The changes began that very night, after fourteen hours of restless and penitent sleep. He awoke in a bleary-eyed haze, mid-sob as he felt his aspirations bursting before him, bubbles in his vision that crackled and popped when he reached out to grasp them. Joyless, he stood from the bed, cleansed himself as was the ritual of Americans, brushed his teeth and threw on a bathrobe. He was heading for his dresser when he chanced to look out the window. There had been no desire to do so–computers were not cheap and he already regretted his hasty decision from the morning–but reflex got the better of him as he passed the still-open portal.
The sun had gone out, but the moon still shone brilliantly on the slick, newly-paved asphalt. Disrupting this pristine roadway and its pristine sidewalk were the splintered remains of his computer, a plastic shell spilling silicon and steel. Among the green and gray was a hint of something else, red and glowing. At first, it seemed to be a trick of the light–pale, blue moonlight casting visions on those who beheld it–but the longer he looked, the more it seemed to jump out from its surroundings and grab his attention.
“Surely,” he assured himself, “this is just residual heat. Something caught fire when it hit the ground and is just now fading,” for the glow, he realized, did not flicker as a flame might, but was steady except for a slight pulse, as one might expect of a dying ember. He decided he would throw on clothes and go out, hit a bar, woo a floozy with weak pseudo-intellectualism and try to enjoy the bitter tail-end of a day wasted in sleep. He’d gotten as far as the door, still shouldering himself into his coat, when his phone rang. He momentarily debated letting it go to voicemail, but his guilt got the better of him. He answered with a noncommittal greeting and was met by a stream of epithets to make his hair curl further.
“Where are you?” her voice was tinged by desperation.
“Home. About to head out.”
“Meet me in five? My place?”
She hung up without allowing him to answer, knowing what his response would be. Four minutes and change later, he stood outside her apartment and rapped twice on the thick door with his knuckles. For someone who’d intimated such immediacy, it took her a shockingly long time to actually answer the door. Even haggard and red-eyed, she sparked reactions in his subconscious that he’d been hoping to avoid. She motioned him in and he glided past her, shrugged off his coat and folded it in his lap as he sat awkwardly on her ottoman. She flopped onto the couch across from him and slumped over, fell into the arm cushion.
“He left you.”
It should have been a question. It wasn’t. She glared at him, but it was without fire, no true anger.
She shrugged, “We weren’t compatible, he said.”
He took a moment to process this, brow furrowed more with the effort of formulating an appropriate platitude than with any true distress.
“Kind of silly, isn’t it?”
You should have known it would break down from the start, he thought, and yet you went through with it anyway. You turned your back on me because he gave you immediacy and what you thought was complete transparency. A simple, successful relationship, and you convinced yourself that you wanted that, that you loved him, but now you’re here, crying to me because you know I’ll listen, because it wouldn’t be right to turn you away.
He thought it, but he couldn’t say it. He humored her and held her, drawing some small physical pleasure from the barely chaste contact, until she had calmed down enough to brush her teeth, change into pajamas and climb into bed. He let himself out, heard the lock catch behind, and, checking his watch, resigned himself to heading home with neither drink nor companion.
The air was chilly, his breath uncoiling before him as it left his mouth, but the walk was a short one and he was soon back home, unlocking the front door of his building when he looked over to the wrecked computer and saw a familiar hint of color. The ember continued to burn, it seemed and, odd as this struck him, he had other things on his mind and so pushed the phenomenon to the back as he slipped inside and climbed the steps to his door, locked it shut behind him and sat down on the edge of his bed, drained from only hours of actual consciousness, filled with surrogate emotional distress.
He attempted to watch television, but the images and sounds bored him and, before long, he’d shut it off and curled up with a thick book. Its words enveloped him until the sun peeked through his window and, eyes growing heavy, he dropped the novel and slipped into unconsciousness.