SPINELESS

The worst part is they never tell you. They never just come out and say it.

You’ll know before you know, really. Intuition. Maybe a shift in energy, if you’d believe that. The person that shared a bed with you has changed. Maybe it’s to do with the smell of them. He never came home reeking of her perfume, or cigarettes, like he claimed to have quit. But when he came into the room, the air was different.

They never tell you. You are the crazy one, the confrontational one. There’s no reason that the voice that used to say your name like a prayer when you fucked now sounds bored. Or worse, annoyed. Any question you ask is inane. Any gesture—dinner on the table, shutting off the light when they choose to fall asleep on the couch again—is irritating. You gnaw at their peace like a parasite.

They can never just admit it. And he didn’t admit it. He didn’t say anything. He denied it all by saying nothing.

But I saw it there. A shadow on his face. In his eyes. Something—just there—scuttling out of view. Something hiding and waiting for me to leave the room.

He was guilty, I realized, when he went to sleep on the couch again—but not guilty in the way that would make him lie awake at night. Not guilty in a way that would make him cry at my feet. Real, soul-wrenching guilt, you know? I might have forgiven that. Not this, this sheepishness? This avoidance. 

It was like he felt bad for me. Like I should have realized sooner what he had done. But also like a dare for me to say something. To break the silence and let the truth skitter out.

Fuck me! I couldn’t even get mad because I knew but I didn’t know, you know? I couldn’t be the one who ended it. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.

It wasn’t fair.

So we sat in that shitty studio on opposite sides of the couch and listened to the rats and the bugs in the wall fuck. We didn’t touch each other anymore. The implication sat between us like a third-wheel. Like a parent waiting for one of the children to fess up.

His phone would buzz in his pocket routinely. There was no motion to respond. The sound accused him a little more each time I heard it. It throbbed like a dumpster at noon. I wondered if he was full of maggots too.

And then—like they always do, when they realize you’re onto them—they start disappearing. They make themselves scarce. He came and went like I wasn’t in the apartment at all, and the excuses dried up just as quickly. Sometimes I would walk in and he seemed to creep out the door behind me. Just out of reach.

I would stay up until three or four in the morning. Just waiting for him to come in. Sitting under the soft LED light of our IKEA garbage like an interrogator. But he would never come back when I felt the urge to attack. He knew I was waiting for him. He wouldn’t let us both be done with the matter. 

What was I supposed to do? What could I do? Confront him and let him sidle around my questions? Or pretend to be ignorant of it all, even during those nights when the anger got so hot I felt light-headed?

Because I did want that. I really wished that I did not know what he was doing. I wished that I did not always expect the worst of him. And I wished that when I had expected the worst of him, maybe I really was a cynic. Maybe I was crazy! But—just kidding! I am right again, like always. He is the spineless fuck I knew he was. He was bred to be this way.

I let it go on for the better part of the month. I could hear him coming into the apartment. Pissing in my toilet. Leaving crumbs in my kitchen. I knew he was there. And I would stay in bed, rigid and shaking. I couldn’t just fucking say, “Get out of my house. Go back to your whore.” I couldn’t just fucking say anything.

How do you accept that someone you loved would hurt you? That someone you loved would terrorize you over and over again? Why wouldn’t they just leave you alone? Instead he crawled  across my brain in my dreams. I was infested with him.

It was a humid summer. I didn’t feel like running the air conditioning. I liked to feel the damp air around me. It held me when he was out with her.

I became exhausted. I slept all day, every day. I slept at work. I would type out long accusation letters on client calls and come to, the cursor blinking on a blank notepad. A fly rested on my cheek. 

When I came home to the close air one night, I let myself cry for the first time. I sat in the dark with my head on the kitchen table and felt each hair frizz, moving with its own autonomy like the legs of a thousand insects. It was so damp and warm that my tears did not dry, they pooled on my face and congealed.

I heard the doorknob turn. I did not raise my head. His keys jingled in the lock. Intentionally muffled footsteps into the apartment. He pulled off his shoes, shoes I fucking bought for him. 

Slowly, he entered the kitchen. He pulled open the fridge and started digging through.  He pulled out something and started sucking noisily on it while he continued to dig. Then, he must have seen me in the light of the open fridge because at once I heard—

“Jesus Christ!”

I said nothing back. He said nothing more.

The room felt impossibly heavy.

“Are you going to tell me what you did?” I said, lifting my head. I barely recognized him in the yellow light. He had been gone from me for too long.

I could see him really working through what I said. Chewing it over. Sucking and slurping on the question before he responded. His antennae twitched. He sensed danger in the air.

“Just what are you accusing me of?” he said back, that sickly sweet insinuation that I am crazy crazy crazy dripping off his tongue with whatever food he was shoving in there.

“You know what I mean.” The words feel dry in my mouth. I am parched and drenched.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. His tone was almost apologetic. Not for the fact of actually being sorry, but for the fact I had chosen to finally break the illusion.

It was silent for a minute. Then I started to hear it, the clicking and smirking. The low hum as he rubbed his handseses together, working through how he could somehow put this back onto me.

I stood up.

“You want to know what I think?”

He was hard to look at in the dim light, but I opened my eyes wide and took in every corner of him.

“I think you’re a coward. I think you’re a liar.”

He frowned.

“Oh, really.”

“You’re a coward.” The accusation does not budge from the air. It clings to both of us. “You’re spineless.”

I took a deep breath and nearly choked on the thick air that shoved its way into my throat. My face was hot and red.

“You are a cockroach.”

That seemed to strike him. I saw the shadow lift from his face. I saw the reality slowly skitch into his eyes.

We both stood there, looking at each other.

“I guess so,” he said after a minute. His voice was even, relenting. 

I slowly sunk back into the chair at the kitchen table. He moved forward, out of the light of the fridge. 

And with every step toward me, there was less and less of him. Less and less of the life we had built, the love I had not been able to beat out of my skull. Less and less of a human.

He dropped to the ground. His feelers tested out the air.

And then he climbed up the cabinet, crawled over the stained Formica, and scuttled down into the drain.

The worst part is they never tell you. You know that the truth is, but they never just tell you

The cool air leaked out of the fridge and the room began to open into the summer night.

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