Twenty-one days ago:
“I know we’ve been having troubles, I know we’ve been fighting too much, but we’ve both been under a lot of pressure,” I implored from the kitchen doorway. Two steps down and three across she makes coffee and refuses to meet my gaze. “Can’t we give it another go? Make an actual effort to make it work? Twelve years is too long to throw away this quickly.”
Her spoon spun the hot water into a tiny whirlpool. A little blackness slopped over the rim of the mug.
“I mean, we’ve hardly been spending any time together. We’ve both been too busy. And then when we have it’s been too pressurised, so much so that it was inevitable it’d snap. Things will be calmer in the autumn. It’d work again. We just need to-“
She threw the spoon down across the work surface, splattering a trail in its wake. Strangely it was silent when it hit the floor.
“But I don’t want to spend any time with you.”
And with that the foundations upon which I’d built my entire adult life crumbled away like they were but dust.
Eighteen days ago:
Everything felt heavy as I stumbled onto the bus on the Old Kent Road. The party celebrating the end of our course had seemed to be occurring just outside of my reality. The few people who knew had tried to distract me, but in the end all I could do was pour innumerable cans of beer down my gullet and in the early hours stagger off.
Sitting upstairs the ambulance’s blue lights turned my skin opaque. I read the text message she’d sent the night before, from out of her sister’s spare room, visiting the nephew we once shared and now I’m not allowed to see.
She called me sweetheart and ended with a kiss.
Knowing it was wrong, knowing it was a mistake I rang her.
“Hi,” she said, and we mumbled through our conversation, conscious of listening ears at both ends, until I said:
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I got off the bus and walked down Sevenoaks Road to our house; the trees felt cool in the rain’s afterthought and my heart swelled hard against my ribs.
Sixteen days ago:
I pulled the pump out of the airbed and frantically tried to screw the cap back on. A gush of air whistled across my knuckles.
“Did you sleep in the bed whilst I was away?” she asked from the bottom of the stairs.
“Uh-huh,” I hate the airbed. It’s uncomfortable and the lounge is always too hot when I go to bed and during the night a chill slips down the chimney and pinches my neck.
“Why won’t you sleep in the bed?”
“It doesn’t feel right.” I closed my eyes for a moment.
“It’s your bed too. Come on,” her fingers had snuck up on me whilst I wasn’t looking and they brushed the back of my palm.
Fifteen days ago:
“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression.”
“I thought you’d had a change of heart. Come to your senses. You sounded so emphatic.”
“It was just a reflex.”
Thirteen days ago:
“You know what?” she asked with that sad-tired smile that told a million fairy tales. “I’d really like to climb a mountain with you. Just one more time.”
Eleven days ago:
“People keep offering me places to stay.”
“Don’t go anywhere. Please.” We both sat silently, neither of us exactly sure why she shouldn’t. “You don’t just disappear into the night after this length of time.”
“No. No, you don’t.”
Eight days ago:
It probably wasn’t what she'd had in mind, I thought to myself, as grass sprung under my boot, but I couldn’t help myself. The words were uncontrolable.
“You can’t accuse me of not supporting you as an artist and at the same time claim that I’ve no ambition of my own, that I’m too wrapped up in you. It’s either or, surely?”
There was no anger which surprised me. The slopes of Pen Y Fan seemed to pull all the aggression out of me. There was, instead, just the words tumbling across the still mountain air.
“Are you breaking up with me because I’m not an artist?” She didn’t answer, but instead looked down at her boots taping out a beat to the rhythm of the hill. The mud and water clung to leather like memories.
“Help me out here, because I just don’t know.”
It’s hard to be more impetuous when all the other wants to do is sleep and work, I thought but didn’t say. Then I wished I had said, and then I was glad I hadn’t, because in the end what would have been the point? How would it help?
And a few hours later she clasped my shoulder in the dark of a pub car-park and cried tears of the bereaved.
Another couple of hours later she slumbered in the passenger seat and I whispered the words to the song going round for the umpteenth time, unable to change the CD without disturbing her.
“As ah walk through this land of broooken dree-aams, ah have visions of maaannnyyy things, love’s happiness is just an illuuusssion, filled with sadness an’ coooonnnfussion.”
Five days ago:
I was driving along the south-circular to supermarket, Front Row was bubbling in the background and a novelist I never caught the name of said:
“Of course all great literature is about love. It might pretend to be about something else occasionally, but deep down it’s always about love. After all, what else is there worth writing about?”
I sat in the car-park, the strip neon lighting reflecting back in the windscreen and pinched the bridge of my nose till I thought I might pass out.
A few hours later and something stupid had been said and:
“Shall I move out now? Shall I just leave in the morning?”
“Please. No. Stay.”
“Why? How exactly does this help, Dave?”
I didn’t know, except that I couldn’t bear the thought of her running away.
Four days ago:
I looked around the studio flat and simply thought: “Oh fuck.” It’s horrible. The staircase up to the attic featured holes into the abyss, the walls were smeared yellow from cigarettes, in the kitchen panes of glass was missing from the windows. If I’d lain down, had I dared, in the living/bed space and stretched out like a star I would have been able to touch all four corners.
“Are you sure it’s six-hundred and ninety a month?” I asked the estate agent who shruged unapologetically. “And that’s not including any bills?”
An hour later and I walked through another door, only this time it felt different. It was light, clean. Not enormous, but not miniscule. Affordable, even.
“I think I’ve found a flat,” I told her later over dinner.
Over the evening she cried and frowned and screwed her face up like someone’d spat in her soul. It made me feel terrible.
“I love this house,” she said. So do I, I thought. “We could be housemates?” She wasn’t entirely joking. For a second it was tempting, but then the thought of her with someone else in the next room made me feel sick.
Three days ago:
We spent the night with different groups of people for the first time in what felt like forever. The bus back from Dalston seemed to be endless and it was a quarter to one when I finally slipped through the door. The clunk of the locks woke her from the slumber on the sofa.
We sat amicably for a while and then she hugged me so tight that I think I may burst. She kissed me tenderly on the cheek.
“You can still kiss me on the lips, you know?” I said.
“But I shouldn’t.”
“Why not? If it feels nice?”
She did so.
“It does feel nice. It’s lovely,” she said with that tired-sad smile back again.
Two days ago:
I reached across and held her tight, the Sunday morning air held in place by the duvet. Her back pressed against my chest and I nuzzled, then I kissed her shoulder.
Then I remembered and everything ended once again.
Later I was forced to ask: “What’s wrong? You seem really cross about something.”
“I’m angry about the cuddling and the kissing this morning.”
I could have protested, but the words were running dry and I felt I had to save what was left, to hold them precious until the final gasp. Instead, I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered if this would be day I woke up.