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Contemporary Fiction

I have traced the dent in the small fleshy triangle above your clavicle, smoothed its hollow with fingertip feather touch and taken comfort from its unchanging softness. I have wound my fingers around the thickly curled strands of your dark hair and cradled your heavy head in my supple hands. I have been attuned to the quiet catch at the back of your throat from your snuffled night-time snore and the disorderly kitchen clatter of your morning coffee. I knew the warmth and timbre of your sleeping breath as if it were my own. Inhale, exhale, inhale, out and in. We breathed as one for so long. Your heartbeat was the metronome of mine. The tick and the tock of us.

 

But time draws on and sometimes we overlook the small things. One star in a million stars. It came as a surprise that first time we forgot to kiss each other goodbye one morning. One quick kiss in a million kisses. That same evening we reminded ourselves and laughed about it. We shared the joke. The world was changing but we hadn’t. We just had too much on our minds. We were busy. Then one week later we forgot again.

 

Some kisses are grand, breathless gifts filling the soul with ambitious pictures of love and longing. Some are secretive, illicitly given and taken. Others are impactful, dishonest, presented as a sign of betrayal masked behind affection, accompanied by thirty pieces of silver and a lifetime of regret, epic by their very expression.

 

And then there are the simple ones, acknowledgments, gestures bandied about and scattered to the winds. That one star in a million other stars. A forgotten goodbye kiss is minor, you said. We simply mislaid a simple kiss. I agreed it didn’t matter. We’d always have kisses to spare, to share. Better ones. Grand, breathless gifts.

 

After a while, we ceased worrying about the small irrelevant ones at all. Our lives grew busier and we didn’t have the time to concern ourselves with trifling insecurities. Did I say, our lives? Lives? How strange, we used to say our life, didn’t we? When had a together-life stopped and separate lives taken over? Well, that wasn’t important. Life, lives; they're only words. There were far more crucial things for us to be getting on with. We hadn’t changed, definitely not, but we had grown up and out of the youthful affectations that at one time we’d thought so cute. Then the hello kisses stopped, too.

 

We didn’t trouble ourselves with those anymore. I knew you and you knew me. We were responsible adults with important issues to ponder and bills to pay and people to see and places to go and everything else that being responsible adults entail. The world around us changed but we did not. We got on well. Better than most. Tick and tock. We never argued. If I said I was uneasy about something - or perhaps delighted - you’d tell me you felt the same. Ditto. Eventually we didn’t bother with the inconsequential, trivial things we had on our minds, either. We always agreed, anyway. It wasn’t necessary to share gratuitous conversations. A waste of time. We didn’t have to. Two hearts, one heartbeat. Tick and tock.

 

Was there a definitive moment we stopped communicating completely? I can’t pinpoint it. I think it must have been a slow build up rather than one specific moment. No, not a build up, a petering out. Yes, it was more of a gradual pulling away and pulling apart and petering out. Perhaps it included simple moments. You know, those same small inconsequential moments like, when for example, I assumed you’d know I felt like eating out. But when you didn’t make arrangements, I hinted. I’d always thought it rude of people to hint at things. I must have become very rude because I hinted a lot. You somehow just could never seem to catch on. You missed my hints and you missed my points and you missed the boat. I didn't bother to elaborate because you took my hinting and my explanations so personally and then the grumbling would begin.

You had your own shortcomings to nurture. I couldn’t fathom the constant irritability. You took up grumbling as a sport. Goal! You win.

 

Was it age? We were getting on. The world around us changed again and although I didn’t imagine we’d altered – after all, it was still me and you – I recognise now that we had. I waited patiently for the return of good humour, for laughter to regrow onto your bones like a second skin so that you could be comfortable with the traits you wore underneath. But you paraded prickliness on the outside like a thick, protective coat, keeping the articulate, sensitive underbelly of you far from the surface. Far from me. Islands in the stream. No bridge to bridge the gap, no light to light the way. Two hearts, two distinct heartbeats. Tick but no tock. Two of everything. Tick. Together yet alone.

 

I cook. We eat. Breathe. Sleep. Tick. You cook. We eat. Breathe. Sleep. Tick. The clock’s second hand echoes noisily through our quiet house, bounces off the walls and splatters into the curtained windows. I doubt you ever hear it. You turned a deaf ear to me years before so I can’t imagine you keep an ear open for the clock. A waste of time, you might have said. I would have laughed at the pun but you didn’t say it so I didn’t laugh.

 

Sometimes I take a long meander around the inside of my mind to quiet the tick that pounds inside my head and reverberates around the hollow shell of my unoccupied skull. I think about you often. You’re not forgotten but I no longer recognise the you I knew or the me I was. The us of us is gone. Seconds turned into hours into days into weeks into months into years and you and I gradually disappeared right along with them.  

 

Your heartbeat was once the metronome of mine but all that is left of anything vaguely resembling rhythm is just that bloody annoying tick, tick, tick of the clock’s second hand and we are strangers.

May 31, 2021 15:25

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