I don’t know why I kept walking. The bus headed south on Milwaukee Avenue, taking me to an el train into the city, to a METRA rail out to the end of the concrete jungle, to desolation, the end of the line. If I could answer that question, well, then I could answer a lot of questions.

Maybe it was the snow. It started out as a fluttering, pulling my black knit hat down tight on my head, cinching my coat around me, boots laced up tight. But soon the ground was blanketed. Standing in front of my apartment, Julia gone for three weeks now, I rubbed the stubble on my chin, and looked up into the graying sky, opening my mouth for communion, accepting the numbing donation. Leather gloves pulled on tight, briefcase in hand, I moved forward, while drifting backwards to her pale skin under layers of blankets, to her hot breath at my neck. If I had something in my hand I would have inhaled it.

Maybe it was the song that I couldn’t get out of my head. Brick buildings huddled close together, the city around me waking up with the gush and squeal of bus brakes, hot air as doors slid apart. And in my head, I was lost in a forest—all alone. Running towards nothing. Again and again and again and again. A blur of bodies, huddled together, a flash of red, yelling stop.

Maybe it was the phone call. I stumbled down the steps into the el stop station, going underground, shoulders and skirts hidden in the shadows, hibernating. It was her last night, I don’t doubt it. When the walls of my barren burrow couldn’t hold me any longer, I ventured out into the night. The siren song of giggling girls, the clacking of pool balls, the clinking of glasses, the hot spark of a match being lit, they wormed into my ears and I followed. She was not there, not anymore. But her ghost was. The order at the bar trimmed down to just one, her weakness for gin on my lips, and halted. No, I was alone. I wanted to hate her, for sharing our bed, for turning to stone, for draining me of all that she has poured into me, without batting her raccoon eyes. Her musky sweet perfume, red currant and bourbon, sweat and salt, smoke and cinder, still rested in her pillow, the sheets, the drawers. It was only a few shaky breaths, a tiny gasp, but it was her. She felt something. Still. And that set me free.

When the train ended, I walked. When the sidewalk ended, I stumbled. When the grass turned to dirt my boot prints kept stamping time, my hands relaxing, losing my grip, gloves fluttering to the sky, leather briefcase falling to the ground, cracking open on the icy tundra, spilling out pictures of her meant for the pyre. I could see the lake ahead, so I started to undress. I left the knit hat by a bodega, plantains for sale. My sunglasses fell under foot, the café door opening, fresh bread, my stomach gurgling, coffee dripping, my eyes watering.

If there was anything left, it would have poured out, leaked out, but there was nothing. Between everything and nothing, I chose nothing. The layers peeled off, laces ripped, until my alabaster skin turned to marble, and I slipped between the cracks of the fractured ice, going under, leaving the structures behind, the bricks and iron melting into a flash of sunlight, and I made my daybreak whole.

Richard Thomas