"Why do they call it 'breaking up'? Does it mean we'll only go up from here? Is it to give people a sense of hope? I suppose calling it 'breaking down' wouldn't be specific enough, though you do some of that when you break up."
She shrugged at him, crushing the stems of the wilting off-white lilies with her hand.
"Breaking conveys the painful part of it," he replied, talking to the floor. Those wooden planks creaked every time a foot stepped upon them for two decades now. They were tired of living like they did.
"Or it signifies a change." She gave the mangled flowers a lopsided smile and offered them to him. "Listen, I've summarized why. Both of us are the lilies and my hand is time crushing us. There isn't a lily that attacked the other lilies. They are all equally innocent. "
"Those stupid flowers cost me thirty dollars. I suppose you're going to steal a 20-dollar bill and a 10-dollar bill from your parents to pay me back?" He snatched the lilies from her and threw them on the floor. No creaking.
"Is borrowing money from my parents a crime? No. I'll always pay them back. And no, flowers aren't stupid. They just don't have brains." As she spoke, he advanced toward her with long, sharp strides, but she changed direction and sat on the couch. "I'm stating facts here."
"You know, I've had enough of your wits. I've had enough of your staying at home all the time and the lack of physical intimacy we have." He unclipped the bracelet from his wrist and tossed it into her lap. "Take it back. Take it all back."
"Can't take back memories. They're not tangible," she replied, deflating like a balloon. "Can't take your mind off someone the way you can take off a bracelet."
"Oh, blaming me now?" He tossed his blue 2015 Spring Festival baseball cap at her. "Look at everything you bought me with someone else's money."
She put it on her head and accessorized it with a strained smile. "I already explained with the lilies. It's not you, it's time. We can sit here and talk about everything you and I have ever done or said that upset each other, but it'd just be a waste of time. Better to leave the flood waist-deep than let it rise above our heads, don't you think?"
"Or not have the flood in the first place, maybe." He dragged his feet, toes sticking out of the sandals, to her couch and sat at a distance from her. "Anything else you'd like to say?"
"I don't want to lie and say I liked you," she replied, leaning her head back. The cap slipped off her hair and landed in between them.
"You didn't even like me after all this time?" His voice was getting hoarse, the way it did when he was about to cry or throw a fit. "Are you serious?"
"No, I mean saying I liked you would be a lie because I loved you. Still do."
Silence. His fingers twitched.
"Time. It's always time," she interrupted him, staring ahead. "I feel a little dizzy. Let's not talk further for a while."
Neither of them moved positions. Tick tock, tick tock. The monotonous chiming of the clock was better than the monotonous words they'd utter if they chose speech over silence. In the air, he envisioned their relationship untangling, threads of the times they held and clung to each other unraveling, and vanishing into nothingness. He couldn't catch them before their demise. They were intangible. One of them - she - had let go and it was too late.
She had fallen asleep. He held the baseball cap, tracing the torn bits and wrinkles from washing it in the washing machines too many times. It had been dropped under the feet of audience members on the stands of sweltering tennis games, tripped over in the grass of a local park on a windy summer day, and dripped on by melting mint chocolate ice cream scoops. He owned no other baseball caps. Even if he did, he wouldn't wear them, not when this one existed.
He rose to his feet and looked back at her. She had curled up on the couch, an arm around her head, sleeping like a baby. Over time, her cheeks had gotten paler, a change she attributed to her makeup. The past month, she refused for him to be with her when she didn't have makeup on, prompting nights where she'd get up from the bed and wash it off while he pretended to still be asleep. Having the makeup on didn't make sense either, since she didn't go out much except to get groceries. She had insisted on keeping their previous ten dates within the neighborhood or flat-out having them at home. He'd asked about it and received excuses every time:
"The forecast says it'll rain soon. Better not go through the hassle of rain jackets and umbrellas. It dampens the romantic feel."
"It's the weekend. You know how crowded shopping malls get, especially around lunch time."
"I'm tired, honey. I had a late start on the journey to dreamland and I had scarcely finished sightseeing at the first attraction before your alarm clock woke me up. You know how I can't take naps either."
She spent so much of her time in the house, sleeping or pacing around or gardening or drawing or dusting or vacuuming or staring out the window, that he almost got her a therapist last week, fearing she had depression. When he told her about it, she had shaken her head a dozen times and said he was overreacting. She said she was fine and even made love to him that night without him asking for it.
Now, nothing remained.
His face were already wet when he realized he was sobbing. He brushed his hand against her cheek and kissed her one last time. She stirred, but didn't move away.
He walked to the door, keeping his footfalls soft to not provoke the creaking floorboards as much, and paused, looking back at her. Shoulder-length straw blond hair, a wrinkled white shirt with a beach scene which she had bought five years ago, and her feet, soft on one side and rough on the other, half out of her bunny slippers. She was beautiful, she always was. He pressed his lips together to prevent a sob from escaping him and left to go to her parents' house for a final goodbye.
Weeks later, while reading the newspaper in an apartment he had rented and moved into, he learned of the news. She had died. For years, she had hidden her illness from him and even her family. Her increasingly rare trips outside the house and her depression all made sense now. She had broken up with him to spare him the sight of her dying before his eyes.
"Time," he repeated to himself as the tears spilled down his cheeks and the clouds gathered in the morning sky. "It's always time."