Excerpt 3: The break-up

'Look,' Neil finally went on, 'can we get together tomorrow to talk about this properly? After work?'

'Sorry to have distracted you.'

'No, I just mean it would be better to talk in person.'

'No,' Adam said. 'Not tomorrow.' And then he said, 'I don't think I ever want to see you again.'

Adam looked out through the windscreen. There ought to be witnesses or an audience for this. But there was only, on the opposite pavement, a woman in a burqa pushing a buggy. She's trying to get it to sleep, Adam thought reflexively.

'Don't be silly. Don't say that. Ad?'

Even to Adam the threat seemed safely theatrical, free, an ultimatum he would never be called upon to enact. More a rhetorical flourish than an irrevocable event. Somebody will say something, he thought. Somebody will do something to stop this.

'Goodbye, Neil,' his voice said.

'What? Ad—'

He heard Neil say something else as he lowered the phone from his ear, but the words were too quiet to decipher. He pressed the button and looked at the screen. The call's duration was 6:23. He held the phone in both hands, expecting it to ring again. But it didn't.

He opened his electronic address book and scrolled down to Neil. Are you sure you want to delete this number?

Was he sure? To purge Neil like this might be tantamount to killing him, in Adam's life anyway. To kill Neil would be a kind of self-mutilation or partial suicide. So much of his last decade and a half were stored in Neil, shameful times and halcyon. Without his friend as his repository and witness, part of Adam's past – part of him – would perish, too.

He pressed Yes I want to delete Neil. He felt a queer kind of lightness or liberation. I will never see Neil again, he thought. Neil is dying, even though he is still alive. He will be dead and alive at the same time.

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