Have you ever seen water burn? he asked, and she shook her head, because everyone knows water doesn’t burn, but, rather, turns to steam, and that was when he struck a match and tossed it toward the lake below, and the flat water lit, making a sound like someone punched in the stomach, and everything she had known to be true evaporated before her eyes.
She had not needed to make the bed the next morning—she’d only laid down for 10 minutes, and even then, not slept. She had nodded off at her post at the window once, losing minutes—maybe even hours—while her head drooped, chin to chest, and her hands finally relaxed.
She wasn’t sure what she waited for, or how it was different than what she’d always wanted, but she knew it was coming. She knew she’d recognize it when it arrived, but she had to be vigilant. She did not want to miss all the good things to come.
Once they met, he could not fathom a life without her. She seeped like the sun into every corner of the dark room of his heart, warming all the places inside he had once thought too cold to share. She left no room for him to imagine her absence, and so, even as the light in her eyes went dark, he wondered if he could carve out more time with her by stepping outside his clock-bound world. Everything dimmed again once she was gone, and he shivered, feeling the cold creeping back to its old places with each lonely minute that passed.
That night, she sliced a bell pepper in half, and it opened to reveal a heart-shaped outline. She grew angry, then, tired of seeing love everywhere she looked, when she was trying so hard to keep all her hatred walled off inside her chest. She chopped that half of the pepper into small squares, eradicating what it revealed on the cutting board. Someday, she’d have room in her kitchen for romance again, but at that moment, she just wanted a salad.
She came around a bend in the river just as the sun slipped behind the trees, leaving the clouds above the color of lava, butter, bruise.
It had been a long walk, and she sat on a rock next to the water, which had taken on the clouds’ color so intensely it looked much warmer than she knew it to be. She thought about taking a swim, but decided resting was good enough—she had already leapt into too many things that looked more welcoming than they turned out to be.
Two wheels are better than four, she’d said just before she took off on her bike. She left him holding his car keys, his mouth open, his heart urging him to follow.
He’d only known her long enough to learn she never needed training wheels, but he already loved the skinned place on her knee just below her hem. She seemed older and younger than him at the same time, and her eyes twinkled when she talked about motion.
He ran for his car, determined to catch up with her. For this one day, four wheels would be enough.
He taxied away from their home after making it clear he was flying toward a different destination. He took what he could fit in two suitcases (one large, one small).
His departure surprised her—the pressure inside her heart had equalized, so she had stopped feeling the tension weeks before.
You’re leaving so much behind, she said before he left, gesturing at the things that had grounded them: the furniture, the books, the photographs.
I won’t need it where I’m going, he said, and she knew he really meant he no longer needed her.