Larissa, you are looking good. A fine specimen. Half the size, you have been told. Half the weight of your previous self, and you believe them, more or less. You feel able to obey orders and to love yourself a little bit more. And nobody knows.
Your duty is well and truly done. The little ones – and you will always think of them as little, no matter how much they grow − are enormous, and both impressively self-sufficient. You are magnificent, and you can and will be leaving in the morning.
Thinking this, your smile is genuine as you give him his annual birthday squeeze. And then a quick pose for the rest of the room, and the two of you can quietly separate.
You mingle. Later tonight you will have to return to his side for the last time. It will be the very last time, even though he doesn’t know it. You have decided not to tell a single soul that tomorrow you are going to be free.
You are thankful for each happy memory, and you can acknowledge that there were times when you were close, times when you wanted to be closer to each other than it’s physically possible to be.
Somebody is telling a rather familiar tale, describing an old event that you can all remember perfectly. You laugh at each appropriate moment, and nod along to every detail of this story. Life was different then; it is always nice for you to be reminded of that.
When did your happiness start to wander? When did it evolve into something else, something that you didn’t order and hadn’t even seen on the menu? The gains turned to losses but that happened so slowly that you didn’t notice or mind until the best things were completely gone.
The pleasure that you felt in his company has faded. It is not bad, but do you really feel not bad will ever be good enough?
A reliably boring guest has had far too much to drink here. And somebody calls him a taxi, so the situation is resolved. Every part of this evening is falling into place, it is all running smoothly, and is too much to bear. Your life has never been like this before.
Turn, Larissa. Turn around right now so you can look at him.
Even at this distance you can see the scar that remains at the top of his nose. A long time ago your eldest son had a tantrum. He was so loud you almost began laughing at it. The terrible twos had started early, and your small boy bit him right there on the nose. And then there was blood.
And both children have been at a difficult age each and every year since that memorable day.
Underneath his beard there will be the remains of a dimple. And you know you used to love it. You kissed that dimple before you had kissed him on the lips. You still remember, even though it was an awfully long time ago.
You might leave him. You still might. You know exactly which things you would need to pack. Perhaps tomorrow you will wake and decide you are leaving after breakfast, or if not then you will leave him after lunch.
What you really want is to see if you can fly. You want to find out if the currents of the winds will carry you away if you open up and give them permission.
He is not all that bad. He has never been awful. He is no worse than anybody else, and you do know that. He is no longer a person that you want to spend your time with. You felt sad for quite a while after realising that.
If he is exactly the same man as he has always been, does that mean the potential for past times still exists?
You open your mouth wide to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ with this consistently loyal mob of well-wishers. They are all here because they love him. He is a man that can still be loved.
No more planning for you, after today. You have done everything there was that needed to be done, and now you are left with your two little choices: slip back into the familiar groove, carry on, resume, keep quiet, continue. Or step outside and into shockingly cold air, or into a bath of brilliant sunshine.
The easy, or the unknown. The familiar struggles, or something that could be slightly better. Or it might be very much worse.
There will never be any rush for you to make a decision. One day really is as good as another. Don’t forget that you could always stand up and leave. Many reasons not to, many excuses you won’t ever be able to forget. But leaving will always be something that you could have done, and one of these days you still might.
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