This beautiful story touches on suicidal ideation
In the In-Between
They’ve been alternating between drinking and fucking and smoking weed all night long, and by 4 a.m., she’s bleary, blissed, nearly asleep. They’re lying in the small twin bed in the study right off the kitchen. She isn’t sure why they ended up in there – there’s a bedroom down the hall with a much larger bed – but it probably has to do with the fact that she’d started taking her clothes off in the middle of dinner, and when she finally unhooked her bra and let her panties fall to the floor, he’d put his hand on the back of her neck and in her hair and pulled her to him and kissed her like he was starving, like he needed to gorge himself, and that bedroom had been the closest place unless they’d wanted to fuck on the table in the middle of the food.
From the dark of the bed, she can see through the doorway into the kitchen where the dishes from dinner still are scattered on the table, plates slick with sauce from the wings they ate, pizza boxes stacked haphazardly at the edge.
“I want to tell you something,” he says.
She thinks of the things she wants to tell him – about the friend who died a few years ago who he reminds her of. About how it’s both startling and not at all a surprise how many of the books stacked on his office shelves and in piles on the tables near his desk are the same ones she owns. About how he always messages her before they meet and says he wants to go down on her in his favorite chair and yet whenever they’re together he never does, and she always wonders why. About how when he slides inside her, he exhales exactly the same as he does when he lets out a puff of smoke. But because they don’t love each other, because they’re just good friends who fuck and drink and smoke together the way other good friends go hang out together at bars, somehow there never really seems to be time to tell him, and somehow, none of it seems to matter that much.
“I was almost there again this summer,” he says. “In that dark place. At the very bottom. I wanted to end it. I thought about it. I was close.”
She can’t see his face. He’s turned toward the wall so all she can see is his back, rising and falling with each breath. She wants to put her arm around him but she doesn’t. Not yet. She doesn’t want him to stop talking.
“I haven’t told anyone else that,” he says. “Not even my wife.”
She thinks of the damn chair again, the one in his office, the one that he loves. The thought of that chair sitting empty, gathering dust, being sold off to some other person to put in their study or in their living room, of it never getting the chance to fulfill what he’s promised, makes her angry. She lets herself be angry at the chair for a moment because she can’t bring herself to be angry at her friend.
She doesn’t want to, but she makes herself imagine it: him gone. She imagines hearing the news, realizing the seam of her life has been ripped loose in that tiny but important place, realizing that for his wife, the seam has ripped apart completely and she is holding nothing but the disassembled fragments of a life. She imagines going to his house, knocking on the door, and his wife, her eyes red, swollen, opening it. She would climb into the bed that he and his wife used to share and open her arms and allow his wife to curl up inside them like a hermit crab. She would make herself his wife’s home for a while, the dark, enveloping space where she could abandon herself to her terrible grief, the surface against which his wife could beat her fists and press her screaming lips and in response, she would simply wrap herself tighter around her and absorb it all. In the in-between, she would help his wife parcel out his books, decide which ones to give away, which ones to keep. She would take a few for herself and open them, run her thumb across his signature on the inside cover. She would smooth his wife’s hair, kiss the lids of her eyes. She would make her soups and breads and bring them to her day after day after day, and in the evenings, she would fix her drinks like he used to, and the drinks would never be as good as his, although she’d try. She could do those things if she had to. She could do them as long as she needed to, until the seam began to slowly, imperfectly, stitch itself together again.
She puts her arm around his waist and slides her hand up to his chest. Please don’t go, friend, she thinks. Don’t go. I want you here. She needs you. But she doesn’t say it. Instead, she just says, “I’m glad you told me.”
She can feel his heart beating beneath her palm. She thinks that maybe if he ever thinks he’s in that dark place again, she could just pull back his skin and his muscles, put her hand underneath his ribcage, and take hold of his heart. She could use her hand to keep it beating until his wife came home, and then his wife could take over. They could live that way for a while. It could work.
Then he puts his hand on top of hers and lifts it slightly to lace their fingers together, and she remembers how strong he is, stronger than he realizes, and how easy it is for him to pull her hand away.
Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Hobart and is forthcoming in Brevity and Pithead Chapel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.
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