Split by Jennifer Haigh

A story of a starter marriage

AN INTRODUCTION BY HALIMAH MARCUS

If you were to capture an entire relationship, its history, temperament, and future, in a single afternoon, which afternoon would you choose? With “Split,” Jennifer Haigh argues that even for a relationship with an extraordinary past, such an emblematic afternoon should be ordinary, marked by habits and routine.

On this particular afternoon, Dana drives her ex-husband to the doctor’s office. She reflects on their past together as their conversation lags — Ben was her “starter husband,” whom she married young and impulsively. As Haigh writes with her characteristic unadorned and elegant prose, “Getting married was easy; on a Tuesday morning it took ten minutes.” Later, it comes as a surprise that something so easy should be so permanent: “But starter marriage doesn’t convey what we once meant to each other, the sweetness of our first home, the airless misery it came to contain, the ruthlessness required to dismantle it, the grievous wounds inflicted all around.”

Haigh shows with tenderness and restraint the loyalty that Dana feels toward Ben; it’s expressed in the most mundane of ways — an errand.

Yet even after the marriage has been dismantled, the bond persists. Over the course of one afternoon, Haigh shows with tenderness and restraint the loyalty that Dana feels toward Ben; it’s expressed in the most mundane of ways — an errand. For reasons the story will reveal, Ben is incapable of showing her proper gratitude, but there is an intimacy between them that can only come from the afterglow of romance, a mixture of genuine caring and irrevocable obligation. In “Split,” love doesn’t mean “never having to say you’re sorry,” as the saying goes. Ben has apologized for his failings, even if he can’t correct them. Instead, for better or for worse, love means not having to say “thank you.” The debt of gratitude is implied.

Halimah Marcus
Editor-in-Chief, Recommended Reading

 

Split by Jennifer Haigh

It’s the last Tuesday of the month, and I’m driving to suburban Connecticut, a hundred miles each way, to take Ben Franklin to the doctor. There’s a backup at the tollbooth, a long line of mostly elderly drivers counting out coins. The E-Z Pass lane is clear, but that’s no help: before leaving Boston, I pried the transponder from the windshield. I never look at our monthly statement, but my husband might.

A healthy marriage can absorb the occasional deception. The problem lies in defining occasional. How much dishonesty is too much? I’ve given this question some thought, having left one husband in the ditch. That husband was Ben. Our brief, young marriage ended with a crash, so long ago that no one in my current life remembers it. The postmortem is best left to the professionals, the insurance-company wizards who measure skid marks and bent guardrails — coincidentally, the profession of my current husband, Kevin Gwynne.

There’s something about crossing state lines that makes it hard to be casual. You can’t pretend you were in the neighborhood and stopped by on a whim. Except for Ben’s appointments I can imagine no reason to visit this so-called town of strip malls and big box stores and neat subdivisions with easy access to the Interstate. A billboard near the exit advertises luxury “townhomes,” a word that looks misspelled, a word nobody actually says: If you lived here, you’d be home now.

Ben lives in an apartment complex just off the highway. He’s waiting at the front door under a blue awning, lighting one cigarette with another, wearing faded jeans and a scarred leather jacket and looking better, more like himself. Last month he was nearly unrecognizable: wispy hair grown nearly to his shoulders, a bushy beard more gray than brown, and a baggy trench coat to hide khakis that wouldn’t button, the new meds having packed on thirty pounds. The doctor took one look at him and wrote a script for Serovive, an antidepressant with a stimulant effect. More pills.

He tosses away his cigarette and gets into the car without speaking. Poverty of speech, the doctors call it. It simply doesn’t occur to him to say hello.

“You look great,” I tell him, lowering the window. Already the car reeks of cigarettes, a smell that follows Ben wherever he goes.

He says, “I lost sixteen pounds.”

“In a month?”

He’s a small man, an inch taller than I am. I can remember being delighted by this. When we first met — in college, a lifetime ago — he seemed made for me, a bespoke lover. In the beginning, and for some time after, we saw perfectly eye to eye.

“Seriously, Ben. Is that healthy?”

Such questions have not, historically, interested him. Shortly after we met, I started smoking in self-defense, the only way I or anybody could stand to be around him. At the time it seemed a reasonable solution. That’s how young we were.

The clinic is two towns over, miles from a bus stop. For Ben, who no longer drives, it might as well be India. How he manages here without a car is something of a mystery. He does his shopping at a CVS drugstore on a busy commercial strip that’s technically within walking distance, though the route, through heavy traffic and retail sprawl, is neither pleasant nor safe. I imagine him shambling along the Berlin Turnpike in his flapping trench coat, head down, attracting curious glances; in the suburbs a man on foot is by definition irregular, possibly dangerous and likely doomed. At CVS he fills prescriptions and buys groceries (canned soup, soda, bags of salty snacks). No fresh produce, obviously, but plenty of people eat this way and manage to stay alive.

Because we are parents after all, despite the outlandish circumstances, he asks, “How’s the kid?”

“About the same.” Twenty now, Gianni spends most of the day sleeping or playing video games in his childhood room, an arrangement that doesn’t thrill me and pleases his stepfather even less. College is a subject we no longer discuss. Gianni lasted two semesters, until a campus cop found him asleep in his parked car in the lot behind the cafeteria — the engine still running, a half-smoked joint in the ashtray. In these ways and others, he is very like his father.

Satisfied with my non-answer, Ben stares silently out the window.

He was my starter husband. I read this phrase once in a magazine and was struck both by its aptness and its breezy insouciance. But starter marriage doesn’t convey what we once meant to each other, the sweetness of our first home, the airless misery it came to contain, the ruthlessness required to dismantle it, the grievous wounds inflicted all around. We were married for two years — longer if you count the divorce, which took forever, the unsigned papers gathering dust atop Ben’s refrigerator. Spitefulness, I thought at the time. Later I understood that his motives were not so easily reduced.

That we married in the first place was my fault entirely. We did it to please my parents, who were crushed to learn that Ben and I were living in sin. They’d been saved some years before, baptized into the Church of the Nazarene, and had become the sort of people who bow their heads to say grace in restaurants. I didn’t share their faith, but I loved their goodness and found it unbearable to cause them anguish of any kind. And getting married was easy; on a Tuesday morning it took ten minutes. Ben made a pen-and-ink drawing of us on the courthouse steps, a bride and groom in traditional wedding clothes, though we’d married in bluejeans. I mailed the drawing to my parents in Indiana with a photocopy of our marriage certificate.

We were living, then, in Tampa, for no reason except that Ben’s grandfather had retired and died there, leaving a small house on the edge of Ybor City, the old Cuban section of town. In a few years the abandoned cigar factories would be converted to loft apartments, the median strip on Seventh Avenue planted with palm trees; but at the time Ybor was still rough. We lived rent-free, Ben having convinced his dad that we were doing the family a favor, that any unoccupied structure in that neighborhood would inevitably be destroyed by crackheads. In the early nineties, this was possibly true.

We lived on an unlit side street of low bungalows with dirt yards and sinking porches, a look of Southern poverty, curtains drawn in daytime to keep out the sun. The corner bodega cashed checks and sold lottery tickets, quarts of malt liquor and a few overpriced groceries. Loose cigarettes, I remember, cost a quarter apiece. The building was cinder block, painted swimming-pool blue. Late in the afternoon, a raucous crowd drank in its shadow. The parking lot was outfitted with old furniture — lawn chairs, a sagging plaid sofa. Across the street was a City garage where trucks idled at all hours and a vacant lot overgrown with weeds.

Just out of college, clueless, rudderless. We applied for jobs we’d never get. I worked on a novel I wouldn’t finish, and waited tables at a seafood joint called the Big Torch Grill. Ben had been a poor student, part dyslexia, part laziness, so he decided to become an artist. He converted the garage into a studio where he painted, not too successfully, with watercolors. He slept late and spent afternoons at a card table surrounded by mugs: one filled with water for painting, the others with coffee, beer and cigarette butts.

Florida summer, endless months of indolence. We lived in a shack and didn’t care; we were absorbed in the daily miracle of each other’s company, the still-thrilling proximity of the other body, the pleasures of playing house. We painted the walls crazy colors: mango, kiwi, grapefruit pink. Ben’s grandfather had built the place himself, inexpertly, with scrap materials from the salvage yard. The floors slanted, the closet doors wouldn’t close. There wasn’t a single right angle in the place. The windowpanes were wavy crown glass; in the bright Florida sunshine they seemed to be undulating. Ben explained that the molecules were unstable and the glass was actually moving, too slowly for the human eye to process. I still have no idea if this is true.

Some nights he worked at a silk-screening shop, on the barter system: T-shirt Tom — I never knew his last name — paid in weed. Since marijuana was a currency not recognized by our creditors, my tips from the Big Torch bought our groceries and paid our bills. When we ran short, as inevitably happened, Ben called Connecticut. That was how he phrased it, Time to call Connecticut, as though the governor himself were waiting by the phone. The only child of prosperous parents, Ben prepared for these calls like an attorney about to address the Supreme Court. He presented first to his father, who owned a construction company in Hartford. (I need a narrative, Ben explained. Angelo is a businessman.) If the request was deemed worthy, Ben was then transferred to his mother, who functioned like the bursar’s office at a large university, pushing payments through an arcane system no one else understood.

These transactions made me uncomfortable, but to Ben they were normal. His relatives lent and borrowed. Angelo and Marie, raised working class, were frank about money; their materialism was unconscious and unashamed. A neighbor who was a famous tightwad, another who overspent; the terrible tax burden of living in Connecticut, the purchase price of a cousin’s house or car: this was dinner table conversation. Their candor seemed healthy. I was twenty-three, just beginning to understand the ways in which my own family was strange. My parents tithed to the Nazarenes but never spoke of it. To them, caring about money led to greed and venality. Discussing it was as unthinkable as talking about sex.

Those years in Tampa — there were three — occupy a disproportionate place in my memory. Barely employed, Ben and I did so little that a week seemed endless, the empty days infinitely capacious, an unending loop of telescoping time. The weather never changed, the months ran together. It was all the same long, hot day. Ben talked, and he may not have been joking, about baking cookies on our tin roof. We could sell them to the lunch crowd, the road crews who bought Cuban sandwiches at the bodega, a daily parade of sunburned men in fluorescent orange vests.

He was full of ideas of then — wacky business capers, we called them. A graphic design firm, a tiki bar, his own T-shirt shop. He dug a barbecue pit in the back yard and practiced making sandwiches, an experiment that ended when Angelo refused to buy him a food truck. We smoked his paycheck together until I lost my taste for it. I was beginning to feel I’d missed an exit, that I was barreling down a highway that led no place I wanted to go.

One night I came home from the Big Torch to find Ben crouched beneath the bedroom window, peering through the curtains at a car parked on the street — a Chevy Caprice Classic, a detail he found significant. Federal agencies were contractually bound to buy American, he explained in a tone that suggested everyone knew this. He’d been watching it all day.

This happened our final year in Tampa, in spring or summer or possibly autumn. Who knows; it was hot.

We painted the walls whenever we felt like it. Our bedroom ceiling was cobalt blue. Because accuracy mattered, Ben consulted his old astronomy textbook to plot out the constellations. He painted them a deep forest green, invisible in most light.

He smoked for comfort, for entertainment. He smoked to relieve stress, the blowback from his parents: Angelo and Marie, having contributed substantially to our upkeep, were like angry investors demanding a say in how the company was run. Once a week, Ben got a stern letter from his father. His mother phoned Monday nights at ten o’clock, when the rates went down, to grill him about his goals and prospects. If he were a different sort of person, he might have accepted this haranguing as the cost of doing business, a service fee imposed by the Bank of Angelo. But more than anything in life, Ben hated being told what to do.

On the phone with Marie he sometimes lost his temper. It was shocking, I remember, to hear him shout. When we disagreed, which was rare, Ben never raised his voice. He enjoyed debate, as long as it wasn’t personal, and was formidable in an argument, the one sport he still practiced. Calm and logical, tenacious, stubborn. He listened all day to news radio and was fearsomely well-informed.

Other things. He’d been an All-College athlete, recently enough that he still had a swimmer’s body; his vices — the nightly sixer, the packs of Camels — hadn’t caught up with him yet. Fridays he came home from the T-shirt shop with a bag of weed, which he rationed judiciously to last the week. Ben believed in ritual; he had a great sense of occasion. There were ordinary pleasures to be celebrated (Sunday mornings, when I read the newspaper to him), and ordeals that required moral fortification (his mother’s phone calls).

There were August afternoons waiting for the rain.

This is my most vivid memory of Tampa: sitting with Ben on our screened porch, waiting. The wind came first, hot and sudden. I can still remember the sensation, like being inside a convection oven that smelled faintly of diesel, the City trucks idling. The first raindrop on the tin roof was loud as gunshot.

We sat on the porch and listened to the rain to the rain.

There’s a new receptionist at the clinic. She studies Ben without recognition until I give his last name, which also happens to be mine. I didn’t change it when we divorced; my maiden name — like the phrase maiden name — already seemed a relic from another century, as indeed it now is. Later, when I remarried, I declined to take Kevin’s name, no longer reckless enough to declare myself a whole new person simply because I’d fallen in love. This bothered him at first. It may bother him still. We’ve been married long enough that there are conversations we’ve stopped having.

I flip through a magazine while Ben sees the doctor. Like everything in the suburbs, the waiting room seems larger than necessary. I’ve witnessed outbursts in this room, a five-year-old child who wouldn’t stop shrieking, a man with Tourette’s who shouted obscenities every sixty seconds. Motherfucking cunt! Motherfucking cunt! Today’s group is quiet, a handful of strangers sitting at discreet intervals. The wide-screen television is tuned to a soap opera, its volume muted. My phone, set to vibrate, causes a tremor in my coat pocket, a queasiness in the vicinity of my spleen. I step out into the hallway to answer.

“Dana, where are you?” Highway noise in the background: Kevin is calling from a crash site. “I tried the house, but you didn’t pick up.”

“I had some errands.”

“Did he make it to the RMV?”

As in all our conversations, he refers to Gianni. Today, the last of the month, his car registration will expire. I’ve been nagging him about it for weeks. It would have been easier to renew it myself, but Kevin won’t hear of it. We bought him the car, for Christ’s sake. This is the least he can do.

“The wait time is forty minutes. I checked online,” says Kevin. “If he leaves now, he can still make it. If he can drag his ass out of bed.”

“I’ll call him right now.”

“Love you,” says Kevin.

“I love you too.”

I hang up and dial Gianni’s cell phone.

“What?” Gianni is groggy, predictably surly. He detests wakeup calls and makes his displeasure known — so obnoxiously, on a few occasions, that Kevin now refuses to phone him before sundown. “You couldn’t just knock?”

His voice sounds distinctly horizontal. If I hadn’t called he’d have slept through his shift, which is how he got fired from Subway.

“I’m not home. Please tell me you’re awake.” Is he stoned? I can’t tell. I haven’t smoked pot in twenty years, not since I was married to Ben.

“Jesus, Mom. It’s only one o’clock. I have oceans of time.” His outrage is palpable. His shift at AutoZone starts at three.

“Not if you want to go to the RMV.”

“Nobody wants go to the RMV. Can’t Kevin do it?”

“It’s your car. And anyway, Kevin’s working.”

“So am I,” says Gianni.

“Right now you’re lying in bed.”

There is a silence.

“If you leave now, you can still make it,” I tell him, but he’s already hung up the phone.

Back in the waiting room, someone has changed the channel to a golf match. An elderly couple is watching, a big pink-faced man with a watermelon belly and his tiny birdlike wife. Kevin has a name for this kind of couple, reverse Sprats. He and I are such a couple. His bigness comforts me, one of many ways he is nothing like Ben.

It isn’t easy being a stepfather, but Kevin does his best. When we first married, he wanted to adopt Gianni, an odd and difficult boy who was about to become an odder and more difficult teenager. Ben was the obstacle, the parental rights I couldn’t ask him to surrender. Ben who’d already lost so much.

He hasn’t seen our son in six years. Before that, Marie and I tried. Once or twice a year — Father’s Day, Ben’s birthday — we put them in the same room and hoped for a miracle that never came. I can barely remember them speaking. Mainly they watched television. At fourteen Gianni informed me that there would be no more visits. Jesus Christ, he barely knows I’m there. What’s the fucking point?

The Sprats sit shoulder to shoulder, staring at the television. Which one is the caretaker, and which is the patient, is impossible to say.

A nurse approaches me. “Mrs. Franklin? We’ve been looking for you. The doctor would like to speak with you.”

Franklin. It was Ben’s father who anglicized it — Angelo the businessman, born Franconi, who gave his son this comically American name.

She leads me into an exam room where an Asian woman, younger than I am, sits at a computer. Her hand is small and startlingly cold. “Mrs. Franklin, I wanted to touch base with you about Ben’s new drug regimen. How’s it going?”

The question is unnerving: she’s asking me?

“Well, he’s lost some weight, so that’s good. Otherwise he seems about the same.”

“The weight loss is encouraging. I’ll keep him on the Serovive for now.” She squints at her screen, mouses and clicks. “It’s the Risperidone I’m concerned about. Ben’s been at this dosage for a year. Have you noticed any unusual facial movements — grimacing, lip smacking, excessive blinking?”

I know what she’s getting at: Tardive dyskinesia, the weird facial tics that come with long-term use of anti-psychotics. It’s somewhere on the list of things I avoid thinking about.

From down the hallway comes an electronic beeping, faint and regular.

“I’m not sure. Blinking, maybe. I don’t seem him that often. We’re divorced.”

“He lives alone?”

“For the past couple years. Since his parents died.” Angelo went first, keeled over from a heart attack in the breakfast nook while doing the Jumble and watching Judge Judy. A month later, Marie passed peacefully in her sleep; the house was sold and Ben moved or was moved into the apartment complex near the highway.

“That’s not ideal.” She has a flair for pointing out the obvious. “Is there someone else who sees him on a daily basis? Another family member?”

“Right now I’m all he’s got.” The beeping in the hallway is getting louder. “Can’t you, I don’t know, adjust his dosage?”

“It’s not that simple. At this level the Risperidone is controlling Ben’s positive symptoms. He’s one of the lucky ones,” she says without irony.

“But it’s temporary, right? The facial tic. If you take him off the Risperidone, it goes away?”

“Sometimes.” She gets to her feet. “I asked one of my colleagues to do an AIMS exam. Abnormal Involuntary Movement Scale. He’s with Ben right now. It shouldn’t take long.”

In reconstructing an accident, the driver’s testimony is often useless. Adrenalin dilates the senses. Sounds are deafening, odors overwhelming: tires squealing, windshield shattering, the petroleum reek of burning plastic. Time slows to crawl, then races forward. A skid lasts a split second or possibly an hour. The driver is unlikely to know.

In that last hot summer Ben was himself, only more so. He spent all night in his studio and came to bed at dawn. He had a new project he wasn’t ready to talk about, something really big.

Without knowing anything about it, I loathed this project. I hated it like a romantic rival — a reaction that says everything about my young self. I’d given up on my novel and was now just a waitress, exhausted and hopeless and sick of being poor. Some nights after work, my coworkers at the Big Torch shot pool at a bar down the block. I wanted to join them, but bars cost money and my coworkers were assholes, according to Ben, who had no need for other people and, it seemed, decreasing need for me. More and more, he wanted my presence rather than my company. He couldn’t work unless I was in the house.

Getting pregnant was an accident, something I didn’t want yet allowed to happen. My reason, if I had one, is a secret I’ve kept successfully from myself. My cycles were irregular, and I believed, vaguely, that this offered me some protection. Ben and I took precautions most of the time, which is slightly better than taking none at all. I didn’t notice when I was late, because I was always late. No morning sickness, no nothing. By the time I took the test I was three months along.

The reason may be as simple as boredom, an urge to make something happen in my life.

Ben’s reaction to the pregnancy confounded me. He was neither upset, as I’d feared, nor overjoyed, as I’d hoped. In some way that made no sense, he took it as a sign.

I’ve been wanting to tell you this, and now I can. In a low voice, as though someone might overhear, he explained that he hadn’t been painting. His secret project was a novel. He’d been writing for two months and now, finally, it was finished. He would transcribe it as soon as Angelo bought him a computer. A plan for the future, a way to support our family. I would never have to wait tables again.

For the first time in my pregnancy, I felt a wave of nausea. Ben had written a novel in two months. I’d worked on mine for two years and had nothing to show for it.

That night, while he was at the T-shirt shop, I went into his studio, something I’d agreed never to do. The squalor of the place was shocking. The floor was littered with crushed beer cans, waist-high piles of newspaper and, inexplicably, an open can of latex house paint. In a corner sat a plastic water jug of what might have been urine. The windows were closed, the stifling air sharp with fumes.

Ben’s desk — a sheet of plywood on sawhorses — was piled with paper. I sat in his chair with a pounding heart.

What to say about those pages? Between the handwriting and misspellings it was hard to decipher a single sentence. Many were written as equations. All these years later, there is only one I recall exactly: Dymanisn = Expolding the Dialectic. The paragraphs were interspersed with elaborate graphs illustrating principles I couldn’t discern. Pages and pages filled with Ben’s scratchy handwriting, slanting across the page. He’d never been able to write in a straight line.

Reading left me weak with anger. This was his plan for the future? In his stoned meanderings I saw ego and self-indulgence and smug young-man pretension, a spoiled only child, reminded since birth of his own specialness: of course he could write a novel in two months. He was immune to the anxieties that crippled me, Ben who’d declared himself an artist simply because he felt like one.

A month later I was living in Elkhart, Indiana with my good parents. Stay as long as you need to, they told me, dismayed at my situation but Christian to the bone.

I named the baby for Ben’s grandfather, who’d built our summer shack with his own hands. I thought Ben would like that. I didn’t understand, yet, that the Ben I’d known was gone or going, and he could no longer be pleased.

It wasn’t your fault, Kevin said when I explained why I’d left my marriage. He is a Midwesterner like me, moralistic by nature, and a guilt professional, trained in the business of allocating blame. It’s true that I had good reasons to leave. Ben was selfish and monumentally stubborn, a chronic pot smoker, a lazy slacker. I was thinking about my future, and our child’s. This is the story I told Kevin. The truth is less flattering: I hated Ben’s confidence, his belief in himself.

I wanted to be a writer. Instead I have raised a son, taught school, taught other people to teach school. On Sunday mornings I volunteer at a women’s prison, teaching inmates to read. It’s a good life, a useful life. My marriage is happy. My parents are proud.

Some years ago, after I’d remarried and Kevin’s job had moved us to Boston, my mother forwarded a letter written in green ink, on pages torn out of a spiral notebook. It was perhaps twenty pages long, a rambling meditation on weather and politics and religion and drug policy, signed with a flourish: Benjamin Franklin. Beneath the signature was a postscript: Dana, I am sorry. I have a spilt persolanity. It isn’t my flaut.

Full-blown schizophrenia is preceded, usually, by a prodromal phase. The symptoms — dysphoria, irritability, social withdrawal — appear up to thirty months before diagnosis. Thirty months is two and a half years, the approximate length of our marriage.

It’s hard to know, still, what was a symptom and what was simply Ben.

That night in the garage, I didn’t see illness. I chose not to. If I’d known Ben was schizophrenic, I couldn’t have left him. I wasn’t raised that way. The needs of others: I am the daughter of Nazarenes, and Nazarenes help.

Truth is terrible. The truth is that I’m glad I didn’t know.

The days are getting longer, but not noticeably. When we leave the clinic, the sky is not quite dark. Fog has gathered, moisture on the windshield. Ben gets into the car and finally, because I’m as stubborn as he is, buckles his seat belt. His AIMS exam showed some involuntary muscle activity, slightly more than last year’s; but the difference was statistically insignificant. We’ll keep watching him, the doctor said.

“Where to, Chief?”

Ben doesn’t answer. Sometimes, if he’s feeling well, we stop at the supermarket, to buy fruits and vegetables that will molder in his refrigerator until I throw them in the trash. Last month we went to the mall for a haircut. But today he just wants to go home.

We drive in silence, though dense fog.

“I talked to Gianni.” He asked about you, I want to add. He misses you. Next time I’ll bring him with me. Of course, none of that is true. “He’s working at AutoZone.”

Of the organic brain disorders, schizophrenia is the slipperiest. Its heritability is uncertain. Simply by having one schizophrenic parent, Gianni’s risk jumps to thirteen percent. Our urban zip code doubles that number. Then there’s his spring birthday (another five to eight percent) and his pot-smoking (estimates vary). The effect of maternal stress during fetal development is harder to quantify.

“Good kid,” Ben says.

I have read everything, I have talked to doctors. Forty percent of male schizophrenics develop symptoms by age 19. The rest are diagnosed in their twenties. Gianni stands at the beginning of that decade like a diver bouncing on a high board.

Driving, I disappear into my own thoughts — salmon for dinner, the kale salad Kevin likes. Here’s another truth: I could tell him everything if I wanted to. A part of me prefers to keep lying. To keep Ben, the memory of us, all to myself.

The fog is so dense I nearly miss the exit. Then I spot the billboard: If you lived here, you’d be home now.

Ben is dying to light up; he tucks a cigarette behind his ear to minimize the delay. When he gets out of the car there will be no goodbye, no thank you. Don’t expect any. Wait with the engine idling. Make sure he hasn’t locked himself out of the building, which happens from time to time.

Wait for the light in the third floor apartment, Ben at the window smoking a cigarette. Wait for the glowing ash raised in a wave.

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