“You want me to murder you.”
He stood facing the wall, staring at a photograph of her in a sunflower field.
“Appreciate it!” she joked. “It’s not every day I ditch my common sense and wear a fancy dress just so you can stage a few pictures to post on Instagram. I even smeared on lipstick, for God’s sake.”
He turned her shoulders to face the camera. “I’m not sharing these to Instagram,” he replied. “They’re for me to hang up at home.”
“That’s even worse, I’ll have to stare at my face every day.”
But she wouldn’t, he thought frantically. She wouldn’t be here to stare at it every day.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, toying with her bracelet.
“I like shooting stars," she told him. "Which is silly because I know they’re not really stars. But I like to imagine that they’re burning themselves up, that they’ve plucked up the courage to dive into oblivion. And when everyone says that seeing shooting stars means good luck, what they’re really doing is wishing on their suffering. Because when one person goes down, another person goes up.”
"When some stars die, they explode in a supernova."
She shrugged. "Death is more of a fall than an explosion. It's ordinary. No one cares if you die, unless you're leaving money."
“Is there any way I could ever change your mind?”
“The question is, will I let you stay long enough to try?”
He gave her the bracelet on a random day in June because she hated holidays, hated anniversaries, hated the idea of mandatory gift-giving. He slipped the bracelet with six star charms on her wrist for the six nights they’d shared before she finally said that she’d like to try. Not being girlfriend and boyfriend, she said. Just, just me and you. He gave her star charms to ground her during her attacks, to press into her skin and remind her that the world wasn’t too big if stars were in her reach.
The bracelet clinked against the table.
“I really don’t know where you got the idea of murder from, babe. I’m not asking you to–” A triad of coughs cut her off. Ignoring the hand she held up, he rushed toward her, hovering over her. He reached out for her hands. She moved them away.
“I like keeping my hands in my pockets. Or just holding my own hands together. I don’t like it when someone else moves them. I don’t like shaking hands because then you just have people holding on to you and they can do things to you and what if they have sharp nails that dig into my skin and hurt me.”
“For what it’s worth, I trim my nails regularly.”
"Oh." She looked at her hands. “Mine are usually bitten.”
“I’m not asking you to sneak cyanide into my coffee. I’m just asking to put your name on a form.”
“I promise it’s legal. I think. I don’t actually know because I’m not smart enough to understand law, but I think it’s legal.”
“I won’t let you do it.”
She stopped looking at him. “But we talked about this. I told you why this was important to me.”
“I don’t care. I don’t agree.”
“Did you not go to kindergarten or something?”
“Don’t you know why you have two ears but only one mouth? It’s because listening is more important than talking.” She paused. He stayed silent. “So could you please just be reasonable for one second and actually listen to what I’m saying?”
“Reasonable? Sure, honey, I’ll be reasonable.”
She started picking at her nails. “Okay, so now that we’re communicating like adults–”
“I’ll be reasonable when you stop being so pigheaded!”
The nail on her thumb came off. He pushed his chair away with a scrape and collapsed onto the sofa, dragging his fingers through his hair.
They sat there, for how long neither of them knew, with only the ticking of the clock uniting them in sound. He glanced up at her every few minutes, hoping to catch her looking back, but she never did. She was still abusing her fingers, raining nails and skin onto the form on the table, with an intense concentration that rivaled the attention she gave her shoes during doctor’s appointments.
As the clock chimed six, her phone vibrated with an alarm. He knew what it would say: Start dinner at six. Without looking up, hands tracing the seams of the couch, he tracked her progress around the kitchen, from the suction pop of the refrigerator door opening, to the faucet running, to the methodical thud of the knife sinking through carrots to hit the cutting board. It was Friday, and for her, Friday dinner was always vegetable stir fry.
Rolling up his sleeves, he rose and headed toward the kitchen, refusing to glance at the form in the room. “I can make dinner, love. Go rest.”
She continued chopping. “I promised myself that I wasn’t going to marry. And then you come along. And I think, I lie to myself that maybe this person will be safe. Because I wanted to believe that.” The thuds became harder. “I lie to myself that maybe this person will care about what I think.”
“I care about what you think. But I want to make sure you do what’s best for you.” The words came out wrong.
She could have walked out. But she didn't. “And who are you to decide that? It’s my life, I should get to do what I want with it.”
“Of course it’s your life, but don’t I matter? I’m your husband.”
“Do you want a divorce?”
“No! Would you stop accusing me of–”
She slammed the knife down. “What's so hard about it? We put dogs out of their misery all the time. Is that it, am I worth less than a dog to you?"
“How can you say that? I love you.”
“You've said that so many times, but why can’t you do this for me?”
“You make it sound like you’re asking me to go pick up the groceries.”
“You never pick up the groceries.”
“I always offer, but you never want me to!”
“Well, this time, I want you to do this!” She was crying. “I’m begging you to do this. I don’t want to live if I can’t even control my own body. If you want me to be happy, promise me that if I start needing a machine to live, you’ll tell the doctor that I want to be taken off.”
“And what about me? Don’t you care about me?” He grabbed her hands. “Even if you’re hooked to a machine, I'll still have hope. But once you’re gone, once you’re living in the stars, what else will I have to live for?”