Short Story: In and Out of Love By Swati Moheet Agrawal
“Nothing lasts long
And you want to say to each moment
Stay, stay, stay!”
On lonely nights, even the hum of a refrigerator is company, the whirring of a fan is comforting, the tick-tock of a clock is reassuring. And, of course, the night sky is a loyal companion – I talk with the moon about you, and she tells me about the sun.
I try to remember the last time we hugged, let alone made love. I can’t recollect.
Something very toxic seems to have festered between us. How, when, why I have stopped scrambling for answers. Our descent into apathy is so deep-seated that I neither have the time nor inclination to make things right. The pulp has gone out of our relationship, and I know we’re both responsible for feeding it.
Yet, our relationship is not without tender moments. I find consolation in that thought and wrap those moments around me like a warm blanket. Some of us are hoarders of such moments, even if those moments are ephemeral and transient, few and far between: Like just last night you lovingly stroked my head while I was grinding my teeth in sleep, and then, I stopped grinding my teeth.
I am no longer a caterpillar, not yet a butterfly, but there’s no place for a work-in-progress. No one applauds that stage.
In retrospect, I feel I should have been kind and caring. I should have been loving and respectful. I should have been thoughtful and dutiful. I wish I’d known then what I know now with absolute clarity and maturity: You cannot take before you give. You cannot withdraw before you invest. A relationship, at the outset, is an empty box – you must deposit love, care, respect, kindness, compassion and warmth. You must fill it and keep filling it, never mind if it spills over. Not only did I fail to fill it but also took out more than I ever put in. I kept taking and taking until the box ran out of its contents. Eventually, it became empty!
But there is no point hankering after something that has been irredeemably lost. I’m overcome by a deep sense of guilt and despair.
While I write at my desk and you’re busy yapping on the phone, I sneak a glance at you, you are as handsome as ever. In fact, you are distractingly gorgeous. Academically, you were a topper in school and college, and you have blossomed into a self-made entrepreneur.
My grades, if not stellar, were reasonably good in school and college. I have withered away into a useless writer.
I write – something that is of no interest to you, whereas it awes the rest of the world.
It’s 7-18 a.m. I wake up feeling groggy and disoriented.
My mind somehow wanders away to the time you sat on the floor and painted my toenails pink, affectionately and diligently. Now I feel as though it happened to someone else. Even today I can bring to my mind that vivid picture.
Then the way you nursed me through convalescence, how you fed me, bathed me and clothed me. How I enjoyed being babied by you. That gruesome injury scarred my leg, but you never let it scar my spirit.
How cruel it is that a star falls from the sky into our hands only to be snatched away from us, only for us to put it back into the sky. I bawl my eyes out. There have been times when I have woken up in the middle of the night only to ask myself who I am. Who we are. What we have become. What we are becoming.
How we transitioned from in love to out of love is still a bit of a mystery to me. How those cracks matured into chasms is still a bit unfathomable to me. I mostly blame myself for our disintegrating relationship. But then you have been so idealistic, and consequently, so blocked and uptight. Have I really been at fault all along?
J laughed with me and made me laugh. He hardly ever contradicted me or heckled me. He was easy. It was all so damn easy. Effortlessly easy. I am more shocked than hurt at this detour in our previously charmed life.
It is weird how we hold onto pieces of the past while second guessing our future. I feel incredibly nostalgic about the days gone by, and then, I feel a twinge of sadness. The thing about nostalgia is it is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once; eventually, it leaves you emptier and sadder.
How long has it been since I exchanged a loving word with the person chained next to me? The silence hangs heavy. I think J feels like a cow tethered to a tree.
We go days and weeks without communication. I think we care more about each other’s families than we do about each other. I don’t know if that should make me happy or anxious.
Today I decide to make conversation.
“My darling J, do you even know who my favourite writers are?” I pose this question to him at breakfast today.
He looks at me with outright disgust and snaps as usual, “I couldn’t care less.”
“Well, they are Murakami and Maupassant. I also drool over Ruskin Bond for the way he makes me feel about the natural world. Do you know how Elif Shafak rescues me on nights I cannot sleep? How frantically I pour over the pages of Forty Rules of Love? Do you know who Rumi and Shams are? Doesn’t matter! Like everything else in my life, it is insignificant and pales in comparison to you and your world,” I mutter to myself when J leaves abruptly and hurriedly for work.
I hope J at least remembers how we ridiculed bored, disinterested couples at cafes, how we mocked couples staring into their phones while impatiently waiting for their meal to arrive. We promised we would never become one of them, and, lo and behold, we have become worse than strangers. Disconnected. Detached. Destroyed.
You are a little too much and I am a little too little.
Sometimes I am a silhouette of hope and despair all at once.
“I think it is better to have an artificial flower because it will remain for life. It won’t wilt away if you don’t water it on a daily basis. And if the sheen fades away, you can paint that flower again,” I text J later that evening.
Expectedly, J doesn’t revert to my text.
Women want J, and men want to be J. He is a charismatic man who can quote Shakespeare with as much aplomb as he can buy a woman the right piece of diamond jewelry. Moreover, he has nerves of steel. I don’t know a more resilient and dashing man than him. Simply indefatigable! He is the kind of man who sticks by his woman through the disastrous decline in her family’s circumstances. He is the kind of man a woman can lean on in tough times.
I don’t know whether we are in a really dark place or we’re temporarily out of light. A lot has died between us. I forget sometimes, that, as much stress as I feel, J feels it too. He is a wonderful human at his core, it’s just that I failed to live up to his ideals and expectations and turned him into the man he swore he would never be.
“I never wanted to be the man that I have become, you did that to me, you made me retreat into myself,” a very livid J told me at breakfast the next morning.
“Sometimes we do things that are highly uncharacteristic of us,” he added as an afterthought.
Yes. J had started drinking uncontrollably. A teetotaller, he had never before touched alcohol in his life. He also drowned himself in work and started coming home late.
I think one should be moderate in their expectations, but J never treaded the middle path. And I was not that unconditionally loving woman whose greatest happiness was making her man happy. I was not that partner who found pleasure in homemaking or mollycoddling her man.
I was not half as selfless and perfect as J.
The stars are glinting brightly against the dark night sky. A wedge of moonlight streams in through my window. My mind is filled with a whole lot of things I want to write.
For once, J looks away from his phone – he looks at me.
“What are you thinking?” he asks me.
“Nothing of consequence,” I reply in a deadpan voice.
He studies me, intensely, those blue eyes gazing deep into mine.
“What’s the matter?” he persists.
“All along, you’ve been unconcerned, unavailable and flippant. Suddenly, you ask me about the matter with me,” I pull the sheet over and turn my back on him.
“I know you better than you know yourself. I know what you are going to say or do before you say or do it,” J roared confidently.
“Well, good for you. But if you can’t take me as I am while I am alive, you have made me dead anyway. If you refuse to see me in a new light, if you cannot look past my previous mistakes, if you cannot acknowledge the positive changes in me, it is time for you to go,” I yell my lungs out.
J waits for me to vent some more. He knows I want to and I will, anyhow.
“It feels like we have shed ourselves of each other,” I break into tears as I lash out, adding, “I cannot wait forever for the pendulum to swing the other way.”
Suddenly, J leans in, pulls me close to him, and kisses me more passionately than ever.
“Your mood swings, my crabby disposition, your idiosyncrasies, my volatile temper– how gorgeously we fit each other like pieces of a puzzle,” J expresses after thoughtful consideration.
I find my head resting on his chest, his fingers running through my hair, and everything seems perfect again.
I wish I could preserve the most beautiful moments of my life, the way they bottle up vintage perfume. That way, my memories would remain crisp and fresh, I would get a taste of my memories every time I uncorked the bottle.
I watch the sun fade away. I watch it until it becomes a speck on the horizon. Until the birds merge with the dark night sky.
Nothing really belongs to us. Maybe we all lose something along the way, but the things we lose are not losses, they are pathways to new hopes, new beginnings.
Like the crescent moon, it would take time for us to become whole again.
“To be kissed by your man has to be the most scrumptious thing in the world. I feel like a person of consequence at last,” I confide in the moon, I am grinning from ear to ear.
Swati Moheet Agrawal is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. Her works have appeared in the Times of India, Café Dissensus, Setu, Twist & Twain magazine, Storizen, Indian Economy & Market Magazine and India’s premier mind-body-soul magazine, Life Positive. When she’s not reading or writing, she likes to engage in creative pursuits like decoupage artwork. She also has a penchant for long walks and starry skies. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.