Flash Fiction: Two Words by Erica Ruhe

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You used to laugh when I wrapped myself around you and tangled you in the sheets to keep you from work. The morning sunlight loved to ripple over your green eyes and sleepy smile. Ignoring the fourth snooze alarm, I’d bury my face in the soft skin of your stomach and hold you tighter. I had two words, two magic words that always made you giggle; two words that always stole a few more moments with you.

“Don’t go.”

You staged a brave pillow protest but I negotiated your surrender with the pinning weight of the comforter.

I remember the time you had to fly back to California for your great grandmother’s birthday. We were still a young a couple, not quite ready for the family introductions but too heady with the feel of each other’s touch to bear the time apart. I hugged your legs as you stood at my apartment door. You fought the grin on your lips. You wriggled your knees against my arms and begged me to end my guilt trip. But I held you ransom.

“Don’t go.”

You smiled down at me and ran your fingers through my hair. Departure time was tight. The cab was downstairs. But I pulled you to the floor, to me. I just needed to steal you for a few more moments, to find that sacred space of skin hidden beneath your scarf. That warm place at the base of your jaw that inebriated me with your scent. I can still feel your laughter in my chest. You loved my thievery. But I stole other moments, too, when you weren’t looking.

When the wind ruined your good hair day, I smoothed it behind your ear. When you scolded me for smudging your lipstick, I kissed it back in place. On that night of our last visit to London, when the heel on your favorite pair of boots caught in the cobblestones, I followed my hand down your calf and freed you from the rain-slicked street.

It was like the city even pleaded, “Don’t go.”

Now I have you tangled in the bed sheets once more. But it’s dark. There’s no smile on your parted mouth. It hurts to smile. I tell you not to worry. Don’t smile for me. Just breathe. You shiver. In this foreign bed, I wrap myself around you. My fingers find their way under the tubes and wires to touch the chill of your hollowed stomach. I want to squeeze tighter but I’m afraid I might break you. You’re so fragile now. And I can’t bear it. Not quite ready for the family goodbyes and too overwhelmed with the ache of holding the last embers of you to bear the coming time apart.

The naked nape of your neck is stripped of essence. Your scent is lost under the cocktail of rubbing alcohol and latex. Pressing my lips against that place where your hairline used to be, I exhale, hoping my breath might light you up again. That maybe, by some miracle, it will warm your spine, smolder through your veins, and reignite the dying star in your chest where your soul used to burn.

Two words try to rise up my swollen throat, but they’re stuck. There’s only the beep of the heart monitor, the gasp of the ventilator. I can’t make that magic work anymore. I try. God, I try. Somehow, I know I’m responsible for this. I must be. What a fool I am, to think I’d never have to pay back all those stolen moments.

I beg the universe for one last heist. Just a few more moments. My lips move against your frigid skin, but I can’t utter the words. They are forbidden to me now.

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