William returned home late in the evening when Joan had already settled down at the kitchen table with her work (she was grading papers, maybe, or editing somebody's thesis), and was found himself relieved and still uncomfortable at how their evening routine of mumbling a hello, putting up scarves and coats on the rack, throwing his briefcase on the couch--how all those small things had become machinated because of their mundane familiarity. It annoyed him. Maybe he needed a change.
But not too much of a change. Today had been full of change; today had been the second time that Eric had broken up with him. William actually found Eric at at the bar with another guy (was his name Jack? did it matter?) this time, and Eric had most kindly taken his tongue out of whats-his-name's mouth to say something vague to William. "I can't do this any more; I'm sorry Will." Or maybe it was: "F* off, William; you never have time for me and [insert new guy's name] actually cares." It was something stupid. Eric always said stupid things. No he didn't. He and Eric had been good together. But what about the time . . . oh, don't think about it. That hurt too much.
He had felt his emotions building up pressure inside him. What to do now? He nodded slowly and walked stiffly out of the room, out of the bar, back to his little beater in the parking lot. Driving up the hill to the flat, he felt the evening hit--he'd worked hard all day into several hours of overtime he hadn't wanted to do--on a Saturday, no less: no reward. He'd done all he knew how for Eric: no reward. There had to be some place he was safe from that complete assault. He didn't even feel like getting drunk. He thought about going down to the docks and just sitting in his car, watching the water, but he realized he didn't really want to be there alone. So he went back to the flat.
The flat smelled of food; Joan had made dinner. There were sausages fried with apples in a pan on the stove, and some mashed potatoes. It was odd how all this made him feel mortally exhausted. He wanted to change clothes, get out of his starchy office clothes, maybe walk around the house in pajamas.
"You gonna eat this?"
"Eric and I broke up today." He said awkwardly. It surprised him how steady his voice was.
Joan could see two red splotches on his face, could see him wavering between emotions she couldn't identify. "Oh, William, I'm so sorry." She stood up, ready to . . . do something. Was it appropriate to hug him or should she just offer to make tea? The microwave made a little ringing noise, so he got his plate and sat down at the table; she returned to her chair and tried to move some of her things to make room for him.
"Can I do anyth--"
"Do you want to . . . umm . . ."
"No, but thanks."
"Well, let me know if you think of something."
"Okay." He started to eat, and she tried to look at her stack of papers. When he was half-through with his plate, she rummaged around under the sink and brought out a bottle. The dishwasher was open; she pulled two tumblers out with one hand and set them on the table and poured them a finger each of something peaty.
"Just one?" He asked, looking up with what he thought might pass for a smile.
"Just one." She said quietly, not looking at his face. How weird. She wanted to back away.
He mumbled about having to go get something, retreated to his room, and ended up coming out twenty minutes later after a shower. Joan thought he looked a little better. She'd finished her tumbler and put it by the sink when he picked his up and sat down on the couch with a pillow and the ratty cover from his bed.
"Yeah?" She looked up from her work, a little worried.
"Sure. Are you sleeping there tonight?"
"Okay. Things will look better in the morning, Will."
She felt out of place, disconcerted by a grief she couldn't really take part in. What a strange day; she'd wanted badly to have his companionship earlier. Why did grief have to be such a private thing? Giving up on her studies, she flipped the lights on in her room and turned off the kitchen lights. She dragged out another blanket for William and spread it over him. She lit a candle, blew it out; turned on the heater, then remembered she'd brought out a blanket and turned it off again; thought about doing the dishes but decided she wouldn't risk waking William, and finally decided to go on to sleep in her own room. It was cold, and she slept fitfully until her alarm beeped at 5 a.m., and she got up to the sound of a thunderstorm.