Some days bring sunshine. Some bring rain. And somewhere along the line life settles in hard as a February sky. Locks down your dreams tight against the iron earth and dares you to object. For such a short month it exacts a long toll.
A bunch of scientists did an experiment once with fleas. They took half a dozen of the brightest and bounciest, dropped them in a jar and screwed on the lid. For a couple of days those fleas launched themselves into almost continually. Eventually, through pain or weariness or both, they stopped jumping so high. They settled on a spot two thirds of the way up the sides of the jar and that was their limit. Even after the lid came off and they could have bounded their way to freedom those fleas kept right on jumping to a place well below the potential of possibility.
Maybe I’m being melodramatic but if that leaden February sky ever clears I wonder how high I can still jump.
This is the kind of stuff you think about when you’re lying in a strange bed next to a strange, familiar body listening to the sleet-scattered rain drumming on the sills of a hotel window.
Or at least that’s how it is for me.
“OK. I’m in.” That’s what she said. Written plain on the perfect retina display of a smartphone chat app. Even now I’m twisting it in my mind to convince myself it was her idea all along but I can’t make that leap. This was attrition. This was a well timed attack at a vulnerable moment. This was me at my calculating best.
We’ve been friends forever. Told each other secrets in confidence. Joked about our lives. Commiserated over the moments of mind-numbing tedium and apathy that fill up so many hours of any long term relationship. He takes me for granted. I think I bore her or disappoint her in some way. Got to go the kids are screaming. Mine too, talk soon. Advice occasionally. Laughter worn as a mask more often. Flirtation. Innuendo. Anything to break up the monotony.
“Let’s run away for a weekend. Or a random Wednesday. Yeah, Wednesday is better. We can pretend it’s a work conference or something. Makes it more believable. How about you phone in a bomb threat to my office and I’ll get in the car right now…”
All in fun. Always an undercurrent. A dull, silver thread of maybe.
She feels so good against my skin. I want her to open her eyes and smile. I want her to stay asleep. I’m terrified that if she wakes up our lips will meet and the frantic, shivering exploration of our tongues and bodies of last night will be replaced by something caged and cursory. Something regretful. So I lie there, paralysed and afraid and allow more minutes of my life to tick away unchecked.
A bunch of scientists worked out that over ninety percent of the things that we worry about never actually happen. So if you spend half an hour a day on average worrying about things and you live to your three score and ten you’ll have wasted a whole year worrying about things that never happened. One and a half percent of your life spent on wasted worry. I’m not sure if it’s the same bunch of scientists that worked on the fleas but I suppose that isn’t worth worrying about.
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
“I…never mind. I just thought I’d be the one saying that.” My face is burning but I can’t stop the words spilling out any more than I can stop the sweet, bitter taste of possibility and regret rising to flood my throat. “Actually I didn’t think I’d be saying anything to anyone. Unless you count the waiter and my attempts to get him to leave me to my lonely misery or the manager and my attempts to get a refund on the room or…”
She smiles. I’ll never know if it’s forced but it’s glorious regardless. “Don’t be silly. I said I’d be here.”
I put my arms around her because I don’t trust myself to speak. My fingers twitch against her back as adrenalin thrums through my veins. I hold her for too long. Try to let the awkwardness and doubt fall away from my bones. She breaks away and wraps her hands over mine. “Let’s get a drink.”
Her body shifts against me, burrowing in close. I wonder if she’s dreaming about somewhere else. Maybe her subconscious is convinced she’s in her regular bed next to her regular body in her regular life and is keeping her safely asleep. Whatever the reason I hope the illusion lasts for a while longer.
I don’t want to think about any more scientists, even though I’m sure they’d be able to tell me that seventy six percent of the time a person won’t be woken by someone else’s heartbeat and that no matter how hard I concentrate daylight is eventually going to creep its way into our room, burning away dreams like so much mist and vapour. So I keep on lying there, barely breathing, trying and failing to bend the course of time and reality through sheer will.
At some point my eyes close, and when they open again the day has found us. I run through a succession of words in my mind and find nothing of value. She’ll be awake soon and then she’ll be gone. This time for good. We’ll talk again but it’ll be different. Diluted. We’ll commiserate as we over-compensate with the significant others in our separate lives but it won’t be the same. The weight of impossibility will grind us down. Each day will be a little less than the one that preceded it and so it will go until there’s nothing left to bind us. Until eventually February crushes me in it’s grey palm.
“Can we stay for a bit longer? It’s nice here.”
I say nothing. Draw up the covers. Hold her.
Maybe Spring has finally arrived.