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The Paths We Take #29: Three Days Left

Sep 4, 2018





He leaves our apartment, but he isn’t thinking of us. I have zero missed calls, no response to my texts, and he never even glanced at me the day I walked out. He continues to ignore my letters and the photographs that I tuck between the creases. I am forgotten. So now . . . I decide he has three days left.

The morning is already one of those sticky July mornings that drenches you from head to toe the minute your body hits the summer air, and I am hunching behind the bed of a rusted-out Chevy pick-up on our street; the bumper sticker reads, “Happiness is a Choice.” I work the edges of the sticker until I free a corner and rip the sticker from the metal, leaving only the sticky residue behind. What choice did I have? I think. I look at the blotches of adhesive and wonder, what pieces of me did I leave sticking to him.

He doesn’t see me as he jumps into his truck and pulls away. I want to step out in front of him, but I’m not even sure if he’d stop. I want him to look for me in his rearview mirror and wonder if I’m watching.

I’d waited for him most of the night when I left, in our spot, the only place in the world where I’d always been happy — until that night. I’ve snapped hundreds of photographs of our place, capturing the beauty of the first leaves plunging towards the earth in Autumn, to the delicate smile of a child as she chased an equally delicate butterfly from tree to tree.

From our spot, I can see the Lovers’ Tree — that’s what we named it. I want to set it on fire. I’d written poems about the initials, the ones carved deepest, the ones closest to the heart of the tree. I’d staple a photograph of the pair’s initials to the paper and then pin my art to the wall in the apartment.

When I’m certain that he isn’t turning back, I go into our apartment. I have been staying with my sister and most of what I need is already there, but I still have a couple of things, important things, forgotten things, that I want. I want to be sure that he knows I was here. I leave him another letter on his pillow.

For You — With all the love that I have left, I write on the front of the envelope. Across the seal on the back, I write:


When you wake up —

will you think of me?

Or will I just be another dream —



I look for signs of another woman, but I find nothing. This makes me smile. Maybe he is thinking of me. I haven’t even considered seeing another man; the one I left has done enough damage.

Piles of bills, discarded pizza boxes, and a little yellow slab of paper screaming Late Rent Notice are stretched out across the kitchen counter. I laugh. I’m the one who always wrote the rent check; he probably doesn’t even know where the drop-box is. How will he manage on his own without me?

He needs me, I think. The thought skips around my head as I remember how good we were at the start. We needed each other, but not in the sense that we needed to take care of each other or finish each other’s sentences, but in that we were hopelessly incomplete without each other, clocks without hour hands. When we were together, it was as if we controlled time. Everything else was just emptiness.

We were the rebels — disregarding the naysayers that were made up of our closest friends and family. We truly lived for a while, I mean really lived — no secrets, no dinner-table apologies for leaving angry in the morning, no messy I-hate-your-parentsdiscussions after family get-togethers. We argued over which movie to see, and where to eat when we didn’t feel like cooking, and that was our conflict. That was before — this is the after.

I take a shower in our shower; a bottle of my body wash still sits in the shower-caddy. I use his towel to dry off; I know he will catch my scent — warm vanilla — and think of me then. I open the bathroom closet and I see a few of my photographs in one of the baskets that hold our washcloths. The same photos used to adorn the walls in the bathroom, but now they are tucked away in a dark closet to rot. I feel my skin melting — I am furious.

The first time I framed one of my photographs after we moved into the apartment, I remember him saying, “We are going to have so many stories to show our guests.” I loved when he supported me, and he was genuine about it. He would surprise me with unique frames that he would find at antique shops, yard sales, airport gift shops, and then help me choose one of my photographs that would pair well with the frame.

When we had guests, which was rare, they would exclaim how much they loved my photographs and the accompanying poems. He would look at me and say, “she has an eye for it; she can turn anything into a piece of art.”

After things turned bad again, I tore most of them off the walls. They weren’t stories anymore, they were memories, the ones you feel . . . the ones you cry over. Our beautiful life, our adventure, turned into the mundane. He wanted his routine; I wanted last minute getaways. He needed organization; I needed freedom. I guess we were both selfish.

He can save our marriage; he still has time. I’ve done all that I can do. I’m prepared to write him one last letter, but it will hurt him far more than it will hurt me. He will have to live with the failure of our marriage; he will never forgive himself, and I will make him pay. He will not destroy me, and then go on living.

I lock the apartment door behind me. I say to myself, three more days, as I walk towards my car, which I have parked four blocks away. I have what I came for, but now . . . I have to go across the river.


. . .


They walk me around back to a tin-roofed shanty the size of a two-car garage and tell me to open the door, that he’s waiting for me. I see Tommy sitting on a brown sofa with slashes on the armrests and cushions; it lines a wall that is covered with posters of beautiful women, and if you are really paying attention, you will see the motorcycle they’re leaning against. “Breed Nation” is painted in a crimson in the center of the wall above the sofa.

“I was surprised when you called me . . . I didn’t realize that you—”

“China Girl is all I want. Like I said, just one,” I interrupt him.

Tommy grins and takes a small plastic bag containing one gray pill and puts it in my hand. It looks exactly like the fentanyl pills that I researched online, and Tommy still looks like the guy that I remember from high school.

“Do you know what you’re doing with that?” Tommy asks. “It can be deadly stuff.”

I look around the room, I see his motorcycle club’s patch scattered throughout the place. The television hums in the far corner, casting a blue tint over the dim room. I’d never imagined myself in a place like this — this was the exact opposite of a place I should be in.

“How much?

“Fifty will do it,” Tommy says as he leans back on the couch, his arm outstretched as if to invite me to sit down next to him. “You still married?”

I open my mouth to say yes but stop myself before the sound reaches my tongue. I smile at Tommy and show him the rings that are still coiled around my finger.

“Maybe for just three more days.”


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.