What do I remember?
I was asleep.
I remember I wake up as the door opens and she says sorry and goodbye to someone else. I pretend to go back to sleep by rolling over to face the window but my eyes are open and I’m looking out of the window.
I remember the revolving door. Her results were bad. I’d gone to the room and masturbated into the little cup and they said I was OK. There was a sink in there. I tried not to touch anything. Apart from myself. They said I was OK. That made it worse for her.
What do I remember?
Did you know that you double your power by staring in the mirror?
Ten years together.
She says, “Have you thought more about it?”
I looked up with my whole head.
When I blink, I blink slowly. My eyelids rustle. I’m staring through the conversation.
She says “What is it?”
I say, “I’ve tried to be totally honest with you about this. Nothing’s changed. I still feel like I’m not ready, in any way. But if you are then I don’t want to be responsible for blowing your one chance to…so if you want to…OK…but nothing has changed. You can’t count on me.”
She says “That’s…” and stops there with a smile as her eyes fill with tears. She doesn’t finish the sentence. She doesn’t need to.
I say, “Have you thought about it?”
She says, “I just want to have tried.”
The clock was ticking.
We keep talking and it’s sad and we try to discuss practical issues but I’m aware of the air around my eyes and it throbs. There’s a pulse here in my head.
I hope that there are only two pulses in this room.
Is it empathy that undermines a relationship? When someone you love hurts themselves, you feel that pain too and a part of you hates them for hurting you.
She walked into the room in tears. Her T-shirt was pulled up to cover her mouth. She was chewing the collar. I looked up.
She says something like, ‘I’m pregnant’.
In a moment of total dejection your neck won’t move and whatever position your head falls into it sticks there. The lasting memory of that (perhaps) decisive moment of your life is just whatever happened to be in your field of vision at that point.
The trees were swaying while she was telling me she was pregnant. The red brick roof was a triangle and she was pregnant. The window was wide open.
She’s crying. A lot. I haven’t reacted yet.
You have to be careful. It’s not about you.
Looking back, I think to try and go through my exact feelings would lead to me lying. I’d oversimplify the drama and you’d be able to tell. There would be too much logical progression for someone who had no foothold in that moment.
Do I remember?
I’d rather tell you nothing else about this than lie now. You’ll figure it out.
I get on a train, I’m still cold, especially under the arms. Nothing is really working. It’s all instinct. I have nothing to say. I rub my eyes. I don’t want to see anyone.
It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself while commuting.
I remember it was the hottest day of the year. I called in sick and we went to the park. We needed to talk.
This was the problem, this is what was happening to us: we were finally coming face to face.
When we met she was 15 and I was 16 and our parents would drive us to each other’s houses.
She said, ‘Just tell me the truth.’
I told her the truth.
A pulse beat in my head.
I told her that even now it had happened, the miracle that she had become pregnant, I couldn’t be relied on to be a father. I still couldn’t guarantee that I would stay. I just didn’t know.
She said, “I’d rather you’d lied.”
I could have lied couldn’t I? How did I even know that that was the truth? Lies only exist in time, right? What a shame that our narrative is not available.
Why did I pick the hardest truth to speak? It was like I had nothing to draw on and so words just came out – cruel, disconnected, spontaneous words with no consideration for which side I was even arguing. I was reckless with honesty. I’d lost all faith in making choices with the truth. You just say things.
Every day she would cry and it was my fault. A pursuit of truth could take you to so many places. It could be endlessly manipulated by your definitions. This was just one of them but it had given her a story. I had made things simpler for her. It wasn’t a good thing to do.
I walk away and find a low wall in the sun and I drink. There’s nobody around. I can hear a bird singing and the traffic. I see a squirrel on a bin. Maybe I’ll go home.
I open another can.
Being outside doesn’t help this claustrophobia.
Walking around you don’t feel any less trapped, it just gets worse. You feel smaller. Squeezed. All of a sudden, out on your own, you realise what’s suffocating you.
At least at home you can blame the walls.
I remember I was in work on a Tuesday and she said she was going to the hospital. She’d started bleeding two days earlier.
She didn’t worry to begin with, but then she spoke to the doctor when she got a pain and they told her to go. She called me and sounded upset so I said I’d get out of work and meet her there. I got the 390 down to the same hospital where she’d had her chemotherapy years before.
It isn’t fair.
We waited to be seen. She sat quietly. The hospital was making us remember.
The doctor we saw was an Italian woman. She smiled and told us this was a beautiful time in a woman’s life.
I asked her not to say things like that because we hadn’t decided if we were keeping the baby yet. The doctor was angry with me, she said this could be the only chance for her to have a child. I cut the conversation off so that they could do the scan and get it over with.
Why explain to her?
There was no point wasting more time on truth telling because of course it was a miscarriage.
There was nothing alive.
The scan had to be done again. They already knew it was dead but the computer hadn’t recorded the results properly or the photos hadn’t been saved or something.
They had to do it all again.
She was crying.
The doctor wouldn’t look at me as she went out to find another machine. I tried not to cry.
She didn’t say, ‘This is what you wanted.’
It was a floorless space. They brought another machine, they did it all again. The camera had to penetrate. Again. They got the photos. That was all they needed.
I flagged a taxi outside and we went home. I paid for the taxi.
Could I forget you?
I remember I had a dream where I was lying in bed next to her. An unfamiliar bed. In the dream she was asleep but I was awake and I was looking up through a skylight. I could see the planets above me but they were so close to the earth that they took up the entire sky. It was a breathtaking vision. I felt intoxicated by the intimacy of the moment. I realised I should wake her up, I should share this with her. But as soon as the thought crossed my mind the planets cracked like glass. The splinters came raining down through the sky over me.
She was gone.
They say, ‘keep busy.’
Being lost would make me happy.
I was getting used to being alone but I knew it couldn’t last. I was even scared sometimes that she would come back sooner than expected and call the whole break off. Why didn’t I want that? I do like feeling sorry for myself (see above).
I hoped the shock wouldn’t wear off too soon. The sorrowful adrenaline made me think on my feet for once, kept my head clear.
The pulse had gone.
I remember I’d tried not to drink that day. I spent the day cleaning the flat. Then she messaged asking if I could make sure to be out the night after. She wanted to come over and get some things.
I said it was fine.
Was it my fault? Was it honesty? Am I even telling the right story? All I can say is that what I told her might never have happened and even though it didn’t happen it means that now it never will.
How can I explain?
In February 1707, Aurangzeb Alamgir, emperor of India spoke these last words to his son. He said, “I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing.”
And then did the story have an ending?
As she left me she said, ‘don’t treat me like a stranger.’
I said, ‘but you are a stranger.’
It sounded so impressive that I was pleased.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
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