This originally appeared in University College London's prose magazine, A Phone About to Ring (Fall 2012)
She Loves You and You Know This
You’ll wake up in the morning and she’ll be at your side. You’ll let her sleep because she is beautiful. This is the image you have of her when you leave. When you kiss her goodbye she’ll stir like a child; not awake yet, she still knows you are there.
You’ll pull your shoes out from under the sofa, tying the laces slowly. Take your time, you tell yourself. Maybe it will prevent you from leaving. You’ll reach into the bedside drawer and pull out a picture of her, placing it in your chest pocket, holding it close to your heart. Even across an ocean, she’ll remain a part of you. The sun is rising now and it’s time to leave.
As you prepare to leave you’ll quietly walk across the hardwood floor. You’ll kiss her on the forehead. Keep sleeping, you’ll say. When she wakes up she’ll know and you’ll be gone. In the bus on the way to the airport, you’ll contemplate the unthinkable. You’ll be back, you promise yourself. Soon all of this will be gone.
When you reach the cold linoleum floor of the airport, you’ll drag your suitcase and it will glide. The echoes pierce your aching throat; you’ll shake your head once more, telling yourself this is a good idea. And then you’ll leave that rapture for another world, the world where she exists in memory and literature and in song. A tear will fall as the plane takes off. You’ll be back as soon as possible, you promise.
You left her because of a job you think will bring you back. The paradox of this is already hiding behind your eyes. After three weeks of unpaid interning, you’ll be hired as a specialist—despite the increased hours, you’ll believe this job is nothing more than a means to get back to her. Back there, in your sanctuary, she’ll tell you on Skype that her job pays enough, that it’s enough to survive and that you should stay and find work. “Come back,” she’ll plead. “I need you here, now.” You need to be there too, you say, and it’s hard, but you’re too proud to admit that you like your job and the pay. You have a vision of what you could be, not of what you once were. And as always she’ll desist, she’ll say, “I know, I understand.” She doesn’t say this because she believes you, but because she loves you. That’s all.
As you board one of many planes to travel the world, you’ll remember the home with the orange tree. You dreamt of it once, with her in a park. Both of you imagined it and believed it could be yours. Watching the earth once again disappear from view, you’ll swallow hard and close your eyes. It’s been over a year since you walked across that hardwood floor to kiss her; she was beautiful as she slept and this image still remains. As you clutch the handkerchief sodden in her perfume, your love for her will escape your mouth in a pained murmur. The passenger next to you will say, “what?” You’ll say nothing and stare at the window with stinging eyes.
Even when she can’t hear you, you’ll tell her that you love her. By saying this, perhaps, you can return to that slumber. The days will pass slowly and the hours even slower. When you're asleep she’ll be awake, when she's out with friends you’ll be at work. She’ll laugh with them in a smoky jazz bar; she’ll remember when you took her there, your first date, that song. Wine will be poured because you drank it that first night. As the club guests begin to trickle out, the view of the stage will become clearer. The music is calming but the ballads are sad. Soon return home, late, and crawl into her sheets, clutching a pillow closely with tears in her eyes.
Nothing on the surface has changed in that apartment, except for the unused bristles of the idle toothbrush sitting on the bathroom sink. Each night she reaches for it before turning away. She still believes you’ll come back, and this is why she leaves it there. Holding it, she feels closer to you, like you feel when you touch that picture in your chest pocket. As her head slides onto the pillow, you’ll slide out of the office to make a phone call. You haven’t had a break all day but hope you can still catch her after midnight. The phone will ring and you’ll wait for her, counting the rings, but she’s asleep now—it’s been hours—and something will feel wrong.
During a phone call you’ll speak of your future together, once your job is finished, once you’re back in her country. The country home you both envision has a tiled roof and an orange tree in the courtyard. An Australian shepherd will lazily corral both of you each time you return from your morning walks. You’ll hold her hand as you sit on the porch together, and the dog will rest at your feet. When you hang up the phone with this vision in your head, you’ll lie down and for just a moment, a genuine smile. She’ll call back within minutes because she misses your voice. A raven will perch itself on a telephone wire in your back yard.
Work will be hard. You'll be busy. You’ll still remember her gentle kisses in the morning, her faint smile when you kissed her goodbye. You’ll tell her how much you miss her, though a small part of the truism is now lost; when you become aware of this you’ll become nervous, and think that much harder about the house with the orange tree. You’ll bite your fingernails silently so she won’t hear your fears across the phone. You’ll scrunch your eyebrows—remember the country home—but you already forgot the type of dog. You’ll tell her to call you back: there are emails to be dealt with. As you respond to them she’ll wait for you, staying awake until her eyes falter. In the morning you’ll check your voicemail, but it wasn’t her place to wait all night long.
You’ll begin to bite your fingernails even on Skype. As the slivered, crescent-moons disappear from your hands, you’ll voraciously pronounce your love for her each and every night. Doubt will begin to creep along the vast distances of your mind; you’ll say it all the more to quell a terrifying silence. Your fingers will become dilapidated because you’re scared now. Yelling at the raven perched on the windowsill, you’ll wake up one morning and forget to put her picture in your chest pocket, falling into a routine, slowly deadening inside.
As more time passes, you’ll often forget to slip out of the office to make the phone call. When you do call you’ll be agitated; and, despising what you’ve become, you’ll blame her for what you can no longer be for her. But despite your negligence she somehow understands—this will make you angry, secretly, because you know she should not. As she crawls back into her sheets, she’ll have a toothbrush by her side. Her fingernails have also begun to recede now. Tonight, perhaps, she’ll dream of an orange tree¾once again you’ll slip out of the office to make that phone call, but she won’t stay awake. She knows better now. You’ll remember when you kissed her in the morning as she slept, when you walked across the hardwood floor. The way the coffee pot gurgled.
You’ll reach at your chest pocket and realize the photo is gone. You’ll try to remember what she looked like, but her face has begun to disappear. You’ll bite your nails and you’ll close your eyes, but there is no orange tree and no dog. One of your cuticles will start to bleed.
Soon you’ll start drinking because it helps pass the time. You’ll forget about the Australian shepherd that corralled both of you in the yard. You’ll wake up in the night, smelling her scent, hearing her voice, and you’ll glance at the empty bed space and consider taking the next flight home. On the other side of an ocean, there will be a beautiful hillock gently breathing in lonely sheets; she’s still waiting, but she’s scared. Sooner or later she knows she must move on.
Just like her pillow has been for months, yours too will become increasingly sodden. She’ll no longer visit the jazz bar where you first met. She’ll no longer enjoy the music or the bottle of wine. She’ll tell you that it makes her sad and that she wants you to come home; all she wants is to touch you, to hold your hand. “Just for a second,” she says. You won’t know how to reply. You’ll hastily change the subject: tomorrow you won’t be able to call. She’ll say she loves you and still, you say you know this. She’ll fall asleep with a toothbrush, in a position only two can complete.
You used to kiss her on the forehead in the morning when she was at your side. You used to let her sleep because she was beautiful. This is the image that will stay with you long after it ends. One day, sooner or later, you’ll forget entirely the house and the orange tree and the dog. You’ll forget about the picture that was once close to your heart. And still you’ll remember the drag of your suitcase on the linoleum floor at the airport, the echo pulsating deep in your throat. Words don’t have the honor of maintaining or ending love. Still you’ll want to call her to ask how she’s doing. Once you’re out of the office—five-minute break, you’ll say—you’ll smoke a cigarette because she no longer responds.
You’ll meet other women but it won’t be the same. Your love didn’t end when you left or heard the dial tone—you’ll wish and hope for something you once had, not realizing that it was there, heaving gently where she slept. You’ll forget the country home entirely and you won’t remember the dog was an Australian shepherd. And still, you can hear the echoes of that heavy suitcase, rolling across a linoleum floor. You’ll slip out of the office to make a final phone call.
Outside, you’ll sit in the rolling chair of a man you’ve just fired in the parking lot. Clutching a cigarette with unhealthy fingers, you’ll place your hand on your chest pocket and remember there used to be a photo.
The gurgle of the coffee pot in the morning.
The way her cheek pressed on the pillow.
How she reached out her hand when she stirred.
When night falls in this country, she’ll wake up in her own with someone else by her side. Still, she hides a toothbrush under the bed some nights. Sometimes she clutches it when nobody's watching.
She still loves you and you know this. You’ll wonder what went wrong.