Allyson Whipple, author of “Eulogy,” here explores the idea of relationships. The dichotomous nature of how people interrelate, especially in the inevitable moral strain of an extramarital affair, is the essence of humanity. I always think of the old man and his dog in Albert Camus’ The Stranger
. The old man is mean to the dog and the dog is mean back but when the dog goes missing, the old man is completely distraught. Relationships take a variety of different forms because people are so varied.
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Eulogy by Allyson Whipple
We're sitting on the bed, side by side (so we don't have to make eye contact), on the sheets he and I have shared for over a year, ripped where his dog's claws tore them, ink-stained where I drafted him love poem after love poem, dirty story after dirty story. The floor is carpeted with junk, so when I tear around the room grabbing his scattered possessions, I step on a photo frame, breaking the glass, slicing open my foot.
“Shit,” I snap, but I won't let him give me any sympathy. I've spent a year and a half proving that I'm tough, that I'll put up with weeks of bullshit for one perfect moment, and I'm not about to let that hardness soften.
“I'm not sure we even really love each other anymore,” he says, as I shove his stuff into his arms. “I think we're just holding on to what this relationship symbolizes.”
I don't know what he means. I can't tell if he's serious, or out of his mind, or trying to make it easier by emotionally knifing me. All I know is that the words hurt like a mouthful of broken teeth. I'm so dumbfounded that I don't demand an explanation. Just like I have at so many points in this relationship, I let the hurtful statement go, without closure or explanation or fairness. Calling him out won't make him change his mind about leaving; I might as well let him think this hateful thought.
We're not supposed to be touching each other, but suddenly we're hugging, and then he's kissing me, with the same intensity he's always used. We fall back on the bed, tongues meeting, hands stroking. But then he comes to his senses and pulls away. “Fuck me,” I want to say, even though I'm not in the mood, even though we're both ugly with tears and failure and regret. I just want to see if he'll do it, see if he's still tempted in the face of misery, see if I'm that powerful. But I don't say it, and as the urge subsides, I find I don't want that power as much as I want him to just leave me in peace.
I know my husband will be home soon, and suddenly, the need to resolve things becomes more urgent. I don't want him to see me like this. After all the work I did to keep him from knowing anything that was going on in the beginning or middle, I certainly don't want him to witness me at the end.
Glancing at the clock, another layer of dread surrounds me. If Christopher leaves now, I’ll only have twenty minutes to pull myself together and pretend that today was just business as usual. I'd hoped this would have ended an hour ago, so that when he came home I’d be all cried out, tired and miserable, but the dirty work done, my game face back on. Yet Christopher is still here, because neither of us can bring ourselves to break the last chain that binds us.
We linger for a few more minutes. But there's nothing I can say or do to change his mind; he's choosing his wife over me, and there's no sense in trying to stop that – it wouldn't even be right, ethically, to ask him to leave her for me.
“You need to go now.” I'm choking on my words, throat constricted and tight from crying.
“You can always change your mind,” I sob, cracking my heart open one last time “Always. Even in ten years.”
“It's really tempting, Samantha. It's really tempting to plan for ten years.” He almost smiles.
Christopher stands to go, and out of ingrained Midwestern politeness, I get up and walk him to the door. As the lock slides into place, I wish it hadn't. Suddenly, I want him back here, breaking my heart again and again. Because now that the door is closed, I know it's really over. And while it means the agony of this moment, of all those tough and unhappy weeks, is over, it means everything else is over, too. The crying is done, but so is the laughter. The distance, but also the moments of perfect intimacy. The broken promises, but also the hope of a better tomorrow.
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
Send your flash to [email protected].