He knew he couldn’t let it pass. She was doing things she wasn’t supposed to do, things he wouldn’t let her do, but she did and did too much. So when it was time to leave, he woke her where she had fallen asleep on a sofa and took her back on a slow quiet walk to the six story building where she lived.

They rode the elevator up, she leaning against the buttoned panel, him against green steel of the back wall. When they exited, he followed her over to the stairwell, where he stepped down one as he always did so she could fit neatly under his chin and they could close their eyes and arms around each other.

He was confident of the brief consequences – they would break it off for a day or two, awkward silences when they grouped together at the benches in the park, but then one day they would find themselves sitting next to each other again where once again they would lean into each other as they always had.

They held onto each other , one step up one step down, and fit in a way that he could feel the curl of her ear and the soft coarseness of her hair against his cheek while moving his hand around her back, playing a familiar song.

But then he said this was over, that they were done, and did it with the expectation it would be a temporary punishment, and a few days from now they would be standing in the same spot, kissing, groping, finding out as much about themselves as they did about each other.

She didn’t react at first – but then leaned in a little more softly, with a slow quiet exhale into his chest. Then, with a small pat with her palm to his back, she slid away. The last image he remembered was her hair, covering her face, the fall of it in a soft wave behind her, as she walked down the fluorescent lit hall and turned the corner to her apartment.

Some forty years later he woke up with a start, his stomach dropping, suddenly remembering that last gentle pat to his back.

Wait, he thought, the knot tightening…I didn’t end it. She did.

Leo Cussen
Not titled (girl walking away) , 2009
pastel on black rag paper