The Stranger

I watched with a detached fascination as he bent down to pick up each box and take it down the stairs to the street. His heavy footsteps provided an arresting counterpoint to the haunting melody he was whistling.

There was a pause after the fourth box, and I could hear voices outside. I stepped to the window and looked out. Anthony was talking with Sergeant O'Leary, who had evidently been passing by and was curious about the boxes. After a few moments, the sergeant moved on, and Anthony resumed his up and down trek.

I continued to watch him, realizing that, though I loved him, and had loved him for years, I was now looking at a complete stranger.

Anthony had become increasingly restless and distant over the past few months. I could see it was happening, but I'd tried to deny it. Ignore it. I'd figured he was just going through some difficulty he didn't want to talk about. Lovers share so many secrets, but there are some we never tell anyone but ourselves. I couldn't begrudge him that.

That had been my rationalization, anyway. Just a phase. A glitch. After all, everyone goes south once in a while. Even me.

But the phase didn't end. Finally, one day, it happened: I came home to man I simply couldn't recognize. His phase, his glitch, had shifted into my space, into my own mind, and I'd finally been able to see that this was not the same man I'd fallen in love with.

On that day, I grieved.

And now, here we were. Strangers sharing an apartment. But not for much longer. He was on the eighth box now, only three left. He would be gone soon.

A few minutes later, it was done. He clumped up the stairs one last time. He stood in the doorway for a moment, looking around the apartment. Finally, he stepped over to me. His movements were hesitant, awkard.

"Bye, Jill," he said.

I wiped a tear from my eye. I hadn't expected to find one there. I'd been so numb, so distant.

"Bye," I said.

He hugged me, then gave me a kiss on the cheek.

"Don't be afraid to try again, okay?" he said.

It was the oddest thing to say.

I just nodded.

He hung his head a moment, then went back to the door. He paused, turned to look at me, then tromped down the stairs.

I heard voices again. Stepping to the window, I could see that Mrs. Leone, our landlady, was saying goodbye to him. She gave him a hug, then pinched his cheeks in that motherly way. I chuckled. No mystery why everyone called her 'Mama'.

"Anthony, you're such a good boy," she said to him.

He smiled, patted her on the cheek, and got into the truck. With a roar of the engine, he eased out of the driveway and turned into traffic.

A moment later he was gone.

The End

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