When I told him I was sick, it was like ...
Well, it was like nothing. It was just another part of me behaving automatically, like a leg walking or some fingers grasping.
It just came out of me.
What sort of sick?
Really, like, really sick. Hand running over the back of my neck like I'm showering in the movies, hot water running down my back.
Shit. He steps closer. The mucked-up hairs on his head. Are you? Okay? High-ended sentences, trying to lift me.
Yeah, I say. I mean, it hasn't sunken in yet, you know.
Heading into work the next night, I think of him. He's got his shirt off, and that gorgeous high hair is cartoonish against his pale thin body. Cro-Manga man. And I imagine I'm at the opposite end of the day: successful, purposeful, power-suit striding through intersections is swatches of coffee and smokey-grey, heel, toe, heel, toe.
But I'm fighting, instead, the get-home masses, threading up through them in my sky blue tracksuit, trying to exude some untapped purpose. And when I get there, when I've swiped in and picked up my inventory, he's there, waiting.
Feel like working? Together? That hapless, sexy, unused smile.
We're side by side, reaching back, circulating cereal boxes, when he talks again. I want you to know? That if I can? You know?
I hug the giant Special K to my chest. Sweat in my hair. Thanks, Dan. That really means a lot to me.
And then it's out there, the confirmation. No going back now.
If I'd had any sense, I would've changed shifts, changed jobs, gone away for a while and left him alone. But there—right there—was that stupid empty part of me that always needed filling.
I allowed us to fall into routine. I knew he had made them change his roster. I sensed the changes as co-workers came and went in new patterns. He had moved this little universe around me.
He's there, one more week, and we're walking back through the stock room at the end of our shift, when he says, Lyla?
How long? I mean, how long? Have they given you? He's stopped and I've stopped. Distant groans of trucks outside.
Ah, six months. Six to nine. My voice wavers as I say this thick putrid lie, but Dan—sweet fucking Dan—misreads it, puts his hand on my arm.
I'm so. Sorry.
From there on, from any moment forward from then, the tiny details of life rage like waves. And I don't ever want them to stop. He knows I live alone, so he brings in casseroles wrapped in foil. Mum makes too much anyway, he tells me. And she says there's no, ah, hurry to bring back the dish.
I love him more intensely for his embarrassment, all that latent weight shifting from shoe to shoe. I hug him, and imagine being young again, that time when life was somehow spent more happily in a lower resolution.
When our cheeks brush, my tears transfer to his soft face.
I walk through there sometimes, now, but only in the day, only when I'm sure he's not around. I walk up the aisles and it feels wrong, all this noise, all this colour. I miss the squeak of footsteps on the polished floor, nothing more.