“Stop bothering me! What do you want!”

He blinked twice, licked his lips, exhaled, unaware he was doing so.

He would let it go, feign not having heard. Any response could hurt his chances. He wanted this, needed this, but he knew she could turn cold blooded in a heartbeat. She would just cut him off, a blade shedding flesh.

Didn’t matter; his love stayed strong, solid, impervious. As much as she wanted to end it, he twice as much sought to salvage. “Maybe I’ll try again later,” he thought, “or maybe tomorrow, after the air has cleared.”

But their connection was fraying, the days dwindling, his window closing.

He pondered his next move, remembering how he used to tell her jokes until she shrieked “I’m gonna wet my pants!” His mind’s eye saw her billowed cheeks aflush with fluster, her green eyes gleam with mirth and affection.

“Stop!” she would say, “Stop!”

But, of course, he wouldn’t; nor did he think she meant it.

“So why does it have to end?” The thought careened through his skull, indifferent to the pain in its wake.“When did it all go south?”

Had he done something, said something, to ignite this wrath? It seemed so sudden, unwarranted, unbidden. “What made her turn like this!”

But, of course, he knew. Not all the detail; that, he’d unlikely ever learn. But at a high level he had sensed it coming: the occasional snub, intermittent indifference, the way she could just turn away and ignore him. She had never acted like this until just a few months earlier, but it was becoming increasingly frequent.

Misfortune is like that, he thought: always there, lurking in ambush mode, patient, coiled to strike. Crack the window at the wrong time and it slithers right in. He didn’t know the catalyst for her assault; but is there ever really just one? He felt people were quirky, oblivious, often reacting to a cause beyond the obvious, perhaps something subconscious, unknown or merely forgotten.

Most problems, he felt, could be resolved through effort and logic, but this was the kind with roots. What started as barely perceptible, the slightest of infractions, eventually split them the way moss eats through rock. He could feel it maul his innards with the same intensity as it muddied her moods.

He often wondered if his attempts at getting her back were in vain, but he wouldn’t quit. That would be surrendering to the loss. He would fight for her with all he had, regardless of the odds. He could only gain by his effort. Losing her without a battle was inconceivable. No, he couldn’t do that.

“I like your sweater.” His brain scrambled for the right angle. “Did you knit it yourself? It looks homemade.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t think I can knit as well as others? Why should I even talk to you? I’m leaving.”

“No, no, your sweater is really nice. That is what I meant. It looks like better quality than the kind you buy in a store. I wasn’t being negative. I was complimenting you.”

“Oh, well you sometimes have some nerve insulting me. I’m not going to put up with it, just so you know. We’ll be done. You understand?”

“Yes. Yes, I do. I’m sorry.”

“What now?” he thought. Head in hands, fingertips pressing along cranial nerves, he remembered how much he had once enjoyed her rubbing his head. Gentle hands with long nails caressing his scalp invoked such tranquility, a peaceful euphoria. There was a delicate intimacy between them back then. He felt wanted and loved, the integrity of which was confirmed by her smiles and caressing whispers.

He would give anything to get those days back. He yearned for her to just be nice.

A disarray of motion suddenly stunned his vision. He heard a remote metallic grumble. He waited.

“I’m sorry, hon,” followed the grumble.

“That’s okay,” he said, realizing his time was up.

A woman’s face filled the screen. He forced a smile.

“I’m sorry she was off again today.”

“I am too.” He sighed through his nose. “It’s becoming the norm.”

“Well, she can still walk and talk. That’s a good thing. We tell families to focus on the good things. It’s easier that way.”

He nodded.

“But it eventually takes those too.”

“Yes,” she said. “It does. It eventually takes everything. It’s a terrible disease.”

He watched the screen as long as the connection held, not wanting to miss a moment the way a drunk nurses the last drink of the night. Then he pressed the X within the red circle at the bottom of his phone’s interface wondering, like so many times before, if he would ever call again, if it was worth the pain, and what did his mother gain?