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Our Separate Ways

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Douglas is leaving. The realization hits Deedra like a splash of ice-cold water in the face, as she’s watching Douglas descend the stairs with a stack of documents in his arms. He places the heap of paper by the fireplace in the Black Mirror Hall, a traditional place for disposal of irrelevant official correspondence and scrap paper. He feeds the papers to the crackling flames, page after page, barely giving any of them a glance. Deedra walks in and stands by the window, a good distance away from the fire. She doesn’t need to see the papers to know they’re drafts of mission reports Douglas has collected in his desk over time. His posture is regal, the motion of his hand steady, and she can imagine his face having a perfectly serene expression.  And with each passing moment of this strange, yet ordinary ritual she finds it harder to keep her own mask of cold indifference from slipping.

A voice in her head, measured and desperately devoid of feeling, repeats: Douglas is leaving. The words linger in her throat, tightening into a painful clump. Deedra swallows and tells herself that the soreness in her throat is easily explained by the smoke coming from the fireplace.

~

Douglas brought up the subject for the first time, as they trod their way to Mercury Heights from their Utrecht mission. They were solemnly silent most of the way, utter defeat weighting down heavily on their shoulders. And then this sudden declaration. Deedra flung a sweaty lock of hair away from her face and rolled her eyes. She said she wasn’t in the mood to play along with his drama. She said if he wished to advance her career by removing himself from the competition, he was more than welcome to do so.  She told him not to flatter himself, that he won’t be missed by anyone, that she’d be the first to laugh as he goes out the door.

The following day at Mercury Heights was an anticipated nightmare. It started off with an ugly scene in their bosses’ office. They used up every backstabbing technique and every flowery phrase permitted by the high-class lexicon to make their respective partner look guilty and to make themselves look pristine clean. At some point, Deedra suspected that Flavio has given up trying to make sense of their accusations and just sat mesmerized by the wreck their partnership has become. Next in line were their dear colleagues, who already had the first serving of delicious gossip regarding their recent fiasco and were hungry for more. And while Deedra has learned long ago not to let rumors spoil too much of her blood (or at least that’s what she repeated to herself as they did their walk of shame through the crowded halls), Douglas flinched at every derisive stare aimed his way. She tried coaxing him out of his room for lunch, but the silence behind the locked door was her only answer.

And then, there it was – a resignation letter lying face up on Flavio’s desk.  Deedra saw it immediately, as she came in to pitch in her mission report early in the morning. It was pretty much common knowledge that Flavio never got to the headquarters till noon, his spa procedures made sure of that.  So the fancy, finely calligraphed document, written on that outrageously expensive hot-pressed paper with embossing was meant for her, more than for anyone in the whole department. An elegant fuck-you-darling-and-goodbye. Deedra placed her report on the desk and willed herself to shrug it all off. As she walked out of the office, it occurred to her that a letter was just a letter. Douglas had plenty of time to call it off before Flavio arrived. It was a stupid theatrical gesture, it had to be. Deedra weaved her way through the corridors, nodding and smiling at familiar faces, but it felt as if her features were gradually turning to stone, and just wouldn’t twist the way she wanted them to. And then she saw him coming down the stairs.

~

There is only one sheet of paper left to go. Douglas is holding it in his hand, and the silence in the darkened room is so heavy it seems cast a shadow of its own. Deedra takes a few unsteady steps towards him, but is still unable to make out what the damned document is. But then again, what does it matter? It’s only the last written testament to the fact that their partnership ever existed. She waits and waits for Douglas to toss it out, but he stays his hand. Deedra’s eyes widen. Does he really have the audacity to wave this memory figment in front of her, like a red flag? Does he think it means that much to her? It makes her want to laugh, to scream with rage, to kick him in the teeth. But she must stay still and silent, she must not give him the satisfaction of watching her break. Deedra bites down on her bottom lip. And then Douglas starts to turn around, and the words are ripped from her mouth.

She calls him a showoff, a loser and so many other hurtful things.  It feels like she is throwing words at the glass wall between them. It shatters into a million of sharp tiny pieces, and she doesn’t even know who she’s aiming to hurt anymore. The last word of her tirade sticks to the back of her throat. She spits it out, her voice breaking: “Traitor.”

As she comes to her senses, Deedra realizes that the heat and smoke from the fireplace must have really gotten to her. Her face is burning up. The room is swimming in her eyes, and it’s difficult to make out Douglas’ face expression. And she must get out of this dreadful hall immediately, because if she stays any longer her make-up will be ruined, and her dress will smell of charred wood. And it’s not because she feels weak at the knees, as she sees Douglas take a step towards her. And it’s certainly not because she is scared of accidently glancing into one of the ancient mirrors lining the wall, and of things they might make her confess to.

~

Flavio is sitting by the window, his subordinate’s fancy resignation letter in one hand and a fancy cigarette in the other, when echoes of Douglas’ exasperated voice chanting “Deedra! Deedra!” reach his ears. He hums to himself and signs his name and date in the “received by” field at the bottom. So there might be a continuation to their story after all.