He was going through a hard time. They both knew it but somehow, she knew it more. They talked about it in the wordless ways that humans beings in dying relationships converse through act and emotion- through the rashness of acts and the absence of emotions. The Friday night ritual of Chateauneuf-du-Pape was the first to go. Then the intermittent post-it notes hastily placed not all the way down on her phone screen so they were the first things she saw when her alarm went off in the morning, followed. The first few months those darned post-its had irked her. Waking up to her phone alarm and not being able to snooze it right away because some pesky thing was in the way… but they had grown on her. They weren’t ever mushy, too. That’s what she had loved the most about them. And they usually made absolutely no sense but she kept most of them anyway. Some she stored in memory, like the note after the night she had gone out with her girls for some Mexican two months following their move-in together:
“Elsa, please do not let it go when you sleep. It stinks. Love, Olaf. P.S. Coffee’s ready”.
…Or the one after Curry, her pre-pubescence Tabby, passed. That one had been a tiny caricature of a dog with a thought bubble above it’s head saying :
“All (cats that act like) dogs go to heaven.”
She had almost shed a tear after that one. Almost.
It wasn’t the attempts at failed prose or romanticism that engaged her, it was the vigour with which he had adored her smile and the reverence through which he had aimed to preserve it. But all that vanished in the summer of the year her peonies did not bloom. She was later told by the horticulturist ex-wife of a colleague that her quack of a gardener had planted them too deeply. Their foliage in early spring had held so much promise, the three wilted flower buds that showed in early April brought heart shattering disappointment. Years down the line, friends and family would ask her about that period of her life and all she would ever remember with annoying clarity were those goddamned wilted peonies.
He left in late September. There wasn’t any of that slow realisation that you get when you read a suspense novel or watch a romantic movie. There was no immediate warning but there was the exceptionally huge lump constricting her breathing when she saw him sitting quietly in the living room waiting on her that evening. It wasn’t the waiting or the stiff sitting, not even the single suitcase and stained carry-on shoulder bag leaning on the chaise. It was his complete awareness of her in a way that had not happened in several weeks. She had only just adjusted to life with a stranger and now she couldn’t handle the discomfort of having him stare directly at her and still not see her. She looked blankly at that travel bag the whole time he talked. He told her it had been over a long while, that he had tried to re-invest time and time again. He mentioned the one day she had come in shouting about the unwashed dishes and he had had such a difficult day but she had not even cared. She was mildly aware that he spoke a long time but she was careful not to listen to the details. She knew this would become an argument if she did and she did not want that; she was too good at gathering that kind of word ammunition but this situation required no sifting through the finer points and pressing of pressed issues. As a matter of fact, she had made up her mind to forget the details of the conversation the moment he walked out her door if she could help it.
He spent 39 minutes trying to let her off easy, like she needed it. By the end he was uncomfortable because she kept her silence. There was nothing she could say that would further solidify or weaken the resignation that she felt. He asked her to say anything, that he knew he had told her it was forever and he was chickening out. He did not say sorry though. He had always believed sorries were a pitiful attempt at taking the easier road out of a difficult situation. But it did not matter. She was spent.
She nodded her head once to indicate her understanding, stood up from the edge of the chaise where she had been sitting, and kissed him on the left side of his temple like she would have if this were any regular day.
“Leave the keys on the accent table by the door. Don’t bother locking it”.
She left him on the sofa, grabbed the grocery bag she had brought home with the Chateauneuf in it, got a wine glass out a kitchen cabinet, and walked into the bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, she heard the door shut quietly. It would have been better if he had just left without trying for goodbye