After she left he searched through the house for signs of her presence. Like a spy. Or an errant husband. Hoping that she had forgotten something, hoping that she had left something behind. There was nothing. No damp tissues crumpled in the wastebasket, no smudge of lipstick on the coffee cups, no tiny slip of paper fallen accidentally behind the bed. Not even the trace of her handwriting on the notepad by the phone. There was no way for him to prove that she had ever been there, not even to himself. Was it possible that he had simply imagined her? He picked a few loose hairs off the pillow, stared at them for a minute, stretching them out between his fingers to confirm that they were too long to be his. Then he threw them away.
After a while he got up off the bed, switched on the coffee machine, put a record on the stereo. Bob Dylan singing Is your love in vain? while the black certainty of being alone again trickled slowly into his coffeepot. He began to tidy up, folding away the sofa-bed, putting away the extra quilt. The sheets on the bed still held the shape of her body. He folded them up very carefully, as if he hoped to preserve the perfect crease of the moment forever.
Later, sipping his coffee, he opened the notebook, sat down to write. Absence is the space between heartbeats, he wrote, an emptiness too small to be alive in. The words stared back from the page, refusing to offer him any consolation. He imagined her departure as a perfect arc, a projectile thrown beautifully into the world with no one on the other end to catch it. He logged on to the airline's website, tracked the status of her flight on the screen to make sure it had taken off on time.
It seemed to him then that the air was the right element for her; that as long as she was up in the sky and he was here on earth they would both be safe, and the thread between them would unravel but remain unbroken. It was only when she landed and left the airport that he would lose her, that she would finally have left him behind.
He tried not to think about that. Everywhere he looked the room bore the signs of the hasty cleaning he had done before she arrived. Clothes peeped out of the drawers they had been hurriedly shoved into, a flock of loose papers lay hurriedly thrust under the bed. What had it all been for? he wondered. In the silence of the morning her absence felt more real than her presence had been, as though he missed her more than he had enjoyed being with her.
After a while the sun shining in through the window reminded him that it was time to get to work. He shaved carefully, imagining his face as she would have seen it, lingering in the shower so that the scald of the water would take the yearning out of his bones. When he came out of the shower he found the mirror had fogged over. He started to wipe it clean, then, on an impulse, with his hand just inches away from the frosted surface of the glass, he let it be. He dressed quickly, absently, his thoughts still elsewhere. He picked up his keys, put on his coat, picked out the library books that were due. Then he was gone.
Behind him the mirror cleared slowly, drops of precipitation running down its surface like tears, the slow fog of its grief fading, until it stood cold and empty in the perfect absence of the winter afternoon.