She had just left. He was sitting on a brick wall behind their building. He lit a cigarette and stared at an empty bottle of beer that was sitting in the gutter, covered in grass and spent butts and other garbage. He tried to not think about her as he took long drags, but she was always there, she was inside his head, she was his heartbeat, she was his fingers on the filter, she was his breath, she was his exhale, she was his inhale, she was his eyes looking at the empty bottle, she was his feet crammed into his shoes that weren’t done up because he had left the apartment in such a hurry.
Everything was her, and she had just left.
So he smoked.
She had left in the night while he was asleep. She took all of his books by Nabokov; weathered old paperbacks with notes in the margins, and passages underlined in pencil by students years long graduated or dropped out. He had bought all of them second-hand over the years, and last night she had asked to see them. She didn’t speak while she leafed through them, and only spoke to remark about passages that she liked, or phrases that she had remembered reading. They drank tea and smoked pot late into the night. He had a thought that they would have ended up fucking at some point, but he fell asleep too quickly, fell asleep while she was tracing her fingers over his chest and kissing his earlobes and telling him how much she cared about him.
Even as he drifted off, he could tell it wasn’t true, and that her words were what she felt he wanted to hear. He dreamed of cold streets and his parent’s house.
When he woke up, her side of the bed was empty, and the books were gone. There was a piece of paper on the kitchen table, the corner of it held down by her pack of cigarettes. A goodbye note, he assumed, and prepared himself for flowery prose in her slanting script about how she, “couldn’t be held down,” or, “had been hurt too many times before,” or any number of other clichés that he’d read many times before and he assumed she had written many times before. He flipped the note and saw that it was blank.
He lit a cigarette, heard church bells. He guessed it was Sunday.
They had fought. She screamed that he had always been terrible in bed, and he screamed back that he had always suspected that she was fucking his best friend. He hadn’t, but it had been something that he’d always wanted to say during an argument. He hoped that she felt the same way about his prowess in bed. They reached zero resolution over the course of a few hours. They passed those hours engaged in a demolition derby of his apartment that resulted in twelve broken mugs (smashed against the walls), three broken pictures (smashed by the thrown mugs), a TV shattered by a frying pan (broken as she screamed something about his horrible taste in movies), and six plates (detonated all at once in one screeching over-the head drop-bomb into the kitchen floor.)
She finally fled, too exhausted to continue, and her throat too hoarse to scream another word about his failed masculinity and atrocious creative endeavors that she had been made to stomach. He tried to call after her, but the blistering in his own throat prevented him screeching damnation about her repugnant and massive collection of bath products that crowded, “so much fucking shelf space it’s practically a fucking war crime,” or her clothes always being out, or her etc. etc. etc.
He sat down on the kitchen floor, among the mounds of ruined porcelain and tendrils of broken glass, pulled a pack of menthols from his back pocket and lit one up.
It was a shared pack between him and her. Pall Mall menthols. The one thing they agreed on, now his alone.
It had been kind of a mutual thing. He had wanted to try new things with different women, and she had wanted to travel and didn’t want to be tied down in experiencing new sexual stuff while she was out in Europe or Asia or somewhere. He wasn’t really listening, he was instead just waiting for the whole conversation to be over so he could go outside and have a cigarette and text Cynthia. He’d been trying to find a way to end his whole relationship thing, and her coming to him and saying that she had wanted to travel was a gift from above that fell from the heavens and landed straight into his lap.
Call it shallow, he thought, but it was sometimes nice when things worked out.
They hugged and he kissed her neck because he had always liked the shape of her neck. She ran her hands up and down his back and for a second he felt like he was doing the wrong thing letting her go, and that fighting a little harder to do something that he maybe didn’t want to do right this second would be a better idea that taking an easy way out just so that he could have new sex with new people. How good was that anyway? Wasn’t that always so complicated?
They broke their embrace, and she turned and walked out the door.
He walked around the room and found his cigarettes, his lighter and his phone, and then headed outside. He lit up and pulled out his phone and drafted up message to Cynthia, but before he hit send he scrolled through his contacts to delete the number of the woman who had just walked out.
He stopped himself though. Took a drag instead. Not ready to let go just yet.
She left and he was glad. He’d never loved her, and had lied every time that he had said it. He felt/suspected/knew, that she felt that same way, and that’s why she was gone now, and he was sitting in his car on the side of a highway, driving home to a now empty apartment.
She had texted him, told him that she had left him, that he could keep all of her stuff and that it wouldn’t be any use to try and find her, because there was no point digging her up when he hadn’t tried all that hard to keep her around when they were living together. The text reeked of a draft that was poured over thousands of times before it was sent. Maybe she had written it for the first time on a cocktail napkin, or in that maroon notebook she always carried with her. He liked picturing her in a coffee shop thinking about him and how best to tell him that she knew all along that he had never loved her, balancing every word for maximum damage.
She was always trying to make him feel something.
Which was probably because she cared. Fuck.
He opened the glove box of the car, pulled out his cigarettes and a lighter and lit up and watched the cars drive past.
He wanted to keep the cat, but she insisted on taking him, because he’d be away too much. He relented eventually, because he loved the cat more than he had ever loved her, and wanted Misfit the Cat to have a good life. Ah, those sacrifices that you made when you were a pet owner.
She took the litter box, the kennel, and a bag of food. He helped her get Misfit into the kennel after he kissed her on the head and said goodbye. Then she left.
He’d quit smoking years ago (too much money.) However, after she’d left and he’d wiped away a couple of stray tears, he walked to the corner store and bought a pack of his old brand.
As he sat in the parking lot and smoked cigarette after cigarette, his head swam with nicotine and loss. He spied a stray cat across the street and waved at it.
She had left while he was at work. Before leaving, she had used push pins to stick pictures of the two of them to a variety of walls throughout their apartment; the two of them on a beach, the two of them on all of those road trips, the two of them on Christmas and on a friends birthday. The only photo that wasn’t on the walls was one of him and his secretary kissing outside of a coffee shop. She’d taken that one a week earlier.
She left that one on his bedside table, anchored down by her wedding ring.
When he got home, he sighed, and then began to collect the photos off of the walls and put them into the pocket of his jacket. Then he went into the bedroom and saw the one she had left under her wedding ring. He opened his bedside table and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit the corner of the photo on fire, and then lit his cigarette with the crumpling and crinkling picture.
A cigarette lit by the burning flame of new flames.
It was to be the first vacation that they had taken together. Everything had always gotten in the way before. There was work, there was her kids, there was his dog, and there was all of the errands and other bullshit that always seemed to prevent you from just getting on a plane and going somewhere together. Finally though, they had found a small window where the two of them could leave and go somewhere together, somewhere relaxing.
They had picked Cuba; one of their mutual friends had been there and had said it was a good place to visit.
They spent the whole first day together and did tourist things. On the second day they decided to split up and go exploring separately to see all of things that maybe one of them wanted to see that the other didn’t, “a smart idea so we’re not fighting about where to go and missing out on things.”
He went to a whorehouse. She want to a bar. For a dollar, he had sex with a young girl who looked like a woman he had worked with some years back. She drank cheap rum and picked up a suave looking man in a suit and tie and a panama hat. He made it back to the hotel later that night, and waited up for her.
She never came back. She had fallen in love with her moment of breaking of free, and he hadn’t. After the second day, he knew she wasn’t coming back. He ordered a bottle of rum through room service that cost more than any bottle of rum should, and then he tossed all of her clothes into the bathtub and turned the water on. He wanted to set them on fire, but he didn’t want to get drunk, fuck it up, and burn the hotel down. This was a compromise.
Drunk, crying, and howling animal howls occasionally, he wandered Havana streets. He stumbled and fell into a gutter full of half-finished cigarettes, garbage and leaves. He picked up a half finished cigarette, and in a moment of drunken reasoning, lit it.
He was completely lost. He sat on the curb and wondered if he could ever fall in love with a prostitute.
They never really fought. Instead, they both just slowly got bored till one of them decided that it was time to find some goddamn excitement in life and ended the whole thing. It was her who made the first move, and he looked at her and told her that he supported the decision and that he just wanted her to be happy.
She started to cry because she had wanted him to fight a little harder, just this once, to keep her around. She wanted him to be unreasonable, to be angry with her for breaking up something so easily, for getting rid of him without thinking about it. She wanted the excitement in their life to start with this breakup, and end up with them closer than ever.
That didn’t happen though. She cried, and he got up to go put on a record. She walked past him and left their apartment. An hour later he stopped wrestling with the thought of running after her, got up, and walked out calmly into the streets to see if he could track her down. After searching half-heartedly for a little under an hour, he stopped into a convenience store and bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He didn’t smoke, and the clerk gave him a strange look when he said, “Whatever’s cheapest.”
He went back into the street and lit his first ever. He thought he saw her across the road, sitting at a bus stop. Then, a bus pulled up and obscured his view. When it pulled away a drag later, she, if it was her, was gone.
He inhaled. He coughed.
He was halfway through a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. He had wanted to buy the Black Label stuff, but the budget needed to leave some leftover money to buy a tin of beans to eat before going into work tomorrow. College life was hard sometimes.
He stumbled up onto his feet and over to a coffee table covered in half scribbled poems and unfinished homework. Somewhere around his second year of University, drinking had become more important than doing homework and he’d settled into some bohemian poet/drinking thing. She’d entered his life right before this lifestyle change, and hadn’t been all that supportive when the switch had happened about two months into them dating. She’d been the reason that he hadn’t quit his job washing dishes to really complete the whole transition. Rent still needed to be paid, and he reasoned with himself that booze cost money.
He sat down at the coffee table and looked over a few of the poems that he hadn’t finished. His phone lay under a piece of paper adorned with a piece titled, “Drunk Nights in Sober Cities.” There was a message from her. He opened it and read it.
She was leaving him. She told him he was a drunk, and that she couldn’t live with a drunk. She told him to quit drinking and call her, or keep drinking and write some poems about her that nobody would want to read. She closed her message by calling him a cliché.
He took another swig of Johnny Walker, pushed all of the unfinished poems and lacklustre first pages of novels he would never write to the floor and then pulled his cigarettes out of his back pocket. He lit one, and then pulled a blank piece of paper out of the mess he’d made on the floor.
Tonight he would drink and write. It was a personal direction chosen, one to be looked on later with either disdain and remorse, or as the moment when he began to move forward down the path to greatness.