The forgetting

She used to picture him dying. The How wasn’t really so important. An angry wave smashing down over him as he stood at the bow of a clipper ship, perhaps, the last salty moments punctuated by gurgles and shrieks; a crashlanded plane, a runaway train, a quick tumble from his cedar-shingled roof one summer dusk onto the waiting spikes of a wrought-iron fence. Or maybe it was something pedestrian: a car crash, a heart attack, a rogue blood clot swimming up from his leg into his brain, the spreading numbness, then silence. His wife finding him. Her tears.

Whatever and however it was didn’t matter in the least to her. All she cared to fantasize about was the stark finality of it, his sudden and utter absence from this world, his unwitting departure to a place from which there would finally be no path back. Because somewhere inside, his returning was what she feared most. She’d pictured it too many times, this day she would find him on her doorstep, head bowed, knapsack spilling open, finally sorry. It would be too late, of course. She would send him away with harsh words and a dismissive flick of the hand. But it was his coming at all that could finally break her, she knew.

The sheer terror of that potentiality was the source of enormous strain, even when years had passed and he no longer knew her phone number or address, no longer tried to send her sad, half-sorry letters or old photographs. She could always map out some improbable way he might get back and it kept both her dread and her hope alive. It turned her hairs white and disturbed her sleep and made her gnash her teeth so hard at night she’d wake up with her jaw aching.

He, who had ruined every single thing and then trotted off to start the whole mess all over again, only with someone new. She didn’t hate him. Not really. She merely wanted him gone away forever, redeposited to a place where his absolute indifference to her existence could be excused. She wanted him erased.

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