by Nadia Henderson
I told you over breakfast. I listened to the sound of you stirring a teaspoon of sugar into warm milk, the clang of metal against china. I knew that once I’d said it, it would be as real as that sound, and that, as it fell under the scrutiny of your judgement, it might start to erode, dissolve.
You brought the coffee pot through, set it down on the table. Mugs on coasters, butter sliced thick. I wanted to let you savour the morning a little longer, so I let what I had to tell you tingle on the tip of my tongue. I let it, just for a moment longer, remain a decision I had made for myself without consulting anyone. And then I said it.
Later on, we went to an exhibition on the representation of ancient civilisations in video games. We’d booked the tickets weeks ago – before. We walked hand-in-hand down marble hallways that sung the sound of our shoes back to us in small, sharp clicks. We stopped at each instalment for the right amount of time, scanning the little plaques for meaning. A man a few steps ahead of us in his lap of the space seemed to want everyone around him to know just how poorly researched he thought the project was; he’d be prime material for our post-exhibit debrief. I squeezed your hand and tried to catch your eye, but your face was turned away, your hand motionless in mine.
We ordered banana bread and tea in the museum cafe, and sat by the window. ‘We won’t be able to afford this soon,’ you said.
I picked at the dried piece of cake on my plate. ‘I make a mean banana bread, don’t I?’
You fiddled with the fancy pot, poured the tea into our mugs before it had finished brewing. Pieces of chamomile floated to the surface, twirling in the steam.
“I’d thought about every way I could spend a Monday morning that didn’t involve squeezing myself onto a crowded train and having a forty-minute-long existential crisis before breakfast.”
‘Did you hear that guy in the exhibit? What a prick,’ I said.
You pushed the cake around your plate. ‘What are you going to do?’
Clive had asked me the same thing when I’d told him. He’d adjusted his tie and contorted his face with that practiced concern middle managers are so well versed in. I’d said I didn’t know, qualifying my uncertainty with a wave of reassurances: I just need space to figure it out, and I have an idea, I just need time. Space and time, in retrospect, seemed so fundamental as to be things you didn’t ask for – or unexpectedly quit your job to get – but I felt starved of them, and it had come time to feed.
‘Something else,’ I said in the end.
‘”Something else” won’t pay our rent. I just don’t understand how you could be so…’
‘How you could take such a big risk without thinking,’ you said, finally meeting my gaze.
But I had. I’d thought about every way I could spend a Monday morning that didn’t involve squeezing myself onto a crowded train and having a forty-minute-long existential crisis before breakfast. I’d thought about the little girl I’d once been, who’d scribbled her dreams down in journals and bunked off chemistry to write poems in the playground. I’d thought about the young woman who’d finally plucked up the courage to read her work in front of a crowd, and had found such peace in the validation of their applause. I owed it to that girl, to that woman. I owed it to myself.
Your face softened, and I dared to hope that all the things it seemed you might be feeling – fear, resentment, perhaps even jealousy – had started to melt away and leave room for something new to grow in their place. ‘I just want things to work out okay.’
In that moment, right there in the museum cafe with the too-hot tea and the crumbling cakes and our hands nearly touching, I’d never been more sure that they would be. ‘You’ll just have to trust me.’