End of the Play

In bed beside me, I watch his chest rise and fall with each breath. He looks different now than when I first met him—he is different. Wholly and irreconcilably. Before, there was a warmness in him, but now only coldness emanates. It’s biting. It hurts.

Or maybe it’s me. I know I’ve changed, too. Maybe in a bad way, maybe I’m weathered, angry, shallow. Maybe I’m crazy.

He stirs beside me, coming to. I watch with a dull fascination, touching my lips with the faintest graze of my fingers.

He pulls himself up, into a sitting position, seemingly unaware that I’m awake. I watch his body shift around, mesmerized by his skin. His cool, soft skin, the color of cream.

He runs one milky-white hand through his dark hair, which brushes his shoulders. It hadn’t been that long when I met him. Back then, it was cropped short. It looked neater too. He looked neater, in general. Back when the touch of his hand against my cheek meant the world to me. His hands had magic powers then—they had the power to make or break me all within a single touch.

His fingers, like paint brushes, colored in my numerous gaps with hues of his choosing. I became his masterpiece, I became what he wanted me to be, and I was fine with that. I was thrilled with that. We were infatuated with one another during the first few years of our romance—a fleeting infatuation that, when gone, is impossible to get back. And, hey, maybe that’s a good thing.

He turns to me all of a sudden with one eyebrow raised and a smile playing at his lips. But his eyes don’t sparkle like they used to. Now, they stare at me with only a dullness, like the beady plasticity of a doll’s eyes. Unreal; unemotional. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I echo, hearing the distance in my own voice. It’s so hard for me to keep back how I feel, to control and conceal the swaying and shifting emotions inside. The uncertainty, the anguish, the heartache.

He must hear the quiver in my voice, because the next thing he says is, “Something wrong?”

“No,” I say quickly (too quickly). “Nothing. Why don’t you get us some coffee?”

“Coffee,” he repeats, as if trying to remember what the word means. His eyes drift away from me and land on the opposite side of the room. He looks like he wants to add something important, or something worth sharing—but when he speaks, all he says is, “Yeah, I’ll go make some.”

It feels like too simple a conversation to be having. Too simple, too normal, too boring. And why does it feel that way? Probably because of the dread in the pit of my stomach, the insufferable dread. The end’s near, yet all we’re talking about is coffee. It’s like discussing work during doomsday. Far, far too normal.

He stands from the bed, moving swiftly for the door. I watch him closely. Yes, he’s different now, in some primal and instinctive way that’s difficult to articulate.

It was the accident that soured him, the accident that broke his spirit. Or at least, that’s what I imagine did it. The day he lost his brother and his parents, all in one moment . . . that was the day when he began to change. That was the first day I saw his eyes lose the life in them. He was boyish and sweet before, but now he’s . . . I don’t know how to word it, exactly. A haunted and hollowed-out figure. It’s like he’s made of wax.

I hear him in the kitchen, making coffee. Just as he would any morning. But now, our bedroom, formerly decorated with knickknacks from our travels and works of art, is frigid. Everything else that once gave this room a special spark is in boxes, strewn about here and there, some taped and others still open. Some are at my mother’s house, waiting for me in my old bedroom.

He left the door slightly ajar, and a sliver of light trickles in from the hallway. Our apartment’s small, so the kitchen is close. I can hear everything he’s doing—his footsteps on the checkerboard tile, shuffling about from here to there, even the soft sound of his humming. I can picture him, wearing his robe from the hallway closet, an old thing that’s now tattered and torn from so many years of abuse; his back would be facing the doorway, making the coffee while simultaneously making eggs even though I didn’t ask for any.

I smile just slightly. It feels like the first smile in ages.

Getting up from the bed, I pull on his shirt, which is so oversized it hangs just about to my knees. It’s blue, like the bedding. It seems our lives these days could be colored entirely in blue—a sad, dreary shade, one that seems reflective of a kind of mournful warning (turn back now, hopelessness and despair are just ahead). That’s what we are now, isn’t it? Remnants, faded memories? When did we slip into this abyss? And how the hell do I get out?

I leave the room and walk down the hallway. It’s strange, that hallway, which I used to know so well. Now, the paintings and pictures have been ripped from the eggshell walls, leaving behind mere rectangular and square marks of stark white that stand out in contrast. The light of the hall is so bright that it burns my tired eyes as I stumble down, making a sharp right turn into our kitchen.

Or what used to be our kitchen. Most of the plates and silverware have already been packed into boxes, which are scattered throughout the tiny room in a knee-high army.

“Sunny side up?” he asks, knowing my answer.

“Yes, please.” I watch him, my nostalgic melancholy reaching new heights. I feel a rush of tears, and I’m only barely able to keep them in.

He looks so earnest in his robe, so . . . him. I have seen him in that same robe every day for the past four years. That robe will forever be burned into my brain, and with its image will come the storm of memories, both the good and the bad. Seeing it makes me think contently of mornings spent in bed together, eating sloppily-cooked pancakes and orange juice as it snowed outside. It also makes me think of mornings where we so angry with each other we couldn’t even talk, sitting stiffly at the breakfast table across from one another, refusing to say a word, the sound of our utensils scraping against our plates the only sound. That was a more recent memory, ever since The Fighting first started. The Fighting, which was a byproduct of The Accident, which was a byproduct of The Illness. All of it with me and him at the center, like the only two actors in some tragic play. And right now, we are, after several tumultuous scenes (too many), finally at the end.

“Four years,” he says to me, turning around with two mugs of coffee in each fist. He hands me one with a sad smile, then raises his in a toast. “To four years of laughter, joy, hurt, heartbreak, and love. Even if it didn’t all work out . . . I wouldn’t do it differently for anything in the world.”

“Neither would I,” I say, my voice cracking. I still manage to hold back the tears, but it’s tough. And I know he sees them in my eyes—he must. It becomes obvious by the look on his face, a look of concern.

It’s a mixture of that sweet, caring look and his kind words that makes me pause, makes me wonder if I’m making a mistake. But the worry is fleeting.

We toast, clinking our mugs. I sit down at the nearby kitchen table, which is a tiny thing, yellow with three bright green chairs. We got them for a steal at a garage sale, back when we first moved in together and were still adventurous and deeply obsessed with each other.

Moments later, he puts my plate down in front of me. He’s arranged the two sunny side up eggs and strip of bacon in such a way that it looks like a smiley face. He hasn’t done that in ages.

He sits across from me and we look at each other for one long moment. Finally, I say, “Thanks for the face.”

He laughs, and it sounds natural for once—not forced and strained, like it’s been sounding lately. “You’re welcome. Eat up.”

I do eat, but despite the eggs and bacon being cooked perfectly, they taste like sawdust to me. The coffee, too. And my stomach is full of butterflies the whole time, growing more and more anxious as the final goodbye nears.

“Last night was great,” I say, “but you know it can’t happen again . . . right?”

“Of course I know. We were just saying goodbye to one another.” His smile falters. “This—this isn’t really the end, though, is it? I mean, we’re still going to be friends, aren’t we?”

“Sure,” I say, knowing we won’t. “Sure we will.”

It’s silent after that. The rest of breakfast passes in a blur. I force myself to eat the rest of my eggs and bacon and coffee, then help him clean the dishes at the sink for the last time, side by side, our hips touching.

After that, we shower, dress in separate rooms, and then he walks me to the front door.

I stand there, in the hallway, with him just . . . staring at me. And I stare back, my eyes as big and uncertain as his.

“So this is it, then.”

“I guess so.” I fidget, shifting my weight from one foot to the other.

“Are you sure you have everything?”

“Yep. All of my other boxes are at my mom’s, so . . .” I force a smile. “Funny, isn’t it? I’m twenty-eight and moving back in with my parents. How sad.”

“You’re not sad,” he asserts. “And anyway, moving back in with the ’rents is really ‘in’ right now. Didn’t you hear?”

I laugh, and for a brief moment, my sadness and anxiety disappear.

Then it’s silent again, and tense.

Finally, he clears his throat. “We’ll keep in touch. All right?”

“All right,” I say. I can’t keep the pain from my voice. “We’ll keep in touch.”

With a small smile, he leans forward and kisses my cheek, his thumb tilting my chin upwards. I tingle all over from his touch, just like I used to. It’s a wondrous feeling, one I had all but forgotten.

“Do you want the ring back?” I whisper before he pulls away.

“No. You keep it,” he says, straightening up and locking eyes with me. “It’ll remind you of the good times.”

“They were,” I say with a smile. And I mean it.

Then I turn and walk away without another word. In my heart, I know I’ll never see him again.

But somehow, I also know I’ll be okay.