The Soft Guarantee

By Mike Lee

The movement of the curtains beckons symbolic chance as they slowly fluttered in the breeze blowing in from the east. 

I want to cry again. Tony is so damn ambivalent. If we were months, he is August, and I am September. August is hot and passionate, but ultimately, his heat is oppressive. I’m warm, but in the end, I turn to ice.

I stare at the curtains, trying to find hidden meaning in the languid movements of the folds. Then, finally, I read what I want, fess up, become honest with myself about Tony, and speak words from my mouth. 

But these words and sentences never come easy. I find it hard to be straight, particularly with Tony. He reads too much into every gesture and what I say, seemingly searching for subtext and subtleties in what I say and how I present it.

He is a chronic overthinker, and I feel trapped when I want to be free. So I fall back on evasions, both verbal and physical. The latest was when I got a callback about a new job. An opportunity coming from nowhere, and not from here, our hometown, and I had to decide.

He’s not coming with me. I just can’t even.

When we first got together, I told him there’s no guarantee in forever. It’s an abstract concept. Promises are soft, you see, pliable, and subject to change. He seemed unconvinced when I told him that–usually once a week, sometimes more.

I start crying. There is no painless way to extricate from this mess without me being an asshole. I have a saying that there is no such thing as an unsolvable problem. This situation, however, is not the case. So I am about to hurt Tony.

Several hours later, Tony comes in for breakfast before his shift at the coffee house.

I tell him about the job.

Starts in a month, and I have to move to a new city. Though where I would be going isn’t as tragically hip and fabulous as here, the work offers an opportunity to advance my career rather than staying here failing to launch.

He sits on the couch, his mouth open, shaking his head.

“You have derailed my positivity.”

He isn’t happy, and rightly so.

Blame oversharing, brought on by anxiety, lack of sleep, and a need to get this over with.

Also, the freedom to move upward and forward is more important than constantly responding to someone else’s fears of abandonment.

So here I am abandoning.

“How did I derail your positivity, Tony?”

Tony picks up on that right away, as is his wont.

His fingers curl, grasping at air. Its significance is clear. Searching for the words to stuff in his mouth, flittering like flies, beyond his reach.

Finally, he speaks.

“How could you do this to me? We worked so hard on this relationship. Th-th-th-this is so strikingly impulsive.”

He pauses, wanting to say more, wrap me with words attempting to tie me up and reel me back.

I have no immediate answer. Usually, Tony’s different. His understated pose is borne from a calculation of understated minimalism. He seems thoughtless, though I know better. Tony thinks way too much for his own good, but what did it matter now? It is way too late to make a change.

“I love you unconditionally.”

He says that a lot. This annoys me.

“I call bullshit.”


I press my point. “The concept of “unconditional love” in how you are using this on me is total bullshit, Tony. This codependent enabler gives agency and license for abuse and other bad behavior. So what are you going to say next? That you love me because I am nonjudgmental? Oh wait, you did already. Stop.”

As Tony sits motionless, I continue. “In the real world, we establish boundaries, set expectations, and work together to achieve results. “

This personal catharsis in trying to pull pieces out of Tony’s chaos is only by telling him the truth.

But we live amid a chaotic environment, a time where it is so easy to be lost in a world of constant changes, so much coming so quickly that emotionally we have to snap and try to rewire our brains to the point frustration kicks in, and we just want to stop, stop, stop.

Stop thinking, mulling, brooding, and instead go out and take action. When everything changes, you must move quickly. Evolving is too slow.

I add, “This isn’t going to work out.”

With resignation, he says, “I’m sorry.”

Then, “I’m sorry, too.”

Well, no. Not really. I am leaving Tony as I found him. Always searching for why but never crossing the boundary that marks the line between ego and logic.

I walk into the kitchen. Absently, I set up the French press. Three scoops. 

I fill the kettle with water from the fountain behind me. Set it to boil.

I turn to him and ask if he would like a cup.

I already envision him gone from the couch. The front door is open. He’s getting in his car. 

Instead, Tony sits with his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands.

The kettle begins to whistle.

I pour the water into the French press and pull two cups from the cupboard.

                                                    *   *   *

Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City and the chief blogger for Focus on the Story. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Bright Flash Literary Review, The Quarantine Review, Pigeon Review, and many others. In addition, his story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon and other online bookselling outlets. He was also recently nominated for Best Microfiction by Ghost Parachute.

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