“I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.” The words were ringing in his head all the way home, as the train swayed and screeched on the tracks and the woman sitting across from him sniffled into a ragged crumpled tissue. Adam watched her without really seeing, eyes fixed on the hand that pulled the balled Kleenex from her pocket to her nose and then back again. Over and over and over, and the words repeated in his head.
The necklace was in his pocket, tangled around a penknife and half a dollar in loose change. He could feel the cold round shape of it pressed against his thigh. Every few minutes he slipped a finger into his pocket and twined it around the chain. When he got home, he told himself, then he could look at it. It would be a bad habit to flick it open and put it away again, like the woman there with her dripping nose.
He got home late, despite having left early. The factory had still been humming when he stumped out. Ed had watched him go, probably saying goodbye to his back. The jerk hadn’t even apologized, just gave him the mechanical pre-constructed line that he probably had to give to everyone, that was probably written in a manual somehow for how to disassemble someone’s life. It struck him as appropriate for firing a factory worker that the excuses would also be mass-produced and impersonal. He wouldn’t miss the stamped plastic and the monotony, that was certain.
Everything else was going to be more difficult. The chain dug into his finger as he clutched it, and when he let go there was a neat dotted line spiraling around his hand. He was impatient as he fumbled for keys, and his breath was still short after climbing the stairs. When he got inside he threw a dinner in the microwave and turned on the television. The nightly news was just starting, and the repetitive melody of the reporter’s voice helped to drown out his own thoughts. When he noticed the words in his head reappearing he turned his eyes to the screen and listened hard, pushing the disasters and interviews into his head in place of the clutter from his mind.
Periodically he pulled the necklace to his face and flipped open the locket. He watched Clarice’s face stay still before him, her eyes steadier in the photo than they’d ever seemed on her. She watched him with a faint smile that made him ache, but somehow it was easier. Otherwise all he felt was an awful deadly dullness, heavy in his stomach. In another few months maybe he really wouldn’t have anything left at all, not even the meager things he was still holding on to now. No apartment, no – well he really only had that now, didn’t he? The apartment and the things in it. Some furniture, junk food, clothes, bronze locket, sense of crushing despair. That about covered it.
The news program ended and the remains of his dinner were put away. It was almost late enough to sleep, and the oblivion his bed promised was too tempting to resist. He curled under the covers and put the locket in front of him, on the other pillow where there was still the trace of a hollow from her head. She was almost looking at him, and he lay unmoving and looked back. He hadn’t slept a night without putting her picture where he could see it, though it had been nearly half a year now. It had almost seemed to get easier, almost bearable. Now, of course, everything was torn and ragged again.
It was hard to know how to feel something like this. It felt like it was too much for him to hold, that his chest would burst and his eyes overflow. Instead he lay, waiting for sleep to cover him. His eyes were still fixed on Clarice’s in the picture, and his throat still tight with pain. He sank into sleeping very slowly, and the words began to repeat again as her face disappeared and his eyes closed. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go – ”