My mouth full of toothpaste, I look into the mirror, at my white pasted lips. The lips of the dead. There is one last job to do before bed. I check the email and there: his words on the machine: cold words, empty words, sterile without feeling.
‘Message received loud and clear,’ I want to write back. Press the return button, send my response, the same empty words, toxic in their simplicity.
But no, I think no. I consider. No, I say to myself, as I sit staring at the screen, wondering over and again, how can I undo this? There must be something more.
If I do not respond there will be another message and then I can explain myself. Ask him to explain himself. Then all will be revealed.
But silence is powerful, I tell myself. Silence will leave him guessing. My silence will ricochet back over him, echoing the hollow sound of rejection in his ears. And he will be left wondering, too.
Did she get the message?
Did she see the words?
On the machine?
Or are they lost?
In the ether?
I can see his head in front of me. It stands high above the headrest five rows in front. He has been to the barber recently and his neck has the clean shaved look of new mown grass. I can see the line where his hair follicles and pink skin meet, a line in the sand. This is the distance I intend to keep between us.
He has not seen me. Of that I am sure. When he came onto the bus two or three stops after mine I had my own head stuck in my book, he would not have noticed me. I only noticed him by chance when I looked up from the pages and saw the back of his head, taller than the rest, and I knew at once, it must be him.
Why would I want to speak to him now, this man who has been so cruel? To give him credit he may not realise it, but he should, and given that he does not realise, then I do not want to speak to him again. I do not want us to walk side-by-side or to sit any closer than we are now, with five rows of seats and people between us.
I do not forgive easily. Why should I? Forgiveness demands something of the one who has caused you pain.
He does not even realise why I chose to sever connections. He severed them first, only he would not see it that way. He prefers a cosy distance or some movement closer from time to time, but always under his control. He makes up the rules, while I have to obey them. And they change. Let me tell you, those rules change, faster than I can keep up with. But I have had enough.
He blows his nose into his hanky. His head moves up and down like a rooster’s head, the tuft of his hair a cockscomb. Then I remember the feel of his hand around my waist, his fingers brush against my cheek, and I am left in a welter of desire all over again. But I must resist the pull.
I went out once with an electrician by the name of Kevin. Kevin was a good-looking young man with sandy coloured hair and a bright smile on his innocent face. A good Catholic lad, his parents had brought him up well: Mass on Sundays, observe the holy days and the sacraments, don’t eat meat on Good Fridays. But Kevin, like all the boys I met in those days, despite, his pious upbringing, was as corruptible as the next.
I fancied myself in those days as a femme fatale. Beware any man who came under my spell. I would ensnare him, draw him into my lair, steal his virginity from him, lure an erection from his otherwise limp body, and force him into a penetrating relationship he could not resist, until finally I would dump him.