I watched him lift his boots onto the table. I saw he’d missed a hole as he’d threaded his laces, one eye winking empty against the leather.
I didn’t tell him.
He tipped his cup to his mouth and I watched. I said nothing, I said nothing. His tongue flicked to the froth at the rim of his cup, and I felt my spine straighten.
I know several things inside out. The early recordings of Elvis, finding my way across Berlin on the U-Bahn, how to cook with figs, and this man’s mouth.
My coffee was too hot.
I put the cup on the table and leant back against the couch. There was the midday sun slanting through the blinds and slide guitar blues on the stereo and silence between us. I watched him tap out the rhythm as he drank, one silver ring around a long finger.
Did I buy that ring for you?
I didn’t think before I spoke. I wondered if he’d be insulted I didn’t remember. I’d tipped many presents into his hands during our years together; a collector’s edition Rolling Stones record with a scratch across ‘Brown Sugar’, our favourite song. A photo from a vintage store of a man from the 20’s whose curling moustache and black eyes mirrored his; a bible from a flea market with passages underlined that he’d read to me from under the doona at a house party, with the last bottle of red wine and no glasses to drink from.
No, you didn’t.
He held his hand up to the light.
I bought this last year, at the Byron Bay Blues Festival.
Last year; another one without me. I took a sip of my coffee and turned to look at him as he spoke.
You did buy me a ring once though.
I could see dust floating in the air between us. The slide guitar curled around the room and wrapped itself around us.
You got it in New Mexico, just after you left me. It had three rings bound into one, with barbs welding it together.
I had a flash of standing on Santuario de Guadalupe with the luminaria burning, dropping dimes into a payphone reaching all the way down to a ramshackle Melbourne sharehouse that I hoped still held my photo on the mantelpiece.
I remember that.
He moved his hand in time to the music; slowly, the sun gleaming against the metal.
Do you still have it?
He dropped his hand onto his thigh, and turned to me with a sigh.
I do, babe. It broke into pieces though, not long after. I caught them in my hand as they fell, but there was nothing I could do.
I wanted to ask him. I wanted to know, where do you keep the pieces? Do you ever pull them out, listen to ‘Brown Sugar’ and drink wine from the bottle and look for long red hairs against your sheets?
I reached for my coffee cup, and felt my hair glow in the sunshine as I leaned forward. I saw him watching me, felt his hand wind through the strands and rest against the back of my neck.
And I thought, well, at least you tried to catch our pieces as we fell.
And we both sat in the sunlight of a Sunday afternoon, humming to the same tune as he placed fingers on the side of my neck, and ever so tenderly squeezed.
The Cowboy. When you’ve got an ex-boyfriend like him, you let him squeeze your neck anytime.
We’ve come a long way.