When you Look at me like that I wish I was a Better Man...

         Cold hands, in the night, running down my back, that is what we call love now. It used to be hot and wild, screaming passion. That is what we called love back then. Then it mutated into the flowers when I remembered, the passion

lacking polish on high days and holidays. We called that love too. I feel the definition of love changing again though, as I leaf through the photograph album we’ve kept for all these long years.

         There is a photo of us. Underneath in your spider run handwriting are the immortal words “The Love of my Life”. Time has faded the photo and along with it our love. We were both 20 something with the world and life ahead of us. We’re smiling. I had that unfashionable beard you loved so much. The coarse hairs on my face rubbing you whilst we kissed. I was wearing some equally unfashionable suit made from cheap material. That had made you laugh, it was meant to impress. Your face is reflecting the warm July sun and I can see the woman I would marry. I don’t see her anymore but here within this photograph you remain the immortal goddess who I wondered so long about. ‘Why me? This mediocre man? Why did you choose me?’ I know you wondered the same thing years later. Though once I look closer at this picture, this snapshot of happiness, I see the doubt in your eyes. How long had it been there? We’d been together six months and within your deep blue eyes I see the same look I’d see years later, only weaker then. Your eyes always held a power over me, from when we first met. You could bring me up to dizzying heights with those eyes or destroy me with one brief fleeting look. I used to pray I could be a better man when you looked at me like that. I remember lying, crying in the first bed we shared after we first fucked. I use that word now because that’s exactly what it was. We had such energy running through our bodies but had yet to foster the bond that would turn it into making love. We fucked for hours, every day. Your hot mouth, your pearly skin and your hands, I felt you all over, not ever thinking I should feel your mind. Though it was that first time. It was in a boarding house in Bognor Regis, looking out on the front. It rained. We’d ripped the clothes from each other, fallen into a deep and eternal embrace. I placed you upon the bed and we fucked. Deep and hard, then soft and sweetly, until we united in a symphony of personal satisfaction, panting and breathing heavily. I turned, expecting to see some form of love or even lust. What I found was a look of longing, longing for something unknown to me. Something out of reach or out of my power to give you. That spark of sadness lit the fire of doubt within me, causing the raging burning bonfire of inferiority to engulf me. You went to shower, to clean the sin or sadness that was clinging to you after our seedy session. I felt the hot tears begin, a trickle at first then a torrent, running down my cheeks, through my oh so unfashionable beard. I lay there, hearing you singing in the shower, amidst our soiled sheets, our scattered clothes, my broken dreams. I slept, and I forgot.

         I turn the page, peeling back the thin paper to reveal our wedding photo. I’d shaved the unfashionable beard off. You said you wouldn’t marry a man who looked as scruffy as I did. You’d loved that beard. Then it was the 80s and it wasn’t in vogue, never had been you had said. That had been during one of the arguments before the wedding. The third one? The fourth? I forget now, there were so many. Nothing in particular would start the argument, just a word, a look, a tone of voice. You’d fly at me, in a hateful rage and destroy me further with each vitriolic word. I ignored it, nerves they all said. The photo, unlike most of us, features other people. Your charming mother, she hated me. Your father, he distrusted me with his beloved daughter. Your brother, a good man taken too early. My family dotted round me, they were happy for me, they couldn’t see the oncoming storm. You looked like the goddess again, Slightly older but maintaining that youthful beauty. Our love was different now as well. It had lost the edge of young love. It had lost the primordial passion and we were left with the husk of love, the married life love. It's there, it must be, we’re married. Your eyes shine through the years though. The same eyes I saw looking back at me as we made love on our honeymoon. In the bed on the boat. That had been my idea of a dream gift, a cruise. You were seasick. Those eyes though, during the embrace of the newly married that came close to recapturing the lust of young love. It was those eyes, just before we joined in the earthy chorus, that I saw that look. In those eyes I saw their faces and I knew. My best man, Alvin at the office, and the occasional one night stand while you were away on business. You’d known them all, intimately. Did they mean more than I? Had they provided the thing you had been longing for from youth? Were they better men than me? I’d been here through the pain, the loss of our child (we aren’t allowed to talk about that, you viewed it as your personal grief, he was OUR son) I’d held your hair while you screamed at me in-between oral explosions of bile, vomit and vodka. I’d thought it was a drunken mind, saying those things but it wasn’t, it was your heart, loosed from the chains of civility. I loved you. We lay next to each other, and I asked. You never denied it. You never apologized for it either. It was so cold, with a satisfaction. You liked me knowing, like a medal. The whore lay next to me, the first signs of age showing in the moonlight. I lay there, no tears, I slept, dreamt. I forgot.

         We carry on down this painful memory lane to the eventual climax of our car crash marriage. There is a photo of us now. We’re standing in sedate clothing, my hair is grey. Yours is falling out. The cancer has begun to destroy you from within. It’s been there, for a good few years the doctor said. Not as long as the cancer in our marriage. You look so cold in this photo. Colder than usual. I’d come accustomed to the longing stare, the one you would use if I suggested we do something romantic, or sometimes when you just turned your face to me and stared into my eyes. I can feel your skin, the cold clammy skin that I’d rub my hands down. You flinched every time I placed my hand upon you. So I stopped. But it didn’t stop there did it? Your mother died and I was the one who took the pain. When your father passed away I was the one who went to hold you but received the blame. I remember your face when we walked from the hospital waiting room. I went to place my hand on yours and you turned your face, slowly, gracefully. Our eyes met and within that stare I saw the final nail being pushed into the coffin of our marriage. I knew then that in your eyes I could never be anything better. Your beloved father had just died; he had been the only man for you. I couldn’t live up to that. But there comes a change for all of us. I went, I drank myself into a stupor. I did this several times. I forgot.

         There is an empty page now. No photo of the final fling, the last waltz or the private polka we would dance. You were dying. Our love was dead. You’d killed it. You’d lie in the bed I had shared with you. The bed you had shared with the glittering gods, the numerous young bucks looking for no string fucks. But I sat there the whole time. Took the calls, your friends and mine, showed them to your living mausoleum of crisp white sheets. I wouldn’t mock you now, with tales of how you soiled them. Though it’s tempting. That would be cruel. I’m not you. So I lifted your head, placed it on the pillows. Administered the pain relief. Bathed your naked flesh. Held you while you silently screamed at me. Your eyes had lost the sharpness, the power. Was that my final punishment? To leave me in the prison of indecision? Not knowing if things had changed, if that look had gone through the love I showed? Then it happened. In that dark place before morning, the moon streaming through the window into your tomb of living death, the white linen reflecting the pale light. There was a new look, a new longing. One I could finally satisfy. I lifted your head one last time and held it in my arms. I kissed your lips and left them parted. I helped you. I held you. I buried you, in black. With the memories of the life we lived, the pain you inflicted, I forgot. However I remembered one thing. I was a better man, just that night. In life I loved you, in life you loathed me. In death I served you.

Matthew Routledge is a 20 year old writer and student based in Cambridge UK. Writing short stories, poetry and even a short film which goes into production in September '10. Matthew is currently attempting to inflict his writing upon the world.

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