The letter skims through the slot in the door, drifts to the ground with barely a whisper. It’ll stay there all day, and easily for the rest of the night; its intended recipient is out, working late and then going on out to dinner.

This is where things have come to: letters sent from a thousand miles, because the internet is down and phone calls are too expensive. Tonight, it’ll be midnight in one city and one of them will stay up for a 2am wake-up just for the sake of a conversation that’ll happen through mediocre internet. If they’re lucky, the connection will last ten minutes before it drops off – just long enough for the normal smiles, the blown kisses and the queries about how things have been going.

When this began, they joked about it being an epic love story, one sprawled out over three books and five movies, epilogue added later and new add-on stories coming a decade later.

Only now, this isn’t working. They try to balance it so they’re each up at all hours of the night, always pausing in dialling to do a quick mental calculation of the time difference, what time it is there and how long they can talk. Now, they set up conversations with a meter running, a phone in the background counting down the minutes before things like sleep and food become absolutely vital.

They’re both so stubborn that they’ll wear themselves out trying to make this work.

(They’re already well on their way)

“You look like crap,” she says. Eyes him critically over her teacup, but she doesn’t have much room to talk. If she looks decently human, it’s because of the concealer dabbed on, toning down the appearance of dark circles and the tiny fine lines beginning to form from stress. He grins, raises a can of Sprite in a toast to her.

He doesn’t look so bad, she concedes. Tired, but then again that’s not unusual.

They hang up twelve minutes later, neither of them all that good at staying awake tonight. She remembers the envelope she picked up when she came in, shoved it to one side even after reading the name and address on the sender details. Probably not the best thing to do, but she pads back downstairs, hunts the envelope out and makes a new cup of tea.

It takes her a week to collect a few things together for a care package and two more weeks before she remembers to send the damn thing.

This is how things are going and she’s revived failing businesses easier than she is reviving their relationship. She doesn’t like to think of it as failing, prefers to instead say “having a difficult patch”, but an indefinite separation period before they might be able to get together in person again is more than just difficult.

It’s been seven months and she barely remembers to keep in touch now; they both make the effort but now it’s at the point of being scheduled in, post-it notes taped to the edge of the screen with a little chart detailing time differences and the best time to call, where to send a text to be sure it’ll be quickly read.

She bites the guilt down of spending money when she was trying to stick to a tight budget, and buys a ticket clear across the country. Neither of them have discussed trying to meet up in the middle, she too anxious to say it and he choking on the words every time he tried to get them out. In the end she loses half her savings, wears red lipstick and coordinated ballet flats, puts her hair into a French twist, reads poetry at the airport in a pretty sundress.

If they’re going to hash things out then she can at least look good.

The flight is long, she sleeps and wakes to find her hair unravelled, the lipstick worn half away but still managing to stain her lips.

In the taxi she reads out an unfamiliar street name, stumbling over the strange word, and the driver is silent as he pulls away. The streets are different, tiny compared to the skyscrapers she sees every morning from her kitchen and every night when she comes home. She couldn’t live here, it’s a beautiful place but so quiet. In the hour-long drive, she doesn’t hear one siren.

She makes it a game to count the people out walking as she goes by and doesn’t lose count of the number.

They pull up to the house and it’s her habit to tip well, so she pays double what she needs to, lugs her duffel bag to the door.

The reunion is warm and surprising and doesn’t feel anywhere at all like she thought it might. After the pleasantries are over the arguing starts, they loop around and around in circles debating what has gone wrong and how they could have fixed it.

She leaves the same night, scoops up the bag and hurries out. He doesn’t follow her, and she knows because she sits at the nearest bus stop she finds, waits. This isn’t done yet – she waits ten minutes, then twenty. Reads a new poem or two, combs out her hair and restyles it. An hour passes and there’s no new missed calls, no messages that have suddenly shown up while she was holding onto her phone and just didn’t notice.

At the airport she changes her flight to the earliest she can and flies right home. It’s not home now, of course, it’s just a shell of a house, no real personality to it.

Overwhelmed, exhausted, she collapses into sleep.

(The next morning she goes apartment shopping.)

Flash Fiction July, 23

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