It was a terrible place to start.

*     *     *

Once, he managed to knock the telephone handset off the cradle when she was sitting on the couch.

She picked it up and listened, as though waiting to hear a voice. To receive a message he desperately wanted to give her, but couldn’t.

*     *     *

He wanted to attach himself to her when she went to work, when he missed her most. But the thought of it terrified him. What if they became separated? It took him hours to move across one room. Outside, he could be lost forever.

*     *     *

It seemed the only way he could have physical contact with her was if her touch brought him pain. If she stepped on him, kicked him across the floor, or walked into him and tore his skin with her toenails, then he felt her, even though she couldn’t feel him. If he sat next to her when she was on the couch, staring at her, thinking her name, and she moved absently and came close to him, he’d be shocked by that deep red pain.

*     *     *

It scared him, watching her.

She wasn’t moving on. Wasn’t getting better. Every night, the television blared louder, the wine flowed earlier, and she cried longer.

It became too exhausting following her between rooms, watching her deteriorate. So he returned to the master bathroom permanently, to be with her where she cried the most. He spent his time behind the toilet, or in the corner behind the door.

Once, he pulled himself up by the marble surface of the sink so he was standing in front of the mirror again. He breathed onto the glass, lifted his hand.

But he was afraid to write a word.

*     *     *

In his dream, they were in a bus together. They were very young. Eighteen and sixteen, maybe. Still in high school, where they’d met. They were traveling through bleak, snowy, open country, fields flying by in the freezing night.

He was wearing his heavy cashmere coat, the nicest item of clothing he owned. Her head rested on his shoulder, and she was asleep.

The bus bounced over a pothole. She stirred, looked up at him. Took his hand.

*     *     *

When he came to, the bathroom light was on. The door was open, too, and the hall was very dark.

It’s not morning.

Blair never deviated from her routine.

He lifted his head off the tile floor and saw her. She lay in the steaming tub, slumped against the sloping side opposite the faucet, her head rolling on the white wall. She was crying, and there was a long, sharp blade in her hand.

If she cuts her wrists, she’ll be like me.

The realization fired in him an all-consuming compulsion to save her. If it meant he never saw her again, even in death, he couldn’t let her follow him that way.

His thin, white fingers bent back against the hard floor and snapped, sending jets of molten pain through his arms as he clawed at the smooth tile, scrabbled over the floor towards her. Can’t let her do it, can’t let her do it, can’t let her do it.

*     *     *

A year before he found himself in the drain, he’d started visiting a psychiatrist once a week. She was a fifty-something woman with bugged eyes and a haircut twenty years out of style. She told him to keep a journal, and to write in it regularly.

Once, he’d written that he was often kept awake at night by the thought of dying. “Why are you afraid of dying?” the doctor asked.
“Because I don’t understand it,” he said. “Because nobody does. It’s non-existence.” “You don’t believe in an afterlife?”

“Not really.”
“Are you afraid of how you’ll die?”
“No, I already know that.”
“How do you believe you will die?”
“I’m going to kill myself.” He said it simply, matter-of-factly.
“You think the pressures of your life will drive you to suicide?”
“No,” he said. “I think that eventually I’ll feel like doing it, and I’ll just do it.”

“Do you have a plan for doing it?”

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