seeing that the theme for this week is breaking up, i thought this short short-story i wrote a long time ago, might make an appropriate post.
Freshman year. I saw him coming down the stairs of the lecture hall, his long hair wildly curling, his arms flailing in conversation. I shook my head and turned away, laughing to the person beside me. I thought he looked ridiculous. It wasn’t that he was overweight or even particularly big – he just took up space, lots of it.
Weeks passed. In the easy, inexplicable, amorphously complex way that friendships are forged, somehow the space around him began to include me and eventually it didn’t even surprise me that we were soon inseparable. Maybe I’d developed a sense of the ridiculous!
We’d stop to lie in the grass on the walk home and talk about whatever was occupying our obviously brilliant minds. We’d dance along the canal to mercurial music emanating (almost magically) from some oboe player practicing in the dark. The hoarded remnants of our student allowances would occasionally allow us the luxury of savoring a single cocktail and periodically we’d stay up all night writing last minute assignments. It was a joke among our friends that he would do most of the research, but my grade would be 10 percent higher!
Eventually, when we moved in together, we washed up here in this building with the flotsam and jetsam of residents past and present. The apartment was great, but something about this roof kept beckoning; it was where we’d sneak our smoke or seek solitude. We’d lie near naked, browning on summer days. On hot nights, similarly clothed, we’d escape the heat of our room, dragging our comforter to make a bed under neon stars. We’d lie looking at the back of the first five letters of the sign above the “Silver Screen” (our home from home) – an old movie house which holds all night black and white marathons every Friday night and screens “art” movies the rest of the time. It was our private joke that we’d make a fortune alerting the tabloids that these 5 letters, juggled and repeated, reveal the coded message that “ELVIS LIVES”! We liked the place so much that we stayed on even after graduation, after we went corporate and could afford slick leather and upgrades on our jalopies.
Now here we are. Probably for the last time.
“I’m sorry,” I finally manage to say. The words come out emotional and thick, remorseful, yet at the same time, unrepentant. They emerge invisible, then solidify in the air and just hang there – ugly as graffiti sprouting overnight on fresh paint. I want to get up and throw my arms around him as if he is still my best friend. As if I don’t have someone waiting for me in a car downstairs.
As if nothing has changed.
Silence. His words are turned away from me as he stands at the perimeter of this roof like it’s the edge of the world and he’s braced to battle monsters. Like he’s standing on the platform of a desolate station, waiting doggedly for a train he’s been told has just derailed.
It seems to me that we are actors in disheveled wings on the opening night of a play we’ve never rehearsed and to which we don’t know the words. Meanwhile the curtain rises. The audience waits.
Beyond the blank of his back my gaze is caught by those five letters silhouetted against the mottled sky. The car-horn’s quiet cough floats up from the sidewalk, then sounds again, not quite as quiet as before.
I hesitate for just a moment and then rise…
I take my cue.