This room, this hollow, bland cube, is like a prison. The bed rests on the dirty floor, hard and uncomfortable; every laborious movement stresses the muscles. The heavy curtains fail to block the outside world from entering, so a sliver of light leaks into the room through murky air, thick with dissension, tension, and uncertainty. Outside it is night, dark and foreboding, the only movement the shapes of insomniacs and nocturnal creatures. Sophie wonders why she is not among them now.
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Beside her lies a body, a dark shape tangled in blankets, rising and falling with every breath. Sophie recalls a time when this body was a continuation of her own body – a warm, safe cave to disappear into, strong arms like thick branches to protect her from the evils of the world. This was a time when the outside demons overcame her, when she could not stand up against them herself. She needed a barrier, a blockade, when she was weak, and unsure of herself.
How people can change, she thought. Amazing how two people can fall apart so easily, grow apart, lie in the same bed and still be millions of miles away from each other, in their minds, if not in their hearts. Amazing how someone’s smile could make you feel like you were coming home when you saw it – the warmth that was instilled inside like a warm, welcoming hearth. Amazing how that warmth can fade so easily, with only a slight squelching of the fire.
He reaches for her, reaches through his sleep, his dreams, the murk of uncertainty. He finds her waist, attempts to pull her closer, but she resists. She breaks free of his grasp, obviously abruptly, because he wakes up and blinks in the dark. The pale light from the window illuminates him slightly, a line falling across the bed, almost perfectly between the two bodies, separating them physically and metaphorically.
He asks why she is awake, and she shrugs. She has many sleepless nights when beside him, though when in her own bed, she sleeps soundly, dreaming of a life she cannot have. He props himself up on an elbow, rubs his eyes, and surveys her, making her feel uncomfortable. He asks what she is thinking. She shrugs again, and says:
“That love is arbitrary. That perfect love does not exist. That we all settle for imperfect relationships in order to survive, in order to procreate, in order to have someone to hold onto in the dark nights before the endless dark night of death.”
“Is that all we’re doing?” he asks, turns away from her to grasp in the dark for a pack of cigarettes, a lighter.
Sophie sighs, pauses, and nods. She knows the truth, and he knows it, too, but they have both been too afraid to utter it. She takes a deep breath and says carefully, “We have grown apart. There once was something special, but it faded. I come here now, to this empty place, and just feel trapped, whereas when I am not here, I am a whole, energetic person, and I love my life. When I am here, I just want to die.” She remembers years ago when she would say the same thing – only then, the wish of death was to escape herself and get lost in him. Sophie looks around the room, takes in the bare walls, the ugly curtains, feels the hard bed beneath her. He lights a cigarette – the flash of the lighter blinds Sophie momentarily, then she is able to make out a curl of smoke in the moonlight leaking from the window – though she knows it is not moonlight, but from the sketchy neighbourhood streetlights. The room begins to smell of burning paper and chemical, and Sophie almost suffocates.
They sit in silence for a few moments, then Sophie leans towards him and rests her head on his shoulder. He puts an arm around her, holds her close. Sophie hears his heartbeat through his muscle and bone, and she remembers how this heartbeat once soothed her and gave her life. She listens for a few more beats, then pulls away and touches his cheek.
“I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back.”
“It’s a big bad world out there,” he says, “take care of yourself.” She nods, and gets to her feet, pulls on her clothes, shoes, coat. She approaches the door, touches the doorknob, turns to him, wants to say she loves him, but knows it will come out unnatural and strained. She has never been good at telling the truth, but never good at lying either.
She takes one last look at him, takes in his form beneath the thin sheet, the tone of his arm. She turns the doorknob, and steps out into a dark, but new world that she has not experienced for a long time – freedom.