last autumn you told me that Radiohead were overrated and then you showed me some new bands I should really listen to but only in this order and did I know the original line up for that five piece no one has ever heard of and then you smoked another of my cigarettes without asking and blew the smoke towards the window before you put your clothes back on and I would have punched you in your mouth when you said it if I could have but you were holding my right hand at the time so I couldn’t do it but I wish I had now because you never hold my hands anymore
Here’s what you don’t know: I already knew you’d come because I imagined us here I conjured your arrival crafted it, like a scheme like a slight of hand so you never saw it happen. I put a lot of thought into it before I even needed to formed and divined you but – and here’s the thing – I made it look like I didn’t so when you showed up what you don’t know is I already knew you would
When she said it, the air left. It was as though the exact words she’d spoken had rung something out from inside his head. The grey matter of his brain, rinsed, like an old dishcloth. He couldn’t believe it, what she had said.
Then everything felt brittle. Soundless. He wondered momentarily if, in some alternate universe, he was living through one of those scenes from the movies he loved: the ones set in outer space; the kind he’d watch over and over and over, where the big red button gets pressed, mistakenly, opening a hatch that vacuums out the crew into the gaping maw of space, and then maybe they’re okay, but maybe they’re dead. He wondered which he’d be, but – mainly – he just couldn’t believe what she’d said.
For a bit, the only sound he could hear was the sonar sound of his heart from inside his ear: the sonorous thud of each beat, landing like a dull missile, and it wasn’t until he looked up and around him that he knew that nothing had happened – no explosions, no rapture, no dread. For the first time since she’d uttered the words, he looked up at her. He just couldn’t believe it, what she’d said.
Around them, the wait staff still continued to serve, bussing from table to table. Cacophony. Nearby patrons scraped forks over plates, glasses clinked on teeth, chair legs squealed and dragged. He saw the mouths of others open and close – even hers, so round and so red – but no sound came, and he couldn’t believe what she’d said.
His brain simply refused, inflating defensively inside his skull like a pufferfish, blocking all access to his consciousness, extensively, so that even the smallest wisp of her voice would not be able to sneak its way inside. Code red. His body simply refused it all, materially: he couldn’t believe what she’d said.
He felt swollen, all of a sudden – raw – like the blisters he’d get at football when he was still a kid. The kind his dad would burst with a hot needle, before wrapping his feet. He recalled his father’s explanation for them: nature’s airbags, he’d say. They pop up to protect what’s beneath. Good lad. When he’d finished, he’d always touched his head. He thought about him now: how long he’d been dead. He wondered how he’d have explained the words that she’d said.
And now here he was, but older – the injury unfamiliar, and not the same pain, but the body’s defence kicking in, all the same. It had been a long time since he’d stumbled or bled, but he felt like death, after what she had said.
I remember when I stole a piece of your jigsaw puzzle; slid it across the countertop like a miniature credit card; half inched it like a thief and hid it in the cat’s basket.
I watched you work for hours; lay down bit after bit, unwavering in your focus, unaware of my small hostage, as you spread out across our dining room table, smiling at each of your fresh conquests.
More days passed as the picture became clearer, and I remember thinking: at some point, this will all have to end. Then one day I looked up to see you shovelling it back into the box, as if you had known it would come to nothing:
and just like that, it was forever undone; it wouldn’t be finished, and neither had won.