sometimes I’m very sad about you. I think about you alone in your own bed, or with your friends just hanging out even though you don’t feel like you belong, or crying because someone’s been a dick to you…and those things make me sad, because I can’t be there for you.”
“You heard what I said earlier, didn’t you?”
“And you don’t know what to say, because you don’t love me.”
“Quite the contrary, my petal. I love you in a way that words will never suffice to elucidate. But the love will never be as good as it deserves to be.” I searched your eyes for deeper explanation, but they seemed to suddenly lose focus. “And what makes you happiest?” The subject was changed and I had neither the strength nor the knowledge to bring it back.
With the rise of the sun, we too rose. I showered first, you sitting on the toilet seat just watching me. It never occurred to you to join me on those days because I was leaving and neither of us wanted to spend our last hours together doing anything but co-existing. We worked around each other so fluently. The conversation that bled through breakfast consisted only of words ambiguous enough to have been to oneself. “It was fun.”
“I had a lovely weekend.”
“Next time, it should be longer.”
Then I packed my bag whilst you washed up. I kissed you briefly as if I’d be back later that day and left through the front door. The routine was painful but necessary. The only difference on this day was the conversation that had gone on in the night. As a rule, the things we said to each other under the cover of darkness had to remain just that. There was a thick, unbearable tension. As the architects of its existence, we possessed the power to break it, but instead we did nothing. On the train home I felt the familiar emptiness of our goodbye.-
I was no stranger to your drunken text messages, though I never replied and you either didn’t remember sending them or were too afraid to seek out my response. Over time, I was able to figure out what you’d been drinking. Nothing made you confess love more than a few glasses of red wine; Vodka had the power to weed out the things you didn’t like about me. Being woken up to ‘I hate that you pick at your food’ was delightfully crushing. Adjusting my eyes to the light of ‘I’m so lucky to have you in my life, I wish I knew how to treat you better’ was slightly more endearing. Perhaps my biggest concern should have been that you sent me an awful lot of those messages over the years, but being the love-sick puppy that I was, my worry was more to do with how I’d fix my faults and encourage you to divulge your feelings unto me without the influence of alcohol. You got better at that, but you were never quite there.
Four days after my confession, you texted me. This was one of the last. Do you remember it? Did you even realise that’s why things went the way they did? I had no idea you were drunk, so I replied.
‘I can’t be there for you, not like that.’
‘I know. You’ve told me that already.’
‘I’m not trying to hurt you.’
‘I believe you.’
‘Then walk away so I don’t have to.’
When I did, I don’t think you even understood why. It was a cold weekend – I recall complaining that you still hadn’t bought a blanket – and it was almost time for me to leave. I felt so hollow knowing that I wouldn’t see you again. I wondered if you could tell something was wrong. You always had a knack for that, picking up on the smallest signs. Leaving you to sleep, I showered. When I stepped out you were standing in the doorway, drowsy and confused. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“You looked happy.”
“I’d have been happier watching you shower.” I slipped out of the bathroom, making excuses about how it was icy and I needed to leave earlier than usual. There was no time for breakfast. Thank you for…everything. I said it just like that, didn’t I? Like I wasn’t entirely sure what I was thanking you for. After those four years, perhaps I wasn’t.
Did you notice the tears in my eyes as I turned to say goodbye at the front door? Did you even register that I hadn’t kissed you, or organised seeing you next, or even smiled?
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Main Photo by Jenny
Story photo by Andrea Reeves