At first, it was all dinner dates, coy smiles, and flirtatious gazes.
She said the ‘L’ word first.
“Ah, that’s nice,” he’d replied.
She should have known better. She didn’t – she was young and somewhat in awe of his easy charm and oily lines.
She was full of fairy tales, dreams and bullshit. So, she sat him on a nonsensical pedestal. Bless her, she genuinely believed that she could keep him there forever: regal; lording it above all and sundry, despite knowing that she wasn’t good enough for him. But, she had won him! And she never won anything, not even on a tombola, so she considered herself lucky.
He began tearing the strips off rather early on in their unbalanced relationship. Little ones, scratching at the corners, so small that she didn’t notice.
“If your hair was this colour…”
“If you wore those shoes…”
“If you weren’t friends with that crass girl…”
“If you didn’t watch insipid soap operas…”
“If you did that thing in bed…”
The strips tore too easily after that. They fell apart like pieces of delicate, old, yellowed paper. Like confetti all around her – thin, too swift and tiny to catch and hold. Like an ancient map – found, at long-last – crumbling into dust. She was in love and thought that she had found her Disney Prince. How she cooed at all who would listen.
Shit happens. And it did. She found herself having a hard time. She became low, exhausted and she forgot to care about how she looked. He dampened the paper and set to peeling away the second layer.
“If you weren’t so down…”
“If you didn’t sigh so much…”
“If you were more fun…”
“If you didn’t question me…”
“If we have a break…”
No! She must keep him on the pedestal: better than everyone else; ensconced in silk and velvet, in the perfect position to tear more strips away.
She took hold of her life again and her confidence dared to grow. Though, they would now argue every evening and tears dripped into wine. It was time to rip off some more strips; remind her of her place.
“If you hadn’t put on weight…”
“If you listened to what I say…”
“If you didn’t have opinions…”
“If you hadn’t let yourself go…”
“If you were more like her…”
She was now red raw, there were few strips left to shred. She had given up, though she kept him on his beloved pedestal but more out of habit than love. The pitiful pattern continued: the stripping and obliterating the final, stinging, barely-there layers.
“If you weren’t such a cretin…”
“If you weren’t such a hateful bitch…”
“If you weren’t a lazy asshole…”
“If I still fancied you…”
“If I could stand to look at you…”
Gone. The layers were gone. All that remained was a bloody, vacant, pulpy mess where a life had once been.
The fire had gone out.
He had turned off the lights.
And pissed on the dying, smoking embers.
She could no longer find the strength or the motivation to beg for reprieve or resuscitation. To her utmost horror, he slipped from the pedestal. It wasn’t a dainty demotion. It ripped open the universe. She woke up, she opened her eyes. She yearned to tear some strips: pulling the plaster off quickly; one large single bout of agony. No slow peeling and endless yelps of pain. She wanted to unwrap the Egyptian mummy – fast – and bury the covering underground forever more.
There were too many unkept promises, too many cruel yet decadent lies. Mostly, there had been too much unravelling. Her scars would never heal. After all this time, the strips couldn’t be replaced.
Rising from the coma, she decided that she might be worth saving. It stabbed her a million times, but she dragged him from the footstool of the pedestal, and she threw him in the bin. She scrubbed away his footprints. She held the TV remote control. She looked people in the eye.
“If you hadn’t torn the strips,” she whispered.