The picture from the television keeps shifting the shadows in the room. The ceiling, a Rorschach test that I’m failing. The lamp isn’t on, but a light from down the hallway casts him in silhouette from where I’m sitting on the floor leaning my back into the softness of the chair. I watch the ash on his cigarette. With each breath I take, it’s getting longer and longer. It’s just hanging there, defying gravity. And all I can think is, “Maybe I could leave before it falls.” I could just slip out before it falls. You know? I bet that he won’t even notice me at all if I just … disappear. And, in this moment, disappearing is all I really want to do. I just can’t be here anymore. I can’t be anywhere. I can feel the gravity of him pulling at me. Or the inertia.
I can feel my will to find the words getting weaker. Honestly? I don’t know why I even bother. I mean, how much longer until the whole thing just dissolves anyway? Most things can’t defy the laws of physics the way his cigarette ash does. Soon enough, there will be nothing left at all. There’s already nothing left to say. So I just stare at that ash, wanting it to fall, hoping that it will all make sense again. Hoping that I can get back to myself … wherever that is.
Then he says, “Romance is so passé.” Just that. He just leaves his thought suspended there as he flicks his ash and looks away from me. What am I supposed to do with that? It’s like a rock he tossed in the air. I don’t know whether to catch it or duck. I guess I’ll duck. Or change the subject, at least … such as there is one. And there isn’t.
He seems to not have understood the question when I ask who did the paintings on the wall. “A friend,” he says. He says, “A friend, that’s all.” Then he turns back to the muted television that he’s been watching. He likes the way it makes the world so small so he can blow a giant smoke ring around it all. He likes the distance it affords him from the calamities and the chaos … and the emotions. Anything to keep him out of it.
Not me. I’m in it. Deep. I can’t breathe. I can’t take it all in. I can’t take any of it in. It feels like the ground is weak underneath me. The air is thin. Images fill my eyes … it’s as if the heavens are leaking through me, on me, in me.
We all live in sin, with our misgivings and our shortcomings and our failures. I know that’s true and real. But … can’t it hurt a little less? Even sometimes, just to hurt a little bit less would make all the difference.
“This city’s coming down,” he says. And he seems content in his analysis. It’s like he’s on the verge of some huge revelation. Or he’s on a ledge about to take a leap of faith. It’s all so precarious with him. He’s always dangling on the edge of the moment. Just like that fucking ash. He inhales like none of it matters, like he’s unafraid of it all.
But I know better. And I look at him with that knowing. “The gun,” he says, “is just in case.”
I take a sip … my last. I leave my lip stain on his glass as a reminder, a symbol that I was here … like carving your name in a tree or something. He cracks the dog a crooked smile as he says, “Please stay and talk a while.” But there’s nothing left to say.

Based on the song “Before It Falls” by Sally Dworsky. Photo credit: J.L. Trinh / Foter / CC BY-ND.