Before the moths could mistake a street light for a star, that was when he knew to run. Every particle was coiled into a loop, hung in midair as he realized he was holding his breath. The world wasn’t in his pursuit, not in the rails of the stairwell or nestled between napes of cold necks. Not here, never here.
Surprisingly, his biggest worry wasn’t on leaving. People left all the time, tadpoles were frogs now, singing in mellow choirs in the backdrop. A goose stray away from its mother, and did she know in that instant because there are no patches of plumage that separate him from any other goose
But she squawked back at him, calling from the balcony with a heaving chest. He pulled the stick into reverse, and it sat on edge, waiting to fall back into drive. And gravity took a breath and propelled him, her fists now beating into his window. Welling in her eyes were tears like moons. There were loose strands of hair by her eye that made him twitch, nonetheless, he just watched her tire out, sobbing lightly.
She used to say such eloquent things, now she burned into the back of his head with the siren sound of hate. He mouthed through the impenetrable barrier, no and no again. He was filled with the upmost desire to forget her but to no avail, she was here, surrounding him in every way. So he quivered his foot atop the pedal, the rough edges of her face floated back. He urged himself to breathe, but he felt like a carcass, wind rattling past his flesh as he skidded through the lot.
I only wanted to run. Run until my lungs collapsed inside my ribs and fell through my body like a ceiling tile. It was blue without the amber glint of his eyes, the strength of his arms. I wanted to hide between the mattress with the rest of his things; gift cards with merely change left on them, gifts that arrived in the mail for him that ‘never came through’, along with the tokens of lives I never knew. They say you can only dream about a face you’ve seen, but I see them holding their guitar picks and hair clips. She had the essence of them, the lipsticks molded to the form of their lips, loose leaf reports fading from cursive to exasperation. They all scraped my sides as we slept at night. And he so badly wanted to love me, but I pulled his arms away from my sticky body, conforming to the plateaus of the bed instead.
In the night, there was a tilt in the mattress that could only be from the absence of his weight. I had learned over the months to trust him on getting a glass of water or washing his face in the middle of nighttime. I thought back to Passover cedars. Being that I was always the youngest and always would be, I was the one to ask “What makes this night different from the rest?”
The night was different in a matter of minutes. There was a density in the air that swarmed between the gaps in my teeth. Because the tap wasn’t running and no cups were clanking. I was treading on each second, coming to the realization that his shuffling had ceased.
Now I was watching his car drift across the gravel. I could have ran and ran and nothing would have mattered because he was going miles when I could only go meters.
There are seven stages of breaking up. First there was the need for answers, which I determined after 34 missed calls, would not be in my fate. But then there was bargaining and denial and relapse, all of which were all too much to exist in such a finite moment. So I slid into a fit of sickening anger. I could watch him spin in a microwave, getting stiffer and stiffer. I could cut through his tongue and let it sting with a salty kiss. I could spark a match and watch the brass doorknobs encase him. I could kill and kill and kill until the life seeped through his skin.
But he was ahead of her, in the stage of acceptance. He had nothing to repent as he sat in his hotel room, skipping through television shows with ease. He didn’t stay long on any of them, he found his focus fading between states of tired and bored. Her face wasn’t there when he closed his eyes, only the bright outlines of the screen filled his view. But he missed the apartment and the bettas in separate bowls. It would have been too much of a burden on him, to make her leave. She would trap him, in the way a mouse cannot escape the stomach of the snake. Now he was on the other side of the glass, staring into emerald eyes of torment.
I thought it rather strange how it all ties back to me. He left because I was already treating him as if he wasn’t there. Everything reminds me of him. He once had an anecdote about the frogs croaking in the yard, and the words are like glass and steam, but I fell asleep to that warm feeling of his laugh. I remember that day, because I checked his pockets and there was candy and now I can smell it rot from under the bed. I think he knew how everything of his was disappearing. Either he ignored or embraced my obsession with him. Maybe I was driving him crazy, drowning him in déjà vu. It got to the point where we couldn’t look each other in the eye. I was blinded by him because he managed to come home each evening for weeks, even though we had made it clear enough that our relationship could not be revived. But I didn’t think he would be gone today, in a car hurdled towards the sun.
It took him a few moments to realize he wasn’t in his own bed. It wasn’t weird that she wasn’t beside him, because frankly, her presence was that of a ghost. He wore the same jean shorts he had the day before, and as he stood up, he felt heavier. It had been a while since he had woken up with all of his things. Sometimes it was a game, where he would hide stupid trinkets and watch them disappear under his nose. But over time, it grew more of an issue rather than an innocent act. Because the mattress started to smell like rust and her hair was falling out and everything was so uncomfortable.
She wasn’t present anymore, it was only the things she left behind that he could feel.
It was weeks later that I fell back on the cycle, back to an unquestionable irritability. I felt sickened with a sweating rage. It was unbearably long and cold but it passed. A wave of static filled my ears, begging for me to forget how to breathe so I could grow purple and shrivel into sand. My elbows chaffed against the kitchen counter, so I released my weight from it and walked towards the fish bowls.
I put my palm into the crisp water, scooping out the beta from where it rested. I wanted to touch it, arrange its tail like a fan; but as I plopped it into the other bowl, it expanded like a yellow lung. And as the two fish locked eyes, they’re heads twisted and wrung. All I could do was smile, as I watched them tear each other open, spill into the rocks and pebbles. Separated from its head lied the remains of the golden beta. The blue beta died slower, the two primaries melting into a secondary, clouded by red.