This week, a fiction offering in lieu of procrastibaking.
We're quiet, in that moment, with stars embroidered on a blanket of night wrapped around us. The trees shiver an apology and hold their breath. Waiting. I shift, stretching legs anxious to run. Move just a tiny bit closer to the top of the slide, ready to let the edge pitch me down and away from the precarious absurdity of the whole situation. But guilt nudges me back and I lean into it, settle against him.
We watch the headlights from a sudden burst of late-night traffic rush forward and recede, dancing brief green exuberance out of stillness.
I want him to speak, but I know that he won't. Silence is easier than the emptiness of words. We both know we've run out of things to say, but neither one of us wants to admit it. I don't want to go. I don't want to stay. I'm not sure how to cover the gap between where we are and where we need to be.
It's my voice, finally, that expands to fill the space, an awkward flutter of thought, uncontained. I've never been good at holding peace. Always, it comes out mangled. “I'll write to you.” This is true, and not true. I will write to him, in short fits and daily accounts. For a while. I'll fill the space he leaves behind with chatter. I'll offer up my observations in dispatches of pages filled with triviality, but I won't fill them with myself.
“It'll be okay.” We know that this also, is true, but not true. He says it because it's the only thing he can say. We've each been in this place before, lost and found and lost again. It's not a question of being okay. It's a question of being.
He turns to kiss my forehead and I shrug away from him, finally, pushing off with a quick swoop to the bottom of the slide. My feet hit the ground in a rush and I surge forward, scattering leaves and startling a raccoon who trundles off, indignant.
“It's not okay. You know it isn't. Nothing about this was ever okay.” My voice quavers and I hate myself for it.
He shoots down after me. “What do you want me to do? I can't fix it. I can't undo it. It's done.” On the ground, he towers over me. His shoulders hunch reflexively and he leans against a small brick half-wall at the edge of the park. I know he's hoping that I'll turn, stop pacing, drift back and settle beside him again. He's hoping I won't be difficult.
He wants to offer comfort, and I'm angry at him for it. I'm angry at him for leading me to this place. I'm angry at myself for following. For pretending I didn't know the answers to questions I decided not to ask. I'm all out of analogies for ugly truths and I have no patience for his comfort. I have no desire to be the one who makes this easy.
I whirl on him. Right now, I want noise. There's nothing left in me but noise. For the space of a heartbeat, I consider telling him the rest. The part of the story he doesn't know. But it doesn't belong to him, not really, and I don't want to share it.
“Done? It was done before it ever started. You're right. You can't fix it. And the fallout is all mine to deal with.”
“I just— I can't think anymore.” His voice is soft.
“You don't want to think! You never did. If there'd been even one second of thought we wouldn't be here now.”
“You know it's not that simple.”
“Isn't it? You let your best intentions mask what you know is the most likely outcome. You hedge your bets to leave room for the best case scenario while making choices that lead to the very same disaster again and again. And I – I just followed along. I let you suck me in. I tried so hard to pretend it real.” I can't even look at him. It's just so unbelievably, mind numbingly cliché. I did everything I could not to be that girl.
“I know it's hard to believe now, but I really thought this would be different. I believed I could make it work. I thought she'd be okay. I thought – I thought she'd get used to it. I thought she'd let go.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes, fix my gaze instead on the nearest streetlight and its frenzied flutter of moths. I stare at them until the light is all I can see and the sound of his voice is lost in the battering of wings. I don't need him to tell me about her. I've been where she is, too.
He wants absolution. But there is none to be had. Not from where I'm standing, ready to watch him walk out of my life.
Another set of headlights appears at the intersection. It makes the turn slowly, and I realize it's a patrol car.
“We should go.”
He nods, and reaches for my hand. I hesitate for just a second, before allowing the luxury of that one small comfort. I can't decide if it's for him or for me, but it doesn't matter anymore.
We leave the park together, silent. Carrying our last truths away, unspoken.
Jeanette lives, writes, and bakes in a quiet little corner of Sandy Hill, Ottawa. Known for the generous distribution of baked goods and the keen precision of her editor’s marks, Jeanette swears by the Oxford English Dictionary and favours semi-sweet chocolate in her brownies.