I see pieces of you everywhere I go, smell hints of your perfume in drafts of wind as I walk down this old block trying to assemble the remnants of my past. It feels like you were just here, arms wrapped around me, begging me not to go. How I’d rock back and forth, trying to gain momentum, and launch off of the bed till your hands detached and I could slip my jeans back on. I walk these streets a doomed man, unable to see how to free myself of the trap of you.
What was it in you that kept me coming back all those times, drinking your lye slowly, imbibing you bit by bit till I couldn’t tell how much of me was you? What was it that stopped me from seeing reality, blinders set, staring straight ahead as if there were no other way to go? I see you in the haze of a deep fog as I walk along this old and beaten path, past places I’d know with my eyes closed, only remembering them in the context of where we were together.
I think of calling you, wonder if your number is still the same, what I’d say to you if the call went through. It’s been so long, I don’t know how I’d even start. I breathe you in as I walk through an empty park, the one that was our second home. Our story remains unfinished, right at the end, the punctuation all wrong, written sloppily as if some half-completed first draft.
I thought of marrying you one day, but now I think of nothing but how it ended. With hurled insults like arrows blotting out the sun, come to fall on bodies only waiting for the end. We lived together still, tearing everything apart that once was decent. I caught you one day, soaking in the tub, crying and trying to hide it but not doing a good job. I came in and you made room for me. I soaked in there with my clothes on, brushing the hair from your eyes. When I left the tub, we never spoke of it again.
Or when I came home from a New Year’s celebration drunk on Jim Beam, stumbling around snow drifts, puking onto white, pushing past the wind. How I washed my mouth out and suggested we do it one more time, for old time’s sake. And how you insisted we shouldn’t but smiled all the same, knowing what would end up happening. And when it did happen, us looking into each other’s eyes with our fingers interlocked, more together than we’d been in months, wanting it to never end though it had to. When we were done and were awkwardly putting our clothes back on, you promised you’d give me a blowjob in the morning, your voice a singsong I’d never heard from you before.
When we woke up, you were a different person. I didn’t ask about the blowjob and you didn’t mention it. You could barely look me in the eye, let alone speak a word. You put on a sweater and a hoodie over that, willing yourself to be invisible to me. I laid out on the couch and you paused to regard me before getting on top, silent as your heartbeat reverberated against me, the warmth of your cheek pressed to mine. Little motes of dust floated in the air between us like tiny planets orbiting the glow of your golden hair. You kissed me without saying a word and we did it again on the couch, angrily, not saying anything, clutching pillows, not looking each other in the eye. A separate act from each other.
When it was done, what we made leaked out of you and you sat there, collecting light, starting to cry in silent gasps that moved your chest as if you were being defibrillated. I tried to move in and console, but you pushed me away with your words. So I stood there naked, the sounds of our obnoxious neighbors filtering in as birds sang sex songs to each other outside. You asked me, still crying, if it was like the first time. I lied and told you it was, seeing how important it was to you.
We put our clothes on and I made us an omelet, the flop mangled but you saying it looked fine even so. Anyway, the look of it was only part of the experience. There were always things beyond appearances. I put on a Coheed and Cambria record as we ate, Claudio Sanchez singing about lying awake for a while, leaving the light on a while. You took the tiniest of bites, doing all you could to prolong this thing, and I couldn’t seem to look you in the eye.
We finished up and lay down on the floor together, limbs intertwined, listening to the rest of the record, my steady breath lifting up your hair before it all fell down again. Claudio was singing bye bye beautiful. Don’t bother to write. You didn’t joke about his girl’s voice the way you used to. You just lay up against me. I would move out the next day.
I stand now, outside the apartment that once was ours and now is yours. I could call. I could knock. The birds still sing sex songs, and I can hear the obnoxious neighbors through their open window. I walk up to the door, read your last name on the locked mailbox. The wind picks up and fall leaves blow around, gathering at my feet and clustering in the corner that leads to the door. I reach for the buzzer, touch it with my cold finger. I exhale. My finger leaves the buzzer and I walk back to my car, hands in pockets.
Nicholas Olson is a freelance writer from Chicago now living in North Carolina. When he’s not writing a novel or wrangling a cat, he’s editing at The Citron Review/Cease, Cows or is reviewing for The Review Review. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2016 Very Short Fiction Award and has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Fiction Southeast, Hobart, Literary Orphans, decomP, and other fine places. Read more at nicksfics.com.