Some time last year, I entered a writing comp. I didn’t expect to win and (of course) I didn’t – but I entered a writing competition. Booyah! And here it is:
The barometer lies silently, a bruise on the blank crisp lines of his hallway wall. It catches his eye each morning, its brass frame like an oversized compass, its needle perpetually pointing towards ‘Storm’. The redundant predictions of his air-conditioned apartment only add to his contempt.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but the hook was already there. It’s been six months and I just thought-“
He told her not to think. He owned the apartment, he’d worked hard for it and he didn’t want her to interfere. A fire flared in her eyes. She suggested he start labelling stuff. He said perhaps he would. She reminded him who paid for their food. He said he’d stop cooking it for her.
She took a breath and a sea rose above the flame.
She asked him, “Do we belong together?” but silence lapped at her ears.
He made her dinner but ate his portion before she got home. He blocked her attempts at conversation and she edged around his thorny demeanour. She left the crossword in the paper. He immersed himself in study and she drowned out his absence with the television. She went to bed early and left before he woke.
Their erosive tide of days.
He strides down the hall to remove the barometer, but on his approach his eyes are drawn beneath it to an envelope with his name written in navy blood. It resembles blood, the ink had run stretching the letters into their own macabre script. His eyes narrow and he snatches it from the hall table, running a suspicious finger over her handwriting and the dimpled paper. What was she playing at? Her reminders needed envelopes now? A darker truth suddenly pierces him – she had wept.
He struggles to recall her sliding out of bed that morning. Did he hear her take a shower? Did he hear the apartment door close? He hefts the envelope in his hands and considers putting it back. He considers letting it slip down between the hall-table and the wall. He could pretend he hadn’t seen it. He could feign confusion when she asks. But what if she doesn’t ask? When he watched her sleep last night, were her bags packed in her car?
An ache grows at the bottom left of his ribcage. He flicks out the flap of the envelope and removes its ballast, a single slip of paper folded once.
I’m going to Mum’s for a few days. I think we need some space. I would really like to meet up. Talk. Take a long walk nowhere.
I don’t want this to be ‘goodbye’.
I love you.
Every day he made her coffee at 8:15am. She ordered a skinny cappuccino with two sugars. The first time he laughed and accused her of disguising the flavour. She studied pharmacy and worked at a chemist around the corner. He wanted to get into law, but found himself paying off a small apartment. She urged him to make the change. They talked politics and argued philosophy. He looked forward to seeing her. He missed her on Saturdays.
“I’ve got a new job.” she said ” Head pharmacist.”
It wasn’t her normal coffee time. She hesitated at the counter. She sidestepped customers and nervously pulled at her ponytail as she chatted. She said “bye then” instead of “see you”. She looked back from the door, a coy grin muffled by her scarf.
He smiled. A colleague jabbed him in the back.
He didn’t have her number.
Urgency stole coordination from his fingers and he couldn’t escape his apron. He stumbled out of the café leaving a line of patrons in his wake.
Her face lit up when she saw him. He swallowed his breathlessness and tried to act casual.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“A long walk nowhere.”
They found themselves in the park and they crunched autumn leaves. They laughed. Talked about life. He teased her about her taste in coffee, she asked him if he could recommend a good barista. He caught her hand and pulled her into a clumsy kiss. He grinned self-consciously, surprised by the vanilla taste of her lip-gloss.
She smiled with shining eyes, “You should go.”
He struggled to release her hand, “I don’t want this to be ‘goodbye’.”
“No,” she said, “I think this is ‘hello’.”
His wardrobes filled with her clothes and he caught the scent of her hair on his pillow. They shared the crossword on Sundays. She bought new towels for the bathroom and skinny milk appeared in the fridge. He cut back his hours at the coffee shop and buried himself in study. He couldn’t afford the perfect birthday present. She lent him money for his car. He struggled with his exams and found her reassurance patronising. She laughed with a male colleague but denied an affair. He denied his paranoia. She tidied around the apartment to avoid his angry company. She hung her barometer in the hall.
He rereads her words and wonders if they have a chance. He looks back to the wall.
The barometer says ‘Fair’.