A Loss for Words

by Kammy Liu


A Loss for Words

            The leaves clump together in the bottom of my cup, reminding me of that dead thing I keep passing outside on the sidewalk, black with rot and kind of lumpy, but no one has gotten rid of it yet, I think because no one’s sure whose responsibility it is. I pick up the cup with both hands and swirl it, gently so the tea doesn’t jump over the sides. The lump doesn’t move. The cup feels cool in my hands— I didn’t realize how long we’d been here. When was the last time one of us spoke?

            “Samantha.”

            It’s Evan. I look up and his head is low, tilted to the side, trying to make my eyes meet his. I think he asked me a question.

            “Yes,” I say. I hope that’s right.

            “What did I just say, Sam?”

            He looks frustrated.

            “Sam? What did I say? God Sam, what’s wrong with you?”

            Definitely frustrated. I don’t know why. I search his face for an answer, but somewhere I get lost. His brown eyes are hollowed-out caves I want to crawl inside. It seems safe there, safer than here, in this old apartment, new for us, where the walls are too empty and I keep looking for things in the bottom of boxes. I’m always lost here, on the other side of the table from him. I can’t explain that I listen but recently his words confuse me. They make me feel like language is all homophones and I only know the wrong ones, thinking of oceans when he says “see” and being naked when he says “bear.”

            “You were talking about… us?”

            He sighs and does the thing where his elbows are on the table and he lets his head drop into his hands. I have this gesture memorized, I see it sometimes when I’m falling asleep. It’s one of the things I love about him, if that makes any sense. Love has never made sense to me. When I met Evan, I decided it didn’t have to.

            “Yeah, us. I mean, what are we doing here, Sam?”

            Talking? That feels wrong, so I don’t say it out loud.

            “I mean, is this really what you want? Us?”

            I know this one. “Yes.”

            His face says that’s not what he wanted to hear. He opens his mouth and I see the words on his tongue, but I can’t read them from here. He closes it and swallows, and the lump of words moves down his throat, under his skin. He tries again.

            “I don’t think it’s working out.”

            I think of gym memberships. “What?”

            “I just think we’re going in different directions,” he says to the stretch of tabletop between us. The words bump into each other in the air, getting jumbled into meaningless sounds by the time they reach me. I hear “realize” and “love you” and “but” and “better off,” or maybe “eyes” and “view” and “bet”. He glances up at me and when I don’t answer he starts twisting his watch, turning it in circles around his wrist. I got him that watch. When he sees me looking at it, he stops and pulls his hands off the table.

            It hits me like an electrical cord you trip over in the dark. “You’re breaking up with me?”

            I wait for him to tell me I’ve misunderstood.

            He looks at me and swallows.

            In an instant I’ve fallen into the cracks. The earth falls open beneath me and I’m in this room but I’m somewhere else too, somewhere far away. I’m caught in the moment between thoughts and words, between something and nothing, between sound and silence. I want to ask why but I get lost around z and x. I want to tell him I love him but I’ve forgotten the sound that feeling makes. I want him to stay and I want to disappear and I want there to be nothing in the world but us, us forever in this moment where the world doesn’t exist and tomorrow can’t take us away and we stay here, right here, until any of it makes sense to me, and I think there’s a word for this but I can’t think of it, like a minnow trying to find the ocean I can’t see it but I’m lost in it, and it sounds kind of like, but it isn’t, “Please.”

            I realize I’ve said something, but I don’t know what it was.

            He says, “I’m sorry.”

            I don’t understand. I can never understand. We look at each other across the table, me with my cup of tea and him with his watch. The rest of the world has fallen away. There’s nothing now but us, our things, and our silence.

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