We’ve been sitting at this table for two hours and 37 minutes and already I know this date won’t end well. You have been agreeable company, even if you dwelled a little too long on the torturous break-up with your ex. The food has been a delight – vibrant, spicy and not so abundant that it smothers the conversation. Your dress makes your cobalt eyes shimmer and supports you like an attentive lover. But none of that’s the problem.
The problem is you haven’t asked about the ring.
I know you’ve seen it, even though you haven’t so much as glanced in its direction. It’s the first thing women see when they’re attracted to a man and they want to know, not just whether he’s single, but whether he’s honest.
I’d thought about leaving it behind, but that would have just made you more suspicious. The only thing more incriminating on a man’s finger than a wedding ring is the aura of an absent wedding ring. That tight smooth red neck of skin raises not just the question of why he’s taken it off, but where it is now. In his bathroom? On the bedside cabinet? Maybe it’s idling in his jacket pocket, a few feet from your chair, ready to be slipped back on during the cab ride home.
I know that soon we will part at the door and you will give me a chaste kiss, and later on send me a text telling me that I’m not a bad man but I should focus on trying to fix my relationship with my wife, and that will be the last I ever hear from you.
Believe me when I say I’d like nothing more.
If you were to ask, in the vanishing time we have left, if my wife and I were still having sex, I’d say honestly, no: we haven’t had sex for a while. And the last time was painful for both of us, though for me the pain came later.
There are many things I regret from the last stage of my marriage. Conversations we never had. Places we never saw. Positions we never tried. For a while I regretted that final tryst, but her desire for physical closeness silenced my doubts. She could bear the pain because it was an affirmation that she was still alive.
The last time we were in bed together she was so delicate, and she whispered in my ear my three favourite words, and I replied with three that made her cry bitter tears. I regretted them, too, because I was asking her the impossible.
I said: please don’t go.
But the one thing I don’t regret is the promise I made to her, right at the end, that I would wear the ring she gave me until I found someone to wear another.
And even as we sat in the ambulance, and I clutched her warm fingers and studied her fading smile, the light flickering in her eyes, and the doctor came over and pointed to the screen and gave me a sad little shake of the head, and I looked at her with her hair matted and her mouth open and the last breaths rolled out of her, I said to myself: I will.
But it won’t be you.