That winter the mountains were unbelievable. We’d come back from Trader Joe’s on a tired gray day, having a tired gray argument, and I’d park and get out and there at the edge of the clouds were the mountains: filmed in blue fog, standing stark against the skyline. Wow, I always wanted to say, do you see those? But disliking people who appreciated nature was one of the things we had left, so I didn’t.
What I said instead, one Sunday when the mountains were especially beautiful and the argument especially pointless, was that I wanted to take a walk to clear my head. I said this in the tone of authoritative self-care that you always used and that always irked me. I was hoping it would irk you too, but your expression was more like Good, you’re finally learning to act like an adult. I let you take both bags and shut the trunk harder than necessary.
I needed to reset, so as I walked I pulled up the memory of the night we met. A house party of the worst size, so that we all collected into corners to shout politely about how our jobs were going. Somebody’s drunk girlfriend: “You guys! We should all go on a hike together next weekend!” You, with heartfelt and involuntary sincerity: “Oh God, we should not.” Me taken aback, laughing the masculine staccato laugh I usually left at home. Your smile. Over the years I had played this and played this until it was a sort of blurry gif: the dialogue caption (intact), one moving bit of your face (which felt accurate, but might be really a composite of all your faces as I had seen and imagined them), and then the click of putting them together, the perfect remembrance of blooming under your smile. Sometimes the click worked and sometimes it didn’t. It worked less and less; I didn’t know if this was because I played it too often or if it was just degrading with time.
Turning the corner, the view of the mountains made my thoughts skip out of their loop. I never took photos, but I wanted to capture them. They looked dull and small in the picture. I decided I would go home once I got them right. I tried from different angles, but nothing. I tried adjusting the contrast, with and without flash, with my arm held farther and farther out, but nothing. I even tried climbing the first rung of a tree, feeling as always that effort must make some difference no matter how poorly thought-out the effort was, but of course, still nothing. I nearly screamed.
I went home. You were sitting in the green wingback armchair, reading. That chair was the only thing you had taken from your parents’ house when they downsized. Unloading it from the car together (you hadn’t let me come with you to pick it up, but admitted that it had been awkward to carry by yourself), you told me that it had always been your favorite because it sat around the corner from the living room, in the best spot to eavesdrop.
Looking at you then, I pictured you at age five, and nine, and twelve, sitting in that chair and eavesdropping. I wished I had known you at every age.
“I feel observed,” you said, and shifted to swing your legs over the chair’s arm, your back to me. The tenderness turned to hate so quickly then. Or no, there wasn’t a turning, I just realized that the tenderness had had hate in it all along. It was the same feeling, I only ever had the one feeling for you.
I didn’t say anything, just walked past you to the kitchen sink, turned on the hot water, and stuck my hands in yesterday’s dishes. My arms were shaking up to the shoulder. I looked out the window and saw that the mountains had gone pink. The sun must be setting somewhere, though it was hard to say where; we hadn’t seen it all day.
W. C. Hussey lives in Seattle.