It had been a very bad year and as he watched the dying embers of his last cigarette he reached involuntarily for the next one. His brow was damp and furrowed. The worry lines on his face showed that anxiety was a greater threat to his health than lung cancer.
The smoke spiraled to the roof of the lounge. One of those places men came to lose themselves and women came to lose their virtue. The lighting was dark enough to give a hint of perpetual depravity, the music was low enough to facilitate conversation and yet shroud it from nosy neighbours. He felt like doing something dangerous. So he took out his lighter and put it to his cigarette. Already he was feeling impatient. He had done that thing that most men do when the woman they gave their lives to disappointed them in the most primal of ways he called the one he should have spent his lie with.
Now she sat across from him, looking at him with something that approached pity but never quite got there, she had understanding in her eyes and he knew he could talk to her about the rift that had occurred. He took a deep drag of his cigarette and sat there for a moment enjoying the silence in a comfort that enveloped only those who had known each other in every way.
“I realize why I can talk to you about these things,” he began, his hands stilled, even his breath had slowed down to barely perceptible levels, all that was alive within him were the words, “When thinking about you I think with my heart and when feeling I feel with my brain. Talking to you seems like some kind of intellectual interpretation of emotions or an emotional enunciation of thoughts. We have always been stuck halfway and I can only half believe what happened.”
“I’m sure that this was no surprises, it never is” she prodded and then went on, “I don’t believe that people just snap like twigs, there must have been signs of tension or silence. The kind of silence that begs for words yet knows that whatever words are spoken will be the wrong ones. Many people think that it is better to live in silence than to constantly scream and shout , but that’s not true. The deep kind of silence, the soul deep silence that not even sex can breach that’s usually the end, was it like that for you?”
“I wish it was that simple, but then nothing is simple not even that, I feel like i lost myself when I found her like that, a part of me was gone and I never saw it decay or maybe I did and thought the cancer would go away if I just imagined that it wasn’t there, and sometimes when am honest with myself when I look inside I wish I could forgive her and then an image flashes and I wish I could forget her.”
“Is it really that hard to think about?” she insisted, “Her reasons for what she did, can you even admit that … that some of it was your fault. I won’t go into all the pop psychology about women experiencing an emotional detachment before they step out on marriage, because you know that as well as I do. And I know her, you do too if you admit it to yourself, she loved with her whole self and committed with much more than that and you know it. So whatever happened I am sure she didn’t leave a warm bed at home. Am not saying that it’s all your fault but I am saying that it’s important for you to see the fissure, can you?”
He took a long reflective drag on the cigarette, by now it was a matter of rote, nicotine on this night had long since stopped calming him down. But he smoked because he defined himself as one of two things, a husband with a faithful (though not happy) wife and a smoker. He felt like if he stopped smoking the world would spiral out of control. He thought about her question and then slowly with infinite care began to answer her.
“I knew she was sad, and that she was sad all the time. I couldn’t give her what she wanted and everyday, with her words, with her looks I knew I disappointed her. Then I regretted it I felt horrible that I could treat her so badly. And instead of making me want to struggle to become who I knew she deserved it made me feel better. This feeling, this sorrow of regret had made me more human. My regret became more and more valuable. The point reached when my capacity to regret the actions I had done and the pain I had caused became more important to me than my capacity to refrain from doing those actions or causing that pain. I think that is the day it really ended and for a long time we were actors on a stage that had long since been cleared and without an audience we sat there remembering with fondness and sometimes with a feeling that approached love the characters we had played. The show was over for a long time but we couldn’t leave, we had to be forced out, and we were.”
The cigarette had become a stub and so he ground it into an ashtray.