fiction, life

AFTER MIDNIGHT

Chris R-0763 Image by Christine Renney

We are both eloquent when cruel and each determined to undermine the other. But my drinking has begun to take its toll and I am now at a disadvantage. We have been like this for hours and it is still early, just seven in the evening.
Clara shows no sign of flagging. In a loose fitting and shapeless cotton dress, her skinny frame almost entirely engulfed, she rages. Bloated from the beer and in my too tight trousers I feel naked, exposed. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on the words she hurls so effortlessly, time and again hitting the mark and, although I am unable to respond, I am impressed with Clara’s performance.
Her dialogue is worthy of Cassavetes or Carver, sparse yet unsparing. If only I could rise to the challenge but what would be the point? In the morning I won’t remember. All bitter recriminations will be reduced at best to a simple list, each in its designated column.

Despite the fact that I haven’t read as much as a sentence in more than a year, I have a selection of novels stacked on the coffee table beside me. Clara now draws my attention to this neglected heap, this testament to my lethargy and indifference. She lifts a book from on top and studies its cover. I watch her intently, readying for her next line.
‘I remember once you were going to write one of these but now – well, you can’t even be bothered to read one,’ she spoke softly, the wrath in her voice has now been replaced by something else, something I want to confront even less and I hope not to remember.
Mustering for all I am worth, I shrug my shoulders. Clara throws the paperback. It hits me on the shin, bouncing onto the rug at my feet. I pick it up and, steeling myself, determined not to glance in her direction, I start to rip out its pages, letting them drop, uncrumpled, on the floor.

It is always at midnight or thereabouts, a few minutes before or after that I am able to conjure the right words. Clara has long since taken to her bed and it is too late. I could wake her of course, and often I have come close. But I can’t help but feel a line has been clearly drawn underneath all she has said. And it only seems fitting that I should be forced to play out my part alone, that this unwanted clarity of mind should be painfully wasted.

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