Broke.

Ben is broke. Though most of us are ignorant as to how.

Sure Ben has a job. He is the head of marketing for an international company after all and he’s just earned himself a raise. But with a raise comes more responsibility and longer hours, something Ben doesn’t necessarily need right now. Linley, Ben’s mate, thinks that this raise, this promotion, will be the change that Ben needs. Something to ignite the passion in his heart once more and set him straight back onto the things that really matter.

Ben also has a house.  Though truth be told Ben’s lease is about to expire. It’s not that he can’t afford to re-sign, it’s just, this was their house. It’s the decisions that is panicking Ben, the decision to leave the memories behind or continue to dwell in them. At this point Ben is yet to decide which decision is the “right” decision. He’s not even sure there is a “right” decision. His mother would disagree.

Then there are his dogs, a golden retriever named Siegfried and a caramel dachshund called Roy. Some would say that these two fur companions are enough to keep Ben sane but they can only provide Ben with flea bitten cuddles and kibble kisses, not the close relational bond only another human being can provide.

Your standards of broke are different to Ben’s. Even Ben has tried to live by your standards. He’s tried to be thankful for all that he has but the truth keeps rearing its ugly head like a very painful facial pimple.

The freezer blew two days ago leaving Ben to deal with 12 months’ worth of rotting food – at least Siegfried and Roy are pleased over this. Nothing is going according to his plan. To top off the “Shit-Sunday” that is his life, Ben saw her. It was only from a distance as he drove by an Italian restaurant on Markham, but there was no doubt, it was her. She was laughing and having a ripe old time being charmed by a man Ben could never compete with, and she looked amazing, like a model – fierce and confident, sure of who she was. She never dressed like that for him. She never wore makeup, but he didn’t care. It was almost like she’s someone new and it hurt Ben to see her so composed and resolved. Ben had always thought that deep down she felt the same as him. That this experience broke her too.

This is why Ben often dreams he’ll die alone.

Disheveled and unshaven, Ben makes himself a cup of coffee as that is all he can muster today. Most days Ben’s appetite is pretty much nil, surviving off of coffee, handfuls of berocca and the occasional microwavable meal. He’s lost 15 kilos since she left, teetering him on the line between healthy and underweight. Whilst Ben waits for his coffee to brew, he reads the newspaper. A bombing in some unfamiliar country that has killed hundreds continues to guide him down the spiral of depression. At this point, Siegfried and Roy came scattering into the kitchen, barking their distinctive welcomes (‘I need too piss’ and ‘where’s the food?’).

‘Morning boys.’ Ben manages to greet at the dogs, patting each one on the head and scratching them behind their ears, before heading to the back door and letting them out. Grabbing his coffee Ben follows his dogs, venturing out into the fresh morning of the summer’s day.

After filling their dishes with slightly pungent steaks, Ben plonks himself down on one of the wooden deck chairs, sips his coffee and watches the two dogs play amongst the overrun gardens. Siegfried has found a stick of which Roy is desperately trying to steal, yipping at the top of his lungs to the dog towering above him. Ben laughs and we almost believe it wasn’t forced, except for his eyes. His eyes are glossed in sadness.

It was on a day like this that Ben had asked the question. They’d been snuggled together between the soft folds of the hammock, nestled between the shady branches of two maple trees. The breeze was soft and the sun kissed at their skin playfully. She was watching the dogs frolic, barking and biting at the air where the bees hovered above the rosemary. She was smiling – her plump, silky lips parted just so that he could hear the melodic hum of her humble laugh. It was at this very moment that Ben realized that he wanted to spend eternity with her. He’d reached a hand around so that he could run his thumb along the edge of her jaw and down her neck. She’d locked eyes with him, questioning with her quirky smile. Then he’d asked –

‘Will you marry me?’

He hadn’t meant to ask her then and there. It just, kind of, slipped out. They’d been living with each other for two years, things were pretty serious by Ben’s standards. They’d even planted a garden full of kale that neither of them ate.

It’s not that his intentions were wrong. He did love her, he loved her with every inch of his very being, he loved her so much that when she left he’d thought he’d die. He still sometimes thinks this to be true. Ben’s downfall was that he hadn’t thought about how she would react to such an important question. Her parents got divorced when she was six and from that point on lived solely with her mother who swore marriage was the downfall of female liberation. It was insensitive and stupid of Ben. But who can blame him, love makes you a fool.

He’d sat patiently waiting for a response, heart exposed and vulnerable. His eyes begged. His lip had trembled. As the silence progressed his heart began to crumble into unfixable pieces.

‘No’, she’d eventually replied before venturing off into the house to hang the laundry. The words were so simple, so concise and yet painfully harrowing. In a weird way, it was this act of love that broke their relationship. She just wasn’t as committed to them as Ben was – still is.

‘At least I have coffee’, Ben thinks as Siegfried attempts to jump up onto the deck chair with him, barreling into the mug and sending it flying across Ben and the deck.

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