“You know," she said, "I have a picture of the two of us that I've never shown you. We look happy in it."
He knew then that she meant it. He watched as she stretched her arms in front of her and studied her hands. First one side, then the other. She didn't look at him at all.
"Remember that time we decided to go to the seaside? It began raining so heavily that we went to this little café and sat there all day, drinking tea and talking about our plans together. God, I drank so much tea that day I thought my stomach was going to burst!"
He remembered every detail of it: the small seafront café with the flashing welcome sign, the red and white checked tablecloths, and the smiling, overweight waitress who kept bringing them refills and seemed overjoyed when asked to take a photograph of the two of them.
"I remember. Why didn't you show me that picture?"
She turned and looked at him now. "I don't know. I guess I felt that it belonged to me only. I wanted something that you couldn't belittle."
The remark tore into him because he knew it was true. He had been like that - selfish, cruel even. It may have been unintentional, but that matters little to the person on the receiving end. He wanted to pull her close to him and stroke her long black hair like he used to do, but that would serve no purpose now.
They lay side by side on the bed, a space between them as thin and as definite as the glass which prevented the wind from blowing through the bedroom. He moved his hand to touch hers and, unsurprisingly, she pulled away.
“So when did you find out?” he asked.
A cold stare. “Oh, I've known for days. But only this morning have I made my mind up.”
“And you're sure you want to do this?”
He hoped to see some sign of indecision in her eyes, a lack of resolve.
“I am,” she said.
She rose from the bed and crossed over to the full-length mirror. She stared at her naked reflection. She still had a great looking body, he thought. That body that he had once known and caressed every inch of. But now, somehow, it seemed foreign to him. Abstract, even. He watched her every move as she stood sideways to look at her profile in the mirror. She placed a hand on her stomach and inhaled, and then exhaled slowly. She moved her face close to the glass and studied its features. He was taking every detail in, to be memorised and catalogued in a special folder in his mind called: the final moments. Their eyes met across the distance.
"You know, I used to love listening to you telling me all those stories in the beginning," she said. "How this was going to be one of those great romances. Ha!"
"look, if there is anything I can…" but her reflection threw such a glare back at him that he didn't finish the sentence. She moved over to the dresser and began to brush her hair. The strokes became ever more vigorous, as though it were all memory of him that she was brushing away.
"Karen, you know I love you, don't you?"
She paused and turned to him. "Yes. In your own pathetic way, I believe you do. But it's not enough - not now. I mean she was my best friend, for God's sake!"
He could see the tears welling up in her eyes, and her fighting to hold them back.
"Listen, Karen, I was so drunk that night…"
The hairbrush missed his head by an inch and thwacked against the wall. She looked around in desperation for something else to throw, and then stormed into the bathroom instead. He could hear the sound of the tap being turned on and water being splashed on her face.
He picked up the hairbrush and plucked one strand of dark hair from its bristles. He held it before him and turned it in his fingers. So this is it, he thought. In a moment she will return to the bedroom, search for the old tattered leather suitcase, pack some clothes and accessories into it, and then leave me. I will probably say some things to her on the stairs and at the front door, attempt to regain her trust again, but it will be futile. If only I hadn't gone to the pub that night without her, if only I hadn't ended up at that party with her flirtatious friend, if only I hadn't… But now it is done. The chords have been severed, and he wondered if he had ever heard that line in a song or in a movie.
He listened as she blew her nose and flushed the toilet. She came back into the bedroom with a bath towel tied around her body. She was making it clear that he no longer had permission to see her naked. She opened the wardrobe doors and bent down to search through the mess. This is it, he thought. If there is anything you can do or say to stop this happening it is now.
She stood up straight and turned to him with her arms folded across her breasts, and he thought that she had never seemed so beautiful as she did to him at that moment.
"Would you show me that photograph now? The one from the café?"
She stood pondering the request for a few seconds, and then she mouthed a silent no, and bent down to retrieve the tattered suitcase.