I left him. If you ask me why, I couldn’t tell you. It was not one thing, it was many. Perhaps in the end it was the question of what I loved about him, and I couldn’t say anymore. We’d been together long enough for me to have forgotten. So, I told him one day, after we’d fought more bitterly than usual, that I couldn’t do it anymore. We were too different. We wanted different things. We should find other people who loved us for who we were and did not try to make us change the usual breakup trite. He didn’t protest. He let me go. That was how he was. 

Then he messaged. Six months later. It was short. What’s up? I considered ignoring him. My friends had warned against this. You’d think it doesn’t matter… What’s one little message? But it does… leads to more confusion and pain.” They were right, of course. But they’d also told me not to date him. Cynical, jaded, pothead, they’d said. Yet, I did. One more wrong, what did it matter? 

We met on a Friday night, in a dark, dank pub. Music beat down our heads and sweaty elbows nudged as we bobbed onto tall stools. In the nebulous, suspended drape of shadows and lights, I saw his happy face… and then there was mine. We spoke in a rush, in a hurry to expel the past six months. A tornado of words. A movie whose reels moved too fast. Then when we paused to take a breath, I leaned forward and said, “Nice to see you again.” 

He nodded. Matter-of-fact. A blank face. Nothing else. The reasons for leaving him were coming back. Damn. What am I doing here?

Then Tyler Durden spoke in my head. You’ve lost everything, right? You’re free to do anything now. 
Fight Club was our favourite movie. Tyler Durden our hero. We’d watched it in his place, snuggled on his couch. We were still in love then, wanting to please the other. And we loved the movie together, despite the need to pretend. After we were done, when he asked me what I wanted to eat, I said, “Let’s order in.” 
“What?” he asked. “Anything, I said. It didn’t matter then. Being with him was enough… until it wasn’t. 
“Ratatouille Ravioli,” I said now.
“Fish and chips,” he said. 
We were obviously not going to share anymore. 
But some whiskey first,” I said. 
“Jim Beam,” he added, a twinkle in his eye.
 Some, we could still share. 
After a drink, I felt somewhat benevolent. This was not going too badly. So, I tried to explain to him. Placing my palms flat on the table, facing down, a few inches apart from each other, I said, “This is us… very similar. But you see that. That chasm of air…” I pointed my chin at the space between my palms. 
He raised his eyebrows. Was he curious or disapproving? With him, I never knew. I gave him an encouraging smile. Pointed again. He returned a slight nod. He was listening. 
“We are very alike,” I said, “but on different levels… on parallel planes. Like parallel lines.” 
 I raised a palm to make my point. “Parallel lines,” I said. “What do we know about them?”
 “What?” he asked. 
second’s dramatic pause later: The twain never meet. 
His eyes narrowed at that.
“We’re the same,” I tried to explain, thinking him still confused, “but there are things in me you don’t understand and things in you I don’t.” I paused. “Many, many things.” 
I glanced up at him. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again.
“What?” I asked. 
He shook his head. Looked away.
I felt my heart sink an inch. Was he going to leave now? I needed to get him a few pegs down, then the smile would slip out like the sun on a misty day. Whoever said alcohol was a nuisance hadn’t met the modern romance. “Why do we drink so much?” he’d asked me once. “We drink so we can feel…” I’d told him, “…so we can love.” It’d sounded strange to my ears when I’d said it. We were both old, apparently too jaded to love, too worldly-wise to feel love anymore in the way poets write about. But when we were drunk, we felt it: the excitement, the throb in our hearts, the need to submit, the urge to confess. It was easy to be one, it was easy to let go. No tussle of egos, no guesswork. But the shitty bit about drinking? The aftermath. The hangover. Waking up the next morning, trying to recall what you did, what you said, does he love me still, was I too vulnerable, that he hates me now. I think he knew why we drank too. We were trying to make the impossible happen. Love and whiskey can bridge chasms only so much. 
And now we called for another round. If he was thinking he could get me to bed after, he was sorely wrong. That was something I was not going to do. My friends had warned me. This advice I was going to heed. We looked at each other through hooded eyes. 
“You don’t know me at all,” I said.
 “No?” he murmured. 
“Do you even know what I like?” I said and felt the anger rise, as it always did, when I tried to make him feel. You can’t make me feel the same as you, he’d said once. It’s not the same. You can’t make me.
What must it be like… to be like that? To not be giddy or breathless… to not love like the world was ending. To have the pulse race at the thought, touch, or possibility of meeting a lover? Calming, he’d said. Unwavering. A rock in a storm. A rock that never rose or sank. But I was the soil it crushed underneath. The feather on its surface. I flitted around, but never caused more than a dent. Yet, I was all open, all vulnerable, ready for his taking. I knew no other way. But then neither did he. One a feather, one a rock. Maybe we were not the lines I thought we were. 
“You are full of analogies today,” he said.
I smiled. “But not the right ones.”
There. Like he knew everything. So frustrating.
We’d met at a café. I was a regular, it was his first time. But then he came a few more times, and we got talking. It wasn’t a fire-in-your-veins, an-explosion-waiting-to-happen kind of a love story, but we grew into it. We were both single and looking. We’d had a similar upbringing, shared a common set of friends, and had almost analogous plans for the future. Coupledom is really nothing more than a ticking of desirable attributes. It’s like we have an unconscious, invisible scanner inside us that filters potential mates as they walk in and out of our lives. I wish it were more reliable.
“I do know,” he said.
“Know what?” I replied, spitting out the words. “What I like?”
“It’s because you don’t read,” I’d told him once to win an argument. “That you don’t know.”
How has that helped you?” he snapped.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, puzzled.
Are more sensible, for example, because of it?” he said.
Everything is adorable until it stops being that, and then there’s no going back. Love is such a muddling, hazy glass. Wipe the hormones away, and there you are — a staid, boring landscape.
“Let’s talk of other things,” I murmured. “I want to this to be happy. Civil. A standalone night in a sea of plaintive ones. An escape.”

Smita Bhattacharya is an award winning short story writer based out of Mumbai. She has two published books: He Knew a Firefly and Vengeful. Though, seeking to write the next big novel, she considers short stories her pièce de résistance. Her short stories have appeared in several Indian and international publications (The Statesman, DNA-Me, Fiction Magazines, Chicago Literati, Eastlit, Elsewherelit, Earthen Lamp Journal, Slink Chunk Press, Tall Tales, Pomegranate Anthology). Smita works as a management consultant in Mumbai.

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