In the end, it was the silence that told him more than any word ever could’ve hoped.
The thick shag of the hotel carpet dulled the thud of his bare feet as he paced the room for what seemed to be the thousandth time that long and lonesome night. His quick, successive breaths seemed to echo off the hotel walls with all the speed and steadiness of a train roaring down the railroad tracks. For the first time in his memory, his thoughts stayed quiet, though this was no accident. If given the chance, his mind would be screaming.
She was supposed to come back. What the hell did the last three years even mean if she walked away at the first bump in the road? Lifting the balcony door latch with a click, he slid the glass door open, swearing under his breath as a wave of freezing air suddenly crashed over his skin. He stepped out into the night, feeling no solace from the twinkling city lights that seemed to possess a manic energy all their own. Somehow the idea that all those lights could go on sparkling while his world had suddenly become so dark seemed almost mocking.
He pulled a slightly crumpled pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, tapping the last remaining cigarette into his hand before crushing the empty box and tossing it over the balcony ledge. For a moment he contemplated following it, the delicious thought of her inevitable regret and self-blame hanging tantalizingly in front of him, but quickly brushed the thought away. There was nothing more pathetic than considering suicide to hurt someone else, as much as he wanted to make her feel everything he felt at this moment.
He thought they’d at least fight. He knew it wasn’t right bringing another woman into his hotel room, but he was a rock star—wasn’t that kind of thing supposed to be the norm? He never wanted her to find out, but he’d already braced himself for the screaming match that would follow. She might’ve stayed mad for a few weeks, but he had enough money to buy apology gifts until she’d wish that maybe she caught him in the act more often: He’d buy her a new dress in exchange for locking lips with that artsy blonde that hung around in the green room after his gigs; a red convertible for a night with the waif-like actress in Paris; maybe a beach house in Malibu for this little fling with the brunette that lived down the hall—he’d planned the whole thing in his head.
He wasn’t prepared for the silence that seemed to last an eternity as she stared back and forth between him and the thoroughly confused woman at his side. He tried to speak, but was quieted by the sensation of gentle fingers on his lips, and the sight of a soft, sad smile on hers. Now only a cigarette and a memory occupied those lips. He sparked his lighter, cupping one hand against the bitter wind as he lit the end, before taking a heavy drag off the only source of comfort to him right now. As he slowly exhaled, he couldn’t tell if the white puff of air escaping his lips was the cigarette smoke or the heat of his breath. Maybe he never saw things as well as he should. Sometimes it took silence to really make things clear.
Sina Bear Eagle is Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She is a student at Oglala Lakota College, where she majors in Fine Arts and Lakota Studies, with an emphasis in Indian Art.