X, or He Follows Her

He's been sitting in the same space every night, the pearlescent glow of his computer screen creating dreary shadows that dance over his sallow skin.


I watch from the doorway for longer than I intend to, my heart beating in rhythm with the frantic clicks and taps as he searches for greater meaning. A voice unheard whispers to him, the heavy headphones creating a barrier I am unable to penetrate. I know he's listening to her again.


I am drawn to him, my hand yearning to caress his shoulders, my lips searing to press against his neck, but the hurt from weeks of unrequited longing stops me. I know that no goosebumps will rise from his flesh and no love will twinkle in his eyes.


I place a hand on his shoulder, the pressure infinitesimal. I sense the flicker of a flinch at my touch. This is how he now reacts to me - not moving away, but not sinking in. My skin crawls with the hideousness of his disdain.


Our eyes meet - dark depths that once made me melt, thick eyelashes that stole my heart the first time I saw them flutter.


It's frightening how quickly our closeness became an unreachable chasm.


"Will you come to bed soon? I miss you."


He follows my lips as I speak, but I know he does not want to taste them.


"You know I'm going to be busy for the next few hours, I'll come when I'm ready." He winces away from me as he speaks, eyes flitting back to the screen.


I know very little about what he does, all those hours of the day that he types, watches, waits for some wisdom to be imparted into him. He has always been reluctant to share too much of this inner world with me. I know that he believes he has uncovered a truth. I know he believes deeply that the work he is doing is more crucial than anything that came before.


I slink back to our bedroom, my heartbeat softening as I succumb to the hollow feeling rising through my chest, the nauseating sense of woe permeating from my navel. I curl into bed, hands tracing the spot where he once lay, where we once embraced.


It takes hours for me to fall asleep. The tears never manage to come, but neither does he.


--


Our world has become unfamiliar. Growing up, I believed wholeheartedly in the goodness of our nation, in its community and people. Like many, I was able to slip into adulthood without questioning these truths.


These past six months shook our once sturdy foundations. We followed all the rules - played it safe, never overspent, and checked in to work on-time. Still, he lost his job.


This was when he learned of her. She brought him where I was too afraid to follow. He left me behind, and she rescued him from despair.


I don't know what he's learning, but from what little I have picked up on, the truth is more vast and dark than I have ever imagined. From the small bits he reveals, I cannot bear to listen further. Children stolen, politicians leading traffickers, leaders eating the flesh of babes.


But there seems to be a plan - one that only she knows of, her knowledge imparted to him through coded messages, cryptic videos and haranguing messengers.


He calls her X.


He rarely says my name anymore.


---


Months pass. Her followers grow, as does his devotion to her cause.


“It’s coming, soon all will be revealed, don’t you worry.”

“They’ll all see… she knows.”

“The world will be turned upside down… she never lies.”

“X told me…”

“The great upheaval is coming…”

“We are waiting for X’s next message…”

“X says…”

“We know X doesn’t lie…”

“I need to see what X thinks about this…”

“This was all part of X’s plan…”


---


His hunger for punishment grows with the months of uncertainty, his faith in her word stronger even as the news abounds with negativity. I know so little, and I dare not speak my doubts, but reality does not seem to match up with X’s plan. Our home has become a cold battleground, his war against the world and mine against this deafening loneliness.


Their noble figurehead lost his election, the night of reckoning came and went without any release. Our home shrunk as his anger swells, logic lost in the confusion of rage, head buried in his faith in retribution.


The night of this terrible loss, I reach to comfort him, but dare not touch his burning skin, the anger pulsating through his pores. My heart aches for the closeness we once shared.

I need to understand him, I know I must do it through her.


“What happens now if her plan went wrong?”


“How could you think she was wrong? You’re so far gone.”


The burn of disgust in his eyes, the searing absence of affection, it turns me to living ash.


He leaves me emptier than I was before we met.


--


After weeks of tepid silence and tiptoeing through our home, there is some reprieve. I fall asleep in our empty bed and wake with his arm draped across me, face nestling into my side, as familiar to me as the feel of my own beating heart.


There is a lightness to his being, and when he looks up to me a smile that I nearly forgot dances on his lips.


I want nothing more than to sink into this moment of joy, let it linger as long as the months of loneliness had. But it ends as quickly as it began, and even with a kiss plastered upon my forehead, I feel a sense of dread when he leaves our bed.


His voice almost a whisper, “I need you to know that today is the day,” and he disappears into the darkness of our home.


--


This night was like the many others that had come before it - I lay silently in our bed, my body tensed with the anticipation of his arrival, hoping beyond despair that this will be the day that he will curl next to me again, kiss me again, rest his hand against my hips and let us sleep with our bodies intertwined. My eyes screw shut, the silence of our house deafened only by the shallowness of my breath.


Then I hear him, opening our door and standing above me, his presence filling our room. I dare not open my eyes, my body tingling with the knowledge of his closeness. Could this be the moment he caresses me again, brings me into his arms and lets me feel that beloved closeness I yearn for?


“I’m sorry.”


His words are muffled by a sudden pressure on my face and around my neck. Our pillow presses against my mouth and nose, the full weight of his body pushing against my neck and blocking the air from my lungs. My body shakes and quivers involuntarily, fighting a battle my brain is too desperate to comprehend.


He presses his face against our pillow, the closest I have felt his warmth in longer than I dare remember, and I revel in the feeling of his tears and mucous spreading to my naked skin.


“This was all part of her plan.”


My world darkens, and before the sun rises, a shot silences him forever.