We sat on separate chairs, maybe only four feet apart, but with miles of silence hanging between us. I had offered him some hot tea when he arrived, shivering and tracking in snow and slush.
“Do you take milk?” I was trying to hold my voice steady and uncaring, but this was all wrong. How ridiculous the sentence sounded to me as it came out of my mouth in monotone syllables.
Tea was too formal. But I handed him the steaming mug of jasmine anyway, careful not to touch his long fingers that circumvented the base. He took a sip without even letting the tea leaves seep, obviously grateful for something to focus his attention.
I broke the silence with the monologue I rehearsed all morning while lying in bed, willing the minutes to speed forward to get to this moment.
He sat there staring at nothing but his thoughts, rubbing his hand over his head and I wondered if his hair was thinning there on the right side of his scalp because of the nervous habit. Awkward conversation topics ticked back and forth, skipping over the one thing that needed to be said.
My lower lip was raw where I kept pulling dead skin away with my teeth. So many words attaching to each other in globs, followed by giant spaces of nothing but the taste of blood on a chewed lip. And then relief at the realization neither of us were planning on saying a word of truth.
I want to sneer at the ease of this new agreement of fabrication.
My adrenaline washed away with the panic, my senses dulled and I mentally removed myself. I was sitting inside a faded picture left out in the sun. Visually, it all turned to watercolor, and our voices were muted in my apartment. The draft from my window no longer seemed to matter, and I had an overwhelming urge to crawl back into bed and fall into a deep sleep. Only my floral and bitter smelling tea, combined with the odor of rusty water steaming up from my radiators, made me aware that I was still involved in the conversation.
We pretended that we had gotten away with it, but we knew we would never be spared.