Days of Farewell

By Gabriel Morgan

Thanks to John Mellencamp for the title and story prompt.

On the first sunny day of April, he tells me he's leaving me.

You remember, don't you, how gray April was that year. It was chilly and rained for days on end; we thought we'd never see the sun again. It was as if the gods were angry with us, and we needed to make amends somehow. Sacrifice a lamb. Or maybe something a little less biblical - floss more regularly perhaps, or give up coffee for a month.

Then, finally, that last Saturday in April, we wake to pale yellow bars of light slanting thru the venetian blinds, slicing the old quilt into a hundred strips of sun and shadow. I remember how you held your hand up, poking a finger into the sunshine like the Pillsbury doughboy commercial.

Funny, the things that stay with you. I'd just replaced the battery in the kitchen wall clock, and I can hear it clear in the bedroom, ticking off the seconds until he sits up and faces me, a closed, uncomfortable look on his whiskery face.

"I've been offered a job," he begins hesitantly. "One that encompasses all the things I want to do."

He was an inveterate student, poring through the class catalogs of the three universities within driving distance of our house with the anticipatory enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. His words should have been cause for celebration, but the tone in which they are delivered spell our doom, and I sense it immediately.

"But..." I prompt, when he stalls out, crumpling a handful of sheet in one fist as his gaze flits to mine, then away, unable to land for more than a split second.

"But it's in New York," he finishes. "Syracuse."

His eyes meet mine then and we look at each other for a long moment. In his face, I see excitement edged with the guilt he feels at leaving me. I have no idea what he sees in my face. Nothing, I hope, because I wouldn't ruin his joy for anything. Heinlein said that love is valuing the other person's happiness before your own, and I believe that. I feel that for him, so instead of chancing a lapse in my control, I roll over to face the window, closing my eyes to the traitorous sun, shining so gloriously on this grim morning.

He waits a few moments, waits for me to respond, to berate him for leaving me, to beg him to stay, but I lay resolute, my body still under the sheet except for the wild tremors in my chest, until he slides from the bed to begin his day. Only then do I turn my face into my pillow, pressing a fist so hard against my mouth that I taste blood, but it's either that or scream out my pain, and that I will not do. Not for him, not for anyone.

A month is not a very long time when you're trying to make it last forever, as I am, although I'm sure for him it can't go by quickly enough. We continue on much as we had before his life-altering announcement, sharing a bed, cooking dinner together most nights. I don't know what he's thinking these last days because the one thing that has changed is that we no longer confide in one another. No more whispering our deepest secrets in the safe darkness of our bedroom. Now bedtime is a perfunctory affair -- brush teeth, pee, undress, slide under the covers from our respective sides -- where once we chased each other about like kids, thrilled to be naked and alive and together.

Together... while we're still `together,' I'm storing memories.

And then, on the third of June, just as he'd told me he would on that last Saturday in April when we lay together in our sun-warmed bed, he got in his car and he drove away. I stood by the curb, following his receding taillights until he crested the hill and dropped from sight. When I could no longer see him, I took a deep, shaky breath and walked back to the house.

He doesn't live here anymore, but it will be a long, long time before he's truly gone.