I know you think that you’re in love, and you probably are. The way she looks at you, with her eyes wide and sparkling, that upturned face unnerved, as though she’s on the edge of a seaside cliff, wondering what you’re thinking and wanting. The breadth of her smile when she sees in your eyes that it’s her. How he bends his face to yours, his hands reaching for you, the half effort, all lost, to keep from pressing against each other.
I know you don’t see me. I’m a blank inconvenience, just a shadow that keeps you from wrapping up in each other, of speaking that language only you know, that you hold conversations in when no one else is around. If you did look, you’d think we have nothing in common. There’s none of that flush in my face, no pulsing joy showing under my skin, no magnet pull in my stance. But you would be wrong. I was like you once, in love in a way that could be seen and felt, on a sidewalk, at the stoplight, through every story in a high-rise. I was half of a pair on a scooter at midnight, cruising through an empty street, singing pop ballads at the top of my lungs. My body too leaned against the warmth of someone who wanted me. My eyes blared desire that strangers could read.
You won’t know how it all goes away. You see its absence all around you, in the voice of the older couples you know, in the pure functionality of their tone, their movement, the brusque practicality of their touch, the careless laughter of their jokes, the way their tongues don’t seem to savor their lovers’ names. You saw it in your childhood home, the roll of their eyes, the shrug of his shoulders, her brisk steps walking away from a voice that once held her rapt. You don’t know how they got there and you never will; if you did you could guard against it, keep the glances and the giggles and the graze of fingertips between you. But it doesn’t work that way.
The truth is that it dribbles out a little each day. So small you will not notice, cannot notice. Till one day you find she doesn’t look at you the same, doesn’t cast liquid, dreamy eyes toward you when you start to talk. She doesn’t lean against you like she needs your solidness to stand. Her voice won’t catch when she says your name. She’ll use your endearing terms, those words your heart thrilled to hear her breathe, like chastisements, reminders to take out the trash, to pick up the mail, solicitations for attendance to the minor demands of living. You will not make her happy like you used to. The glow that you now see so often you think it is a part of her face will fade and dull and you will look at her and struggle to remember why it was you wanted her so badly or held to her so dearly.
One day he will no longer hold you like a precious thing, in the center or periphery of his mind. He will not see your sadness when it brims, will not ask its meaning, weep its presence with you, help you to dig with a shovel, for its root. And you will not know if it is because he cannot hold you in his thoughts, with all the other things, the common everyday life affairs that crowd it, or if your sorrows and your joys have become trite in their familiarity, plain or ugly things. The question will plague you at first, then the answer will lose its value. You’ll be angry, then bitter, and you’ll store the sadness and the joy and their meaning in a vault, and when he asks after them, you’ll deny they exist. You’ll keep them to yourself and late at night sometimes you’ll look them over and wonder if you should take them out, but he’ll be tired, he’s had a long day and you’ll close the lid and turn the key, push it to the bottom of your back pocket, where he never slips his fingers anymore.
The elevator dings and I’ve said nothing at all. The couple press their hands together, intertwined like lace, like a vine wrapped through a fence, like two parts of a single whole, meant to be together. They step across the threshold, feet in sync, without trying, and I want to follow, but he’s waiting for me three floors up with the last of my boxes piled by the door.
If I could, I would chase after the couple. I want to tell them: listen you fools, pay attention to this moment, to the one you have right now, to the ones ahead because one day they will be gone and you will think you hate him, then you will grow indifferent, which is a much worse thing than hate. Then one day he will leave you and you will realize that you loved him all along; you just forgot to show it on your face.
Kristi Ferguson is a researcher and emerging writer. Born and raised in Brazil, she earned a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Ohio University in 2019 and currently lives in Arlington, Virginia. Her literary writing has appeared or is forthcoming in (mac)ro(mic), The Daily Drunk, Litro Magazine and others. You can find her on Twitter @KFergusonWrites.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “What I Want to Say to the Couple in the Elevator”:
We loved the voice and emotions set up in this wonderful piece by author Kristi Ferguson that slowly shifts from the narrator’s observations of the couple to her own life. This flash fiction piece flows well from start to finish. And it might give readers something to think about in their own lives.