Nebula

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By M.P. Diederich
Contributing Writer
Published: September 27, 2007

“I don’t know what it is.  I’m just tired of everything.”

She says it very casually, as if it were an isolated statement, devoid of any context or consequence.  She knows what she means and knows that I know as well.

She sips her drink an d slowly reaches out to touch her fingertips to the scarred surface of the table.  There’s love in the gesture, I think, like some kind of strange camaraderie between her and the table – a quiet, tactile expression of sympathy of performing a thankless role.  It reminds me of something she said once, reading from a poem she wrote: “I dance and you dance with me.  Out of sadness, the World dances with us, dances to a sorry tune and a bad rhythm that endlessly repeats itself.  This is the silence, the ride-out of a Universe that always seems to drunkenly be crashing its way toward the Past.”

She tells me later as we ride away in the cab that she knows what it feels like to be a star going out.  I pretend to fall asleep, keep an eye half open and watch her as she stares out the window, her head resting on the door, eyes gazing upward to follow the lights of the city as we pass them by.

In the morning she’s awake before me, sitting upright in bed and motionless.  She holds the sheet over her breasts, leaves her naked back exposed to my waking eyes.  Light from a gray-skied morning outlines her profile as she stares at the wall, motionless.  I can just see the black smear of last night’s mascara and eyeliner around her eye.

With a timid dexterity I caress the back of her neck, reach into her knotted curls of blond hair that she had cut short, barely resting on the nape of her neck.  She says nothing, turns her head slowly toward me before lying back down and nestling herself against me. Only when I feel the cold wetness of her cheek against my chest do I realize that she has been crying.

When I first met her I tried to make her think I understood what she meant when she said “The world is sad and beautiful.”  She said I was beautiful, too – said it in a way that let me know what the word meant to her.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that she was wrong about me.  I’m not beautiful; not like her, anyway.

She’s beautiful as she sits at the kitchen table, eyes still smeared with eyeliner and mascara and staring at a cup of coffee she stirs more than she drinks.  I sit across from her and sip from my cup, burning my tongue as the flat, dark flavor hits the back of my mouth.  I stub out my third cigarette in the ashtray, exhale smoke that hangs in the light coming through the window.

She says nothing, doesn’t appear to be thinking of anything to say.  I want to think that it’s like this every morning, that today is no different than any of the days leading up to it.  I try to find words to adequately break the silence, but each thought slips away, gets caught in the air between us and sinks into the slow grind of the whirlpool she’s made in her coffee cup.

We used to talk for hours over coffee in that all-night place downtown where we went right after we met.  I don’t even remember what we would talk about, but I know that it didn’t matter.  They were always the kind of conversation that floats along and meanders through all of the totally disconnected thoughts that fill everybody’s heads, waiting to be cleared out in the event that one ever finds someone willing to listen.

We would talk about that kind of nothing for what seemed like an eternity, and it was okay because we both felt that weird magnetism – that connective energy that draws people together to the point where it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.  Somehow, somewhere along the line, we ran out of that beautiful nothingness and became silent shells, bodies used to one another and not willing to make the effort to connect anymore.

She’s the one who breaks the silence after she takes the spoon out of her coffee, finally, and places it on the table in front of her.

“It isn’t worth it,” she says, staring at the spoon.

I open my mouth to speak and have to clear my throat – I haven’t said a word since some time last night.  My mouth feels like it’s stuffed with cotton and glue.

“What do you mean?” I choke out, reaching for my coffee.

“You know what I mean.  It’s only been two years and we’re already growing apart.  What’s the point?  What are we trying to prove?  We’re too young to commit to anything big like this.”

I had been expecting her to say something like this for a while now, but still I get that chill of surprise, that sensation like all your blood vessels have opened up suddenly.

“I know you feel the same way,” she adds harshly.  “You don’t want this any more than I do.”

“I – I don’t know how I feel about it.”

“Well, you said it was my decision.”

“Yeah, in the end.  I mean, I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

“I just want to make sure you won’t hold anything against me either way.”

“It’s up to you,” I say, not even sure I fully understand the implications of the words I utter.  I take a cigarette out of the pack lying next to my coffee, put it in my mouth and reach for the matchbook.

“I wish you wouldn’t,” she says, almost a whisper.

“What difference does it make?”

She stares down at her coffee cup.  The corners of her mouth turn subtly downward as her lips quiver.  Her eyes start to well up.

“I’m sorry,” I say softly, looking away.

“It’s okay.”

I hesitate for a moment before I strike the match.  She doesn’t seem to even notice the smoke.  We’re silent again; the damage has already been done.

On Wednesday I take an early lunch.  I buy her some flowers and go up to the second floor.  I sit in the empty waiting room and stare at a poster that shows a beautiful young woman smiling while a young man holds her around the waist from behind.  He looks even happier than she does.  I don’t read the trite fake quote printed below the happy couple.  I just stare at the faces, the paid-for grins full of life and hope, of that innocent and abstract love, the kind that doesn’t tear people apart.