You’d been watching him sleep, his head resting on his arms at the table, but now he was unfolding himself like some sun-woken, hibernating creature. You got up from the couch. It was well after six, and you both had work. But then he looked at you, and you knew that this thing wasn’t finished.
“It’s morning,” he said.
You nodded, and for a moment, the previous evening disappeared.
“I was dreaming,” he said, and he stood up, stretched. “Can’t remember what about.”
You made your way around the table, your eyes not on him for the first time in hours.
He was behind you, not touching, not reaching out. “Did you sleep?” he said.
You wanted to tell him: no. You wanted to ask him how the hell he could have just rested his head on the table and closed his eyes. How, right in the middle of everything… “A little,” you said.
“You should’ve woken me.”
“You looked so peaceful,” you said, and this awful cliché was true. Your tears, when they’d come, had only come because of how he looked, lying there, his lines smoothed in the lamplight. But what you thought had been a smile on his lips had only been the shadows.
You busied yourself with the milk, the cups. You heard him stand, and so you turned to him, said, “You remember that photograph? The film star in the bath, balancing a bubble on her finger?”
He was rubbing at his cheek, and the years were back on him, the tendons under the skin of his neck like thin, taut ropes. He shook his head. “When was this?”
“Life Magazine exhibition,” you said. “In London. When we were first…”
“Christ, Rachel, that was twenty years ago.”
You sighed, enough for him to hear. “We had a postcard of it on the wall for a while. She was staring at that bubble on the tip of her finger like it was the most beautiful, incredible, precious…”
“Yeah. I remember. You loved it.”
“That’s right. I did.” The water for the tea was ready, and you left enough room in his mug so he could pour his own milk. “Can you remember who the actress was?”
He reached past you, picked up the mug. “No idea,” he said. “Marilyn? Rita Hayworth?”
“It was a woman called Jeanne Crain. It doesn’t matter which films she was in, because no one remembers them. And no one remembers her. She was quite a star at the time, but…”
“Shit,” he said. “Have you seen the time?”
“Richard,” you said. “Forget work…”
“I can’t,” he said. “You know. There’s that Crenshaw thing. It’s all still bloody up in the air…” and he was all movement, all sound. He’d always had that way of filling a room.
“Richard,” you said, taking his arm in your hand. “Last night? I was trying to tell you…”
“Look,” he said, sipping at the tea. “I remember. How everything changes. How the things we thought were important when we were younger get less important as we get older.”
“Yes,” you said. “And vice versa, of course. Richard, listen to me…”
“Rachel. The way we love each other has changed. But we still love each other. Now, I’ve got to go to work.”
And he was already heading to the stairs, still in the clothes he had slept in.
You sat at the table, in his chair, resting your head where he’d rested his. You closed your eyes, and you thought of Jeanne Crain, of the lines of dialogue she must’ve worked so hard to remember, of the Hollywood studio-system-shit she must’ve put up with, and how when she was watching herself on the screen – the playback for the cast, someone’s hand on her knee, the closeness of someone’s breath on her skin – she must have thought it was all worth it.
That bubble on her finger, balancing.
You stood up and pushed the chair away. Upstairs, the shower was running, and you could hear Richard singing. His mug was on the side, half-full, and instead of pouring the tea down the sink, you held up a finger, steadied the mug so it sat on the tip, and then you closed your eyes and let go.
Jason Jackson’s prize-winning writing has been widely published on-line and in print, including Smokelong Quarterly, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk and TSS Publishing. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2017, and he has recently performed at fiction and poetry readings in various locations in the south-west. Jason is also a photographer, and his work has appeared on line at The Guardian as well as in Low Light Magazine and Burning House Press. Jason tweets regularly at @jj_fiction, and a new blog is forthcoming at www.jjfiction.wordpress.com.