It's Not You, It's Me
It’s not you, it’s me.
Jack had cringed the second those words slipped from his mouth. Embarrassment crawled all over his skin, leaving hot, prickly fingerprints, and for a brief moment a part of him wished that the ground would open up and swallow him whole. He dispelled that thought almost immediately; it was after all a ridiculous notion. He’d spent most of the day, trying to find the right words, pondering with Shakespearean intensity, cultivating in his mind how this scene would play out. Yet despite his crafting, despite sifting through the seemingly endless library aisles of his own internal vocabulary he arrived at the same place every time.
‘It’s not you.’ The girl in question, Clara sat at the opposite end of the kitchen table. She hadn’t said anything, simply stared at him, her full red lips formed an ‘o’ of slight shock, the purple bangs of her hair framing the delicate curves of her face. Jack sipped from a cup of tea, which was still too hot to drink so he placed it gently onto the kitchen table.
He half smiled, doing his best not to look patronising, and doing his best to convey that he took no pleasure in what he had chosen to do. The poor girl had been through enough for one day, best to make this as painless as possible, tear off the band aid quickly so to speak. From the kitchen’s solitary window, fingers of silver moonlight crept into the room. As Jack pondered what he was about to say, he watched as an unusually large moth frantically hammered against the glass, wings beating faster than his eyes could follow. It was a desperate attempt to reach its prize, the silver ball in the sky. Jack pitied such a futile effort, such a short life wasted, chasing an impossible goal, ascending a mountain that had no peak. But was he any different? He thought to himself, all his life he had searched for the perfect woman, but thus far hadn’t found her. Though there had been several worthy contenders…
You’re drifting you moron. A voice in his head yelled in the perfect imitation of his late mother. Jack focused; his eyes fell on Clara again.
‘Forgive me for the cliché Clara.’ He began. ‘Forgive me for everything. I really didn’t want this to happen. But I guess that’s how life works sometimes. I guess that’s why people say a thing like it’s not you, because in the end, it’s true.’ He felt his phone vibrate against his thigh, felt a lightning bolt of excitement course through his body. He also felt the alarm bells of guilt, halting the smile that had begun to spread across his face. Now was not the time. If anything it was disrespectful, and he was telling the truth, that she did deserve better than this. His eyes searched hers, looking for that spark, that inner light that he had genuinely fallen in love with. To his dismay, he only saw a cold grey, there was no love there, nor was there any light, but that was to be expected. Light can’t exist in a broken heart.
‘I think, because I had such a lousy mother growing up, that I am looking for perfection in a woman. But who knows what perfection really is?’ He chuckled to himself, ‘You can go mad thinking about stuff like that. I mean, isn’t love about finding perfection in an imperfect person?’ Clara didn’t answer, merely nodding ever so slightly, her eyes fixed on his. Jack glanced across to the window; the moth had begun to slow in its attempt to escape. Its wings, which seemed to be made of dust, were now brief bursts of energy, and more often than not the moth landed on its back as the glass continued to spurn its advances. Each time it clambered back to its feet, it took a little more time. Jack thought about opening the window, freeing it to pursue its dream, but it would never reach it. It would have to settle for a night slumming it in the dull, lazy glow of a streetlight amongst the disillusioned members of its own kind. Better to let it think it can reach the impossible, in the little time it had left on this Earth.
You’re drifting again you ungrateful little shit. You stole my life from me. His mother’s voice, scolding him from the murky depths of his subconscious was a pang of pain, he swallowed dryly.
‘I think when it comes down to it, my mother made me this way . Her shortcomings drove me to search for perfection. It drove me to search for that woman who could make all the bits and pieces of my life finally fall into place. You were almost that woman my love, almost. Ninety nine percent. But I couldn’t sell myself short I’m afraid. And I am truly sorry for the way things worked out.’ He rested his hands on the table; he still loved her, but didn’t love her enough. In truth, this had been coming for the best part of a month or two. He began to cringe at her touch, began to feel less interested about the things she liked, whenever they were together his mind would always be someplace else. It had come to a head that week; Clara had come home from college, her body a dance of excitement. Every look, touch and kiss had lingered a few seconds longer than usual. From her mouth flowed a stream of excited declarations. She thought she might be pregnant, and as Jack let that sink in, she transformed into a whirlwind of new houses, baby names and marriage. It was at that moment, as she danced barefoot in the kitchen, in the Guns and Roses t shirt he had bought her when they first became a couple, that it was time to go. He did love her, but a love that was only ninety nine percent. Though that may have been enough for everybody else, it was not enough for him to commit to any of the things that she wanted. And of course, he had met Estelle. Wonderful Estelle, he thought to himself, again the whispers of a smile threatened to betray the front of sincerity he had been holding up. Twenty two years of age, an art student at the local university, petite, porcelain skin and a slight lisp that made his heart melt every time he had heard it. He’d run into her at the supermarket, a chance meeting in the fruit and veg aisle. They shared a look that perhaps lasted a second, but it was one of those looks that gave birth to fledgling romances. He’d made a point of grabbing the spot in the queue behind her, abandoning half of the items he had originally set out to purchase. They’d shared a brief conversation, most notably about the tattoo on her forearm. Jack knew, when Estelle had said her goodbyes, and shot him a mischievous smile as she passed a small piece of paper with her phone number scrawled onto it that he and Clara were doomed.
Focus you little shit! I shoulda left you in that dumpster the day I got out of the hospital. Jack snapped out of his daydream. Clara’s eyes seemed to have narrowed, but he saw no tears. Instinctively he reached an open hand out to her across the table, smiling disarmingly. Clara didn’t return the favour, and the stupidity of what he had just done hit him so quick that he withdrew his arm. He glanced at the moth again, it lay on his back, wings flapped, briefly, like a palpitating heart, and it’s time like the conversation was almost up. He had to meet Estelle.
‘I guess what I’m trying to say Clara, is that none of this was your fault. Not one part of it. And I am sorry for what I have done, whatever pain I have caused you, but I have to find my own happiness.’ His phone buzzed again, perhaps reminding him that he had an unopened message, or more likely that Estelle had messaged him again, telling him to hurry up. She was an enthusiastic sort. He pushed his chair out from under the table, and got to his feet.
‘I’d just like to think that despite what has happened today, the two of us can remain close.’ He passed Clara; the soles of his trainers slapped the linoleum of the kitchen floor. He opened a cupboard door; from the gloom he pulled his grey jacket from a hook on the wall.
‘After all, I’m close to all my exes.’
Should Clara have been able to turn her head, she would have seen the moonlight caress the inside of the cupboard. Jack flicked the switch, and the light chased away the shadows of the cupboard. There they were, on twin shelves at head height, five glass jars, in each jar, the heads of Rhianne, Magda, Lexi, Nicole and Liberty. Their eyes open, unseeing, bobbing gently in the thick, clear liquid that would keep them in perfect condition. Clara couldn’t turn, because like the others, she had no neck, no body. Jack took the jar, now Clara’s jar from the table, and before he placed it onto the shelf, he took one last look into her dead eyes. He soaked in the memories, of the times they shared, and then placed it gently onto the shelf with the others.
‘Make her feel welcome girls.’ He said finally, before killing the light and locking the door. He fished his phone from his pocket, and opened the message from Estelle.
Can’t wait to see you xxx
It said, Jack smiled in the darkness of kitchen, and he felt the buzz and excitement of new love in his veins. Had he not been so love drunk, he would have noticed that the moth had ceased all movement, and lay perfectly still under the silver gaze of the moon. Jack could hardly wait to feel the touch of Estelle on his skin. Slipping on his coat, the man the newspapers had nicknamed ‘The Ripper’ closed the door behind him.