A List of the Reasons He Didn’t Go After Her

1. The day before she left, he walked into the bedroom to see May shoving books and clothes into her big overnight bag. She didn’t look up when Brian came into the room, and he didn’t ask what she was doing. He had a lurching feeling in the tangled mass of his gut that if he said anything about what she was doing, she’d have to tell him why, and her words would unravel him completely.

2. The day before that, Brian had mentioned that someday he wanted to move out of the city. It would be nice to live somewhere quieter, or at least to live somewhere and stay awake at night because of owl calls and crickets instead of sirens and car alarms. May loved the city. He said he wanted to live somewhere with more trees than buildings, and she scoffed. She said, “Yeah, and go to bed at 10 pm every night, and have a handful of kids and a minivan. Yeah, right.” He had shrugged. She started to say something, and then she stopped. Finally she shrugged too, but not in the way that meant she couldn’t be bothered to argue about it. He was well versed in her shrugs, in the flow and jerk of her body in all its expressions. She shrugged in the way that meant it really didn’t matter to her what he did with his future.

3. Three weeks before, she had gotten angry at him. They’d gone to Emily’s party together and sat like a good little couple at the table, commenting on how delicious the food was. He’d had a nice chat with Patricia, who was sitting next to him along because Neil was on a business trip or something like that. Everybody knew that Neil screwed around; he practically bragged about it every time he saw anyone. Brian smiled at her a lot, wishing that she wasn’t dating such an asshole. She was a perfectly nice girl. When they got home, May had rounded on him and accused him of flirting with that pasty-faced simpering little twit all night while she was sitting right there next to him. He had protested, because that really hadn’t been how he thought of it at all. He was just being nice to her. They went back and forth for an hour. She asked him tearfully how he thought it looked to everybody else there. He shouted that he didn’t know what she wanted him to do, just ignore the person sitting next to him for two hours, because he wasn’t about to do that. May walked into the bedroom and slammed the door. He waited seven minutes–he knew this by now, five was too short and ten was too long–and then went in to talk to her. Usually they argued for another few minutes and then they both apologized and had make-up sex. Now he went inside, sat down next to her on the bed, and she turned away from him. He tried to talk to her, and she turned back. “Whatever,” she said. “Let’s go to sleep already.” She seemed tired of the argument, tired of caring, and tired of him.

4. The day she left, May didn’t do anything dramatic. She didn’t write a letter, left on the living room table for him to find later. She just sat down next to him on the couch, where he was reading a magazine. She said, “We have to talk. This isn’t working out, and we both know it. I’m going to go. I hope that eventually we can be friends, you know? I’m really sorry.” Brian had nodded, numb, while she hefted her bag onto her shoulder and walked out of the apartment. In her absence, he melted onto the floor and spread out in wisps, a sprawling puddle. He didn’t know how to pull himself together without her.

5. When she left, she kissed his cheek in a polite sort of way. That’s what undid him the most. Her lips touched his cheek as if they had never been anything other than casual acquaintances. He didn’t know how she could kiss his cheek and walk away from his life as if they weren’t already entwined and impossible to untangle from one another. If he had gotten up and chased her down the stairs, what could he possibly have said? Already he didn’t matter to her. He could tell.

6. He didn’t know that she wanted him to.

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