It Falls Away Slowly by Brandon Taylor

Israel Sundseth

 

Henry is in the kitchen making coffee for the two of them. David lies on his back watching the snow gather on the balcony. It is early October, and the air is wet and gray—the temperature has gotten just low enough to skim the edge of freezing and turn the rain to bloated snowflakes. David throws his arm across his face and whines loudly. Henry ignores him. He will not be forced to engage such childishness, but from the corner of his eye, he does glimpse David turning fitfully on the couch. If he does not stop, he’ll dump himself on the floor and then give himself something to really whine about it. So let him, Henry thinks. It would serve him right.

“I hate this,” David says finally, huffing. He sits up and stares hard at Henry. “I hate this fucking snow.” Henry does not look up. He does not give away the fact that he can see David just fine. He is gazing down at the French press, counting the seconds until he can compress the plunger. David has dark hair and dark eyes. He is a little chubby, soft in the middle with thin hair spread across his belly. But despite this roundness, his face carries no hint of kindness or happiness the way one might expect. Instead, his eyes are hard and mean.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Henry says. “I’m sorry you hate it so much, but—well, it’s winter.”

“October is fall, not winter,” David responds sharply. He gets up on to his knees and leans against the couch. He turns his eyes outward to the slurry on the window.

“Well, there’s snow now.” Henry sinks the plunger on the French press and sighs. He had not planned for snow, and now there is the threat of getting stuck here with David. It would be fine. After all, he did come so that they could spend some time together catching up. But now with the threat of being stuck here against his volition, everything pleasant about the idea has fled. “Coffee’s ready,” Henry says as he pours each of them a cup. He takes his coffee without sugar. He keeps track of his body caloric intake, and he is proud of his body, which is hard and firm and well-defined. He is shorter than David, and so he has to work to keep the fat off because it shows so much easier on him. And no one wants to be with someone who is fat.

“Finally,” David says. He leans across the counter to get his cup, and the two of them are sitting on the couch with their thighs touching, sipping slowly. For a little while, the only sound comes from the snow hitting the window and cars sliding through the streets. Occasionally, voices drift down to them from the upstairs neighbors. Henry is a little surprised by this. Typically, the city drains of people over the weekend as people head to Chicago or Milwaukee. Weekends are usually hollow chambers through which the permanent residents glide silently until they come up against Monday morning. The coffee tastes good. It’s warm and bitter, the way he likes it. He’ll need to go to the gym soon, in a few hours maybe. He feels a little thrill go through him. David’s body is warm next to him. The heat folds over his clothes and sinks into his body, a part of David becoming a part of him. An ache inside of him opens and suddenly, his mouth is dry despite the coffee. He glances at David who glances at him. David smiles.

“What are you looking at,” Henry says wryly, already knowing how this will end—and that’s why he came, isn’t it? That’s why he walked here in the snow with no certain way home. David reaches for him, brushes his fingertips against Henry’s face, and Henry shivers.

“I’m looking at you,” David says, his voice deep and even. Henry lifts his head a little. Their lips are not quite close, but are near enough for something to happen if they want it badly enough, and Henry knows that he himself wants it but cannot speak or will not speak for David. But David is looking at him, his dark brown eyes so clear and glossy. The whites of his eyes are startling. Henry feels himself strain into a tighter, straighter line. David brushes a thumb across Henry’s lips. Henry flicks his tongue against the rough pad of that thumb, tasting its dry, salty surface. David groans a little, leans in at first but then away. “I can’t,” he says.

“Why?” Henry asks, looking away sharply. The corners of his eyes are stinging. His voice is brittle. “Why not?” He swallows hard.

“You know why not. You know I’m with Zeke.”

“Do you love him?” Henry asks. This is a desperate gambit. He is not looking at David because he knows the answer. He knows that the answer has nothing to do with why they can’t go on.

“This was a mistake,” David says. “This was a big fucking mistake.”

“You loved me,” Henry says. “You loved me until you didn’t anymore.”

“You know that isn’t true, Henry. You know it.”

“Do I know? Is that true? Do I know that?”

“God,” David says. He gets up, steps over Henry’s knees. Henry watches him cross to the other side of the room, where the balcony is covered in grey slush. David puts his face against the cold glass. Henry gets up too. Comes up behind him and presses his face to the middle of David’s shoulders. “Come on, Henry. Don’t do this.”

“You loved me,” Henry repeats. It is a single scrap, a single shard of light to which he can cling, this fact that is unchangeable. “You loved me until you didn’t.”

“I didn’t stop,” David says. His breath fogs the sliding door. “I didn’t stop loving you. It just got hard.”

“Why? What changed?” Henry’s voice is muffled in the space between David’s shoulders. His sweater is damp against Henry’s mouth. Henry grips David’s hips and pulls him close. He presses his hardness against the firm curve of David’s ass. They have been here before. His body is warm, flushed with familiarity, with desire. David arches against him out reflex or want or both. Their bodies remember in a way that cannot be denied because it need not be articulated with words. “What made it hard?”

David turns and puts his hands on Henry’s shoulders. His eyes are wet. Henry pushes against David’s hands. He leans forward until David is pressed against the sliding door. Eventually, David relents and lets Henry fall against him. He wraps his arms around Henry’s shoulders.

“You. Me. I don’t know. It just got hard, didn’t it? We were fighting all the time. We stopped talking. You were busy. I was busy.”

Henry swallows because he cannot deny this. As much as he would like to, he cannot deny the truth of the matter, the truth of their dissolution. David smells like coffee and cigarettes and Old Spice. Henry presses his face to David’s chest and sighs.

“I hate this,” Henry says.

“Me too—but we said we’d try. We said we’d be friends.”

“Everyone always says that. It never works.”

“It has to work,” David says with a mild note of panic in his voice. “I can’t lose you, Henry. You’re my best friend.”

“Am I?” Henry asks and steps back to look into David’s face. He finds honesty there, and hurt. He feels a little bit ashamed, a little selfish. But he also feels a small giddiness in his belly.

“You know you are. God. You know it,” David is smiling, but it’s a sad smile, a resigned smile. He runs his hand up the nape of Henry’s neck, through the bristles of his hair. “You mean so much to me.” Heat ripples through Henry. He steps closer to David, who does not push him away.

“How can we be friends,” Henry asks, “when I love you so much?”

“We have to try,” David says. “We have to.”

“I don’t know if I can try,” Henry says. “I have tried. You’ve tried.”

“What are you saying?” David frowns, his expression going dark and distant. Henry wets his lips and steps back. The silence between them is heavy and coarse with the sound of the heating unit. Henry takes a deep breath and nods.

“I don’t—we can’t, David. We can’t.”

“I think that’s pretty selfish, Henry,” David says. He steps around Henry and goes back to the couch where he sits and picks up his cup. He drinks the coffee down in a rush and pouts like a child.

“I’m selfish?” Henry repeats. He leans against the sliding door and gazes out at David. “I’m the selfish one?”

“Yes,” David says. “Yes.”

“You. You are the selfish one,” Henry says. “You want me to stay. You want me to pine. You’re the one who left me first.”

“I didn’t leave you.”

“You did. You packed up your shit. And then you left. You. Left.”

The whites of David’s eyes have gone red. His eyes are gleaming. Henry can tell that he is perched on the brink of tears. He refuses to meet Henry’s gaze directly.

“It was hard for me to go,” David says, and his voice is wavering. “It was hard to leave, but I had to, or we would have started hating each other.”

“I could never hate you,” Henry says. “Never.”

“You could.” David’s voice is no longer wavering, and now he’s looking directly at Henry, through him into the past, into those dark weeks right before they split up. David is looking at the ugliness between them, that had threatened to consume them. The fights, the accusations, the long silences, the pain in both of them, so much suffering. But even so, Henry is certain that he could never hate David, no matter what happened. And perhaps this is the fundamental difference between them, that for David, the ultimate fear is not the loss of love but its conversion into its other extreme.

Henry turns away and says, “I could never hate you, David. You packing your shit up didn’t make me hate you. It made me angry, yes, but not hate you.”

David looks chastened. He picks at a loose piece of fabric.

“It’s over now anyway. It doesn’t matter,” he says. Henry swallows back a sob of anger. He returns to the couch and picks up his cup. He drinks slowly. David stretches out and puts his head on Henry’s knee. For a moment, Henry thinks of pouring the coffee on his face, burning him, disfiguring him. David closes his eyes and exhales slowly. He’s slipping into sleep.

“Your boyfriend’s going to catch us like this,” Henry says.

“He doesn’t care. He knows what you mean to me.”

“Do I know what I mean to you?”

“You should,” David says, tired and a little cranky. Henry leans down and kisses his forehead.

“I’m not sure I do,” Henry says.

“That’s too bad,” David says, smiling. He does eventually drift off to sleep despite the coffee, and Henry follows. The afternoon is long and gray. It falls away slowly and eventually folds into night.


Brandon Taylor is a PhD candidate in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has appeared in Chicago Literati and Jonathan. He can be found tweeting from @brandonrambles.