There are fifty ways to leave your lover, but none of them were good enough for you. At first, I didn’t notice. You started with the books, and it took a while for me to notice the gap-toothed shelves looking shamefaced, with their diminished mouthful. I became alert after that, aware of the knives, vanishing from the block slowly, slowly, and then the naked pale squares of wall where you’d taken a picture down, the empty coat hooks, the sudden absence of that sticky, half empty bottle of Tia Maria on the shelf.
All this time, you were still in my bed at night, and across the table at breakfast. When I asked you, that morning after the armchair disappeared, whether or not you were leaving me, you just smiled enigmatically, and carefully, carefully spread your toast with chunky marmalade. I began to lie in wait, trying to catch you, but I never saw you, not once, though on occasion I’d come into a room and see you turn quickly as if discovered in a crime. This was the summer of 2009. I took time off work so I could stand guard over the dwindling objects in our home, but you were too clever for me. I’d stand for hours in the bedroom, barely daring to blink, but each time I’d eventually betray myself with sleep, and when I awoke something would be gone. The rug. Half of the pillows. Your dry curled flip-flops – first one, then the other.
I was bewildered and angry. Why the secrecy? God knows I didn’t want you anyway. I’d been leaving hints for years that I wanted you to go. Once I even wrote it on the bathroom mirror with toothpaste (Please leave, I don’t want to hear you blowing your nose ever again!), but you proved immune to even the most direct request to leave. And now, the realisation that you were leaving at last crept up on me like embarrassment. It was so awkward. One thing a day. It took you months. You sneaky thing, I thought, and at the same time, I felt a renewed interest in you. I’d always known you were meticulous – watching you complete a jigsaw was like observing keyhole surgery – but the bloody-minded slowness of your leaving inspired a kind of fascinated respect, I’ll admit. Where the hell were you taking all these things? Were you moving in with someone else without their knowing? Had the huge sagging spider plant which had gone from our hallway suddenly popped up in some flat across the city, unannounced, homesick? Was some poor woman getting crept into like cancer, your objects slowly drifting into her rooms so unobtrusively that she thought she was going mad?
Eventually, as the days shortened and leaves began to fall, I could not see any more of your belongings anywhere. But you were still there. I sensed your weight next to me in bed. I felt your hands on my hips, and smelled your mouth as it came towards mine, looming through the gloom. Surely that was you, your fingers encircling my wrist and pulling it down across your stomach, surely that was your clumped fur and your thighs all hot there in the dark? And yet you were fading. Your voice seemed like a whisper, like a memory. Perhaps you were collecting, one by one, the hairs and specks of dust and toenails and receipts, the tiny things. The final touches. I imagined you with tweezers, carefully filling envelopes with fragments of yourself. When? At night, in the dark? Oh, it was a magnificent achievement. I found myself awash with a nausea of desire for you. But in those last days, you were careful even with your sperm. Not a drop fell on me. When I woke that last day to an empty bed, I sensed immediately a change in the sheets – they smelled only of me. Your warm stink was gone. It was truly incredible how you left me, darling.