You didn’t clean up before you got in the car and drove away. But I did. I stayed. You didn’t call when you got to the bar, and didn’t save me a seat, even though I asked if you could. I called, and you didn’t pick up. I sat in the kitchen and ate peas and potatoes, and then I had a beer and wondered where you were.
You managed not to say goodbye, but I did. When the police came to my house to say that you’d started a fight, I said sure, that’s you. That’s always you. They said you’d run from the bar down the end of the road – streetlights shining on the fog – and found your way into the forest. You hated that forest, you always said, but I know you didn’t. I know you loved it, and that’s why you went there after the fight, to the open spots between the trees. The police said you probably got lost there, fell down, hit your head, rolled drunk into a creek and drowned and maybe the animals were eating you now. But it didn’t matter what they said. They stood in my doorway telling me everything that probably happened to you, but all I did was say goodbye, and after that you didn’t come back.
It’s funny, but I saw you this morning. It was in the newspaper, in a photo of a building where someone was giving a speech. This person had their hand up in the air, their collar raised, but it was you behind them. Climbing the steps. Looking back halfways so that I could see some of your face, your black hair, and a glimmer of white from your eye like you knew I was watching. I pictured you walking up those steps out of the photo, into the building where it got dark. Where you walked the hallways, trying to make a life without me.
Two months after you left, you called. Remember? You must have used a new phone, because the number was strange. It had too many numbers in it; it had none at all. I sat on the porch in a sweater when I picked up, and there you were. No words, no telling me how sorry you were, just a hint of breathing to prove that you were alive. I smoked a cigarette and talked to you as the afternoon wore on. It was near winter, and it was cold. I pulled the sweater over my knees and asked what you’d been doing. But you didn’t answer. You didn’t say anything at all. There was nothing there but breathing.
I told you that you’d left without cleaning up, but it was okay. I’d done that for you. I went to get a drink and when I came back to the porch, the phone line was dead. You hadn’t said anything. You’d just breathed, to let me know you were alive. I’d sat on the porch until deep into the night, when fairies came out, but you didn’t have any words for them either. You just didn’t.
I wrote you a letter and the next day, I took it to the forest. There was fog again. There was always fog. That must have been what it had been like when you left. I yelled for you twice, only twice. I’d promised I wouldn’t let myself sound more desperate than that. I put a nail through the letter into a tree and then I said I wouldn’t go back to that forest again. Wouldn’t even so much as walk in the fog, because of the places where that can kind of journey can take you – the type of place it did take you.
I saw you this morning. You didn’t know that I did, but it’s true. I was coming home from work and you were on the sidewalk, coming out of a store. It was the type of place people sold things for money, and I wondered what it was that you were giving away. What did you have anymore, anyway? Everything you owned was at our place, in a closet where I’d put it. I checked every day to make sure it was still there, that nothing was missing. That you hadn’t come home for something.
But there you were. Your hair was different, longer, and I think maybe a different colour. It made sense. There was no point in looking like your old self, when you’d been with me. No point at all. And you had a beard, and sunglasses, and it seemed so unlike you, but I’d known. I’d told the person on the bus next to me, and the one behind me, that I’d known. It was you.
I’d got off at the next stop and run back. You’d always said that I was a poor athlete. Too short, too stumpy with my legs to run fast, but I ran anyway, back to that shop. You were gone. You’d been there, but then gone. I went inside and walked around the shelves and the counters, looking for any hint of what you’d given away. There was so much dust in there, but I found your fingerprints in the grime. On a shelf, near the floor, next to a silver chain and underneath a rotting book. There they were, right in front of me. I’d put my hands in the memory of yours. Felt your warmth. Wondered that I’d come so close to seeing you.
Last night, you were in my bed. I woke up to find you there, on top of me. You were whispering in my ear and digging your hands into me. I told you that I’d missed you, but you didn’t care to speak about where you’d been, just pretended that you’d never left. You smelled strange, not like what I remembered, but you told me that it was okay, that you being there was okay. I’d screamed, and told you it was joy; I’d wanted you to cry, and say that this was wonder-full. But you hadn’t. I’d slept in dreams, of those times when we’d been young and you’d been next to me, and there’d been fairies in the sky where we had been born and had promised each other we would always stay. But we hadn’t. We just hadn’t.
When I woke up, you’d been gone. I went to the closet where I put your stuff, and it was all still there. The porch was empty. The kitchen table clean. It was like you’d never been there, but I remembered you from the night, what you’d done with me, and I knew you were out there. I knew you existed, and that you remembered me. But you’d left again. The hundredth time you’d done that. I wrote you a letter. Drank on the porch. Watched the fairies gather together to make the moon, then split apart to form the stars.
I wrote you a letter. Better than the first. More sensible, more like me. More like what I want to say, if only I can get the words to you.
When the fog came, I couldn’t wait longer to show you what I’d written. Outside, it was cool, but it didn’t bother me. I walked down the road, just as you had. The streetlights were on, and I was in my sweater, and you – you were waiting for me at the end of the street. Amongst the trees, in the shadows. You were hidden but how can you hide from me? Why would you want to? Tell me that, just once. Post a letter on the tree where I’m going to put this one, and return it to me. Or better yet, tell me for yourself. Maybe this letter doesn’t matter. Maybe you’ll never read it. Maybe it’s better for me to walk into this forest. These trees are dark. Cold. There is a wind, but not much. Stars but not many. And sometimes I catch a glimpse of you in here. It’s hint, a clue. The part of a shadow that you never fully see, and wonder at times if you ever really did.