"It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses."- Colette
He doesn't know why they switched places that day.
Perhaps it was chance, one of those things that they'd never even noticed ordinarily, a step to the right instead of the left, the driver becoming the passenger. Or perhaps it was fate, some cruel twist from an unseen force, pulling them in separate directions, one to life, one to death.
In truth it didn't matter either way.
They were in the middle of a joke when the passing car swerved, broadsiding and crushing the side he always sat on.
Crushing his friend while he climbed out without a scratch.
He was told later that a farmer saw the accident and called for an ambulance and the police. And that it was them who gently tore his hands from the broken body cradled in his arms and forced him to get to his feet.
They told him his friend was killed instantly, neck broken, body crushed. Dead before he lifted him out of the car, and fell beside him onto the hard pavement, blood from his skinned knees and palms mingling with the blood of his friend, poured out like an offering to an unknown god.
He didn't cry. He made all the arrangements in a quiet, composed voice.
He was the only mourner at the grave.
At the time, he can't focus on death, on loss. His mind flutters to odd things, memories of unimportant moments, forgotten places, and most of all the thought that two that once were a team, names connected to each other, never spoken without the other, has become one.
Divided and torn down the middle, broken apart in an instant that keeps on tearing, ripping him like a paper doll. He won't ever hear "Tod and Buz" again. Now it will be only...
He can't say his name alone.
The survivor moves on. He packs the repaired car as he always has, drives to the next town.
In some ways, nothing changes. He takes the same kind of work as he always has, meets the same kinds of people, keeps on searching for that elusive something he still hasn't found.
But sometimes, when it's late and he doesn't think before speaking, he asks for a job for two, a hotel room with two beds, or an extra drink for an unfilled place at a dimly lit bar. He walks with a space beside him, stepping one way when opening a door, pausing as if waiting for another to follow. His friend's luggage stays tied on the back of the car, untouched, unopened, and he never fills the passenger seat.
He never mentions the other.
But sometimes when it's late at night, when work is finished, and he's alone, he sits in the darkness of an empty hotel room and stares, searches in the darkness with unseeing eyes.
Somewhere in the midst of his searching, of his wanderings, those silent, empty eyes start to burn. He wipes at them before he starts crying, but not before a single tear escapes and splashes to the floor.
And for an instant it lies there, a quiet, unanswered question, before seeping into the hard floor, forgotten and lifeless.