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He put it off for years, the conversation they should’ve had – the one about failures and disappointments, violations and damage that would never heal, about what went wrong for decades, the one conversation that would hurt and change them forever.

He put it off even further when he realised that he wasn’t the only one with valid accusations, that they were both trapped in a spiral of violence where every step and every kick seemed as justified as inevitable.

Perhaps they could have done it, be honest and vulnerable for once – but they were stuck in delay and complacency, in meaningless birthday cards and fleeting once-per-month telephone calls, gotten out of the way as fast as possible, desperately trying not to reveal anything substantial and every subtle barb a little victory.

Back in this house that he hasn’t entered for years, looking at her body under a white sheet, skin waxen and colourless and thin hair draped artfully over her forehead, he realises that she was an old woman – old and frail and exhausted.

He’s ignored her ageing to be able to ignore his own – only by pretending that she was still the same overextended, ruthless, uncompromising woman she had been decades ago, he could also pretend that deep inside he was still the youth with fire and dreams.

Now, only the embers of regret glow under the surface; he should have returned earlier.

Written for Six Sentence Stories, cue “Return”.