This story is by Pablo Cervera and was a runner-up in our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Pablo has a BA in communication from Universidad Iberoamericana. He has over six years of experience as a freelance writer, working on advertising, working in television, and ghostwriting literary projects. Pablo is set to join AFI Conservatory as a screenwriting fellow in 2021.
Good morning, pale stranger in the mirror. I look like I aged twenty years overnight. This relationship is making me physically ill and it shows. Still, I need to pick myself up. I’m going to try to keep yesterday’s mood going into today.
“I’ll get coffee going, hun! Take your time!” my husband says as he leaves the room, using his sweetest voice. I don’t muster the willpower to answer as if his love is requited, so I pretend I didn’t hear him.
The little energy I have is spent in deciphering how the woman in the mirror grew those eye bags. They’re completely alienating. I try taking a picture but my phone’s dead. It’s almost as if my body is trying to tell me what I’ve known for the past three months. I can’t force myself to love Michael.
How can I allow myself to break him? I vowed myself to him, from our wedding day forward. Oh god. I can’t lie to myself forever.
“Be better,” I say to the mirror. I loath pitying myself; it makes me feel worse than hating Michael.
I open up my cleansing oil; the show must go on.
I have about fifteen minutes before my wife interrupts the romance that comes from black coffee, the faint sounds of a waking city and the delicious absence of her non-stop verbiage.
I always leave the door to our room half-open so I can hear Meave work her way through her beauty routine. Should she find that her body hair is too long or her breasts are too saggy, the day sets up horribly to be fully wasted on explaining her amnesia and defusing her sorrow.
For now, it seems like today will be one of the other dreadful days: pretend we’re quarantined on a 2020 Sunday morning. God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn’t he? The world’s quarantine lasted sixteen months, but I get a personalized quarantine that lasts forever.
I’m starting to think I prefer the honest days. I’m growing numb to her sadness, the passing of nights cures that instantly for her. Try lying for over six hundred days knowing you have to keep the farce up for thousands to come. Therapy twice a week is no longer doing the job to keep that pain in check.
“Morning, babe!” She’s about fourteen minutes early today. She wraps her arms around my neck and kisses my cheek. I miss loving this woman. I bravely put on my happy face.
“You hungry?” I ask, though I’ve never been so unwilling to cook yet another morning-after-sex cliché breakfast she expects me to prepare. Of course, I haven’t dared touch my wife since her accident. There’s something off about having sex with someone who won’t remember. Especially when she thinks she does.
“I sure am! How about some eggs?” I reply with a smile. “You know me, sunny side up!”
Michael stands up and voidly walks to the kitchen. Weird mood to be in after yesterday? Fucking his brains out no longer does the trick?
Maybe today’s not the day, I muse while playing with my wedding ring. I might not love him, but I still want this man in my life, somehow. Do healthy breakups even exist? Maybe just wait a few more weeks; I can survive that, right? Let the pandemic play out a little so we can figure things out.
He puts a plate of eggs in front of me and smiles. Oh god, why do I let him cook after sex? Such a lame routine, but the man needs his ego stroked.
“How about some Scrabble after breakfast?” I try to say through a mouthful of barely edible eggs. He loves losing to me in Scrabble. He sits in front of me and stares at his own plate
“I’ve never felt more excited to play Scrabble. Please, let’s play!” he says, unenthused. His face battles through contempt and disgust.
“You hate Scrabble now? That’s new.”
“We’ve just played it a million times recently.” He hides his face behind his hand immediately after saying this.
“Have we though?” I ask. This is a man-child making a pathetic attempt to hide his feelings. Did his mom die and he’s about to break the news? Or worse, he somehow found out I want to ask for divorce. His heart is already broken; he’s just waiting for the news. What gave it away?
“You look weird. Is everything ok?”
Michael’s never looked more terrifying.
Fuck it, today is an honest day.
“You woke up to a dead phone,” I say. Her eyebrows demand more information.
I stand up and head to the counter, grab my phone charger and hand it over to her. “I make sure every night you run out of battery. Plug it in. Google today’s date. Take a look at your Instagram. Google anything you need. Let me know when you’re done,” I explain. She won’t remember tomorrow, anyways.
That confusion before the storm is starting to grow on me. It reminds me of the hyper goal-oriented, stone-hearted woman Meave used to be. She used to stare people down with a question mark on her face when she was about to get into a fight. No matter how bad it got, she never broke down, yielded or shed a single tear.
Meave grabs the charger and heads off to her room. I think today I might go to the movies.
My sister had her daughter; her name is Lizzie.
I remember being excited to rush her to the hospital when the time came. It turns out I ended up in the hospital at the right time but for the wrong reason. I’ve been to the hospital fifteen separate times since my accident and had twice as many brain studies.
My best friend Christine moved to LA.
I lost my job, of course. I was replaced by a Mexican guy called Rogelio, who looks just as hipster as a creative director should.
My mom died last year. She posted twelve pictures of her with me on her Instagram which I can’t remember taking. I seem happy, but I can tell they’re all fake smiles.
I’ve been married for over five years to Michael now. Our anniversary is coming up in two weeks. I wonder if he still gives me gifts that I’ll never remember. Maybe he has one gift for every single special day. Of course not; for me, it’s always this pathetic, boring Sunday.
I’ll always be stuck on this day. Even worse, I’ll wake up every day wanting to ask Michael for a divorce. Up my spine crawls a shiver I’ve never felt before.
All I have is Michael.
“Why on earth are you still here?” I ask Michael. I’m genuinely intrigued. We once playfully argued over staying with one another out of pity if one of us ended up in a coma. This definitely tops that.
Michael shakes his head; his dreary eyes swipe the floor with resignation. “You’re my wife,” he answers. “What should I do? Send you to your sister’s so you can freak out with her every day?” He shrugs. A silence follows.
“Do you still love me?” I have to know. Am I at risk of getting abandoned?
“It’s been hard. For a long time, now.” A piercing no. Not because I want to be loved, but because I need to.
“You’d do the same for me. I know that,” he adds. “I choose to be the one who stays. For now, at least.” I don’t know how much he’s gone through by now, but I can see it. How he’s able to keep going for someone he doesn’t love is beyond me.
The deadline pounds in my head. For now, at least. This man is considering leaving me. Of course he is. I’d be thinking about it too in his position. Heck, I was thinking about it this morning.
“Thank you, Michael.” God, I’m a horrible person. I should just free him. I’m bound to suffer anyways, but he could build a life out of this loop.
“I love you,” I dare add. I need this man to stay.
I don’t love her. I know that, but I did, once. I still see glimpses of the woman I loved here and there, especially in those moments in which she somehow finds it in her to keep calm and be thankful. It’s weird, hearing her say she loves me. At least I can rest assured that I will always be loved by my wife, no matter what.