Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

It had been a year.

We celebrated with a romantic dinner and were now back at her place, sitting on her bed. It was nearly midnight. The single rose I brought her was sticking out of an empty wine bottle.

She was becoming melancholy. She gets that way sometimes when she drinks. I recognized that look she acquires when her thoughts grow wild like kudzu and drift off to a faraway place. The look that tends to dampen the evening. I swept her chestnut hair out of her face and gazed into her eyes. I followed it up with a smile, tender and sweet, trying to warm the room and bring her back.

She held firm in her gloom. Time crawled along the floor like a silent caterpillar. Finally she raised her voice. “If you tell me you love me, I’m going to slap you!”

I mouthed the words and ducked out of the way, but instead of her hand flying at me, I saw a shadow fall over her face. The room turned still like the woods after a snowfall. Like an empty museum. She swallowed a lump in her throat and then began to softly cry.

I knew I had done a very wrong thing.

Across the room, in a dirty aquarium, her turtle poked its head above the waterline. Teddy the turtle. I could barely make out Teddy’s egg-shaped, yellow eyes. It looked at both of us, but couldn’t understand, knew nothing, of course, about the thoughts and emotions swirling around in our cluttered human minds.

And neither did we.

Teddy gulped another round of oxygen then darted back underwater. I watched him drift down to the bottom of the tank before pulling its head back into its shell. When I looked back at her I was surprised she had been staring at me. Her eyes were big and full of trouble.

She pouted. “You’re just going to leave me, or I’m going to leave you, or we’ll both get sick of each other, eventually; anyway, it’s doomed. Love doesn’t work.”

“Fine. If it makes you feel better, I’m just sorta fond of you,” I explained.

She looked up and her mouth opened to form a slit no bigger than where you put your card at an ATM. Then she laughed. And I did too. Foolishness is contagious, I suppose. And although neither of us said it, I could tell we both decided not to think about the future.

With a start, she grabbed a pillow and smothered my face with it, pretending to suffocate me, and then I pretended to be dead.

Anything to make her happy.

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