Just Like Always

This story was published in Short Fiction Break as an entry to the 2019 Summer Writing Contest for The Write Practice.

His laughter fills the room – from every corner, high and low, bursting up against the lily-white walls and pressing against the windows. It is loud and obnoxious and it pierces the ears. It is happy. It is real.

He’s over in the corner, crouched down working on that damned dodgy electrical socket again.

“Don’t socket it til you’ve tried it.” He jokes, for the hundredth time. And I smile and roll my eyes like always. The old TV we never get around to replacing flashes in and out of consciousness, his muscular back resisting against his cotton shirt as he works. My mind, losing its place in its trail of thoughts as I consider helping him out of it. But I’m watching from the couch, paralysed beneath cushions and fur throws and pom-pomed comfort.

He’s up on the ladder, twisting and yanking on the broken bulb in the middle of the ceiling. It hasn’t been changed since we first moved in. The room is as dark as a funeral without it; you can hear the organs play far off in the distance.

“An end of an era! The light of my life!” He croons from up high as I hand him the new, much younger and brighter substitute.

He grins and winks at me. “Everything’s replaceable, baby.” And I smile and pirouette away in the now warmly lit room, reminding him of the error in his words. He’s down the steps and bounding over to me, taking me into his strong arms before I can nail the final arabesque. His eyes are fierce and thirsty as he dips me parallel to the shaggy carpet.

“I’ll never let you go.” He whispers, for the hundredth time. And I lean in to kiss him, like always.

He’s sitting in his chair – the light from the window prisms on his face like a mask. He is deep in thought and he’s calm and almost statuesque and I’m squirming in my seat to try to refrain from crushing the silence and continue our conversation from earlier in the morning. The one that started all those years ago and will never reach its conclusion. He senses me, like he always does when we’re here and it’s just the two of us. I can see it in his faraway eyes, and in the smirk that’s forming at the curve of his lips. Every single smile is unique and new and it’s the first time I’ve seen this one and I devour it with my eyes as he finally loses the staring contest with the world and focuses back in on me. There is no outside world when he looks at only me. He was in his chair and now he’s here on our couch on top of me with all his weight and I’ve never felt so breathless and full of life at the same time.

“This is my favourite place in the entire world.” He says about our couch in our little cottage, or about where his head is resting against my collar bone. His breath tickling the valley between my breasts and his ear hearing all the thoughts of my heart.

He’s standing in the centre of the room – the couch and dining room table pushed aside and against the walls so that there is only a sea of carpet surrounding him. I run on water to reach him and anchor myself in his arms as the music swells and rises to the ceiling and rolls down again.

“Dance with me.” He demands with either his mouth or his heart – I can never tell which I hear first.

I’m in his arms and I can smell his hair as we sway and swerve around each other’s bodies. Our arms intertwining and hands reaching and our chests and our cheeks adjacent. His laughter fills the room, bursting to escape but I won’t let it. I will never let it.

And now I can feel him in my arms and I’m so cold – I’m frozen through and he’s the only thing that can warm my bones. He’s my blood and he’s coursing through me as we sit in his chair. The rain is pelting on the windows so loudly I cannot hear the music he has put on for us to dance to. The thunder cracks as the ceiling shudders and it feels like the sky begins to pour through the broken lightbulb in the centre of the room. I squeeze him tight and breathe in his hair and we are all right because we are in our room in our cottage and we are together. The dodgy socket sparks and cracks as water surges and rises at our feet. I’m so cold and he is too and we are trying so hard to stay warm and close.

“Let’s dance!” I cry and close my eyes but I can’t bring myself to stand. Lightning floods the room and I’m exposed, alone in the crumbling debris of our lives together. I turn to our couch and he’s not lying there and he’s not waiting for me to join him. He’s gone and I can’t feel his heart or hear his breath and I’m suffocating in the world that no longer has him in it.

I crawl to our couch of pom-pomed pillows and furry throws and I sink down. I pull the cushions on top of me and they weigh me down and only then do I begin to relax. As long as I’m here, he is too. Here in his favourite place in the entire world. I close my eyes and my breathing begins to recover. Yes, there he is. I can see him now. He’s walking in now, he’s just been out in the rain. But he’s home and he’s seen me on our couch and he’s coming over to me. He’s kneeling down and he’s smiling a brand-new smile and everything will be okay.

“I’ll never let you go.” He says, for the thousandth time. And I lean in to kiss him, just like always.

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